Telling your storiesfrom the stables to the fields

Hay Bale
21 May,2018

Definitely Not A One Trick Pony!

Teaching horses tricks can be an excellent way to bond with your horse and also encourage obedience and compliance which can then be related in the saddle. It is also another fun way of spending time with your horse and alleviates boredom too. Trick training comprises four very basic components – Consistency, Patience, Repetition and Reward.

Consistency

It is vital to decide on a suitable cue before you start training any trick. Once chosen the cue must be stuck to consistently, to prevent your horse from becoming confused.  There are numerous types of cue:

touch, a tickle or nudge

sound, words or noises

visual, using body language or props

Cues can be used on their own or in conjunction with other cues. Once training has commenced the cue must not be altered.  

Patience

Your horse must remain comfortable and confident in what he is learning.  This can take time and is something that must not be rushed.  If your horse becomes confused or distressed take him back to a stage where he is comfortable and feels safe in his knowledge.  Trying to do too much too fast will always cause trouble!

Repetition

Each stage must be repeated until your horse produces the required behaviour without failure every time he is asked. f your horse becomes confused you will have to take him back a step to where he is comfortable and repeat the lesson until you are sure he is ready to move on to the next stage. The smaller each stage is the more confident your horse will be with the finished trick.

Reward

Correct rewarding is crucial to trick training.  Your horse must be rewarded immediately when he performs the desired behaviour, either a finished trick or an attempt during training.  When starting a new trick this is especially important, and timing is everything.  You must reward, even the smallest ‘tries’ on your horse’s part. The reward must not be given until the horse tries to give the desired behaviour.  Failure to reward your horse correctly when he performs the desired behaviour will result in a horse that soon loses interest.  Reward with a food-based treat of some kind.  However, each treat must be small, as you should leave your horse wanting more. Accompany the reward with verbal praise, and remember to always sound as if you mean it. 

Five Basic Tricks:

Head Shake ‘No’

(Do not teach if headshy).

Stand at left shoulder (can eventually stand anywhere as the cue is a sound).

Choose cue. 

Horse is standing quietly with his attention focused on you.

Reach up and tickle his left ear whilst giving the cue.

Reward as soon as he shakes his head, however slight the movement.

Repeat frequently rewarding all attempts.

Slowly reduce the tickle to just a raising of the hand, again rewarding all attempts.

Gradually progress to a stage where you rely solely on cue to produce headshake.  Reward all attempts.

Eventually only reward when headshake is produced to a satisfactory level on cue alone. 

 

Cross Legs Left over Right

Stand at left shoulder.

Choose cue.  I use a tickle to the left elbow.

Horse is standing quietly with his attention focused on you.

Give cue then pick the foot up and place it where you want it.  This may be a bit of a struggle to start with!  Reward.

Repeat frequently rewarding all attempts.

Gradually reduce from moving their leg yourself to maybe just tapping their hoof with your foot to encourage the movement.  Every time they offer any positive movement (however slight) give reward.

Every now and then move their leg yourself to the correct position – and reward!

Gradually only reward when the leg is placed in correct finishing position. 

Eventually leg should cross on cue into correct finishing position.  Reward!

 

Kiss

(Do not teach if nippy – see alternative trick ‘Cuddle’).

Stand in front of the horse.

Choose cue.  I use leaning forwards whilst making a ‘mmmmmm’ noise.

Ensure your horse is standing quietly with his attention focused on you.

Your horse must stand and allow you to step back in front of him.  Do not let him walk forwards.  If he does give him a stern ‘NO” and reverse him back to the same spot.   

Hold reward in hand and wave under horse’s nose, drawing his muzzle up towards your face.  At the same time give the cue.

When your horse’s muzzle is level with your face, reward him by giving a treat (at face height as if from your mouth).  (Your horse should be stretching his head and neck forwards to nuzzle your face.  If your horse steps forward to give him a stern ‘NO’ and reverse him back to the start spot).

Repeat frequently, trying less and less to draw horse up.  Reward all positive attempts.

Move reward from your hand to your mouth and reward horse from your mouth when he nuzzles your face – be prepared to be slobbered on!

Gradually stop rewarding this way and reward from hand once they nuzzle your face – they mustn’t associate your face with food!

Eventually they should nuzzle your face on cue.  Reward!

 

Pirouette Spin

(Should only be taught once leg cross is established).

First half.

Stand in front of the horse.

Choose cue.  I use a tickle to the outside of their left knee for the initial leg cross, followed by a ‘shooing’ gesture combined with the command ‘spin’ for the pirouette.

Ensure your horse is standing squarely and quietly with his attention focused on you.

Give tickle cue then pick the foot up and place it where you want it, then reward.

Repeat frequently rewarding all attempts.

Move around to your left and support the leg cross with your right hand to discourage your horse from falling out of position.  The front legs should remain planted throughout the movement.

Still supporting their legs give the shoo and spin cues.  As soon as they make any positive movement with their hind legs in the right direction give a reward.

Repeat frequently rewarding all positive attempts.

Gradually reduce the support to their legs, until they can maintain the position throughout the spin.  Reward all positive attempts.

Eventually they should be able to spin around moving only their hind legs so that they finish in a normal standing position with their front legs uncrossed.  Reward!

 

Second Half.

Stand at right shoulder, facing the quarters.

Cue is the same as above, a combination of a ‘shooing’ gesture and the command ‘spin’.

Horse is standing squarely and quietly with his attention focused on you.

Support their right leg to encourage it to stay in position.  Both front legs should remain planted throughout the movement.

Give shoo and spin cues. As soon as they make any positive movement with their hind legs in the right direction give a reward.

Repeat frequently rewarding all positive attempts.

Gradually reduce the support to their legs, until they can maintain the position throughout the spin.  Reward all positive attempts.

Eventually they should be able to spin around moving only their hind legs so that they finish in a crossed leg position, right over left. 

 

Combine the two halves.

Put the two stages together and initially support the front legs with your right hand to help them maintain their planted position throughout the movement.  Reward all positive attempts.

Repeat frequently whilst consistently rewarding.

Eventually your horse should be able to perform a complete spin pirouette on cue. 

 

Cuddle

Stand in front of the horse.

Choose cue.  I use stepping forwards into their left shoulder, putting my left hand up under their neck up to their mane and scratching, combined with the command ‘cuddle’.

Horse is standing quietly with his attention focused on you.

Stand facing your horse with a reward in your right hand.

Step forward into the cue position described above.

Draw your horse’s attention to the fact that you have a reward for him in your right hand.

Encourage him to bend his head and neck towards his left shoulder (around you, in effect ‘cuddling’ you) by tempting his muzzle with the reward in your right hand.  Reward all positive movement in this direction.

Gradually build up the bend around you your horse must achieve before rewarding him.

Repeat frequently, rewarding each positive attempt. 

Eventually he will give you a full cuddle on cue and will hold the position until released. 

 

Once your horse has mastered a trick you can be very proud of both him and yourself.  Correct rewarding remains of great importance.  Every time you ask him for a trick you must ensure it is performed correctly before rewarding him.  Sloppy training leads to sloppy tricks!  Trick training is a never ending journey.  No matter how many tricks your horse knows, there will always be more out there that he doesn’t.  Use your imagination, use your horse’s imagination, and the possibilities are endless.

Recommended Reading

Classical Circus Equitation, H. J. Lijsen and Sylvia Stanier

New Sensations for Horse and Rider, Tanya Larrigan

Trickonometry, Carol Fletcher

Step by Step Trick Training, Jackie Johnson

The Click that Teaches, Alexandra Kurland

Image credit: Pixabay


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