I have had a blast teaching Douwe and Rovandio to smile and "talk". Douwe absolutely loves it and offers to talk all the time. I think his ideal job would be to play a modern-day Mr. Ed, where he gets to stand around and smile all day! Trick trainer Heidi Herriott showed me how to teach Douwe and it is a fun, easy trick to teach any horse.
Why did I teach my horse to smile?
Douwe used to hold his ears back when he asked for attention. He is a big horse, so that made him look a little scary to new people (even though he wasn't being mean at all). I thought that the smile would make him appear more friendly (and also keep his lips busy so that he wasn't nibbling for treats!) It worked really well and he greets everyone with a smile and will also give gentle kisses.
Here are the Simple Steps to Teach Your Horse to Smile:
- You only need a halter and a treat!
- Make sure your treat is really yummy and smelly, like a peppermint or something with molasses.
- With your left hand, hold the horse's head up slightly so they will think "up" when you do the trick.
- With the treat in your right hand, hold the treat right above their lip and rub or flick the lip upwards with your finger (to encourage the lip to curl up).
- As you use the treat, make sure to use a vocal command. I use "smile".
- When the horse gives you a slight lift of the lip, reward them with the treat. You need to reward the smallest try so that they will want to do it again and offer more.
- Continue to hold the treat above the lip and wiggle/play with it to help encourage more lip movement.
- Once the horse is consistent at lifting the lip, you can start to raise and wiggle your finger along with your voice command instead of using the treat.
Here is a silly video clip of Douwe "singing" Happy Birthday to my Grandfather. I was able to get him to stop "singing" by lowering my hand and then lifting it again when I wanted him to start again. This is a fun, silly trick to teach your horse and certainly entertaining, especially to people who don't know a lot about horses!