2016 Miniature Horse WORLD Issues October/November 2016 Vol 32 No 5 - Page 100

H H H H H H H H H H H H H Get them Smiling! Any of these categories can be a starting point in your Miniature trick horse’s training. We usually start with the “smile” as it convinces a horse that he can be taught. Smiles are contagious. When we walk into the barn and our horses start flashing us big, toothy smiles, it makes us smile right back. Here’s How to Start Our demo mini, Little America’s Struttin Anniversary and owner Tony Greaves of Little America Miniature Horses H H H H H H H H Hold a small treat in the palm of your hand and lightly close your fingers around it. Let the horse smell it and invite him to nose through your fingers as though he were picking a blade of grass. When he begins to hunt the treat, move your hand back a little so he twitches his nose as he reaches for it. When his upper lip moves, tell him “good boy” and immediately open your fingers and give him the treat. The “good boy” serves as a bridge signal which bridges or marks the behavior and will let him know a treat is coming. Encourage him to lift his lip a little higher each session and add the verbal cue of “smile.” Over time, add a lifted index finger so he begins to get a visual cue as well. Reward him with a treat each time he responds with even a small improvement. The smile always requires a reward (quickly), each and every time or he will very soon lose interest. Miniature horses are highly tuned into even the slightest nuances of their interaction with us and they’re especially adept at reading human body language. We train ours with a combination of verbal, physical and proximity cues, yet they are ultra-responsive to body language. The behaviors we teach create a great working relationship and create reciprocal co-operation and willing obedience in any other discipline. Horses are encouraged to “learn how to learn” as they master moves that increase strength and agility. We utilize lots of props including pedestals, weave poles, teeter totters, big (herding) balls, bean bags to sit on, Frisbees to retrieve and target boards. Horses can make powerful associations between objects (or props) and actions and when we add positive reinforcement including food treats, the results are extremely rapid and truly amazing. Horses love this type of education because it is easy for them to understand and its fun, not so much like work, but more like play. 98 Miniature Horse World O C TO B E R / N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 6 Teaching the Smile convinces a horse that he is trainable. It’s also a great way for a trainer to perfect his timing while teaching about the variable reward system. H H H H H H H The next step is to slowly begin to move your hand from a palm up low position to a palm forward and higher position as if saying a pledge. To get the treat, the horse has to lift and extend his lip. As time goes on, only reward improvement in the form of an upward move of the lip in a smile-like expression. This is a great trick to convince him that you are trainable!