4 Benefits of Teaching Your Horse to Target

The Key Lessons are my Key to Success in Equine Positive Reinforcement Training. One of my keys to success is Key Lesson Targeting. In this blog I will share the purpose and benefits of this basic exercise. Watch the videos in this blog.

What does Key Lesson Targeting look like

The horse learns to touch an object (target) with a certain body part.

I always start with nose targeting and I like to use my DIY target stick (a floater on a stick) as object. When the horse touches the target, he hears a click (which marks the desired behaviour) which is followed by a reinforcer.
targeting

Purpose of Key Lesson Targeting

  • Safety. By using a target on a stick you can create distance between you and your horse. You can use targeting while working with protective contact (a barrier between you and your horse), so you don’t even need to be in the same space in order to train him.
  • Clarity. A target creates clarity for the horse. Many behaviours are way quicker to train with a target than without one. The target gives the horse a clear clue: that is the object to interact with. Using targeting to train complex behaviours is easier than purely relying on your free shaping training skills. Example: After lots of repetition the target stick becomes really attractive. Your horse now really wants to touch it!  That makes it very useful when you add the criterion ‘distance’ into training. It can almost become like a magic wand which you only have to wave and your horse will come. Then you simply add a cue (his name) and voila! Your horse learned what to do when being called. The target stick provided the clarity.
  • Great foundation to teach to target other body parts and/or train other behaviours  (possibilities are endless).

Benefits of teaching your horse Key Lesson Targeting

  1. Your horse learns to pay attention to the target, not your hands or the treats, which is the case with luring.
  2. Your horse learns that he has to do something (offer a behaviour) in order to receive a click and reinforcer. Targeting is a very simple behaviour (you can make it really easy by holding the target close) which makes it an excellent exercise to start clicker training your horse.
  3. It is a great way to teach your horse that he can influence the clicks and reinforcers by his own behaviour, in other words to explain your horse the ‘rules of clicker gaming’.
  4. Key Lesson Targeting is Your Key to Success in teaching your horse many other useful behaviours too, like following a target to create behaviours like head lowering, walk, trot, canter or to teach your horse to be send away from you (to a distant target). Teach your horse to touch a stationary target to get in and out of his stall while feeding or you can use targeting to trailer load, respond to his name, mat training and so on. Your imagination is the limit.
  5. You teach your horse to move towards something (target) instead of moving away from something (pressure). Your horse has to make a conscious decision in order to do this. You teach him to think.

Advanced Targeting ideas

Nose target: teach your horse to respond to his name, get him out of the pasture, walk, trot, canter, halt, small jumps, big jumps, touching scary things, ‘dismount me please’-signal, colour distinction, shape distinction, ring a bell, pick up an item and retrieve.

Ear target: helps in cleaning ears, trimming hairs, self-haltering

Mouth target: oral medication, de-worming, checking teeth/mouth

Eye target: cleaning eyes, adding ointment or eye drops

Hip target: aligning to a mounting block, travers, appuyement

Shoulder target: shoulder in, sideways, aligning to mounting block

Neck target: injection training

Tail target: backing, sitting

Stationary target (a ball that you hang on a wall or a mat on the ground): teach your horse not to crowd you when you bring food, send your horse away from you, send your horse over a jump

Hoof target: mat training, preparing for the farrier: lifting legs, using a hoof jack, stepping on a pedestal, tarp, trailer ramp, into water

Knee target: Spanish walk, Spanish trot

Just to give you a few ideas.

Read more about targeting:

Key Lesson Targeting

Benefits of the HippoLogic Key Lessons

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to help equestrians create the relationship with their horse they’ve always dreamt of. 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 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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Husbandry skills: hoof care (part I)

The term ‘husbandry skills’ refers to all the behaviours you want to teach an animal in order to take care of them safely. Daily  husbandry skills are haltering, leading, grooming, cleaning hooves, cleaning nostrils, eyes and ears and so on. Medical procedures like drawing blood (important in zoo animals) or administering medication (injections, oral medication, ointments) are also a part of husbandry skills.

In this blog series I will share with you how I train a young horse to lift her legs for hoof care with positive reinforcement (clicker training).

Young horse

Preparing for a hoof stand by HippoLogic
Preparing for a hoof stand.

At the SPCA barn I train a young horse to lift her legs for hoof care and trims. The farrier did a good job last time, but his time was limited to do the trim due to the horse. She was very scared and stressed. She is not yet properly trained to lift legs and let us clean her hoofs, let alone lift her legs long enough for a trim.

My goal is to have her much better prepared for a trim next time. I would like her to lift her legs on cue and hold her legs up herself (no leaning into the farrier). I want her to be confident and stress free during a trim.

Starting the relationship

This horse, let’s call her A. is young and she is really scared to be touched, especially on her legs. I introduced myself to her with offering scratches over the fence. She is really itchy at the moment due to shedding, so scratches are a good reinforcer to her right now. The best way to start a relationship is to start giving.

Protective contact

In a few sessions A. figured out how to ‘call me over’ so I would scratch her: if she aligns herself with the fence I come over and scratch her. I started with her chest area, now A. also let me scratch her withers, under her mane, her chest and her bum.

She knows that she can walk away and I don’t (can’t) follow her. She is in control: she can tell me where I need to scratch her and for how long. She even is in control of how much pressure she likes in a certain spot by pushing more or less into my hand.

End of Session signal

I taught her the end of session signal: I show her my two empty hands and say ‘All done‘.  It is interesting to see that she now immediately goes back to her hay if I give her my end of session signal. She knows the reinforcers (attention, scratches) will stop now.

I find it very important to have a way to communicate to the horse when and when not to expect reinforcers from me. It helps prevent mugging and turning your horse into a pushy horse.

Next step: introducing the clicker_hondenclicker

Now I have a bit of a positive relationship and established some rules (start session, end session, she learned that she can influence her training) and I can take her training to the next level: introducing the bridge or marker signal, the click.

I will keep you updated about A.’s training in the next blog.

Read more:

Husbandry skills: Hoof Care (part II)
Prepare your Horse for the Farrier with Clicker Training

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic

Are you inspired and interested in personal coaching in a group or do you want to have access to online clicker training courses and a fabulous, supportive R+ community, then join our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Apply today!

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.

Continue reading

Best Basics: take targeting to the next level

DIY Target stick

Target stick, made out of a floater, glued to a bamboo stick covered in duct tape to prevent splinters

Of the seven key lessons in clicker training  ‘targeting’ is my favourite at the moment. I love targeting so much because it is inexpressibly versatile and I am excited because I just discovered new possibilities of this game myself.

What is targeting
In targeting you ask you horse to touch a target with a body part. You start this game simple and the goal is for your horse to touch a target stick with his nose. Once your horse knows the target meant to be touched with his nose, you can start experimenting. Hold the target a bit lower, higher, more to the left or to the right. If the horse is following the target all the time you can put a verbal cue to this new behaviour, like ‘touch’. Then you can hold it a bit closer to its chest in order to teach him to back up.

Moving targets
Once a horse knows to touch a target with his nose and it is under command you can take this game to the next level. Try asking your horse to 1_chasetargetfollow a moving target. Start easy with just a tiny step forward and build on that. Of course every step in the process is clicked and rewarded.

When your horse follows a target in walk, you can ask him to follow it in trot and even canter. If you don’t like lunging or driving your horse around in the round pen, you can use the target stick to get your horse moving. You can use the target stick to teach your horse to come to you in the pasture or entering a trailer.

It is totally the opposite of traditional methods where you use pressure to teach, so this can be difficult at start. You have to be willing to keep an open mind and keep thinking out of the traditional training box. That can be a challenge in itself.

Stationary targets
You can also teach you horse to target a stationary target. A stationary target doesn’t move and is attached to a wall in his stall, the trailer or at a gate in the pasture. You can train ‘duration’ and see if you can teach your horse to keep his nose  against the target for 2 seconds, then 3, 4 up to several minutes. A stationary target can be used to teach ground tying.

Stationary targets can contribute to safety around horses. If the target is attached on a fence in the pasture a few meters away from the gate you can use it to send a horse to touch it and stay, so you can get another horse safely out of the pasture without being crowded by horses who all want to work with you. You can put hay safely in the pasture without being surrounded with agitated, hungry horses and so on.

These are just a few training suggestions for touching a target with the nose. There are an infinite number of uses you can think of the use of a target.

Target other body parts
You can also teach your horse to touch other body parts. I’ve taught Kyra to touch the target stick with her knee in order to teach her the polka and Spanish walk.

I recently worked on the ‘hip target’ where Kyra has to step towards the target with her hind quarters in order to touch the target stick with her hip bone. This comes in very handy when she is not aligned to the mounting block. Now I can simply ask “hip” and hold my hand in position so she steps towards the mounting block with her hind quarters._Hip_target_hippologic

Teach your horse to target his shoulders. Imagine what complex movements you can create if you can move your horse’s hips and shoulder at liberty. I’ve seen people use it to teach their horses dressage exercises like travers, shoulder in and half-pass.

Kyra also knows how to target her hoof sole to the target stick, which helps with hoof care. She knows how to target the corner of her mouth to the dewormer syringe and targeting the halter makes haltering a piece of cake. My friend taught her horse to open his mouth in order to take the bit and bridle him.

Like I said: the possibilities are endless. How do you use targeting in training?

Sandra Poppema
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