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Time for circus lessons and clicker training

More and more riders are turning to circus lessons or clicker training to keep their horses occupied even in bad weather.

This activity stimulates the horse’s cognitive abilities, and you can truly observe their mental gears turning when introducing them to a new exercise. Many horses and riders thoroughly enjoy this distinct type of work, which may involve playful exercises like crossing their legs, retrieving buckets, and even teaching them to ‘say yes and no,’ along with muscle stretching and training for calmness. However, there are also horse owners who find themselves on the verge of despair with their horses. While the other horse joyfully and enthusiastically showcases its repertoire of tricks, your own horse may simply want to dip its plump nose into the treat bag. Alternatively, it might grow stubborn and impatient if things don’t go smoothly, or it may prefer gazing out of the indoor arena window to observe what its buddies are up to outside. On the flip side, some horses put in earnest effort but take an eternity to grasp even the simplest exercises, occasionally leading to doubts about the intelligence of your cherished four-legged companion.

Motivation, naturally, plays a role here, especially when using the right treats.

Most of us are more likely to make an effort for chocolate than for a piece of radish. Treats for circus lessons or clicker training should be small and low in sugar, as a horse may receive many treats during half an hour of this work. However, they should still be irresistibly tasty to genuinely motivate the horse. Many horses are content to eat hay cobs or dried rose hips, but their enthusiasm to exert effort is typically quite limited. The OKAPI Clickerlis are highly suitable—they are small, healthy, low in calories due to the herbal content, and, at the same time, delicious. Their shape makes them more suitable for the chewing process compared to most pelleted feeds. Every now and then, you can also offer a dried carrot chip as a ‘jackpot’ reward. Carrot crisps are relatively high in sugar, so it’s advisable to use them sparingly. However, their sweetness makes them particularly enticing for capturing attention. Naturally, the success of circus lessons also depends on the horse itself.

Horses, much like people, exhibit a wide range of characters and talents.

The five elements from Chinese medicine can help in better understanding horses.

For example, one horse enjoys working with humans, while another can be challenging to move away from the haystack or herd. While one horse quickly grasps every lesson, the other finds it infinitely challenging to learn new things. While one is bold, the other is more timid. The five elements of Chinese medicine can assist you in gaining a deeper understanding of your horse’s nature. This understanding marks the initial step in tailoring the lessons to suit the horse. This is because horses learn in distinctive ways based on their dominant element.

Horse during a circus lesson
The five elements of Chinese medicine can assist you in gaining a deeper understanding of your horse’s nature and in constructing lessons accordingly. © Adobe Stock / Talitha

For example, horses of the wood type are generally eager to cooperate and find it quite easy to learn new lessons. However, they can become extremely impatient and irritable if things don’t unfold as they had envisioned. This encompasses challenging exercises that they may not get right on the first attempt, as well as the repetition of a lesson until it reaches perfection. Horses of the wood type live by the motto ‘it’s okay, let’s get on with it!’ and typically find greater balance and satisfaction in physical work than in mental tasks. Circus lessons should not be overdone with them; otherwise, they may become grumpy and resistant to cooperation.

Horses dominated by the element of fire typically grasp lessons swiftly, yet they also grow bored equally fast with repetition. They seek to please their owner and crave praise; often, admiration holds even more significance for them than a treat. They especially thrive on this ‘mental work’ as their creative minds yearn for constant engagement. Without sufficient variety, they may even invent new mischief on their own. Circus lessons can be highly entertaining with them, as they enjoy contributing their own ideas and interpretations. However, they also require a physical ‘workout’ from time to time, so despite all the fun, it’s advisable not to limit activities to clicker training every day. It’s crucial with ‘fire horses’ that you can ‘turn off’ the trained tricks; otherwise, they may continuously perform them.

As food holds significant importance in the lives of horses of the earth type, you can often motivate them to perform at their best with just a handful of treats. They are typically not the quickest mentally, and there are days when you think, ‘they’ll never learn that!’ However, once they have learned something, it sticks and can be reliably recalled at any time, unlike the ‘fire horse,’ which may sometimes forget what it learned just last week. With ‘earth horses,’ it’s essential to approach them with patience and calmness, breaking down difficult lessons into small, manageable units that you work through with them step by step. At that point, they become hard-working and reliable companions who will do anything for a tasty treat.

If you have a horse of the metal element, you essentially have a ‘professor’ in your stable. These are horses that, at times, make you worry that they might be smarter than you. As diligent employees, they keenly observe, analyze each lesson, and then execute it correctly. Consistent routines and repetitions are their forte. They are the perfectionists among circus horses, but they can become quite grumpy if jokes are made at their expense or if they feel they are being laughed at. If you’re seeking a circus clown, the ‘metal horse’ is not the right candidate for the role. For them, circus lessons are a serious affair that must be executed with precision.

Horses of the water element are very flexible and uncomplicated when they are well-balanced, and they follow all lessons well and without fuss. However, they tend to be very anxious. It is a good idea to combine clicker training, especially with desensitization training, so that ‘dangerous’ things like plastic sheeting, umbrellas, and the like lose their fright and are viewed positively. It is crucial for such horses that you consistently convey calmness and composure, avoiding impatience when things don’t go as planned. Anger on the part of the owner immediately triggers fear in the ‘water horse,’ causing it to literally shut off its brain.

As you can observe, you can essentially engage in circus lessons or clicker training with all types of horses; you just need to tailor the exercises to suit the individual horse. And despite all the enthusiasm for such work, it’s important not to forget that horses are, first and foremost, animals designed for movement. As soon as the weather permits, head out into the countryside, and relish the time spent together with your horse amid the beauty of nature. Afterwards, there’s hot tea from the thermos flask for the frozen rider and a thank-you biscuit for the horse.

More on this topic: 9 Produktive Activities for Rainy Days in the Stables