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Teaching your horse to do simple tricks can be fun, especially when they perform the tricks on cue. Here you will learn a few "tricks" you can easily teach your horse: The "lift your hoof", "bow", and the "hug". These aren't difficult or stunning tricks to teach like rearing up, but they are good stretching exercises that aid in creating a trust bond between you and your horse.
1. Lift Your Foot
This is a trick that can cut your grooming time down and eliminate the occasional disregard your horse presents when you are trying to lift its foot to clean it. Your farrier will appreciate this one also!
Here are the steps you need to follow:
- Set aside about twenty minutes for two or three days for this trick.
- Starting on the horse's front left foot, gently pinch the tendon on the back of their leg until your horse lifts its foot up. Hold the foot for twenty to thirty seconds, then lower it to the ground. Do not drop your horse's foot.
- Move to the left rear foot and do the same thing.
- Then the right rear and right front.
- Step back for a few minutes and starting at step two, do it again, all four hooves.
- Again, step back for a few minutes and start at step two and do it again.
- Keep doing this until you get to ten times around. By the tenth time, your horse will get the idea of what you're going to do and he/she will either shift his/her weight when you move from hoof to hoof or tilt it up for you.
- Call it a day after ten times or the routine gets mundane to you and your horse. You don't want to lose his/her interest because then they are not paying attention and will not learn.
- The next day, starting at the front left, do your round of hooves ten times. At the end of day two your horse will be presenting, if not lifting, his/her hoof for you when you move around to each hoof.
- By day three when you move to the first hoof, front left, your horse will lift it in anticipation of the routine! If not, then continue the routine for four or even five days if that is what it takes for your horse to pick up the routine. The routine becomes imprinted and will continue whenever anyone wants to lift their hoof!
How to Train a Resistant Horse to Lift Its Hooves
Some horses are resistant about having their hooves picked up. There are a few tricks you can use to get him/her past this.
- If, when you pinch the tendon on the back of the leg, the horse merely stands there like he/she doesn't care, lean into him/her at the same time as pinching the tendon. This will push the horse off-center and encourage him/her to lift their hoof.
- If you have a horse that will lift his/her foot, then try to put it right back down, try holding the front edge of the hoof when you've lifted it (where your toes would be if it was a human foot). Holding the front edge instead of, let's say the ankle, gives you leverage on the hoof, that isn't hard on you to hold, but will make it more uncomfortable for the horse to try and put the hoof back down.
Beware: If you're working with a horse that insists he/she is going to put his/her hoof back down, and the toe hold doesn't change his/her mind about it, don't try to force the issue, let go! You will only hurt yourself if you try and force the horse to keep it lifted. The horse will win.
When you're teaching a horse to lift his foot, notice the words, "Teaching him/her to lift his/her foot." NOT, "You lifting his/her foot." If the horse is putting his/her foot right back down, just do it again. Repeat the steps, pinch, lean into him/her, lift, hold the toe, and let him put it down if he insists, every time. Then, do it again. He/she will get tired of the game and let you hold it up longer, and longer, until finally he/she holds it up until YOU decide to set it back down. Setting it down is important. Dropping the hoof unexpectedly, and the resulting hoof hitting the ground will not endear you to the horse lifting his hoof for you, right? He/she will be of the mindset, "If I lift my hoof it will be dropped and that doesn't feel so good, so forget that." If you become frustrated because he/she keeps putting his/her hoof back down and you walk away, he/she won, and they'll do it again.
2. Take a Bow
The "bow" is so easy you won't believe it, and it looks so cute when they perform it. It's also a very good stretching exercise for your horse! Set aside about twenty minutes to teach this trick. It's progressive, meaning: the training moves further along each time (see video above).
- Have several pieces of your horse's favorite treat in the hand furthest away from the horse's head.
- Say the command, "bow" while presenting the treat near the shoulder. When your horse reaches for it, allow him/her to take it from your hand gently, no twisting their head and snapping it from you allowed.
- Hold the next piece just a bit further down nearer to their foot and give the command, "bow" along your horse to have the treat when they reach their head down to get it.
- Continue lowering the treat until your horse reaches down to their heel to retrieve it. Always using the command, "bow".
Once you can get your horse to reach to their heel for the treat call it a day and work on it again tomorrow.
- This time start at the heel. Hold the treat at your horse's heel and say the command, "bow". If your training the previous day went well then your horse will immediately lower its head to retrieve the treat from its heel. If not, then raise the treat up a little and work your way down to the heel.
- Once you have your horse taking the treat from its heel readily move the treat back further so your horse must bend its knee to reach the treat. If your horse tries to back up to reach the treat position him/her with a wall or fence behind him/her so backing up is not an option.
- As your horse becomes better at reaching for the treat behind its heel, move the treat further and further back until you get the deep bow you are looking for.
Always have a word of praise ready for when your horse does well. Any time your horse doesn't readily reach for the treat, move it forward to where he/she will readily reach for it and work your way back again.
The "bow" is a sign of trust between you and your horse. It's a vulnerable position for your horse to assume, so be sure you make it a safe environment for him/her to perform it for you. Other horses in the area or a dog nipping its nose will only cause your horse a great deal of stress, a total lack of concentration and a lack of trust in you to protect him/her.
3. The "Hug"
Everybody likes a hug from their horse and this trick couldn't be easier than giving a hug! When your horse performs this trick you'll really feel like they are enjoying hugging you as much as you're enjoying the hug.
- Stand on the right side of your horse facing outward.
- Holding your horse's favorite treat in your right hand, present the treat to your horse and as your horse reaches for the treat slowly draw your hand back away until your horse has brought its face around your body in a hug!
Here's a BIG Hug!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: I have a hard time having my mare lifting her feet. She was never shoed before so she is not familiar with that. I would like to start cleaning her hooves more often with a pick and brush that I now have. Having her lift her front legs is not a problem but I am afraid she may intend to kick if I try to lift her back hooves to clean them. What do you recommend I do?
Answer: You didn't mention how old she is? If she's just a filly it is a matter of making it a habit. Start at the front hoof and work your way around the same way every time you do it. Soon, she will lift her hoof in anticipation of each hoof being cleaned.
On the other hand, if she's an older mare, setting into her ways, you may need to practice lifting those back hooves with caution. You're right, a horse can kick you when you are working near their rear end, especially if they don't like what you're doing. There's so many factors that come into play it's hard to say. To play it on the safest side, get a hold of a farrier. Explain the situation and you are fearful of the back hooves. Some farriers will have no problem coming out, let's say, for a trim job and lift those back hooves for you and even show you how. Farriers work with horses feet every day, they know how to lift a foot that is not used to being lifted (make sure you tell him/her!). The farrier, with his/her confident demeanor, may just be able to simply lift the hoof no problem. You need to see how to pinch the tendon to encourage the horse to lift and how to prop the hoof so the horse is less likely to kick if the thought ever crossed its mind. I'm glad to hear you are working with caution. Better safe than sorry!
Question: Will a stubborn horse bow?
Answer: They are sometimes the easiest! Who's more stubborn? You or him/her? Whoever is more stubborn will win, right? They are so stubborn sometimes, and they have the attitude, gimme that carrot (sugar cube or whatever treat)! They will show you they will get that treat no matter where you put it!
Remember to start at the horse's nose, then move it back and down a little, then back and down some more, if he keeps going for it great. When you find the point that he won't reach for it anymore, repeat that spot over and over until you can move further down. Soon, you'll have to hold the treat between his knees and once you're there its almost no time to get him to drop a knee to get it set at his side and low. There's the bow! It's really cool to see. Remember to use a cue word from day one! He needs to associate a word (a sound in his mind) with the action you want him to take. You need to be just a bit stubborner than him/her!
Question: We have a 1 year old filly that we want to start teaching tricks because she still has a while until she can be ridden. We have completed all of the ground work. She loads easy, washes easy and ponies, she’s awesome. What trick would be best to start teaching her? I have no experience teaching horses tricks so it’ll be a learning experience for both Juneau and I.
Answer: Congratulations on your filly. It sounds like you have really bonded with her. You're going to want to start a trick that you notice she already has a propensity towards. For example: If your filly bends her neck often (AKA flexing) then introduce the hug. I have a mare that enjoys turning her head to look at her side and tail. No issues, she just bends her neck and looks. She picked up on the hug right away. We also took advantage of her natural flexing by bridling her and using the reins, from the ground, to continue her flexion and also when we asked. She went into that very easily and quickly. To summarize, each foal is going to be different. Go with her flow, and expand on it!
Question: Do you think these tricks will work for an old pony?
Answer: You can teach an old pony new tricks! The tricks on the hub are easy to teach any horse.
Question: My horse just moves backwards when I try to teach it to bow, how can I fix this?
Answer: Have your horse stand where he/she cannot back up such as in front of a barn wall or the wall of the arena. Also, you must start with the treat up by his/her mouth. Then, inch it down, down, down. Then, inch it back towards the chest. It sounds like you may have started too low initially causing the horse to merely back up to reach it. This trick also teaches flexion of the neck. If your horse doesn't have flexion yet you really need to start right up by the mouth and slowly bring it down and back.
© 2012 Joanna
Joanna (author) from Wilseyville on September 13, 2020:
Thank you and thanks for stopping by my hub!
Emma Flores from Maryland on October 24, 2018:
Good job on this HUB!
Joanna (author) from Wilseyville on July 18, 2015:
These tricks are fun because the horse picks up on them quickly. plus you can take each trick a bit further if you choose, like the hug can progress to a bow! Thank you for stopping by!
Tori Leumas on July 10, 2015:
I once had a horse. It would have been so much fun to teach him these! Great hub!