Magic Mustang Tamer

Cues and Signals

The Discriminative Stimuli we Use to Communicate, a.k.a. “cues”.

There is some debate over the correct terminology for the requests we make of the animals.

A cue is defined as: A stimulus which sets the occasion for a particular response. The technical term for cue is discriminative stimulus (Sd or S^). A few scientists prefer to use signal for this function, and reserve the word cue for a function altering stimulus, which modifies the meaning or evocative capacity of the discriminative stimulus. The debate about it can get heated.  Wow, the things people find to argue about!

YOU NEED TO MAKE A COMMAND LIST. It doesn’t have to be this one, but the consistency of your cues matters a great deal.

Command Means the animal should
Target Touch
Station Stay in place
Walk-on Start walking forward
Whoa Stop moving its feet
Back Move in a rearward direction
Footie Lift up the indicated foot
Push Thrust head under offered target
Oops Try something else because that isn’t the right answer
Count down Keep doing what it is doing
Head down Lower its head
Step on Put its front hooves here
Easy Rest with its head in front of its body
Name Look at the trainer


We name body parts for the animals: face, star, eye, ear, neck, shoulder, withers, chest. “Buckle” is used to indicated the location of the halter buckle.

We use a tongue sound to mean “move your feet”. It is made by placing the tongue on the roof of ones mouth and then sucking a slight bit of air as you pull down the tongue. Easier to do than describe!

Almost all of the verbal commands are used with some type of hand gesture or body language, and it may be that the animals are responding to these visual cues more than the verbal ones. The good trainer will always avoid confusing the animals by using visual cues indiscriminately. Let the animal focus and give your animal the information it needs to be successful.

Using too many cues is a common animal training error
Too many cues are not a good thing.