Becoming the alpha horse makes training go more smoothly

There are many horse people who I have talked to who refuse to use treats for their horse as a reward due to fear of the horse becoming too nippy.  But this can be managed by developing good habits between the trainer and the horse to teach the horse to respect you as the alpha horse.

(Photo via Wikipedia

(Photo via Wikipedia

In the wild, if the alpha horse — which is usually a  strong, young mare — doesn’t want another horse to eat they don’t until they are allowed to by the alpha.  The alpha horse gets first choice.  So as trainers we become the alpha horse.  The more you know about how the herd works, the more we can get an insight into how horses communicate with each other.  If we learn to read the expressions of the horse, then we communicate better with the horse.  The way horses communicate is more through expressions with body language.  It is a quiet language.

I would recommend going out whenever possible and watching a herd of horses together, seeing how they interact with each other.  It is a very educational experience if you want to see exactly how they communicate with each other.

How does this work with teaching to do tricks?  When we know how to work with horses in their own language, trick training will be easier and more fun for the horse.  Clicker training is what I like to use.

How does clicker training work?  You ask for a behavior, then watch for the slightest try, click, and then reward with a treat.  This is the fastest way to get the trick learned.  Again, there are people who don’t like to use treats, but as a trainer we need to be able to control the horse through all situations, even through how to take a treat nicely.  As a trick trainer, we need to have total control of your horse’s body and behavior.  So we need to be very well disciplined in the proper way to train a horse in ground work.  Total control!

In order to do that we need to become the alpha and friend to the horse.  That is how they work through the language of the horse.  The more we study and learn this the better our relationship will become with our horse friend.  Natural horsemanship is the best way to achieve this.  Go and watch those horses with each other, that is how the real horse whisperers learn the skill of true horsemanship.

Here is a video for you.  It is getting colder outside so I can’t really record myself doing it until it gets warmer.  So it will have to be this video that shows what I’m talking about.

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Snowman: Telling a rags-to-riches tale

I love to write about extraordinary horses and people who work with these horses.  I was planning on giving more information on my trick training when I saw information on Facebook about a documentary being done on this super horse named Snowman.
Harry de Leyer and Snowman

Harry de Leyer and Snowman

I read the book “The Eighty-dollar Champion: Snowman, The horse That Inspired A Nation” and was amazed by the awesome relationship between man and his horse.  Harry de Leyer used him as a nice lesson horse for a girls’ boarding school in Long Island, New York.  Harry would purchase some nice horses, but not too expensive, to use for lesson horses during the school year and resell them to good homes at the end of the year.  He sold Snowman only to find that Snowman only wanted one rider, by the horse returning home after jumping high fences to obtain his goal to arrive home.

Harry de Leyer was not a rich man.  In fact, he struggled financially so he could never buy the type of horses who could get him up into championship show jumping.  This was a rich man’s game.  Harry was a great rider but could never show off his jumping skills on cheap horses.  Until Snowman came along, Harry could never get into the prestigious jumping shows.
This is a rags-to-riches story of an $80 plow horse who was destined for slaughter, rescued by Harry, being late to the auction, and getting the last truck with rejected horses.  Harry looked into the eyes of this plow horse who had that special look in his big brown eyes that magically won over Harry’s heart to buy this poor, rejected plow horse.
This horse had talent and won many prestigious jumping shows and won the championship as well as the hearts of his fans in the 1950s.
This is an exciting book to read and I highly recommend it.

How do you train horses on tricks? It can begin with a kiss

In starting to train my horse Cheyenne to do tricks, I started out with the simple ones first.  When we start teaching new things to our horses, we always must start with “kindergarten work,” then progress from there.

Photos by Randy Kroll

Photos by Randy Kroll

I started teaching Cheyenne the simple tricks that start with the head, such as teaching her how to kiss, placing her head on my shoulder, nodding “yes” and shaking her head for “no.”  When I started teaching tricks to Cheyenne and then eventually Gypsy, I started with the kiss.

When it is so new to the horse, I started to work in smaller increments, and a couple times throughout the day, so as not to cause the horse to get tired of the trick.  Also, I reward the slightest attempt to do the trick. This way the horse learns when they have a small attempt that you will reward them.  After that, they then try to go farther the next time.  But starting with the simple tricks causes it to be learned easily because the steps are easy.  Then as the horse learns how to read you and vice versa, you simply move on to more difficult tricks, trick by trick.

I have been working Cheyenne for almost 4 years and we have worked hard every day that we could.  But we learned it the hard way, and that is out of the books with no instructor to help me.  However, now that I have combined some natural horsemanship training into it and the know-how of trick training itself, I have gotten a pretty good education.  I am still learning, because the more I learn the more I feel as though I have just begun to learn.  It gets me all the more excited to learn more and more about this amazing creature.  I do believe that horse psychology plays a big part in trick training because we need to keep the horse thoroughly enjoying it too without burnout.

So, how do I teach this first simple trick?  I take any horse treat and hold it on my cheek and ask my horse to give me a kiss.  At first, the horse is just going to go for the treat, but eventually the horse will learn to flutter the lips, give a nice wet and slobbery kiss.  But we must remember to keep our cues consistent always.  If we don’t, it will not only confuse the horse but us too.  That is why I start out keeping a trick journal, so I don’t forget to know what words I say and what my cues will consist of.

kiss me baby2After consistently working together, you and your horse will learn how to read each other, so that when you start to teach new tricks the horse will quickly catch on because you, the trainer, can catch that slight try that the horse does.  It is amazing to see just how intelligent the horse is, just like in the stories that I have already shared with you the past couple of weeks.  But don’t get stuck in a rut where you are constantly doing the same thing over and over again.  Shake up the routine, keep it fresh and fun.  Play new games each day.

Now I am doing liberty time, riding time, natural horsemanship skills, trick time, painting time.  So I have a lot of skills that the horses are learning.  Plus I have four horses to work on and that is really tough.  But it can be a fun time too.

The video below has a small clip with a mini giving a sample of how I teach them to kiss me in the beginning.