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 easy to teach a horse two or three simple tricks. Holding a treat in a certain position will tempt most horses to do simple things like drop their heads or give you a hug – they are just following the treat. But if you really want to increase communication with your horse and teach them more complicated tricks you need to teach them to actively work to learn a trick. This makes it possible to teach them just about anything.
Active learning is a stage a horse gets to where they understand that you want them to do something and they will try really hard to work out what that is. For example when I first taught Trigger to follow me backward by pulling (very gently) on his tail he initially didn’t understand what I wanted. At first he actually pulled away from me. (Pulling away from pressure is a natural response for a horse). However because Trigger and I now have an excellent system of communication he will keep trying different things until I tell him that he has done the right thing.
When I first tried the tail pulling trick he tried pulling against me, then he tried stepping sideways, then stepping sideways in the other direction, then standing still but I just stood there and he kept trying. Finally he stepped backward and I told him this was the right thing to do.
The next time I asked him to do the trick he took only a minute or so to work out what I wanted (he tried pulling away, standing still and then he stepped backward). The next time he stepped backward as soon as I asked.
It is then just a matter of increasing the length of the trick. Each time I asked him to step backward for a longer time. I then added weaving in and out of poles. Once he understood what I wanted it was easy to add small variations to the main trick.
You will find that it will become easier and easier to teach your horse each new trick (and many other things). You horse will become very motivated to work out what you want him or her to do. However none of this is possible unless you have good communication with your horse and you horse knows how to actively work to learn a trick.
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.
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”.