Every now and then I read discussions in social media and forums about the point of trick training your horse. Some people think every sort of trick training is unnecessary, and cannot see the point of doing these kinds of things with a horse. Today I saw another one, and now it is the time to answer the people who think horses are meant to work for us and that means to be ridden, and trick training is of course something that belongs in the circus. *Waves with sarcasm-sign Sheldon Cooper-style*
Every time I stumbles over opinions like these, I become pretty surprised. The last couple of years I have surrounded myself with people who think in a “different” way, and who are open to freedom dressage, bridleless and bitless riding, other kinds of dressage in general, trick training (and everything else related to positive reinforcement), stunt riding and so on. Whatever they think is fun doing together with their horses, without caring what the equestrian world wants you to do. So when I every now and then meet the “traditional equestrian world”, my heart skips a beat sometimes, haha!
Why on earth will you trick train your horse? Let me tell you why. (And I could of course write a similar list for jumping, dressage or reining, but you see my point. I’m into trick training)
It’s a great way to exercise your horse physically
Did you know that tricks such as rearing, spanish walk, classical bow and park out can benefit your horse physically and build muscle in the topline and back in general, front and hindquarters? Trick training can be like weight lifting for horses and require preparation and strength?
It’s a great way to challenge your horse’s mind and make him use his brain
Is your horse a quick learner or simply need a mental task or challenge? Using trick training, the horse has to use his brain to figure out what you asked for.
It’s a great way to connect with your horse and learn to communicate from the ground through body language
Trick training and liberty dressage in general can be a great way to connect with your horse on a higher level. With some training, you can make your horse mirror you and do every movement or exercise based on pure body language and energy. When the horse chooses to lie down beside you because you just laid down yourself or canter collected by your side around in the arena, is an absolutely amazing feeling.
It’s a great way to build confidence in your horse
Introverted horse? Insecure? Low confidence? Doesn’t like to try new things? Never acts outgoing at all? Afraid to show off because he is scared to do it wrong? Build up your horse’s confidence with trick training and natural dressage from the ground! Bring his inner foal back, and see the results in the daily life when your horse learns to trust himself. Playing with your horse and doing fun things side by side can do wonderful things to your horse.
It’s a great way to build muscle and strength without riding
Want to do some training, but having little time, or are you simply not in the mood for riding? Do trick training and other exercises from the ground instead! Trick training can be done mounted or from the ground, but everything starts from the ground. A horse can learn to do canter pirouettes, shoulder in, extended trot and collection from the ground, and the classical tricks are perfect to put some variation into the training.
It’s a great way to learn about positive reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is the most common, and most effective way of trick training with your horse. It’s a training method who is fun for your horse, and encourages the horse to try. It’s based on rewarding wanted behavior, and basically the same method you use to train dogs. Who would hit a dog if he misunderstood your cue? Nobody. So why do we do that to horses? Learning new stuff with positive reinforcement is fun for both horse and human! Reward, don’t punish!
It’s a great way to HAVE FUN together because HORSES ARE MORE THAN RIDING! Some horses love jumping, some horses love dressage, some horses love trail rides, some horses love endurance, some horses love cross country, some horses love reining, some horses love doing nothing, some horses love trick training – who are your horse? Have you ever asked?
We are in 2015. Horses are our pets and beloved friends, not our slaves meant to “work hard for us”. Horses owe us nothing. We owes our horses! Horses deserve to be treated with respect, and in my eyes, that does not mean to run around being commanded to do stuff for us day in and day out without us even asking what the horse actually want to spend his time with us doing. And god forbids if they don’t listen, the whip will never be far away! Not all horses want to do jumping and dressage, and it’s our job to open our hearts and listen.