Look at Maxwell out there in his paddock, half-asleep, sunbathing by the fence. You’re glad he’s not chewing on it. You feel a trifle bad—guilty is more like it—that you haven’t had time to ride him like you should. You know he’s bored silly and that he’s got the “smarts” to learn just about anything.
WHY TEACH YOUR HORSE TRICKS?
But, wait! There is something the two of you can do that doesn’t require the necessary time for grooming, tacking, riding and cooling out. Nor do you need an elaborate round pen, riding ring or expensive training equipment. Teach him tricks! Inside your horse there’s a fertile mind waiting to be developed. Inside you there’s a ham waiting to break out into show biz.
Not only can you teach your horse a trick in just a few five-minute sessions, you are also improving communication between you and the horse. When you teach him to “smile,” for example, you are standing directly in front of him, saying “Smile!” and pointing to his upper lip. He is learning (these are cognitive skills) and paying attention to your cues on the ground: where you stand, your verbal command, and where you point to or touch him on his body. He is benefiting from your company, the attention and praise he’s getting, and endearing himself to you. You are delighted with his—and your—accomplishments, the giggles and admiration of those watching you (“Do it again!,” they say), and can hardly wait to teach him another trick. Are we having fun yet?
Whoever thought that teaching tricks and having so much fun could foster the development of you’re the horse’s intelligence? It’s true. When a couple of tricks are taught to the horse, for the horse, learning them becomes easier with each successive trick. Don’t think of these movements as “tricks.” The word seems to have a pejorative meaning. Mostly because those who don’t understand, pooh-pooh the notion of tricks. In actuality, the bow, curtsy, and Spanish Walk are quite elegant. Fit for her majesty, the Queen, . They are all tricks. Of course, we start off with easy tricks at first, then get more challenging. For both you and the horse.
The beauty of trick horse training is that it can and should be used on horses of all ages. What better way to start a weanling foal to become obedient and pay attention than to teach him some tricks. Senior horses, even those resting up from injuries, can profit from learning tricks. Make your horse useful. Did you drop your hat? Teach your horse to pick it up. Is your horse tall, and you’re not? Teach him to bow or lie down to mount him more easily. We’re talking practicality here.
Don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself. See if your horse doesn’t appreciate and look forward to your company more. See if your horse doesn’t become less fearful and more confident, because you have done so much groundwork with tricks first.
When Aunt Sally and your barn friends laugh at Maxwell’s antics, he will shine with intellectual achievement, seem brighter, more interesting. You will beam with accomplishment when someone asks you, “How did you teach him that?”
Then when you tell me how close the bond is between you and your horse because of the tricks, I’ll just smirk and say, “I told you so!”
By Carole Fletcher, Trainer, Performer, Author, “Trickonometry: Secrets of Teaching Your Horse Tricks”