Mat training is one of my key lessons in positive reinforcement training. It is a very versatile exercise and a good base for more advanced exercises.
Standing on a mat
Standing on a simple puzzle mat is a fun exercise to teach your horse. The goal is simple: the horse has to stand with his two front hooves on the mat.
Preparation for other exercises
Mat training can be a good preparation for the horse to stand more willingly on all kinds of surfaces like tarps, pedestals, plywood, trailer ramps, wooden bridges etc.
I found mat training also very useful as a preparation to teach your horse to soak his foot in a bucket of water.
Kyra is having some hoof issues that require me to soak her feet. I looked up some do-it-yourself hoof soaking solutions since I don’t own a soaking booth. One of the suggestions was a diaper soaked in water and put the hoof in a Ziplock bag reinforced with duct tape.
It was no problem for Kyra to go from standing on a mat to putting her feet in a rubber bucket. Next step was to teach Kyra to step into a bucket filled with water. I practised this a few weeks ago already, not knowing that I would soon need this behaviour.
Because Kyra already has a long positive reinforcement history of mat and bucket training, today she was not startled when i attached a soaked diaper around her hoof. She was a lot less surprised then I would be. Also stepping into a plastic bag with fluid was no problem at all.
She was totally OK with me tying the plastic bag full of water to her feet. This was totally new to her: she had never worn bell boots or leg protection before, but a plastic bag with water on her hoof was totally fine. It only took me a few clicks to get her walking around with the bag confidently.
The only downside of using the diaper was that I used a fancy one. One with silicone inside in order to keep your baby extra dry.
As soon as Kyra put her hoof with the diaper around it down, the diaper tore and all the soaked silicone came out. It was a big mess. Not something I would recommend using for equine use. Maybe the cheap diapers don’t have this feature. So make sure you check the inside of the diaper if you want to use it to soak hoofs in.
My point is that once your horse has a solid basis and a long positive reinforcement history with a certain exercise, it is not a big deal to tweak a few things and train different context shifts. In this way you train new behaviours very quickly.
Hooray for this key lesson I invested so much time in.
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