Here is a little trick that is easy to teach especially if you use clicker training. If you’ve already taught your horse to target on a something like a small plastic bottle, pylon or another object you are already halfway there. If not, check out First Steps in Clicker Training to get started.
This behavior can be taught without clicker training. This has been a favorite trick to train long before clicker training was popular. Praise and treats go a long way even without the clicker (or any other device you might choose to use, like a training whistle or click of your tongue). The clicker simply makes it easier to give praise at the exact instant the horse does something correctly. Clicking is even faster than saying, “Yes!” to reward the behavior and therefore, more accurate.
Before You Begin, Use Caution
There are some horses you shouldn’t train to give a kiss. Horses that tend to be mouthy and like to nibble, especially youngsters, might not be the best candidates for teaching this trick to. Any horse that tends to by grumpy, grabby or snappy when it comes to treats probably shouldn’t be trained to give kisses either. You are encouraging your horse to put its mouth (and teeth) up to your face, and you want to make sure that it will be obedient and respectful about it.
If you decide that a kiss on the cheek isn’t a good idea, then you could teach your horse a much more respectful kiss on the hand. The process is the same, except you’ll teach the horse to target on the back of your hand, rather than your cheek.
There are a few horses that you should not teach any tricks to, that involved using mouth or teeth. These horses might safely learn to give a hug instead. However, if you have any doubt as to whether a specific trick is safe, leave it out of your horse’s repertoire. Most horses live long and useful lives without trick training.
What You’ll Need
- A clicker (or your close attention so you can praise at the right instant).
- Small treats like carrot slices, sugar cubes, horse crunch, apple pieces. Your horse will probably like a variety. Handfuls of grain or concentrates may be too awkward, but some people like to use a portion of the horse’s regular feed.
- A roomy pocket or an old fanny pack to hold the treats.
- Ten minutes of time, a few times a day.
- Halter and lead rope, or you can work with your horse’s head over the stall door. Cross ties may restrict head movement, so it might not be comfortable for your horse.
How much overall time you will need will depend on the horse or pony. Some learn more quickly than others.
Teaching How to Kiss
Hold a treat in your hand and put that hand close to your cheek, tapping it and say ‘kiss’ (or whatever cue words you’d like to use). The horse will snuffle your hand for the treat, and in doing so touch your cheek. Each time the horse touches your face, mark that moment with a click and then feed the treat away from your face. As the horse gets the idea that it is targeting on your face (like it did with the target) you can dispense with the treat in your hand. Your horse will get the idea that the treat comes after it has touched your cheek with its nose. Don’t feed the treat up close to your face. You might end up teaching your horse to bite you.
Remember to keep your training sessions brief–10 minutes or so at a time. If you are working in the stable, go clean a stall, come back and work again for a few minutes. Then go and do another chore before working with the horse again.
If your normally respectful horse does get pushy, do not reward the behavior. Simply stand back for about 10 seconds and calmly begin again. That the behavior is done respectfully is more important than if it is done perfectly. For example, reward a bussing of the ear in the beginning, as long as you feel the horse was trying and being obedient. As the training advances, strive for more accuracy–the perfect kiss.