In any form of horse training it is very important that we break everything down into small steps that are easier for the horse to understand. Mikey’s trick training clearly showcases how little pieces can be put together to create a finished product. We are not experts at trick training, but we thought it would be interesting to share how much time and effort goes into a seemingly simple trick. To see what Mikey and his donkey friends are up to on a regular basis, you can follow Mikey on Instagram at (https://www.instagram.com/mikeythemini/).
The trick pictured above is the combination of a few tricks that we have taught Mikey over time: come when called, stand on the mounting block, and pick up the flower and walk with it in his mouth.
- Come when called: To teach this trick, we started with Mikey in a halter. At first, we held up a hand close to Mikey’s nose and encouraged him to touch it. Tricks are easier to teach when you are shaping a horse’s natural behaviors into the desired action; in this case, we are making use of Mikey’s innate curiosity. We gradually increased the distance between our hand and his nose, and he began to understand that the goal was to touch his nose to our hand, and that he would need to step forward if he wasn’t close enough to reach it. When we felt that he understood the trick while haltered, we removed the halter and repeated the steps above.
2. Stand on the mounting block: In order to teach Mikey to stand on the mounting block, we again used his natural curiosity to get started. We haltered him and waited for him to show interest in the mounting block. He did so by sniffing it and touching it with his lips. Mikey then started pawing at the first step on his own, so it was easy for us to shape that behavior into standing on the step. When we progressed to performing this trick without a halter, we made use of the previous trick (coming when called), and placed the mounting block within Mikey’s line of travel.
3. Picking up a flower and walking: Most horses don’t naturally carry things in their mouths when left to their own devices. As with the two previous tricks, we used Mikey’s curious nature to get started. We placed the flower in front of him and waited for him to check it out on his own. Any time Mikey used his teeth to examine the flower, we would praise him. He moved on to biting the flower, and then he began to actually pick it up and wave it around before spitting it out. Once Mikey understood that we were asking him to hold the flower, we started working on getting him to walk with it. This required a little encouragement from a halter and lead rope, but Mikey quickly caught on.
Lastly, we strung all of the tricks together, asking Mikey to pick up the flower, and to approach and step on to the mounting block while holding the flower.
We have found that trick training is a bit like a puzzle that you and your horse get to figure out together. You start by putting together the border pieces– you find the natural traits your horse possesses that you can use to your advantage. Then, you break the trick down into the smallest possible steps, like finding a few pieces that you can put together into a small section of the puzzle. Finally, you start to connect those small sections until, eventually, you’ve finished the puzzle and you can see the whole picture. Every moment that we spend learning from and teaching our horses can be viewed the same way, small pieces that can be put together to form a beautiful picture. We hope you all enjoy the puzzle that is the horse!