It's Showtime (ENGLISH) - Sylvia Czarnecki - ebook

It's Showtime (ENGLISH) ebook

Sylvia Czarnecki



How to teach your horse to do a compliment Circus tricks don't just look impressive, but they also develop trust between horse and handler. In addition, they are a supplying exercise and bring variety into training. What is special about this book is that the author doesn't represent one single training system but instead combines years of practical experience and her knowledge of equine learning behaviour to show how to train towards exercises such as bow, lying down, sitting and more.

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The author and the publisher have collected the content of this book to their best knowledge and awareness. In case of any damage to humans or animals, occurring do to actions or decisions based on the information given by this book, no liability will be taken.


Copyright © 2011 by Cadmos Verlag, Schwarzenbek© This edition, 2015Design:, VerdenSetting: Das Agenturhaus, MunichEditor: Anneke Fröhlich

Cover Photograph: Karen DiehnPhotographs within the content without photo credit: Karen Diehn

Conversion: S4Carlisle Publishing Services

All rights reserved.

Reproduction or storage in electronic media is permitted only with the prior written permission of the publishers.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library.

eISBN 978-3-8404-6400-3


Circus tricks – Working systematically towards success

        Required skills for horse and trainer

                 The horse’s age

                 The horse’s breeding

        Equipment and the training environment

                 Training equipment


                 Head collar, rope and reins


A little bit of learning theory

        Survival depends on learning

        Improving the equine condition

        Horses do not learn through understanding

        Learning theories


                 Classical Conditioning

                 Operant Conditioning



        Principle: Motivation through reward

                 Using feed as a reward

        Preparing for and working through a training session

        Clicker training

Entering the circus world

        Warmingup, stretching and feeding techniques

                 Freeing up the poll and stretching the top line

                 Lateral mobility

                 Stretching the fore and hind limbs

                 Stretching the muscles down the horse`s side and through the shoulder

        The mountain goat exercise

        The two-legged bow/Plié

                 Preparation putting in ‘Park’

                 The bow takes shape

                 Vocal commands

A question of politeness

        The one-legged bow without leg rope

                 The one-legged bow with leg rope

                 The ridden one-legged bow


                 Required skills and preparation

                 Developing kneeling from the one-legged bow

                 Training the horse to kneel from standing

                 Maintaining the kneel and standing up again

                 Kneeling when ridden

Trustingly to the ground

        Lying down upright

                 Required skills and preparation

                 Teaching the horse to lie down from the roll

                 Lying down from the kneel

                 Lying down from the one-legged bow

                 Staying down

        Lying flat out – a real sign of trust

Please take your seat

        Required skills and preparation

                 Stretching out the forelegs

                 Sitting up

                 Standing up

        Sitting up tall

        Lying down from sitting

                 More than ‘just’ sitting

Making an impression

        The basics and skills required for the Spanish walk

                 ‘Do something with your legs’

                 Lifting the shoulder and stretching out the leg at a halt

                 The Polka

        The first proud steps

                 The Spanish greeting

                 The ridden Spanish walk

                 Special versions of the Spanish Walk

A selection from our box of tricks

        Crossing the legs

                 Version 1: stepping sideways

                 Version 2: responding to touching

                 Version 3: a helping hand




        Flehmen, yawning and other behaviours

        Saying yes and no

                 Saying yes

                 Saying no

A few final words


        Further reading

        Contacting the author

Circus tricksWorking systematically towards success

For quite some time now, the performance of circus tricks has not been limited to the circus big tops of the world. More and more people are discovering enjoyment in this unique and fascinating way of working with their horses. There is now barely a yard or equestrian centre in which at least one of its residents hasn’t at the very least mastered the art of taking a bow.

Unfortunately, it is also obvious there is often a lack of structure or system when it comes to training these horses to perform circus tricks. Sometimes it is forgotten that we are dealing with a form of training that needs to be taken seriously. Just as in every other equestrian discipline, a solid and systematic approach is the key to you forging a harmonious relationship with your equine partner.

Learning something new together, strengthening mutual bonds and having fun – working on circus tricks offers all these things.

Working through circus-related lessons will bring enjoyment and variety into the daily routine. In addition to this, the classical circus lessons are particularly good as suppling exercises when correctly carried out. Bowing, kneeling, lying down, sitting and the Spanish walk will all exercise the same multiple muscle groups that are used when horses are ridden or driven. Through the stretching and strengthening of tendons, ligaments and muscles, regular training will help to prevent injury and help avoid tension. The horse’s balance is also trained, which means that circus trick training is also well suited to young or unbalanced horses.

The real benefit of circus work, however, is the way it helps both horse and handler to develop on a mental level. It stimulates communication, learning aptitude and trust, without the pressure or demand to perform. A horse that doesn’t trust his trainer is unlikely to lie down in front of her. With time, the handler will find it easier to communicate with increasingly subtle signals and commands, and to work through new exercises.

By building up a correctlystructured training system, a horse can be encouraged to think with you, rather than just being a passive participant. Horses that master circus routines and tricks often have their own charisma and exude both confidence and vitality.

Required skills for horse and trainer

Being able to work horses in-hand with confidence is one of the prerequisites of successfully working through circus tricks. The basic skills of communication, understanding and respect should have been established already. The horse should alow himself to be touched everywhere, be happy to lift up his feet when asked, and accept being tied up. He must not be scared of the whip. The basics of being led in walk and trot on a straight line and on a circle, as well as halting, standing still, backing up and, ideally, lowering the head, should all pose no problems.

It is also advantageous if the horse is used to voice commands and understands being praised and reprimanded, so that you can give him the appropriate feedback and responses during work (such as ‘that’s right/wrong’).

Having a trained eye with regard to the reactions and movement of your own horse is also important, so that you can act appropriately and make it as clear as possible to the horse what you would like from him. A slow, imprecise or uncoordinated response to a horse performing a desired movement, as well as the lack of praise, are all motivation-killers and will make the work unnecessarily difficult.

Of course, you can begin this work even if you can‘t fulfil all of these prerequisites. The training itself will quickly improve your skills in these areas too.

The horse’s age

Providing a horse is used to people and has basic groundwork skills, circus training can be started with horses as early as two or three years of age. However, consideration should be given to a horse’s individual stage of development. If a young horse absolutely refuses to carry out certain movements then – besides a lack of understanding – it could be due to a physical problem. Attention should also be paid to whether the horse is mentally mature enough to be able to concentrate and learn. This is rarely the case with a horse under two years of age. You run the risk of over-facing such a young horse by demanding too high a level of concentration from him. This will not create a good basis for later training and can quickly lead to problems.

Before starting to work on circus routines, the horse should have been trained in basic groundwork.

Horses find it easiest to learn when they are between two and six years of age, since the ability to learn and the instinct for play is especially pronounced at this stage. Additionally, a horse’s natural curiosity at this age also makes work easier.

There is also nothing to be said against training horses to perform circus tricks when they are older or if they can’t be ridden. Aslong as they are not physically constrained in their natural behaviours (rolling, lying down and so on) you need have no worries about demanding too much of them from a physical perspective. You should weigh up each case carefully, possibly also checking with your vet, in order to determine whether the work might be to the detriment of a horse’s health. Whatever you do, in these circumstances, always proceed slowly. Older horses sometimes find it harder to learn new things or to do old things in a new way. Once you have got their interest in this new type of activity, they are usually enthusiastic participants!

The horse’s breeding

Circus tricks are suitable for all breeds of horses. Some horses, however, will be particularly well or less well suited to certain tricks because of certain characteristics that may be typical for their breed. Thoroughbreds, for example, tend to be more highly-strung and will find exercises involving rearing or Spanish walk much easier than, for example, my own heavy horse Tarek, who by his very nature has a calmer temperament.

A varied education is not dependent on breeding.

It is also possible to see how breeding affects a horse’s learning behaviour. Horses whohave draught breeding will learn in a markedly different way from Thoroughbreds. They often learn more slowly and need longer to grasp what is wanted of them. If you put them under too much pressure, you can easily restrict their ability to think. Once they have learnt something however, they are very reliable and are attentive to and enjoy their work.

Warmbloods, on the other hand, will often learn faster but may tend to be over-motivated, which can make calm and concentrated work more difficult. Since their flight instinct is more highly developed, they often need longer to learn exercises such as lying down or kneeling. This is outweighed, however, by the advantage gained on a mental level, which is all the greater.

Of course you cannot pigeonhole every horse like this. Just like people, horses are individuals and like to be treated as such.

Equipment and the training environment

Training equipment

It is important to wear sturdy footwear – this doesn’t include wellingtons or trainers and certainly not sandals. It is always a possibility that your foot can accidently be trodden on. Gloves are also advisable in case your horse tries to pull the rope out of your hand or is startled by something. Avoid flapping or loose clothing,which might make it more difficult for your horse to read your body language correctly.


The whip is an important communication tool and an essential part of your equipment. It serves as an extension of your arm. Used to supporti your signals, it will instinctively be understood by even young and inexperienced horses. It encourages, animates, confines, reminds, points the way and, in rare cases, it can also be used to reprimand. Depending on a horse’s size, the whip should be between 80 and 120 cm long and not too flexible or ‘whippy’. With a whip that is too springy or soft, it will be difficult to apply the precise and economical aids that are necessary.

White whips are clearly visible and have proven to be particularly effective. Whether you prefer a whip with a thong (the attachment at the end of the whip) or without is a matter of preference. I prefer the former, as my experience has shown that this type can be used with more precision. You should detach any hand straps or loops, as these can restrict your freedom of movement when using.

A correctly equipped horse and trainer pair

Head collar, rope and reins

A well-fitted head collar or rope halter is suitable for circus work, although a knotted rope halter can be slightly more severe in its effect. Avoid using a head collar with a stretch or elastic insert over the nose or poll as your horse may at the wrong moment be able to slip out of it surprisingly quickly and your aids will not be as controllable.

You should use a rope that has been specially designed for in-hand work. These are made from strong webbing or rope, and are woven around a core that gives the rope stability and the necessary weight.

The length should be between 3.5 and 3.8 metres and it should have a solid, compact clasp like a bull snap. Do not use one with a panic catch as these can be opened too quickly or accidentally, and usually at precisely the wrong moment. Lead ropes without a core or those made from cotton are as unsuitable as those made from polypropylene. They are too light, too thin and too loosely woven for you to be able to give your horse the subtle aids necessary for the training. A high quality rope has its price but this is the wrong place to try to save money.

If you need reins for an exercise, I would suggest you use rope reins becausethese will slide through your hands more easily than some leather reins will (especially those with some form of added grip). Alternatively you could use a long lead rope or normal reins that are attached to the head collar.

A bridle is only really an option when teaching the Spanish walk. In all other exercises and tricks, a head collar with reins or rope will be sufficient. You should really only turn to a bridle when you no longer require any form of rein aid to ask your horse to perform a specific trick.

The work space

Ensure you have a quiet and relaxing atmosphere and familiar surroundings in which to work. If you are not feeling right in yourself or if you are under stress, then it is best to postpone the training session to another day. Find a time when you will be able to work in peace and without interruption. You will move and act more confidently without spectators and in turn this will make communication between you and your horse significantly easier, esides which, both of you will be able to concentrate much better.

If possible, use an indoor school for the first few sessions – or at least a well-fenced arena or round pen in case your horse decides to try and make a premature exit.

The ground conditions also play an important role. The surface on which you are working should be as soft, as dry and as level as possible so that the horse is not put off and will be comfortable lying down.

The better the conditions are for training, the easier you will find it to work together. Try to make it as easy as possible for you and especially for your horse

A little bit oflearning theory

A correctly-equipped horse and trainer combination.

In recent times a lot has changed in the world of horse training. Previously, performance and success were the highest priority, but today the partnership and the enjoyment of the horse have moved to the fore. A partnership and the trust between horse and handler have to develop over time and cannotbe forced.

With the knowledge of a horse’s natural behaviour and how it learns, it is possible to develop appropriate, stress-free and relaxed methods of training so that both horse and handler enjoy the work.

When working with living things three principles should always be considered. A creature can’t‘not learn’, it can’t ‘not behave’ and it can’t ‘not communicate’. Learning, behaving and communicating are conditions that are triggered as a result of reacting to stimuli and signals. Only those who are aware of this fact and keep it to the forefront of their thoughts can establish an appropriate training programme and develop and ability to work effectively with their horses. On the following pages I will explain the process of how a horse learns and show you how we can influence this so that your training sessions work as well as possible and are enjoyable for both of you.

Survival depends on learning

Without the ability to learn, a horse would not be able to survive. For horses, learning is a lifelong process. A horse is continuously receiving a wide variety of stimuli through his sensory organs, which are then processed by the brain. It is there that the decision is made about the appropriate response.

Improving the equine condition

Horses do not learn in order to please someone else, but rather in order to make their own lives easier – that is what is meant by ‘improving the equine condition’. It is therefore an incorrect assumption that a horse would do this or that in order to annoy you or anyone else. This is a purely human perception. This type of behaviour would make no sense at all for a horse as it would involve unnecessarily wasting vital energy.

If a horse does not do something when asked, or does it incorrectly, then there will always be a reason. Perhaps he hasn’t understood what he is supposed to do or perhaps he is simply lacking in motivation. Your horse comes to a halt in the middle of the manège although you haven’t finished the schooling session? He isn’t doing this just to annoy you. Your horse probably associates the middle of the school with the ending of a training session and you, and only you, are responsible for this. By ending the lesson here the last three times of training your horse has learnt a new pattern of behaviour. He has associated the end of a training session with the middle of the manège. It is not for nothing that horses are described as creatures of habit.

Horses do not learn through understanding

Like most other creatures, horses learn by working through the required task and then consistently repeating what has been learnt. In contrast to us and a few other more highly developed species, the horse does not have the ability to truly ‘understand’. His actions are primarily determined by instinct, previous experience or conditioned behaviour.

The process of ‘learning through understanding’ is shown by chimpanzees when, for example, sticks of bamboo are put in their cage for them to play with. If you were to put a banana down out of reach in front of their cage, then they are likely to use the stick sas an extension to their arms in order to fish for the banana and move it closer. A different experiment showed that apes stacked boxes on top of each other in their cage in order to reach a banana that had been hung out of reach above them. This research shows that primates are able to think logically.

Experiments into these so-called cognitive processes have been carried out with horses as well. Feed was placed on one side of a fence while a horse stood on the other side. If the horse were capable of cognitive reasoning, he would try to get through to the feed, instead of which he is likely to run up and down the fence line excitedly.

Despite this, we are often given the impression that in a human sense, a horse is aware of his own actions. What is true, however, is that the reactions of a horse are not considered, conscious behaviour, but rather he has learnt through previous experience how to respond most appropriately to certain stimuli.

By using the approach and retreat method, a horse can learn to tolerate a plastic bag.

Learning theories

There is of course a variety of theories and methods by which a horse learns. Once we have understood them, and are able to implement them in training then we will be in a position to help our horses learn without stress.


Familiarisation is one of the most frequently used and also one of the easiest theories of learning. A horse is faced repeatedly with the same stimulus. As a result, the horse’s strength of reaction gradually reduces.