Sunday, 29 November 2009

Trick Training

Well it's been a little while since I've last written, but as all is fairly quiet in the Jive Pony camp at the moment there's been very little to write about! Rebecca and I are currently spending a lot of time training our baby horses, Casper and Navvy, and as we often get asked how we train them I thought I'd share a few of our secrets!
Trick training is really very simple once you learn the basics. I have run a couple of clinics now and it's really gratifying to see that, without exception, every single horse/pony has left having learnt the basics of at least two tricks. After I start them all off at the clinic it's then up to the owner to carry on with their education, but judging from the follow up emails, phone calls and texts I have received everyone is doing really well and the horses are learning fast! I also have a couple of people who were unable to attend a clinic but who I have gone and taught on a one to one basis, again with rewarding results.

So, for all of you who ask how, here is a summary of the four basic components to trick training - consistency, patience, repetition and reward - follow these and you won't go far wrong!

It is vital to decide on a suitable cue before you start training any trick, and once chosen the cue must be stuck to consistently throughout the training. This is necessary to prevent your horse from becoming confused. There are numerous types of cue:
* touch, in the form of a tickle or nudge
* sound, either words or noises
* visual, using body language or props.
Cues can be used on their own or in conjunction with other cues. You can choose your own cues for each trick, but careful thought needs to be given whilst choosing, as once training has commenced the cue must not be altered. Consistency is absolutely essential!
The saying 'Patience is a Virtue' is never more true than when it comes to trick training. Your horse must remain comfortable throughout the training session and confident in what he is learning. This can take time and is something that must not be rushed. If your horse becomes confused or distressed during a training session it is imperative you take him back to a stage where he is comfortable and feels safe in his knowledge. Remember that you want your horse to be successful, so take very small training steps and raise your expectations slowly. Some tricks take longer to learn than others and you must judge by your horse's behaviour how much you can do during each session. Pushing trick training will just result in poorly trained, unreliable tricks and a stressed horse. Trying to do too much too fast will always cause trouble!
Repeating each stage of every trick numerous times is necessary to ensure your horse learns the trick thoroughly. Each stage must be repeated until your horse produces the required behaviour without fail every time he is asked. You cannot ask for something and expect to get it on a consistent basis unless you have gone through a thorough and successful teaching process with him. Only when the desired behaviour is being produced on demand should you move onto the next stage. If your horse becomes confused you will have to take him back a step to where he is comfortable and repeat the lesson over and over until you are sure he is ready to move on to the next stage. The smaller each stage is the more confident your horse will be with the finished trick.
Correct rewarding is crucial to trick training. Your horse must be rewarded immediately when he performs the desired behaviour, be this a finished trick or an attempt to please during training. When starting a new trick this is especially important, and timing is everything. You must learn to recognise, and reward, even the smallest 'tries' on your horse's part. However, the reward must not be given until the horse tries to give the desired behaviour, otherwise the reward is for 'free', and he has not had to work for it. To start with the desired behaviour may only be a tiny movement in the correct direction but it must be rewarded immediately. Immediate reward allows the horse to associate the cue with the performed behaviour, and reassures him that he is doing the right thing. Failure to reward your horse correctly when he performs the desired behaviour will result in a horse that soon looses interest. The most effective way to reward your horse is with a food based treat of some kind. This can be apple, carrot or other feed or treat. However, each treat must be small, as you should leave your horse wanting more in order for him to carry on trying to please you! It is also important to accompany the reward with verbal praise, and remember to always sound as if you mean it - mumbling 'good boy' will mean nothing to him, you need to exclaim it!
It is the combination of consistency, patience, repetition and reward that leads to successful trick training. All are of equal importance and none can be discarded! The clearer and more specific you are about what you want your horse to do, the easier it is for him to learn. You cannot expect your horse to understand something you haven't taught him, so begin by asking a little and rewarding a lot, build on stages slowly to avoid confusion, and before you know it you'll be there!
Once your horse has mastered a trick you can be very proud of both him and yourself. However, the work doesn't stop there! Correct rewarding remains of great importance. Every time you ask him for a trick you must ensure it is performed correctly before rewarding him. If he only puts a bit of effort in, doesn't get it quite right, but still gets rewarded his tricks will become careless, and all the effort you both put into learning will be wasted! This applies to both of you though! You must still be consistent with your cues, explain to him clearly what it is that you want, and reward him correctly when he carries out the desired behaviour - sloppy training leads to sloppy tricks!

Trick training is a never ending journey. No matter how many tricks your horse knows, there will always be more out there that he doesn't. Use your imagination, use your horse's imagination, and the possibilities are endless! Each horse has his own personality, and therefore his own imagination. For example, Tinker ALWAYS yawns whenever he has either his headcollar or bridle on or off, so I simply put a cue to him every time he did it, rewarded him, and can now get him to yawn on demand! I applied the same process to Casper, who is forever curling his top lip up, and now he can 'smile' on cue!

I hope this has shed some light on the methods we both use to train our boys - we certainly don't just sit around twiddling our thumbs all winter!

I'm off to Dublin on Tuesday with The Devil's Horsemen for a week. We're doing a big show out there on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so I'll take lots of pictures and tell you all about it when I get back next week. In the meantime I hope all of you and your horses and ponies are well and happy and wrapped up against the horrible November weather - Tinker and Casper certainly are!

Lots of love
Rosie xx


Kate said...

Thank you for the summary - much of this applies to training a horse to do anything, not just tricks. Found you through Helen at New Beginnings!

Helen said...

Brilliant post Rosie, thank you so much!!!

I managed to buy a cheap roller on eBay to pracise with and I can't wait for it to arrive.

Really looking forward to meeting up again soon. Tnank you so much again and take care,


Rosie said...

Hi Kate

It's very true what you say, but people just don't realise it. We get asked all the time 'how do you teach your horses to do their dancing?' and tend not to believe us when we tell them it's the same principles at teaching a youngster to pick it's feet up, or working on some flatwork exercise etc etc. It's so easy, but we don't really want everyone realising this and then becoming competition for us on the show circuit!!

Helen - I can't believe you have a roller already, I'm so impressed - I expect to see pics of you practising up on your blog soon! I'm glad you enjoyed it and look forward to seeing you at the DH panto!

Rosie x