How does he train them to do all that stuff? Callie Rae King says we could all learn a thing or two from his method.
This week I wanted to write something that would tie into the Christmas holiday, so as I was browsing around the web I happened on the Budweiser Christmas Commercial “Mistletoe.”
After chuckling at this one, I started watching other commercials with those famous Clydesdales and as I was watching I thought about how amazingly well trained these horses are to perform for the camera like they do. Plus it’s not just the horses, because many of these clips have dogs, donkeys, steers, even sheep that have been specifically trained as well.
I started thinking–who trains these animals and how do they do it? Many people think that the Budweiser commercials are created with the help of a lot of computer imaging, but they’re not. The Clydesdales and the other animals are trained by a very talented man named Robin Wiltshire.
I did some digging on Robin, watched a few interviews of him, looked up his website and YouTube channel, and read through articles that talked about his life and his training style. I believe Robin’s methods aren’t just for “camera tricks,” but instead that he has a great philosophy on training and there is something for all of us to take away from his methods.
Robin and his wife Kate have a pretty cool job. They live in Dubois, Wyoming, on a place called Turtle Ranch. They have a range of different animals there, cattle, horses, dogs, and a variety of others, many which are rescues. Robin’s job, as stated on his website, is “coordinating animals for film,” which means that a producer will call him with an idea – it may be for a movie, a commercial, or some other type of film, and Robin will then assemble and train the animal actors. He usually has several months to get all his animals ready, but sometimes they need to be ready to perform in as little as 20 to 30 days. As one of the producers for Budweiser put it, “if he says he can do it, he can do it.”
Robin hasn’t always lived in Wyoming though, he is originally from Australia, and he came to the states to ride bucking horses in the rodeo circuit. He then started training horses to perform during breaks in the rodeo. It was one of these performances that got him spotted by an Anheuser Busch rep who approached Robin about using one of his horses that was trained to rear up for an ad campaign. He just kept going from there.
Now the most interesting part for me was hearing Robin talk about how he trains. Robin uses a reward based system, giving the horses (and other animals) grain, pats, and praise after a job well done. The training is slow, deliberate, and methodical, and the behaviors are developed and shaped with repetition and rewarding the try. Robin said that for him, “the voice is the number one thing,” and he uses voice commands and whistles to cue the horses. Most of the behaviors start with teaching the horse to go from point a to point b, and he uses pieces of canvas on the ground to serve as markers.
He also teaches several animals to do the same trick so that he can rotate them during filming to keep them all relaxed and ready to work. When asked how he keeps the attention of the horses during all the commotion that goes on during a professional film set, Robin said that his animals know him, they know the trick, they want to please, and they are calm. He also plays recordings of set noises during the latter parts of training to accustom the animals to the different sounds.
In watching his videos, Robin appears to have a very relaxed, easy way about him, and his is very quick to praise the efforts of the horses and of all the animals. Robin’s training methods sound like they fit well into the teachings of operative conditioning and positive reinforcement training, but I feel his real genius is in knowing how to take what we see in the commercials – horses playing football, steers jumping fences, sheep streaking, etc and break those performances down into steps he can train and the animals can understand.
If you want to watch some behind the scenes clips, this is a good video:
… and another behind the scenes clip:
p.s. Tommy Turvey has recently been involved with the Clydesdales as well–he trained the horses for the last super bowl commercial, “Brotherhood.”
Merry Christmas everyone!
About Callie: I own and operate a small boarding and training facility in Chester County, Pa., where I love working with young horses and so-called “problem horses.” I enjoy learning from every horse I get to work with and always finding better ways to train and to teach my students. Writing is another passion for me, and I write two blogs. The first is CRK Training Blog, where I feature riding and training tips and interview other trainers and horse industry experts. The second blog is Happy Horse Reviews, where I share my thoughts on a variety of equestrian products. Thanks for taking the time to read my article!
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