Trick Training Tips

Teaching Your Horse Tricks Step By Step

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…

Trick Ball

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.

Trick Training Tips

Tricks your horse already does

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.

Horse Trick Fetch
Does your horse like picking things up?

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 easy 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 your horse.

Trick Training Tips

Teaching your horse to actively learn tricks

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.

Horse Tricks
Working out a trick

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).  Your 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 your horse knows how to actively work to learn a trick.

Bonding Ideas

Where would your horse rather be?

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.

trick training
Make it fun when you are around

Now I understand why.

I used to catch my horse, groom him, saddle him, ride him, and put him back in the paddock.  The 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.

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