Empowering Equestrians to Train their own horse with 100% Force Free & Horse Friendly methods

Posts tagged ‘mat’

Fun Friday: Mat Training

One of the key lessons in my positive reinforcement course is mat training. In mat training you teach your horse to stand on a mat with the two front feet. Once your horse knows what is expected of him, you can turn this exercise into a powerful tool to teach new behaviours.

Applying Mat Training

Once your horse is happy to stand on a mat you can:

  • Build ‘duration’. This will help to teach your horse to ground tie.
  • Use the mat as indicator for your horse where to stand, aligning next to the mounting block
  • Teach him to step onto other objects like a pedestal, tarp or trailer ramp. You can start placing the mat on or next to the new object first if your horse doesn’t respond to the cue for ‘step up’ or if he is nervous
  • Teach him to put one foot on a stool as preparation for the farriers hoof stand
  • Place mats in the arena and use them to send your horse from mat to mat.
  • teach your horse to go over bridges or step into water
  • Send your horse from mat to mat with a pole or small jump in between
  • And so on

If you want to know how to start mat training with your horse, read this post.

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Every horse has a different learning curve

At the SPCA barn were I teach the horses with positive reinforcement, I work with 5 horses. Last week I introduced the mat (a foam puzzle mat) to four of them. It was really interesting to see how each horse reacts in a different way to the mat.

Horse #1

Horse #1 tried to avoid the mat in the beginning and did everything not to step on it. He didn’t even sniff the mat at first. So my first criterion with him was clicking for ‘moving a hoof closer to the mat’. It didn’t take long before he figured out that the mat had something to do with the clicks and he started pawing the mat. Well done!

Horse #2

Horse #2 sniffed the mat right away. It could be that she had seen that the mat had something to do with earning a click and reinforcer or maybe she just has a different personality and training history.

After sniffing, she started touching the mat with her nose. She knows how to target a target stick and a cone with her nose. My first criterion is always ‘interact with the mat’, so I reinforced the sniffing and touching with the nose.

Then I raised the criterion to ‘touch with a hoof’ and I had to ‘set it up for success’ by manipulating the environment a bit. I put the mat in front of her feet and asked to touch the target stick which I held far enough for her to do one step. Indeed she touched the target and stepped onto the mat with one hoof. Then I faded out the target stick and she figured out quickly that touching the mat with her hooves was the way to earn clicks and food.

Horse #3

Horse #3 started pawing the mat right away. This horse has a habit of lifting her legs in order to ask for attention, during feeding time or if she is stressed. If she doesn’t get what she wants, she often alternates legs.

Mat training is a good way to teach her to ‘keep her 2 front feet on the floor’ since this is incompatible behaviour with the leg lifting she does. She is amazingly smart and was the first horse that stood properly with both of her feet on the mat within the first session. It seemed to ‘click’. I have clicked for ‘4 feet on the ground’ many times during previous training sessions. The mat clearly helped her to focus on ‘standing’. I can’t wait until our next sessions to build duration.

Horse #4

Horse #4 stepped on the mat right away as if he wasn’t aware of it. Of course I clicked and reinforced for stepping onto the mat, even though it really looked like he didn’t see the mat. After reinforcing stepping onto the mat a few times I placed the mat a bit further away and he immediately walked over there to stand on it. Bravo! He did step on the mat on purpose.

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Mat training was an excellent preparation for stepping on a horse scale. Our clicker trained horses were the best behaving clients that day

Each horse reacts differently to a mat, depending on his character, history, experience with new objects, clicker experience and so on.

How did your horse do in the first session with the mat? How did mat training helped you in other situations? Please share your story in the comments below. Thank you.

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question toinfo@clickertraining.ca

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10 Tools that changed my Training Approach (III)

This is part III of ‘What is so powerful about clicker training’? What changes have I made since I switched from Natural Horsemanship to Clicker Training? In this series I talk about my 10 favourite tools for training horses and how they changed my training approach to a much more horse friendly way of training. You can read about Training tools # 1 – 3 here and read about Training tool # 4 here.

# 5 Mats
One of the 7 Key Lessons I teach my clients is ‘mat training’. Mats are very versatile training tools. First I thought you could just teach your horse to stand on it and that was it. Now I know how much more there is to mat training. You start by teaching your horse to stand on the mat with two front feet, that’s just the beginning.

Turning a whoa-horse into a go-horse
The results of the at liberty mat training made me use the mats for other exercises. I started to ride from mat to mat. She knew standing on a mat meant a break, a click and a reward. Double bonus for my more-whoa-than go-horse.

By using the mats I changed Kyra into a more go-than-whoa-horse because she learned quickly that the faster she went _Keylessonmatwork2the faster the reward came. And the faster she went the more fun it was. Of course I had to teach her the “opposite” behaviour too: I clicked and rewarded a lot for just walking and trotting over the mats and for ‘ignoring’ the mats when I didn’t give her a sign to step on them, too.

Mats are also useful to teach a horse to stand on unfamiliar objects. Horses have ‘feeling’ in their hooves and they use their hooves to test surfaces. A squishy rubber mat will help in building trust, mounting pedestals, trailer ramps, bridges, tarps, water and so on. Instead of mats you can also use large pieces of plywood. Or use them both. Experiment!

Jumping at liberty
Then I used two mats so I could let Kyra walk from mat to mat at liberty. It helped me to make Kyra more active in walk and trot, because she loved to go over and step on the mat.

Then I placed a pole in between the two mats so she had to step over the pole. The pole became a cavaletti and later a jump. In this way I taught her to jump at liberty without chasing her with a whip or using a chute to make her jump. She got the concept of running from mat to mat. The faster she went the bigger reward she got. In this way you can create a ‘chain’ of behaviours’.

In the video the chain of behaviours is: walking of the mat, trot, jump, trot to the second mat where the click and reward follows. You can also see that the mat has become a ‘security blanket’  for Kyra when she was startled by noises outside the arena.  She runs to the mat, not to me. That’s how powerful the mat has become for her. It has become a secondary reinforcer: standing on the mat itself has become a reward for her.

The process of teaching her to jump at liberty was longer this way than chasing her over it each time, but it was worth it. She started really to enjoy jumping and became really crazy and playful, something I am sure I wouldn’t have accomplished by sending her over a jump with a whip behind her butt. Mat training turned out to be very useful under saddle, too.

Other uses
Mats are can be used to teach your horse to ground tie, it’s a good place to use as a starting point for an at liberty exercise or teaching your horse to stand patiently next to a mounting block. _keylesson_mat_training_hippologic

I used a mat in the middle of a circle to reward Kyra for walking a nice circle outside the poles.

I am looking forward to hear about your creative way of using mats in training. Let’s share and inspire one another. Thank you.

To be continued…

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

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