Home » What Makes An R+ Equine Behaviour A Trick?

What Makes An R+ Equine Behaviour A Trick?

I classify rearing as a trick. Photo Credit Trina Cary Photography

What Makes A Behaviour A Trick?

Before I go into the different R+ Tricks that can be taught, I think it would be fun to explore what makes a behaviour a trick. The criteria for deciding what makes a behaviour a trick, and what makes it not a trick is quite subjective. I mean to our horses all behaviour that isn’t what they would naturally do in the wild could be classified as a trick.

Lets ask the dictionary for the definition of the word Trick.

When I look up the word Trick in the dictionary it comes up with several definitions. The most relevant definition is “A skilful act performed for entertainment or amusement.” This is the definition that I use when I am classifying a behaviour as a trick. I ask myself, is this behaviour being performed for any other reason than amusement or entertainment? Some tricks can be useful too, but if the main purpose for teaching that behaviour is not for its usefulness, then I classify it as a Trick, and I will share it here in this category.

Should we teach our horses tricks?

I know there is a huge debate on whether we should teach our horses tricks at all. Does it take away from them? Does it turn them into circus animals just running through their repertoire of tricks for treats? Is it disrespectful to them? In my opinion a trick is totally okay if the horse is enjoying his training, and the trick isn’t specifically designed to make the horse look stupid, or for people to laugh at him.

Stationary trick training is a fun way to spend time with and add enrichment to the lives of our horses.

I find a lot of tricks can be fun to teach when a horse is retired and can’t physically do the things he could do before, or is too young for more intense physical work. Easy tricks are a great way for us to still interact with him. This gives him puzzles to solve, and enriches his life. It also gives the human the opportunity to practice their training skills even if their horse isn’t rideable. Maybe it will even encourage people to keep their older retirement age horses. Riding isn’t everything. Spending time training our horses simple tricks is just as good training practice for us, as training the young riding horses that are full of potential. We just need more ideas on the things that we can do together!

Trick training from a Dressage perspective.

When I first started learning dressage there was a huge distaste for behaviour that “looked” like Dressage but was really a “Circus Trick”. Nobody wanted to be considered a circus trick trainer. Creating look alike dressage, is not the same as real dressage. In that scenario the way the behaviour is being performed is what the trainers are referring to.

The dressage behaviours are designed to improve the horse biomechanically.

True dressage behaviours/movements when used correctly will supple, straighten, balance and strengthen the horse so that he can perform at a higher and higher degree of collection. The purpose of this work is to create a healthy strong riding horse that can be moved in all directions, with minimal aids. This makes the horse capable of being ridden into battle, bull fighting, working cattle, mounted archery, being safely ridden through rough terrain, and everything in between. The dressage movements are not the point. The point is using the movements to develop the horse.

Dressage becomes a trick when the movement is performed for the sake of the movement. When we perform a dressage movement just to say we can, or to show our friends… then we have missed the point. When someone teaches a green horse to trot on the spot, out of balance, and on the forehand, they may call it “piaffe”, but someone who knows better will call it a trick. Why? Because this version of “piaffe” does not develop the horse in the way that a true piaffe will. It cannot be used to make the horse stronger, more balanced, or more supple. So, it becomes a trick designed to wow an audience that doesn’t understand what they are looking at. In this scenario the true purpose of the exercise is lost.


Smiling is a fun easy trick that can be taught to retired, or less mobile horses. It is also a wonderful behaviour for introducing new people to R+ training. Photo Credit Trina Cary Photography

How it is trained does not decide if it is a trick.

Quite often R+ dressage is referred to by modern dressage trainers as a trick. This is just because of how it is trained. If the work is correct, meaning that the horse is using the correct muscles, and is in the correct posture he is performing correct dressage. The same can be said in reverse. A modern dressage horse can be pushed into something that resembles a dressage exercise. Again if he doesn’t use the correct muscles, or posture, that horse is essentially performing a trick.

It’s not the way something is trained that makes it a trick. It is the usefulness/correctness of the behaviour, and the purpose for training the behaviour that defines it as a trick or not.

To me trick training is a fun way for me and my horses to explore our creativity. Photo by Trina Cary Photography

I find trick training fun!

With all of that being said I very much enjoy teaching my horses tricks. I find it fun because when I am teaching cooperative care, or dressage I am very precise and detail oriented. With the tricks I can encourage my horses to find their own unique expression, we can both expand our creativity and try variations without worrying so much about correctness. I also find tricks are a fun way to introduce other people to R+ training because the behaviours don’t require a detailed explanation about what is correct and what is not. I mean fetch is self-explanatory. It’s also a great place to practice my training skills, and encourage my horse to become a brave learner.

Anyways just my thoughts on what makes a behaviour a trick, and a quick summary on how I classify behaviours. Stay tuned, as my next post on this subject will be a trick!

Have a lovely day!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Me

Share via
Copy link