You don't have to be a youngster?or a circus performer, for that matter?to enjoy teaching tricks to your horse. In fact, training your horse to bow, nod, "smile," fetch, and so on can be surprisingly beneficial for you both. As I described in an earlier post, timing plus clarity is what makes any cueing effective, and trick training can help you finetune this critical combination of skills.
Along with improving your cueing, trick training will help you discover more about how your horse learns. This is useful knowledge that will apply to anything you teach him in the future, on the ground or in the saddle.
Then, too, the time you spend with your horse teaching him these little performances--and his experience learning what you want and being rewarded for it--will boost the level of trust each of you has for the other.
Trick training is also something you can do inside the barn when the weather is bad, or as a way to pass the time while your horse is recovering from an injury. So it's versatile in addition to being beneficial and tons of fun.
A few cautions are in order, however. Use common sense and safety considerations in deciding which tricks to teach. The Lone Ranger notwithstanding, teaching your horse to rear is always a bad idea that can easily turn into a dangerous vice. Similarly, lying down, "counting" with the front feet, and "kissing" can also present hazards to you as the handler and may be best avoided.
On the other hand, bowing, nodding yes or no, fetching, and "smiling" are all relatively safe tricks?and there are many more.
Ready to give it a try? Get the lowdown on teaching your horse to "smile" with this one-page tutorial from trick trainer and author Carole Fletcher. If you enjoy that, you might explore Trick Training for Horses: Fun Ways to Engage, Challenge, and Bond with Your Horse, a how-to volume available at HorseBooksEtc.
Want to learn how to teach reining star Stacy Westfall's bowing trick? Check out her DVD on the topic. (And if that whets your appetite for more of Stacy's training methods in general, check out Smart Start: Building A Strong Foundation For Your Horse.)
So go ahead and invest some time teaching your horse a little "trickery." It'll be time well spent?and your horse's resulting cleverness will amaze and delight your friends and family.