Trick Training Tips

Some tricks you should NEVER teach your horse

Think carefully about which tricks you want to teach your horse.

There are some tricks that can be dangerous if not performed in a safe area and by an experienced person, for example, rearing or laying down.

Horse Trick rear

Horses will sometimes, particularly in the early stages of training, do tricks without being asked.  This is partly because they are keen to get a treat and they haven’t yet learned that they ONLY get a reward when ASKED to do a trick.

You don’t want to be out riding one day and your horse decides to perform his newest trick (without being asked) – laying down with you and your saddle on board.

Or even more dangerous – your horse decides to rear.  Rearing is a trick that requires strength, calmness, and excellent balance from your horse.  Your horse could do enormous damage to himself (and you) if he doesn’t get it right and flips over backward.

Consider if children will be riding or handling the horse.  A trick such as counting with their front foot could knock a child flying.  Or a child might mistakenly give a horse a cue to rear.

If there is a chance you might sell your horse at any stage think about how your horse’s tricks might be viewed by future owners.  I believe that simple, well-done tricks actually add to the value and appeal of a horse, but some tricks might be misunderstood by some people.

I remember reading an old book that talked about teaching a horse to pull a mean face as if the horse was about to attack.  Imagine if you sold this horse to someone, who then sold the horse to someone else that didn’t understand that this horrible face was actually just a trick.  They would most likely reprimand the horse, which would cause the horse to become very confused.

Even worse, if you teach your horse to rear and a future owner accidentally gives him the cue to rear then this horse would quickly get a reputation as a difficult or dangerous horse when all they were trying to do was perform a trick.

Some of the safer tricks include hug, yes, no, pick things up, fetch, and smile.

So think carefully about which tricks you want to teach your horse and who might be around your horse.  There are lots of fun, safe tricks that your horse can learn that will be enjoyable for you both and won’t cause your horse to develop a bad reputation.

We recommend teaching your horse to ‘touch’ (target) different items first.  This is the beginning of so many tricks…   YOUR FIRST TRICK – ‘TOUCH’

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37 thoughts on “Some tricks you should NEVER teach your horse”

  1. Hello,

    my name is Katie my parents bought me a very sweet, calm quarter horse mare named Brandy with a lovely disposition who shows promise in western and hunter. However she is young (only 6) but I wanted to teach her some basic tricks to help work on her focus. What would you recommend I teach her to do? She’s very patient, but can be very confused sometimes and I wanted something very basic to introduce her to do. My friend and I are building an arena in her yard, so we will have the horses stabled there next summer and it is fairly large, so I would love to do some moderate liberty work in the future, is there something after some basic tricks that may get us on the rode to liberty?

    1. Hi Katie,

      The first trick that I like to teach most horses is to ‘touch’ an object. This is the beginning of lots of different tricks like hug, kiss and is a good start for liberty, as you can ask your horse to ‘follow’ an object. It also helps to get horses confident in approaching new objects. I like to use a Target. Here is a video I made about this:

      I hope that helps 🙂

      Jain, Trigger & Bella.

  2. Hi Jain & Trigger-

    My name is Lily and I’m new to being a horse owner. In fact- I just got my horse a few days ago! Bailey, my paint, is very friendly and smart. He’s young but strong… I have not ridden him yet… advice?
    I’ve ridden and cared for horses for years. I’ve just never owned one.

    Anyway, I guess my question is- do you have a step-by-step guide to teaching a trick? For example: step-by-step process on how to touch? Bow? Smile? Lay down? Etcetera?
    I apologize in advanced because I’ve only done a quick overview of the website and have not checked each page.

    Lily & Bailey

    1. Hi Lily and Bailey,
      I know what it is like…. I rode horses for years before I got my own horse. I used to take lessons and then I looked after several rescue horses. But Bailey is lucky that you already have lots of experience with horses.

      The best thing to do is to build a bond with Bailey and then he will do anything you ask 🙂 Spend lots of time with him (I’m sure you will). Grooming him, taking him for walks, teaching him tricks. I like to spend special time with my horses – time that is fun for them. No riding just doing things that they enjoy. They then know that it’s not all about work when they see me, that we can have fun together 🙂

      If you’d like to start trick training, you might like to look at my ebook. This covers all the basics including equipment, rewards etc. You will learn step-by-step how to teach your horse a simple trick and then you can use the same method to teach your horse lots of things. The book is available from the products page:

      Have fun! 🙂

      Jain, Trigger & Bella.

    1. Hi Bonni-Jean,
      A bow is very similar to what a horse does when they prepare to lie down naturally. However I never teach horses to do a full bow that have leg or back problems or older horses. I really like to teach these horses a ‘Simple Bow’. The horse just puts their leg forward and drops their head. It looks really nice, it’s easy for them to do and it doesn’t cause any problems with legs and backs. (There is a picture of Trigger doing a ‘Simple Bow’ in the banner at the top of this website).

  3. Hello. I have a 3 year old stallion and I want to teach him tricks but he is so Distracted by the mare and other horses. How can I get his full atention or make it easier to learn him ?

    1. Hi Janelie,
      Yes, it can be quite hard sometimes to get the attention of a stallion (particularly a young one). You need to be more interesting than the other horses 🙂

      A good start is to teach him some very simple tricks. That should get his interest, particularly if you reward him (I like to use treats but if he likes a good scratch that can work too). I teach my horses to touch an object first. Usually a target stick or a ball. Once they are touching an object I can then build on that trick and use it for other tricks such as Fetch.

      Most horses love trick training because it’s fun and interesting for them. I also like to train my horses for very short sessions (maximum of 10 minutes at a time). That stops them from getting bored. But you can train him several times a day to really speed up his training. I like to mix my training in with other activities.. for example just before feeding time or before i go for a ride.

      Happy tricks! Jain.

  4. Thanks for both e-books. I plan to teach my ponies tricks in conjuction with horse agility. I have one pony who NEEDS a job. He is too smart (as some ponies are) and usually likes to get himself into trouble. lol. Right now he (Beau) can stand on a pedestal and shake hands. Because he was hand fed lots before I got him he tends to nip so we give him his treat in a little feed bucket when doing tricks.

    1. Hi Shelley,

      Yes, clever ponies definitely need jobs 🙂

      Good idea about feeding in a little bucket. That can really help if a pony becomes very nippy.

      You might be able to get him out of the nipping habit if you work on it a little bit every day. Ponies can be so food motivated! Which can make training them with treats easier (they are so keen to get the treat) but unfortunately can make them pushy and nippy around treats.

      I find that separating the treat from the trick can help by using a ‘marker’ (a word or sound) that I mention in the ebooks. And most importantly only giving a pony / horse a treat if he does what you ask. Sometimes it can help if you can teach the pony that he only gets a treat when he has his head away from you.

      Good luck with the training. Sound like he’s already doing some good tricks 🙂

      Jain & Trigger.

  5. Hi Jain & Trigger,
    I am just starting your second ebook and love them to death. I can’t wait for the 3rd one to come. I have already taught my horse to come and was wondering if that was ok with the trick training. Being a tween, I would not teach my horse to rear yet, but i would love to have him lay down with a verbal cue.Also, can you teach your horse a trick without alot of treats? Beacause Cyder is getting kinda pushy around treats.
    Thanks for everything,
    Lyrah & Cyder

    1. Hi Lyrah & Cyder,

      Good to hear you are enjoying the ebooks. No plans for a 3rd one yet but Trigger and I are working on step-by-step instructions for some of the simpler tricks which will include photos and videos.

      Teaching your horse to come is an excellent trick to teach your horse 🙂

      I wouldn’t recommend teaching a horse to rear. It takes very good balance and strength from the horse (otherwise they can flip over) and can be very dangerous if the horse does it when you don’t want him to. There are HEAPS of other fun, good, safe tricks to teach your horse.

      Teaching a horse to lay down is another trick that you need to be careful with. I always suggest that people first teach their horses some simple tricks that are good on their own but help if you decide to teach your horse to lay down. These include picking up a front foot by just pointing at it and backing up by pointing.

      When you first start teaching your horse tricks with treats you need to teach them to behave around treats. There are some suggestions in the ebooks about training with treats. Most importantly you should never give your horse a treat unless they have done something you ask. It also REALLY helps to separate the treat from the trick by using a sound (I click my tongue). More on that in the ebooks as well. I use lots of treats when I first start teaching a trick but then cut them back once my horse has learnt that particular trick really well – only giving him a treat every now and again for doing that trick. At other times I give him a scratch on the withers or a rub as a reward. This keeps him interested in learning tricks but doesn’t make him a treat hog.

      Happy tricks!

      Jain & Trigger

  6. i have never had a horse but i know alot about them i love them. and i want to be a trick rider but im thinking about all the things that could happin.and i was thinking is it better to go to a trainer or become a trainer and train ur horse?

    1. Hi Saoirse,

      If you find a safe, reliable horse and you have a good relationship with that horse then I believe that you should teach that horse some simple tricks. It’s a really great way to bond with your horse and improve communication with your horse (and have fun!) 🙂 But if you want to teach very complicated tricks or your horse has some problems then I would definitely seek the help of an experienced trainer in your area.

      Happy tricks!

      Jain & Trigger.

  7. Wanting to know if teaching a horse to bow after a performance is dangerous? Cup of Joe (Chocolate Rocky MOuntain) and are to do a breed demo at the Hoosier Horse Fair this coming April. I would like to end the demo with Joe bowing.

    1. Hi Lynn,

      Finishing a demo with a bow looks great 🙂

      If you and your horse have a good relationship and he is calm and well behaved then he would be a perfect candidate to teach to bow. Just remember that you should do the following:

      Take it slowly and make sure he understand each step of the trick. If he gets confused or upset at any stage go back a step.
      Teach him that he is only to bow when you ask him.
      Never give him a treat or reward if he does the trick without being asked.
      Provide protection for his knees if you are going to ask him to go right down onto one knee (rather than just sitting back and lowering his head – the simple bow).
      Have fun!

      Jain & Trigger.

  8. Hi Nisi,

    I think you will find that as you spend more time with your mare she will learn to trust you and she will be less scared of everything. Even Trigger gets scared sometimes when he sees something really strange and new, but I just tell him it is okay and talk to him in a calm voice and he will go past the object without any problems.

    Tricks can also be hard to teach a new horse. They aren’t sure of what you want and haven’t learnt to communicate with you yet. The more tricks you teach your horse, the easier it becomes. Try something really, really simple – just so she gets to understand you. Maybe teach her to touch something with her nose. I like to use a soft ball, that can later be used to play fetch with. There are instructions on how to teach a horse to touch a ball in Part 2 of the ebooks. Just practice this trick for a few minutes every day. Don’t move onto teaching any other tricks until she is really good at this and understands it totally.

    Once she gets the idea she will be really pleased that you understand each other and as I said before it will get easier and easier to teach her each new trick. It takes a lot of patience but if you go really slow in the beginning you will find that you will build an excellent relationship with your mare 🙂

    Happy tricks!

    Jain & Trigger

  9. hi, I have a mare who is 14 and I haven’t had her long. I love her and she loves me – she folows me everywhere and comes in for a cuddle, but she is scared of EVERYTHING!!! how do i overcome this? not traffic though, which is a good thing. I might be hacking out and she will freak out at a post or a bird in a bush….

    the other day she had me of at the beach… she turned sharply because of a log on the floor while we were in canter. i later found her becase somebody on the bridle path was holding her. Also i am finding it hard to teach her tricks (i have been using every method possible).

    Any advice?

  10. Hi….I would like to teach my horse to bow so I can get on him. I have a knee injury that prohibits me from mounting the normal way. I have to stand on something to get on my horse (usually the bumper of my truck!). There are times when I am out riding that I will need to dismount and don’t always have something to stand on to get back on. And that means I walk all the way home or til I find something tall enough. So, I thought about teaching him to bow so I could get on him. Any help would be most appreciated! Thanks

    1. Hi Cheryl,

      Sounds like teaching your horse to bow or lower himself would make life a lot easier for you and be a really useful trick (those are the tricks I like 🙂 ) He wouldn’t need to do a proper bow (eg tuck his head in and rest on his knee). He could either just sit back a bit on his haunches – stretching his front legs out or fold one leg under himself. Just enough to get his back closer to the ground for you. To do this I would think about ways to break this trick up into as many tiny steps as possible. For example if you were going to teach him fold one leg under himself and lean back a bit then I would start at the very beginning by asking him to lift up his foot when you touch it and then point to it. Your horse should also back easily. So that when he learns to lift his foot you can then apply a little bit of pressure to his nose and he will sit back.

      Hope that makes sense. It’s hard to describe without pictures. Trigger and I are working on some step-by-step instructions for some of the simpler tricks that will include pictures and videos. We will be emailing them out to everyone on our list in the next few months.

      Happy tricks!

      Jain & Trigger.

  11. The only tricks my horse can due perfectly are LAYDOWN, BOW, AND STAND ON A PEDISTAL WITH ALL 4S. 🙂

  12. I taught my horse how to rear by gathering up the reins tightly and kicking her and saying up. she reared but I now know that i should of never taught her that because now when ever I go to barrel races she rears and bucks right before i go in the gate all the time. I am trying to teach her not to do that anymore. But teaching a how to REAR is the worst trick in the book and your horse will do it reapeatedly whenever it wants if not taught correctly.I LEARNED MY LESS AND I AM JUST LUCKY I DIDN’T FALL OFF OR SHE DIDN’T FALL BACKWARDS ON TOP OF ME…..

  13. Thank you for your book. I have a very smart 7 year old Oldenburg mare that picks things up very fast. She learned how to give kisess in about 10 min. We wil see how the rest of the tricks go now that I have your book.

      1. I thought my 4 year old to hug me and say no in one day. She already knew how to back up and we are working on kisses. Is it safe to train her to shake hands or should I wait until she is older and more experienced. She learns very quickly so she is perfect for trick training but I also compete on her so I’m not sure what tricks to teach her

        1. Hi Rachael,

          It sounds like Angel will be really good at trick training. The smart horses seem to really enjoy it because it keeps them interested. You might find that the more you teach her the quicker she will learn and you will need to come up with new tricks to teach her every week 🙂

          I’ve taught foals some basic tricks, so I don’t think 4 is too young to start any trick. Just make sure that you only reward her if she does a trick when you ask her. You should also think about possible problems of teaching her certain tricks. Will there be young children around her? Shaking hands can be dangerous if she strikes out at someone unexpectedly. Again, the most important thing is to make sure you teach her that she is only to do a trick when you ask her (eg give her a clear cue).

          If you compete on her maybe try some useful tricks, like dropping her head when you point at her ears…. or picking up her feet by pointing.

          Have fun,

          Jain & Trigger.

  14. I also found this site really helpful and really liked it can i also ask when will i be able to get the ebook 2nd part

    1. Hi Bree, Glad you found our site helpful. Trigger will be pleased 🙂
      You should receive Part 2 about a week after Part 1. Please send us a quick note (through the ‘Contact’ form on this website) if you don’t receive it soon.
      Happy tricks!
      Jain & Trigger

  15. Hi Jain I have been teaching my horse tricks since she was a baby now and I was wondering is u new how to teach them to bow or maybe lye down my horse is now 5 turning 6 this year and I have been told most of there muscles and bones have developed properly by the age of 5 and I was wondering if bowing to could be a bad trick to teach to them.

    My horse is learning tricks very fast she learned kisses when she was a yearling and has learned to play soccer all on her own and she has only been trained a little while but is very stubborn but whiling to learn when we were training her she would rear so we got her right out of that and she has never done it again.

    I was also wondering what method I could use to teach my horse to lye down and if that could lead to any had behaviour from this trick ??? I no she could lye down with me and the saddle on but that is what I want her to do…..

    So if u no of any methods to teach them to bow and or lye down can u plzz tell me i would much appshiate that all the best with u and trigger

    Bree 😀

    1. Hi Bree,

      Sounds like you have a clever horse 🙂

      You are right – most horses aren’t fully developed until they are about 5 years old. But I don’t mind teaching even very young horses to lay down. The do it naturally when they sleep anyway. I just don’t ask them to do it a lot when they are young.

      I also make sure that the surface that I ask them to lay down on is soft and won’t hurt their legs or knees. A grassy paddock or stable with shavings or straw works well. If the ground is even a little bit hard I will use boots to protect Trigger’s knees and legs when I ask him to lay down or bow. I am always aware that if I ask my horses to do anything that hurts them or makes them uncomfortable, they won’t want to keep doing it. I like to keep my horses very enthusiastic and keen to learn new tricks 🙂

      Teaching a horse to lay down on cue takes quite a few steps. I like to teach my horses each step carefully and only move onto the next step when they fully understand.

      I only teach my horses this trick when they are good at lots of other simpler tricks. You will find that you can teach your horse several tricks that will help with teaching them to lay down. For example, lifting their leg up, moving their weight back and lowering their head.

      I am also careful to only reward my horse if they lay down when I ask them to. You don’t want them doing this trick if you haven’t asked for it.

      Trigger and I are working on a series to step-by-step instructions, with photos and videos. These will include how to teach your horse to bow and lay down. We will email them out to everyone on our email list.

      Happy tricks,

      Jain & Trigger

  16. thats not completly true tho because it taught my horse down.. so when i say “down” he will lay down.. i tried to get him to go down as i was on him but there is no way in heck he will do it.. if your bond is strong enough with a horse they wont look into hurtin gyou more of protecting you.. for example one time i lost my stirrup and went forward as we were jumping and he stopped right away and turn his head toward me and made sure i was okay and got back in the saddle correctly and waited for me to say forward.

    if your teaching your horse in correctly to do tricks then yea okay i understand what your saying.. i wont teach my horse any tricks with signals only words so then there is never a cue just a word.. and im sure no one is going to say rear as there on a horse.

    my horse knows rear but i dont ever say only when lil kids ar enearby and i tell him to say hi and reaer he will rear and stick his hoof in the air and shake it up and down.. kids LOVE it!! but ive never had an issue so its probably just how individuals train there horse.

    my horse also knows roll over and yes and no and kiss smile and tag <- thats fun oh and he doesnt hit me randomly either because i have to say tag everytime i touch him and when he touches me. so he is smart to not do it on a normal day basis.

    he is a 10 yr old QH gelding and i have had him since november 2010 he is still new to me but the bond is bigger than ever.
    when i ask him to lay down i can rest my head on his back neck where ever and just lay there since he wont get up until told to.. unless i walk far away then he will come make sure i didnt ditch him! :]

    train your horse correctly and there wouldnt be any furture issues!

    1. Hi Stina & Stormie,

      It’s really great when you have such a good bond with your horse that they actually try to protect you and look after you. I completely believe that there are been numerous times in my life when I would have been hurt if my horse hadn’t done something to protect me.

      I usually like to use a word and a physical cue when I teach my horses tricks. Horses use body language (physical cues) a lot more than verbal cues to communicate with each other, so I like to use a similar method to communicate with my horses. Plus Trigger is a bit deaf so if I ask him to do something when he isn’t close to me, I need to use a physical cue.

      There are some horses that I would feel really comfortable about teaching them the more advanced / dangerous tricks – your horse sounds like one of them. It seems like he really trusts you and has a calm nature and also learns quickly. But for a lot of folk I still recommend just teaching their horses the safer ones. Especially if they can’t be sure that young kids won’t be around their horses or that they may sell their horses.

      Because you already have such a good relationship with your horse and you’ve only had him for a short while, you should be able to teach him just about anything! Keep us posted on how your trick training is going 🙂

      Jain & Trigger

    1. Hi Niya. ‘Yes’ is a good trick to teach your horse. The only thing that you have to watch out for is that when your horse first starts learning it, that you stand back. They can throw their head around and knock you. I’ve taught Trigger to say ‘Yes’ but he moves his head away from me when he does it.

      You may find that once your horse learns this new trick they will try and do it whenever they see you. Just be aware of this because if they throw their head around when you don’t expect it you could get hurt.

      Your horse needs to learn that they ONLY get a reward if you ASK them to perform the trick. Don’t growl at them if they do the trick without you asking but don’t reward them either. You will find that after awhile they will stop doing the trick unless you ask because there is no benefit for them.

      Good luck with the trick training. I hope you and your horse have fun together 🙂

  17. Great advice, especially for those who may not be expereicned with horses or teaching “tricks” to a horse.

    I do believe that it’s all about communication. If you’re using communication vs tricks then there should be no worries. There’s a big difference between the two and I think that may be where people can get a little confused. 🙂

    Well written post.

    1. Thanks Stephanie. I totally agree – it’s all about communication. I find trick training is a very useful tool for building communication with my horses. Whenever I work with a new horse I find that teaching them some simple tricks means we quickly develop a way to understand each other.

      Horses also seem to really enjoy this form of training and maybe because of this, they learn faster than other methods I’ve used. I use this same method for teaching my horses to do anything.

      Interestingly, I’ve always had trouble working out when something should be called a ‘trick’ and when it’s not. If I point at my horses a certain way they will say yes. If I point another way they will back up. I point another way and they will lift their feet. Which ones are ‘tricks’ and which ones aren’t? The line is blurred.

      PS I really like your website. You have lots of excellent articles there.

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