Are you looking for an alternative and fun way to work your horse? Try Trick Training!

Trick training can be a fun way to work your horse. It is based on correct groundwork and exemplary manners from the horse. The horse has to be submissive, soft and yielding on the ground before you can start asking for tricks. Tricks taught without the correct foundation groundwork can turn into unwanted (and often dangerous) bad habits, therefore care must be taken.

The 3 groundwork basics I always insist the horse knows and executes well before teaching tricks are the following:

1 To be respectful and soft in a head collar.

He/She must back up willingly and softly, as well as moving their forehand and hindquarters over sideways in both directions. They must also stand patiently, at any length of rope and know not to enter your personal space unless invited.

2 To yield and flex their neck both ways off the head collar.

To ensure your horse is flexible and soft to gentle pressure. If your horse needs work on it’s flexibility to do this, start introducing a simple carrot stretches to encourage mobility.

3 Pick up any foot on command.

You must have safe control over your horse’s feet and willingness by them to pick up their own feet. This is not teaching them to ‘paw’ or strike or similar – this is solely picking a foot up as you would do to pick them out. Holding a foot up or asking for a raised leg appears in a variety of tricks, so it is essential the horse understands the cue to pick a foot up on command as well as learn to hold their balance. All 3 of these basics are crucial to all tricks, however all 3 can help in your day-to-day life with your horse. All are encouraging softness and positive manners. You will end up with a horse that is not bargy, is easy to control in-hand and you will never have any problems picking up feet!

WHAT ARE THE POSITIVES OF TRICK TRAINING?

If you choose to progress on to trick training once the groundwork is established, it is a brilliant way of making the horse body aware and engaging the brain. You increase mobility, aid flexibility, strengthen the horse and create extra body awareness where you can have control over each part of the horse more acutely than before. You can even create more impulsion, balance and more collection or length of stride. You can create ‘helpful tricks’ - lowering their head for the bridle, kneeling to mount, manoeuvring a gate, parking up at a mounting block, putting a hoof to your Farrier’s tripod, recall/coming to call. The basics of trick training can even help avoid incidents in the future; surprising objects are not so scary or anything caught round their legs is not something to panic over, therefore avoiding injury. Trust is formed and their flight or fight response can be managed more easily.

HOW DO I TRICK TRAIN?

All trick training is based on the cue, the response and the reward.

● The cue is the aid you choose to ask for a specific trick. It can be vocal, physical or even a mix of both.

● The response is the reaction the horse gives you from the cue.

● The reward is what you give when the horse gives you the correct response to your cue.

There are 4 main training methods to fully understand how you teach your horse. These can be applied to every day training and handling, not just trick training.

1 Positive Reinforcement.

This is when the horse is rewarded automatically when they have responded correctly, with something positive. This is most typically a treat but can be anything the horse will perceive as positive – a pat, a scratch on their itchy spot, vocal reward etc.

2 Negative Reinforcement.

This is when the horse has a ‘negative’ cue or stimulus removed when they have responded correctly. The word ‘negative’ in the title should not be thought of as a bad training method however - this method is actually commonly used in day to day training. A simple example of this would be getting your horse to move away from pressure – the pressure is removed once the horse has moved away from it.

3 Negative Punishment. 

This is when the horse receives no positive or negative action at all for any response offered. This is also referred to as eradication and is useful when ‘un-training’ your horse. An example would be your horse offering a movement, trick or bad habit that is unwanted and you simply ignore them. They do not get any reward or response of any kind for doing it, so in time, have no desire to do it and the behaviour is ‘deleted’. This method is crucial when trick training, as if your horse does any trick when you have not asked for it, it MUST be ignored. They have to learn tricks are only ever acceptable on command

4 Positive Punishment.

This is the horse receiving punishment for any ‘unwanted’ behaviour. Any ‘punishment’ for anything such as biting, needs to be immediate to have any relevance to the horse. If there is a need for constant punishment during training, then retraining needs to be addressed or physical pain ruled out.

HOW CAN I TRICK TRAIN?

There are many different tricks to teach and are dependant on each individual horse. The horse must be physically strong enough as well as mentally mature enough to cope with training. There is no limit on age or type of horse, however you must be honest with yourself on your horse’s temperament and manners before you start certain tricks. As I say, any good trick can quickly be a bad habit!

Horse Trick Training with Lisa Dixon the bow

THE SIMPLE BOW:

The easiest trick to teach you can try is the simple bow. This cannot turn into a bad habit nor be dangerous to anyone around you. It is also a very good body stretch for your horse!

1 Start with a simple carrot stretch.

I start by getting the horse to follow a carrot down to either side of their front feet. I start them this way to get them confident lowering their head next to people, learn their balance steadily and gradually become flexible. Each time they get the carrot, simply say ‘bow’.

2 Move the carrot stretch between the front legs.

If the horse finds it difficult and backs up instead, simply put them against a wall or just take the time and patience till they realise they are only allowed the carrot once they stay still and just lower their head between their front legs. Again, each time they get the carrot, simply say ‘bow’.

3 Move the carrot further back.

Once they are consistent with the carrot stretch between their front legs, you can gradually bring the carrot further back each time. Only let them have the carrot once they’ve moved their head and neck further back between their legs than the last time. This must not be rushed as the finished result is a very large body stretch for the horse so you must build their suppleness gradually. Again, each time they get the carrot, simply say ‘bow’.

4 Perfecting the cue and reward.

Once they are flexible and consistent holding a long and low bow, you then just keep working on your cue and reward. The cue eventually is a mixture of physical and vocal which has been building up automatically as you have been training the trick. The physical cue is your sweeping arm gesture (stemming from following the carrot) and the vocal cue is the word ‘bow’. You now can simply ‘bow’ next to your horse and your horse bows too!

There are many more tricks you can learn – Freelance Equine offers specialist trick training lessons for you to learn more about trick training and you can even practise finished tricks on our own horses such as lying down, Jambette, raising legs, sitting up, pedestal, controlled rearing and many more!

If you are interested in learning more about trick training, you can book a lesson or clinic with us! Please contact Lisa Dixon on 07596173371 or find us on our Facebook page ‘Freelance Equine Trick Training and Freelance Equestrian Services.'