Trick Training Tips

The Importance of Clear Trick Training Cues

How do you ask your horse to do something?

You give them a cue.

A cue is just a signal you use to let your horse know what you want them to do.  Each cue needs to be clear and distinct from other cues otherwise your horse can become confused.

You will be using both verbal and physical cues, when you are teaching your horse tricks.

Make sure your cues are clear

A verbal cue is saying something like “back” or “touch”.

A physical cue is something the horse can see or feel.  For example you may point at your horse’s hindquarters and this is the cue for him to move his hindquarters away. Or you might touch him on his shoulder and this is a cue for your horse to bow.

Physical cues work better than verbal cues

Physical cues tend to work better than verbal cues because in the horse world there are no words.  Horses are used to interpreting minor changes in the body language of other horses in the herd.  A physical cue can be very subtle once a horse learns to recognize it.

If you only want to teach your horse a few tricks then you might only need to use a few physical and verbal cues.  However, if you want to teach your horse lots of different tricks then you really need to think about which cues you are going to use.  Even though horses are very good at distinguishing between subtle body movements if your cues are too similar it will confuse your horse – especially when you first start teaching them tricks.

For example when I first taught Trigger to say Yes, I would point at the front of his head.  Then I decided to teach him ‘to be ashamed’, which is where he will put his head under my arm.  The cues I decided to use for this were to wave my finger in front of him while saying “Shame on you”.  Trigger saw a finger in front of his face and got a bit confused and started to say Yes.

I needed to make the ‘ashamed’ cue a lot more distinct when I first started teaching it to him.  I decided to put my left hand on my hip, as if I was mad with him, and really waggle my finger and whole arm back and forth in front of his face.  By making my cue very obvious he then understood the difference.  As he became better at the trick I could make the cues more and more subtle and now I only need to put my hand on my hip and gently waggle my finger back and forth.

You should also put some careful thought into the verbal cues you will be using when you teach your horse a trick. Don’t use words that you might say at other times.

You can even make up your own verbal cues. 

It isn’t necessary to use a real word as a cue.  You can even make up cue words (as long as you remember the word) or use words in a different language to keep the verbal cues distinct.

Where will you be when your horse performs the trick?

Think also about where you will be when you want your horse to perform his trick.  If you want to teach your horse to bow with you in the saddle, there is no point in teaching him using a cue that requires you to be on the ground.  Unless you are very flexible!

Once your horse has learned a trick really well your cues can become very subtle, but in the beginning, make them very distinct from each other.  Spend a bit of time planning how you are going to teach each trick and also which cues you will use.  This will make it easier to teach your horse each new trick and prevent them from becoming confused.

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6 thoughts on “The Importance of Clear Trick Training Cues”

  1. Hi, i have a going on 2 year old draft stud colt that i want to teach to lay down and bow on signal he is very smart and willing to please, i got him to shake and do the spanish walk and now i want to teach him some more tricks 🙂 can anyone give me any good tips on how to get him to do that? i have held a treat in betewwn his front legs and got him to bow that way but i cant get him to do it when i tell him

    1. Hi Kaylynn,

      Good to hear that you have taught your horse so many tricks! 🙂 I like to break tricks up into lots of little parts. It makes it easier for a horse to learn. For example with the Bow, I teach my horses to 1. Lower their head. 2. Lift their leg up. 3. Lean back.

      I teach my horses using treats but I don’t ask them to follow the treat. They don’t tend to think about what they are doing if they are just trying to get the treat and they can also get nippy.

      If you would like to know more then sign up for the FREE Horse Trick Training. This covers the basics of teaching your horse a trick.

      Happy Tricks!

      Jain & Trigger.

  2. When asking for the bow…I use to snap my fingers (clicking sound)lowering my hand downward… and say “Honor” and if you had visitors I would say “Honor your guests..” as I snapped my two fingers together (on one hand)…it always made the judges and visitors laugh…

    1. They sound like good cues Mona. I click my tongue but snapping your fingers is also a good clear sound. A lot of people use clickers – little boxes that make a distinct sound – but I was always losing mine or forgetting to bring it to a training session, so something that is always with you, like snapping your fingers, is a great idea 🙂

      Jain & Trigger.

  3. Hello all

    I have a percheron gelding that stands 19.5 hands and weighs in at 2,600 lbs would like to teach him to get down lower so I can get into the saddle easier. He is my trail horse and we have many great adventures together however mounting can be difficult at times as logs and rocks are not always available. My intention is not to teach Gunther tricks but make him more versatile in the area of mounting and dismounting. Any advise would be greatly appreciated

    thank you very much
    Kyle and Gunther

    1. Hi Kyle & Gunther,

      19.5hh!!! – I had a 16.2hh thoroughbred and I it was a real effort to get up on him 🙂

      You have a couple of options to make getting into the saddle easier. Probably the simplest solution would be to teach him to stretch out. He needs to keep his back feet still and move each front foot forward a little step at a time. This will cause his back to lower and get that stirrup closer to the ground.

      You could also teach him to do a bow and this will get him a lot lower to the ground.

      Just be aware that bowing is quite hard on a horse’s legs and back and you will be putting extra weight on them when you get on. Also if you ask your horse to do a full bow you need make sure that you are on soft ground as this can be hard on their knees.

      The stretch is a better option as it is easier it will be easier on him.

      Hope this gives you some ideas.

      Happy tricks!

      Jain & Trigger.

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