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 the 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.
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.
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.
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