Horses are trainable animals, but even horses have their limits. It takes a really good trainer to train a horse to do things that a horse would not normally do because the tricks and stunts go against a horse's natural instinct for self-preservation. Movie horse trainers are especially good at getting horses to do amazing tricks and stunts. Here is how those trainers get the horses to do these tricks and stunts.
Break Down the Trick or Stunt
The first thing the trainer usually does is break down the trick or stunt. For example, if a horse is supposed to run into a flaming barn, the trainer has to teach the horse to go against its will into the flaming barn. The first step is to have the horse run into the barn and stop at a mark inside the barn. This trick is repeated until the horse has it down pat. Then a small fire near the door of the barn is created. The horse will hesitate, but a smart slap on the hindquarters of the animal will get it to run.
This is repeated until the horse runs past the small fire staged by the barn door. When the horse does this perfectly, the trainer gives the horse treats to let the horse know it has done well. Then the trainer repeats it, awarding the horse with a treat each time the horse gets it right. The next step is to increase the size of the fire and follow through on all the previous steps. Eventually, the horse will do the trick/stunt exactly as the director wants.
Train the Horse from a Very Young Age
Some horses automatically start their careers in movies when they are still very young. Trainers begin training yearlings and two-year-old horses to do all kinds of tricks and stunts that are commonly requested by movie producers. Because the horses are trained to start at such a young age, they are more compliant with completing tricks or stunts that are requested of them.
There are some tricks and stunts that can prove dangerous for riders of movie horses. For example, in one movie, horses were asked to high-dive into swimming tanks to recreate a historical sideshow act. These horses had to be trained to leap from amazing heights into the tank of water below, which is incredibly dangerous for both horse and stunt person. It also goes against everything a horse would do under those circumstances, and then the horse becomes fearless when it comes to similar situations off-set. A trainer then has to undo the training for these stunts and tricks to make the horses safe to ride again.
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