Trick training’s got a bad name.
Horsemen are always saying that they want their horses to learn useful things. Yes, I do too. But what is a trick?
Trick – a skillful act performed for entertainment or amusement.
– from Apple’s Dictionary
Alright. Let’s go with that definition (even though I think it’s a bit narrow).
How about bowing? Yes, that’s a trick. No, it doesn’t really have a purpose. Hey wait! It does! It can make it easier to mount a large horse. It can be used as a stretch for a stiff horse. And it is good practice for the trainer too, learning how to communicate accurately with the horse.
Alright. Bowing is a useful trick.
What about the dime (having the horse put all four feet together underneath his body)? Can’t see much use in that, can we? But again, horses than know the dime can mostly always be taught collection easier because they already have the muscle mass required to lift their back and draw their back legs underneath themselves.
The dime is useful too.
How about moving over to the mounting block to allow you to get on? I don’t think I have to work too hard to prove that this one is useful.
One more – how about willingly allowing a predator to climb onto his back? Let’s take that one step further and say we want to teach our horse to allow a predator onto his back and then walk, trot, and canter calmly with the predator stuck there? What, riding a horse is not a skillful act? I think it sure is.
What do horses do when a predator leaps onto them? They buck. They kick. They run. They do everything they can to get the thing off so they can live another day. Riding him is a pretty big trick to teach your horse, and one we use all the time.
So in defence of trick training, all horse training can be viewed as trick training. Some tricks that don’t seem to have any other purpose are simply for training practice on the part of the handler. That’s how I use tricks.
When I don’t have the available time to drive out and spend time training a horse to work better under saddle, I revert to ‘tricks’.
Yesterday I was starting to work on a bow with Jamileh, and I had just been working on the left side, out of habit, I suppose. Well, I went to the right side just to try it, and on the first try I almost got a whole bow with no fuss.
So in your training, whether it is considered ‘trick training’ or no, do things from both sides. One side may be easier for your horse, and muscles will be built up that will allow him to do the other side easier afterwards.