Builds confidence, flexibility | Playing dead, retrieving objects or giving smiles and kisses shows you can teach an old horse new tricks
EDMONTON — Caylyn Walker and Amanda Preston do the rural equivalent of farmyard party tricks.
Their horses can bow, pick up a bucket in their teeth, play soccer, lie down, play dead and sit on a hay bale.
Unlike real magicians who don’t share their secrets, Preston and Walker are willing to share the secrets of their horse tricks.
“What we can do is what any horse owner can do,” Preston said after a demonstration of their Horseplay and Harmony trick horse training at the Farm and Ranch Show in Edmonton March 27-29.
Walker and Preston have full-time non-horse jobs and spend weekends riding their horses or offering trick horse training clinics.
“We’re both amateur riders,” said Walker.
Preston started teaching tricks to her horse, Riley, to keep his mind active after he was injured in 2005 and forced to stay in his horse stall for a year to recover.
She started with an easy one: teaching Riley to smile.
He recovered, and the duo went on to compete in the national dressage championship in 2012. She credits trick training for preventing him from becoming sour in the stall.
Walker and Preston’s horses will now hug, smile, give kisses, nod yes or no, pick up a dish, touch a target with their noses, bow, lie down, rear on command, play dead, sit on a hay bale, play soccer, count, Spanish walk, wave and stand on a pedestal.
Teaching horses new tricks is more than just a game. Stretching and kneeling promotes flexibility, im-proves ground control, builds confidence, provides a bond between horse and rider and helps calm nervous horses.
“It gets them trying and motivated to do something new,” said Preston.
It is easier to start teaching tricks to young horses, but older horses are also able to learn tricks.
They recommended that horse owners start with simple tricks such as a smile or a wave before advancing to standing on a pedestal.
Walker said rewarding desired behaviour with food is the easiest way to start teaching tricks.
“It takes a lot of repetition,” said Walker.
Horses will soon be able to do 10 tricks in a row before receiving their reward of food. Trying a variety of tricks also keeps the horse from becoming soured on the trick.
“The worst thing you can do is keep repeating the trick until they’re bored,” said Preston.
Not all horses will do every trick, such as lying down, but all horses will do some tricks, said Walker.
Teaching horses to lie down is a submissive posture for horses and teaches the horse that the rider is in charge.
Walker said a lot of women who can no longer ride and want to still be involved with horses take their courses.