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.
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.
After 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.