Horses learn much quicker and are less likely to get confused, if you teach them in small steps rather than attempting a trick all at once.
If you want to teach your horse a trick (or anything else), think about the final result you want, then try and break the trick into as many smaller parts as possible. Make sure that your horse understands each part thoroughly before you move onto the next part.
For example, if you want to start to train your horse to fetch a ball, you wouldn’t just throw it and expect him to go after it.
You would first teach him to touch the ball while you are holding it near him. Once he gets that right you might lower the ball a bit and again ask him to touch it. When he is doing that easily you can gradually lower it further and further until it is on the ground… etc… etc…
If you spend a little bit of time planning the tricks before you start training it makes it easier for the horse to learn the trick. This is because you are clear about how you are going to teach your horse the trick and you are only teaching him small parts that he can understand easily.
Think about your end goal, then write down each small step you are going to teach your horse to reach that goal. The smaller you can make each step, the better.
If you break every new thing you want to teach your horse into simple small steps you will find that your horse will learn a lot faster and he will enjoy the training a lot more.
Your horse may already do tricks or he may do something that can be turned into a trick.
Watch them and think about what they do naturally each day, especially around feeding time or when you are grooming them. Could this form part of a trick? It makes it much easier to teach a trick if they already do part of it. For example does your horse stamp his foot when waiting for his food? This is the start of a trick where your horse can count by stomping.
I have owned horses that love picking things up. If I’m grooming them, they will pick up brushes, hoof picks – anything that is lying around. This horse tends to be very good at the ‘fetch’ trick. They can usually be taught very easily to run after a ball and return it to you, or pick up your hat if it falls off.
My horse can open gates. He came with this trick. I watched him one day playing with the latch on a gate until he worked out how to open it and then he just pushed the gate open with his nose. He obviously knew what he was doing and had performed the same ‘trick’ on several other gates. Without much work I have taught him to open gates while I’m out riding. I don’t need to get off him. I just undo the latch and he does the rest.
Make a note of any ‘tricks’ your horse already does. These are the best areas to work on when you first start trick training with you horse.
A common problem when you first start showing off your horse’s new tricks is ‘Stage Fright’.
It goes like this…..Your horse performs a trick perfectly and promptly when it’s just you and him (or her). But tell some friends what a wonderful trick horse you have, invite them around for a demo and it’s almost as if your horse never knew the trick!
Some horses don’t mind how many people are around or what is going on, but the majority of horses will see this as a new situation and at the very least will be a bit distracted. Your horse may also be nervous about having extra people around. To a horse, extra people can mean something is about to happen eg a visit from a vet or farrier; two very necessary professionals but people that your horse may not like or is worried about.
You could also be nervous or anxious about showing the new trick and your clever horse to your friends. We all know that horses pick up on nerves and your mood.
It’s hard to admit but a few years ago I realized that most of the horses I had owned would rather be in a large field, eating grass with their horse friends, than being ridden or working with me.
Now I understand why.
I used to catch my horse, groom him, saddle him, ride him and put him back in the paddock. Next day I would catch my horse, groom him, saddle him, ride him and put him back in the paddock etc, etc, etc. Not much fun for my horse (except maybe the grooming part).
Now I make sure that when I’m around my horses it’s not all about work. We play games, practice tricks, have a scratch and generally hang out together.
I read an old book recently and it talks about horse personalities and how a different style of training is required for each type. I think it is important to find out what type of horse you are working with so you can adjust the way you train to suit the horse personality.
The book talked about how all horses could be classified under one or a combination of two or more of the following types:
Type 1. Teachable, docile, kind Type 2. Stubborn, wilful Type 3. Nervous, ambitious, determined Type 4. Treacherous, ill-tempered, resentful
I think I have owned, or worked with several of all these types. I think Type 4’s are made that way (badly treated) rather than born that way.
The book recommends Type 1. as being the perfect Trick Training horse. My horse Trigger is definitely a Type 1. horse. He is very dependable, docile and nothing much bothers him. He is very trusting and trustworthy and I can present him with all sorts of new things and it doesn’t take him long to accept them. He can be a bit lazy and prefers tricks that don’t take much effort or moving around, for example lying down 🙂
However I have owned a Type 3. (a thoroughbred) and it would be hard to find a horse that learnt quicker or was more responsive. He tended to be nervous, flighty and worried about a lot of things but he was so switched on and aware of his surroundings that he would pick up the slightest cue and respond immediately. These types of horses aren’t for beginners. I had to be careful how I moved around him, he didn’t like being confined and I had to introduce him to new things very slowly.
I also remember a Type 2. with fondness. She was a really good horse to work with – while she was happy doing what she was doing – but ask her to do something that she didn’t want to do and she would plant all 4 feet and just wouldn’t move. No rearing, bucking, kicking or fuss…..she would just stand stock still and that was that. I hate whacking horses but even a good tap on her backside wouldn’t move her, in fact she just planted her feet further into the ground. The only way to get round her was to convince her that she really did want to do what I was asking her and then we got somewhere.
I’ve come across quite a few Type 4. while working in various racing stables. Horses that don’t want to be there and this can bring out some nasty habits and behaviours. Luckily I’ve never owned one of these.
I’ve also met or owned some that are a combination of two types. Some traits don’t show themselves until a horse is put under pressure or into a particular situation.
There are so many tricks you can teach your horse. There are all the usual ones like kiss, hug, bow etc, but also think about teaching your horse some useful tricks.
These can make life a whole lot easier (and safer) around your horse.
Here are some of our favorite useful tricks…
MAKE HOOF WORK EASY
Keep his foot on a hoof stand. Your farrier will love this one!
Point at your horse’s foot and he will pick it up for you. No need for you to strain to lift his foot up.
STAND AND WAIT ANYWHERE
Stand still and wait without needing to be tied up. Useful if there is nowhere convenient to tie your horse or you just want to quickly pop out into his field and check him, pick out his feet or brush him.
Also useful when mounting and dismounting.
NO FUSS TREATMENTS AND PROCEDURES
Teach your horse to happily accept those inevitable treatments and procedures BEFORE you actually have to do them.
Spraying – accept being sprayed with an aerosol or pump spray bottle (for example fly spray).
Bandaging – stand still while you bandage any part of his body.
Foot baths – stand still with foot in a bucket of water (useful in case of foot abscesses).
Clipping – stand still while you clip any part of your horse.
Stretching – neck and leg stretches before or after exercise.
De-worming – happily accept a de-worming tube in the mouth.
GO FORWARD AND TOUCH SCARY OBJECTS
Make your horse braver. If you teach your horse to ‘touch’ new and unusual items with their nose you will find that they will be more willing to go forward and investigate scary objects.
PERFECT FOOD MANNERS
Be well behaved around food. This includes waiting politely while feed is mixed and only moving forward to start eating when told it is “okay”.