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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DIY target stick

A target stick is such a great tool in clicker training. Read on to make your own safe and sturdy target stick. It’s really easy so you have no excuse to not at least try it out.

With a target stick you can teach a horse practical anything. Read Best basics: Take targeting to the next level if you want some tips for target training.

Supplies

Floater
Bamboo stick
Duct tape
Glue gun

Target

I chose a hard plastic floater which I found in the boat section of Canadian Tire. The floater has a hole in which you can put a bamboo stick. I chose this floater for several reasons. It is a hard plastic so horses can’t get a grip on it with their teeth (safety), it is highly visible, very durable and it is lightweight. The target stick in the pictures is used daily and with many, many different horses. I made it years ago and it is still in super shape!

Stick

You can buy bamboo sticks in a garden center or in the gardening isle in a hardware store. Take the bamboo stick in your hands and try it out: hold it horizontally, point it up and down to get a feeling for length and weight. Make sure it feels good in your hand. If the stick is too thin or too long it’s hard to hold for a long time. Some bamboo sticks are a bit thicker on one end, that would be the best end to use as handle.

Tip: buy the floater first and bring it to the garden store so you buy exactly the right size stick: the one that fits in the hole of the floater. It works best if the target is already stuck on the stick without glue.

Glue

I used a glue gun to glue the target to the bamboo stick. You can use any kind of glue that is suitable for the materials you are using and is non-toxic. My floater fit perfectly with the bamboo stick, but I glued it anyway. I wanted to be sure not to lose the target in the middle of a training session or take the chance the target will fly away whenever I am waving the stick in the air. I don’t want to poke my horse or myself in the eye.

Duct tape_targetstick_

I used duct tape to prevent the bamboo stick from splintering or splitting. Some horses like to bite the bamboo stick. They are allowed to investigate it, not to eat it. Duct tape makes it less tempting for them.
Duct tape is available in all colours and prints which makes it fun.

Instructions

Glue the floater on the stick. Let it dry. Put tape around the stick and you’re good to go. To make it more fancy you can glue a (golfstick) handle on it too.

Let me know how your target stick turned out and if you have any tips. Thanks.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the results in training they really, really want with joy and easy for both horse and human. I always aim for win-win!
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