Before learning any tricks, you and your horse need to have a good relationship. Your horse needs to be your companion and friend. Spend as much time as you can observing it from a distance, in the field with other horses, or in the stable.
Your horse needs to be healthy and fit. Have a vet assess it to make sure it’s pain-free. The horse must also be mentally and physically sound. It shouldn’t be afraid of you and you should trust each other.
If you believe a horse needs to fear you and you need to intimidate it into doing what you want, teaching tricks will be very difficult. But if you believe your horse needs to trust you and be rewarded for it, you’re halfway there.
Horses like to be rewarded positively for their actions. They’re naturally smart – if you ask correctly, then your horse will learn quite easily.
Your horse can already do basic tricks, without a command from you. It knows how to shake its head, curl up its lip, sit up, lie down and kneel. Horses have a very short attention span, but an excellent memory. Your horse won’t forget a cue. If your horse is able to do what is asked of it, it will want to do it.
The next step is conditioning your horse.
A friend and I used to ride every evening. When we got home we would always say “Whoa!” and touch the reins. After only a short time we just needed to say “Whoa!” and the horses would stop immediately.
A gentle pat on the neck, a treat or verbal praise is considered positive reinforcement. Pulling on a lead rope is negative.
If your horse stops when you say “Whoa!”, then you need to follow up with positive reinforcement. If it doesn’t stop, negative reinforcement is required.
Food is a wonderful tool as you can slowly decrease the amount needed as your horse becomes better at the trick.
This makes it want to learn more.