5 Benefits of Teaching Your Horse to Stand on a Mat

When you start clicker training your horse you might want to start with something fun and measurable. Key Lesson Mat training is an excellent exercise to start clicker training your horse. It’s a very simple exercise to train and easy to understand for your horse.

What does Key Lesson Mat training look like?

mat_training_hippologic2Your horse steps with his 2 front hooves on a mat. Soon you can train for duration and teach your horse to stay on the mat.

Purpose of Key Lesson Mat training

  • Safety: It creates distance between horse and handler. If he is standing on a mat he is not in your personal circle
  • Practising sending your horse away from you, towards the mat
  • Practising asking your horse to come to you, towards the mat
  • Groundtying with feet
  • Clarity: horse knows what to do, where to go and where to stand
  • Great foundation: ideal stepping stone to train other behaviours

5 Benefits of teaching your horse Key Lesson Mat training

  1. Horse pays attention to the mat, not your hands or your pockets
  2. Horse learns he has to do something in order to receive a click and reinforcer (C&R). He also learns that he can influence the C&R with his own behaviour
  3. Makes it way easier and quicker to teach your horse other useful behaviours
  4. Teach your horse to move towards something, instead of moving away from something which is so common in other training methods
  5. Mats can become ‘safety blankets’ because of their positive reinforcement history. If the horse spooks there is a huge chance that he will look for the mat to stand on to give him comfort.

In this video you can see what happens when Kyra spooks: she doesn’t run to me or run me over. Instead she runs to the mat for comfort and safety. Super powerful benefit, wouldn’t you say?

 

Advanced Mat training ideas

  • Put 5 or 6 mats in a circle and teach your horse to go from mat to mat
  • Exercise your horse without riding by sending him from mat to mat with a few poles or low jump in the middle
  • Teach your horse to stand on other (unfamiliar) objects like tarps, pedestals, trailer ramps, wooden bridges, hoof jacks, into a bucket of water and so on.

 

 

 

 

 

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_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners create the relationship with their horse they really, really want.  I do this by connecting them with their inner wisdom and teach them the principles of learning and motivation, so they become confident and skilled to train their horse in a safe and effective way that is a lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
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Husbandry skills: hoof care (part III)

achterhoeven onbekapt ongeslagen 13 maanden oud

In this series I will keep you posted about the young horse I am training in order to prepare her for the next farrier visit. I will call her A. in this blog. A was scared to let people touch her legs, especially her hind legs. She kicked out whenever she felt something touching them.

In the previous blog I described the progress we made so far. I have only had one more session between this blog and the last one. That means that A. hasn’t been (clicker) trained for two weeks. Usually a horse benefits from a break in training.

Improvisation

In positive reinforcement training you have to improvise often. If something has changed in the circumstances we are used to in training, we can’t expect the same results. This is called a ‘context shift’.

Read more about context shifts in this article Setting your horse up for success: context shift

Horses and other animals, find it often hard to generalize. If we can touch their body with a pool noodle in the stall, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the horse knows what to do when we are stroking her with a pool noodle in her paddock or in the arena.

Last training session the circumstances changed: it was raining so A.’s neighbours were not outside, but stayed in her stalls. In previous training I used the fence between the stalls as a protective barrier between me and A. This time that was not an option: standing in the stall of a clicker trained horse B. while clicking and feeding horse A.

I pondered a moment about the possibilities. Since A. is used to being haltered and isn’t a dangerous horse, I chose to halter her and go train her in her stall.

The click

Horse B. was really determined to become a part of the training session, so I had to improvise again. Every time I clicked she expected a treat and she became a bit frustrated that the clicks weren’t meant for her.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

I offered horse B. a handful of pellets, my usual food rewards and gave her my end of session signal, to tell her that she wasn’t going to get any clicks. I chose to switch the mechanical click of the clicker for a very soft tongue click instead to train A. I quickly introduced her to the new marker signal. A. is very smart and quickly understood that my tongue click was an announcer for a treat.

I noticed that B. didn’t recognize the new marker and she went back to her hay to munch a bit. Time to start A.’s training.

There were also a few other things that were different this morning.  I had haltered A. this time, there wasn’t a fence between us and we were standing in the center of her stall, in order not to be too close to the other horses. On top of that I also forgot my pool noodle on a stick.

How to handle a context shift

Because of all the changes that day I started repeating a lot of the previous lessons in this new setup: I started with touching her shoulder again. She didn’t move and she stayed relaxed so I tongue clicked and reinforced. Then I stroke her and let my hand move more towards her front leg. She was OK with that too: click and reinforce.

I moved my hand very slowly and I made sure I clicked and reinforced a lot. A.  understood the exercises quickly. Within a few (tongue) clicks she lifted her front leg all by herself! It was just a fraction of a second, but worth a click and a handful of food.

jambette

After a break we went on with lifting her front leg. Because I had given her a jackpot for lifting her leg she wanted to earn more food and she enthusiastically lifted her leg and swung it forward. Click & treat. I didn’t expect her to swing that leg to the front so my timing was exactly when she was performing a perfect jambette (like the picture of Kyra of the left). Oops.

The next try she did it again so I had to click much sooner: when she just lifted her leg from the floor. We will work on duration another time. I ended the training with lifting both of her front legs, without a jambette.

Related blogs:
Preparing your horse for the farrier with clicker training
Husbandry Skills: Hoof Care (part I)
Husbandry Skills: Hoof Care (part II)

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Are you inspired and interested in personal coaching or do you want to sign up for the next online course ‘Set Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them‘ (starts Friday), please visit my website

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Preparing your Horse for the Farrier with Clicker Training

Kyra one month after arrival

Being a farrier  is a high risk profession. It is not only a physically demanding job, but also the clients can be very opinionated. Or worse become defensive and kick, bite or rear. With clients I mean horses, of course. How can you help your farrier be safe working with your horse?  How can you prepare your horse for a farrier treatment? My answer is of course: with positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement for the professional

The first thing reinforcing the farrier to come back is that he gets paid! I like to offer a cup of tea and some cookies too, if he is really good with my horse. But the best way to reinforce your farrier to come back and do a good job is to have your horse well trained and prepared.

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