One of the fun things to do with horses is to teach them tricks. So at our March Golden Pony Club we did that.
There are some tricks that we would never teach our horses for safety reasons – like rearing or kissing on the lips. But there are so many others that are fun and very teachable. All tricks are actions that a horse will normally do. So the only thing that is tricky is getting the horse to do the action on command.
To really teach a trick, you need to repeat the action over and over a period of days. Since our club only meets for two hours, each member did the action with the horse three times. Rewards are also important. We give a small carrot as a reward if the horse at least “tries” to do the action.
We started with the one trick that everyone loves to see – Smiling! This is a relatively simple trick. The horse will naturally raise its upper lip to get a better smell of its surroundings. It will also lift the lip when it’s in pain. Lifting the lip is called flehmen (flay’-mon).
We teach it one of two ways: either by tickling the nose with a string – baling twine works just fine, or dipping the baling twine in a liquid that has a strong scent to it – like a perfume. We tried it both ways during our session and got some results.
The second trick was teaching the horse to give a hug. This one was a little more difficult for the girls. You need to hold the treat – in this case a carrot on a Frisbee – behind your back so the horse looks over your shoulder to get it. The girls arms a much shorter than an adults, so they had the treat closer to their waist and the horse simply went behind them to get the reward. We’ll have to work on this one a little more.
The last trick was shaking hands/hooves. This is on my questionable trick list, but it is a fun one, too. I place it on the questionable list because we don’t want to teach the horse to paw or strike forward with a hoof, but the horses that I taught it too, never picked up either habit, so I will teach it.
The cue word is “shake” and we start by putting a lead line around the fetlock and on the cue “shake” put some pressure on the rope to encourage the horse to pick up the hoof. If the horse shift weight to the other hoof and just moves the hoof that we want lifted, we reward to the horse. This trick takes longer to teach than the other tricks, but, like any trick, everyone enjoys seeing the horse “shake” hands/hooves.
To see more pictures of teaching the horses tricks go to our Facebook page.
Linda Watson is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all of the lessons and activities at this facility.