‘Shaking it up’ with our equine friends

I have been telling you about the intelligence of several horses that I have read about and researched.  Now it’s time to tell you what I really love to do with my horses.  I love to work them on their tricks, riding, and I also love to work with natural horsemanship skills.

When I moved to a county fairgrounds boarding facility a couple of years ago, I met a person who was more into natural horsemanship.  She was getting a lot of training from very good, well-known trainers. I started learning a few things from her, and I found that the more I learned the more I loved to be more of a natural trainer rather than more of the conventional trainer.  I do more training on the ground that helps me build a great relationship with my horse.  I was beginning to see what it was like to build such a great relationship with trick training, but now I can even add more of that ground work to get my horse even more in tune with me, which makes tricks even more spectacular to watch.

Horse-human interaction (Photo via Wikipedia)

Horse-human interaction (Photo via Wikipedia)

With this kind of training, I started to read what my horses were feeling by watching their ears and tail swishing — in other words, their body language.  A lot of natural horsemanship is getting into horse psychology, which will help me to get even more in tune with my horse and my trick training and shows.  I love the idea and thinking of relationship first, where we put our horses before anything that could endanger our friendship with them.

I have found that horses love variety, just like humans do.  There was one time that my grey mare Cheyenne did not want to make a basket, since I have taught her to play basketball.   But my new friend/instructor told me to shake up the routine a little and give the horses more of a variety with their tricks; make the tricks a little different so the horses don’t get bored with the same continual routine.  It worked!  I asked Cheyenne to take the ball and put it in the bucket, on the table, or just anything that is not routine.  Horses don’t like to do the same thing continually over and over again.  However, if we give our horses variety and teach them different ways to enjoy our company, we can have a considerably amusing new relationship with our horses.

It is quite a new perspective to think that horses are a lot like people in the fact that they don’t like the same routine time after time.  There is such a thing as “ring sour” horses, where they do walk, trot, canter or lope every time a rider gets on their back.  I know my Arabian mare Gypsy shows signs of being “ring sour” if I ride her that way too long.  So people need to remember that horses need variety.  Instead of always riding in circles, try winding around poles, or trotting on the bottom part of the arena, loping on the left side, stop and turn on the right side, etc.  Make it more entertaining for the horse.

So let’s say you want the horse to put the jolly ball into a small basketball hoop.  You train them day after day.  Eventually Cheyenne, being a smart horse, tests the boundaries and doesn’t pick up the ball.  What should I do?  There was one time I made her sit there until she picked up the ball and she didn’t.  I waited for about 30 minutes, she still didn’t do it.  After that, I sought advice from the other trainer.  Shaking up the routine did the trick.  Cheyenne does so much better and loves her tricks so much more.

Another thing to remember is that when you are working with your horse, you need to be calm and assertive with them.  I have to admit there were times I got too demanding, and if it didn’t happen I lost my temper.  That did not happen that often because Cheyenne would not do well on her tricks if I did that.  Gypsy is a classic example here, because if her rider is feeling fear, she reflects that by acting more fearful.  If her rider is irritated or angry, Gypsy will be irritated.  Gypsy is a mirror of her leader.  Cheyenne is much the same way with her tricks.  So as a leader we should reflect the leadership our horses need.  We need to be a confident, assertive, benevolent leader.

So while I am in full swing engaging in tricks with horses, I need to remember that Cheyenne will do whatever I ask her of her as long as she trusts me and as long as I am a calm and benevolent leader.  I have confidence with my horse.  I can imagine her doing it in my head and don’t imagine otherwise.  Be forever patient with her and allow her the time it takes to learn and absorb the new trick.  Sometimes it takes a considerable amount of time to grasp a new trick.  I need to allow her that time.  I need to keep this focus, and above all spend enjoyable time to play trick games with my horses. It all helps me to reach my goals.

Here is a video of another horse, showing some of the things I am working on, but this horse is a good example of where I am heading with Cheyenne.  I am not too far from this.

Finding intelligence in each unique horse

In my previous blog articles, I’ve led up to the point where I am with my horses today.  Last week, I discussed the intelligence of horses.  In the book “Beautiful Jim Key,” it tells the true story of a trick horse from the 20th century whose owner, William Key, taught Jim up to te sixth grade level.  He could do math, tell time, spell, count, and many other amazing things.  The truly amazing thing is that William Key did not cue Jim, he taught the horse to think these things through on his own.

William Key and Beautiful Jim Key

William Key and Beautiful Jim Key

What was amazing about this horse was when there were school children watching the show that Beautiful Jim Key was doing when William Key wanted the kids to do a spelling bee with Jim.  The horse won the spelling bee.  Jim could also do math questions, such as a problem directly out of a book read by William Key to Jim.  “I then asked him how much five times six less four was, and he hunted out the figure twenty-six,” William said. The thing that William Key was trying to teach people is that Jim Key could reason.

Here are links to some documentary stories that have been gathered about this horse’s reasoning skills.  This is really an impressive story of this horse.  Horses do reason.  Please take a look at some of this information about this magnificent horse.  His story needs to be remembered because he was the smartest horse who ever lived.


The next thing I’ll share is a look at a lot of images of Beautiful Jim Key.  You then get a feel for what he did back at the turn of the century.  I am totally fascinated with this horse’s intelligence and the fabulous trainer William Key truly was.

Images of Beautiful Jim Key

We do have horses today who are very smart and climbing in their learning to new levels.  Lukas the worlds smartest horse was discussed last week as well.  But there is more information about him.  Let us look a little further into his story and how he and Karen, his current owner, came to be.

I am also very fascinated with Lukas as well.  He is a terribly intelligent horse who needs to stay known.   So here is Lukas’ book about his life with Karen Murdock.


The story of these two horses is where I am heading with my own horses, but maybe a little diversity of my own as far as playing the piano and painting abstract art.  I will continue to see how far I can progress with Cheyenne in our own trick world adventure.  I hope you stay tuned, and please feel free to ask me questions and make comments.  I love this blog and telling you about what I do.  I will soon show you fully what Cheyenne can do, she is an amazing horse.

Never underestimate the intelligence of a horse

A special relationship is emerging with my horses because of trick training.

When I first started with this training, I realized that I was building a language with my horses.  So to build a language meant that I have to keep track of the word cues that I would give the horses so I wouldn’t use different words each time from one day to the next.  For example, if I wanted my horse to smile, I would use the same word and not say another word the next time.  It gets confusing for the horse and for the handler.  I’ve had this happen even on my body cue.  If my body cue is different, the horse might see it as something different and not react the same as she was meant to.  So what I decided to do was keep a trick journal.  I write down the individual tricks, cues, and the reactions I am supposed to get from the horse.  It works, especially when I have taught my horse so many tricks that I am likely to forget what some tricks are.

While I am building a language for my horses, as I just explained, we need to keep the language consistent for the horses and us. As it is when we go to school, our language needs to stay consistent.  We need to work with the horses to remember what is requested and the proper response  from the horse.  Just like we went to school to learn our language, how to read, write, and speak.  Believe it or not, horses can do the same thing if we take the the time to teach them.
“How in the world can this happen?  I mean, horses reading and spelling?” you wonder?  Yes, a horse who can read, spell and even do math and lots more.
Beautiful Jim Key (Photo via Wikipedia)

Beautiful Jim Key (Photo via Wikipedia)

I’ve read a book that can prove that it has been done by a horse at the turn of the 20th century, named “Jim Key.”  This horse was like no other.  Despite the tremendous efforts of owner William Key, the mare that he loved so much died shortly after giving birth to Jim Key.  So this young horse moved into William’s home and lived there until Jim started to get too heavy and broke the floor.  But the strange part was the owner started sleeping out with the horse in the barn.  He was always with him.  He taught this horse so much that this horse could read, spell, count, do math, plus a whole lot more.  This proves that with time and determination we can teach animals to do big things.

There is a horse today that has the luck of being taught to spell names and to count with numbers.  Enjoy the talent of this horse in the following videos.

If you look on YouTube, there are still many more videos of Lukas, the world’s smartest horse.  He has so much love and proves that once we teach a horse how to learn, the sky is limitless.  There are horses who can no longer be ridden or people who can no longer ride, why not combine the two in a super-fantastic bond of friendship.  I work a lot on the ground with my horses and I thoroughly enjoy it.

I hope you enjoy my blog.  Please feel free to talk to me about the joy this blog gives you, or the questions you might have.

Thanks, and see you next time.

Bringing natural horsemanship into the training mix

Now that I have given a little introduction on how my relationship began with Cheyenne and Gypsy, I will go more into what Cheyenne, Gypsy and I do that you might enjoy.

Cheyenne takes a bow.  (Photo by Randy Kroll)

Cheyenne takes a bow. (Photo by Randy Kroll)

Cheyenne is my primary trick horse and I am going on four years of working with her on trick training.  It has been quite a fun journey for me as well as Cheyenne.  As I worked with Cheyenne, there were times that I had to be extremely patient, and there were times I became quite frustrated, because not all methods worked in the same manner on every horse.

Since I was learning out of a book, at times it became very challenging for me because sometimes I found that the presentation on how to walk through the steps in the book didn’t always work on the horses, which made it very frustrating.  Even to this day there are some tricks that I have not been able to do because I still have not been able to figure it out.  So I figured that I would purchase many trick books to accumulate many individual views on how to do one trick, or many different trainers’ descriptions on how to do various tricks.  I figured many different explanations would make it easier to understand how to teach it.  It did help to have these different viewpoints, but there are still a few tricks that I have not been able to figure out.  But I will keep at it to learn how to conquer these elusive tricks.

One thing that I have decided to do to help with tricks is to get into natural horsemanship training.  I have not regretted it.  My horses are more “tuned in” to me than they’ve ever been.  I am getting my horses to do moves that conventional training really doesn’t put into the requirements in the beginning.  Natural horsemanship has made trick training far easier for my horses to catch on to my training than conventional methods.  I have learned this form of training in dressage training as well.  Once the horse responds, stop giving the aid immediately.  I have seen many riders giving their horse a cue and then continue to give the cue.  To a horse, continuing to give the aid — even when they are responding — is like nagging to have something done in a manner as if they wouldn’t complete the task.  I have also learned to reward the smallest try.  Even if you can only see a slight lean in the correct direction, reward it.  Then you build from there.

I have been learning this in trick training but I had it even more ingrained in natural horsemanship training.  Your mood is everything too, and I am able to perform as well as I am because I don’t allow myself to get nervous.  If my horses react a certain way, 95% of the reason has to do with the trainer.  So I have this policy with myself, to leave my moods at the door, whether it is fear or anger, before even entering into playing with my horses.  If I forget to do that I don’t really work well with my horses.  It really hit home when natural horsemanship emphesizes the need to control your moods around your horse.

Cheyenne bows lower.  (Photo by Randy Kroll)

Cheyenne bows lower. (Photo by Randy Kroll)

My horses and I have put on quite a few performances with my moods checked at the door many times and it has been quite successful.  Cheyenne performed every time.  It is so exciting to see us building a great relationship.  She is an awesome horse.  The more I work with her, the safer she becomes and the more entertaining she becomes.  The most recent performance was done at night with bright lighting.  But that bright light causes shadows that make it scarier for horses.  Gypsy was more spooky but Cheyenne did great with some distractions.

With all this knowledge, I am now training some minis as well and it will be exciting to discuss my progress with them as well as Cheyenne and some about Gypsy.  So what is my job description?  I am really a horse trick trainer more than anything.  But I do ride as well and I love to do both, as well as bringing natural horsemanship into the mix of great training which can make great horses.