Teaching your horse to do simple tricks can be fun for you and the horse. It is important from the start to “bond” with your horse before any halter or bridling/saddling begins. Touching and being around your horse creates a trust between you. By nature, horses first reaction to fear is to flee. With these bonding methods from the outset, you will train your horse to overcome those fears and rely on you for support and care. Here you will learn a few tricks you can easily teach your horse.
Training through Touch
I like teaching this one first. It is an easy trick to teach your horse and it will really help your horse to understand the principles of learning tricks. Head, ears, and legs are generally the parts that horses don’t like touched. Be patient when doing this because it takes time, and don’t try to do too much too fast. For example try to touch his head, back off until your horse is ready. You will know because he will move toward you, then touch his head some more. Remember that repetition and persistence are your best friend. Ask your horse to touch different items, such as a ball, a soft toy or a traffic cone. It’s a good habit to get them to learn what foreign items are.
This is very important later on when you try to put a headstall or halter on them for the first time. This will help so when you do put something on them, they don’t jerk, turn away from you, or lift their head. Control of the head is probably the most important component in teaching your horse. Stand beside them, put one arm around their neck and the other hand on their muzzle. Slowly take their head down. In time, just approaching their head will be a cue to start dropping it.
Horses tend to avoid the unknown, so anything foreign to them will strike fear and panic. Introduce as many unusual items to them like feed sack, rope, a saddle blanket, a feed bucket, or even a tire. For instance, I will take an empty feed sack and let them sniff it, and gradually drag it on a different part so their body and over their back. When you start to ride, set up an obstacle course and introduce them to the different barriers that you have set up. The more you do this, the more your horse will be less spooked and you as a rider will not be hurt.
Get them used to Ropes
Using ropes around their body and legs is super helpful if your horse ever gets caught up in anything and are far less likely to panic. Also, this goes hand in hand with touching and being less fearful of what is touching them.
Teach your horse to stand still without needing to be tied up. This is very useful if you don’t have anywhere to tie your horse or you just need your horse to stand calmly. Ground tying will also help you when you get to the saddling stage of training because your horse will be less likely to start walking off as you mount.
Pick up their Feet
If, when you pinch the tendon on the back of the leg, the horse merely stands there like he/she doesn’t care, lean into him/her at the same time as pinching the tendon. This will push the horse off center and encourage him/her to lift their hoof. No need to bend down and lift heavy legs. Just point and your horse will pick up their foot and hold it up. The farriers will love you for this one.
Make de-worming time stress free
Get your horse used to a syringe BEFORE you have to actually de-worm your horse. If you spend a bit of time teaching your horse that a syringe is a good thing then it will make de-worming time SO much easier. I like to fill an empty and clean syringe with apple sauce and give my horses this once a week. When I have to actually de-worm them it is easy.
You walk in front of the horse and you clearly define your space. This way, the horse learns to respect your intimate and personal space. You also work on your leadership skills, because in all lead exercises, you determine your path and speed. However, in certain situations/cases, you can choose to define your space less clearly or to go along with your horse in terms of direction or speed.
You ask the horse to move around you in a circle. Through body language, you teach the horse to start the circle, slow down, speed up, halt, change direction… you are becoming attuned to one another more and more. You can use circle work to prepare your horse for lunging (getting attuned to each other’s body language while circling), to have your horse overcome obstacles without you walking in front of him/her.
Lead your horse to water and let them play
Put on your gloves and find a waterhole, river or pond. Take your horse there on a long lead line and let them get wet. Most horses will walk in and paw the water and splash around. This will be very useful when you start riding and come across a stream. Getting your horse used to something that is scary to them will make your rides much safer.
Remember that continual repetition will get the best response from your horse. It takes time so be patient. You don’t need fancy gimmicks or costly contraptions to make your horse responsive. All they need is you, your love and trust.