Tack n' Talk

Online Equestrian Resource

Trick Training Tip #4 – The Final Curtsy

This is the last posting of our trick series and the one that I have saved for last, simply because it’s my favorite!  This one will give you and your horse the dramatic exit you seek.  I am sure you have attended many big top events and wonder what makes those circus horses so entertaining…what keeps them going day after day, seven days a week.  I am a firm believer that part of the secret is the applause they get.  Just as we humans do, horses too work for the applause and adulation.

I remember being in Las Vegas watching the Lippizaner stallions perform in hand when one got away from his handler.  That horse loved hamming it up for the audience.  He went through each trick he knew how to perform without any of the cues from the handler,  who was at the other end of the arena just watching.  When this stallion was finished “his routine” he gave his audience a huge bow, who at that point everyone went wild!  The horse loved it!!  He couldn’t get enough of that applause.  Your horse too, not only will perform like a seasoned actor, he’ll enjoy every minute of it just as that stallion did.  So, have a good time, as he will, and clap and cheer when he does well!

The Final Curtsy!

Equipment needed:  Bridle, long soft cotton lead rope, whip, western saddle or surcingle, saddle pad and carrots.

  1. Put the bridle on your horse and a western saddle or surcingle.  You will need to split the reins on the bridle.  Standing in the stall, please do not go outside on the grass initially as this will only distract your horse, place the soft lead rope around the horse’s left front ankle.  Hold the reins of the bridle in your left hand and stand the horse next to the stall wall with you standing on his left side by his shoulder.  DO NOT STAND IN FRONT OF YOUR HORSE.  With your right hand, pull his left foot up with the rope and let him stand for a minute.  Pet and reward him with a carrot to reassure him that what you are doing won’t harm him.  Don’t hurry this step and doing it several times at spaced out intervals.
  2. Place the ankle rope through the stirrup, or if you are using the surcingle, through the ring.  Begin a gentle pull on the left ankle with the rope through the stirrup and over the horn.  Go very slowly and tell him to BOW.  Use the carrot to coax his head down towards his chest as you pull on the rope.  The carrot will take your horse’s attention off his body and what you are doing and he will often follow the carrot to actually bow.  He may not get his left leg completely down on the ground, but that’s okay.  Reward him for the attempt and any form of a bow.
  3. As soon as your horse bows for the first time, remove the ankle rope, pet him and let him rest a few minutes before starting the step over again.  A suggestion would be to do this twice for the first day as you don’t want to strain him at all.
  4. The next time, review steps 2 and 3.  As soon as your horse has learned to bow using the lead rope and saddle, remove the rope and tap his left knee gently with the whip and tell him to BOW.  Reward him with a carrot only when his knee is on the ground.
  5. Repeat several times in short 15 minute sessions and remember the command BOW each time.  Touch the whip on his left knee and your body position will be his cue to bow on one knee.  Remember to be very careful where you do this trick and don’t over do it even though you want to as this trick can put a strain on your horse’s muscles.
  6. When your horse is doing this trick very well in his stall, take him outside onto a soft, sandy paddock or arena and practice bowing there.  Teach your horse to stay for longer periods in the bow position by holding your whip on his knee.  Your horse should be taught to get up only when you tell him to.

As a side note, your big performer will be expecting food treats each and every time he does his trick at your request.  You don’t want your horse to become a “food-aholic!”  Using food initially is great as it grabs their attention, but you really need to get rid of those treats as soon as you can.  Your horse will work for praise, so when it is feasible to remove the treats, slowly alternate sessions with food and without.

Good luck – Larissa

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