When you are new to the idea of clicker training your horse you might ask yourself: How do I start? What do I need? Where do I buy these things? How do I teach my horse to respond to the clicker? These and more questions are answered in this blog to help you get started. Continue reading
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.
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
- Your horse learns to pay attention to the target, not your hands or the treats, which is the case with luring.
- 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.
- 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’.
- 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.
- 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:
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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.
Not too long ago I wrote a blog about the ‘boring basics‘ which appeared not to be boring at all!
I realized that some equestrians maybe still consider basic exercises as ‘exercises’ or ‘basic’ while they can be so much more. I consider HippoLogic’s Key Lessons (Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement training) not basic exercises, I consider them tools. Important and powerful training tools.
In this series I will explain how you can turn exercises into valuable training tools.
Key Lessons for Horses
The 6 fundamental exercises in clicker training that can become your most valuable tool are:
- ‘Table Manners’ for horses
- Mat Training
- Head Lowering
How you can turn basic exercises as ‘Table Manners’ for Horses and ‘Patience’ into tools is discussed in part I. Read part I here.
From exercise to training tool to success strategy
At first the Key Lessons are goals in training, but once you master these exercises you can start using them as tools. They will help you get other, more complex behaviours. Once you are using them as tools you will notice that they become your success strategy. That is what I teach in my online course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training.
The Key Lesson Targeting is a goal when you have to teach your horse how to target. You teach him to touch an object with his nose.
Once your horse can do this and you’ve put the behaviour on cue you can start using the target to create other behaviour. For instance you keep the target out of reach and ask your horse to ‘touch target’. Instead of marking (=clicking) the behaviour ‘touch’, you click for the behaviour ‘walking’ (towards the target). In this way you use the target as a tool te get other behaviour.
With a target you can get as many behaviours as your creativity lets you.
Start teaching your horse to use a stationary target. With a stationary target you can create a ‘safety blanket’ feeling for your horse. It is also a great place to send your horse to when you enter the stall, paddock or pasture with food.
I have seen trainers using a target on a very long stick to create rearing, you can use it to teach your horse to ‘follow a moving target’ so you can teach him to follow you.
If your horse often leaves you when you are working at liberty you can present the target as a reminder ‘good things happen’ when you pay attention to your trainer. Targeting also can be used to create Key Lessons ‘Head lowering’ and ‘Backing‘.
Targeting is very, very versatile. Once your horse knows how to target with his nose you can ask him to target other body parts, like his feet.
You start training your horse to step onto a mat or piece of plywood. Once your horse is confident to do this and he knows the cue for it you can transfer the behaviour ‘step on the mat’ to other objects. Like a pedestal, a tarp or a trailer ramp. Of a wooden bridge that you encounter on a trail or the cover of a manhole or a horse scale, like in the picture below.
Once your horse knows how to target with his nose and his feet it is not that hard to ask him to target other body parts. Once you realize that now you know this Key Lesson it is easy to see how you can use targeting as a training tool, right?
Ear target, to help clean them, overcome head shyness and is a great aid in teaching your horse to ‘self halter/bridle’.
Mouth and lip target to teach to accept oral medication like worming paste, accept a bit, check his teeth or teach your horse to pick up items and give them to you.
Knee target to teach the Spanish walk, Spanish trot, put his hoof on a hoof jack or to teach your horse ‘jambette’.
Hip target to align your horse at the mounting block, travers, move over and so on.
Eye target to clean eyes, put ointment in, calm him down.
Sternum target to teach classical bow
Chin target to teach positions of the head
Tail target to teach backing
Hoof target to lift hoofs, use a hoof jack, put hoof in boots.
Your creativity is really the limit. If you can think it you can train it. This is why I call HippoLogic’s Key Lessons, your Key to Success.
Check out the webinar I have done about this subject:
If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons below. Or post your comment, I read them all! Comments are good reinforcers.
Or simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect horse women 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 lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online 8 week course ‘Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training‘ that will change your life.
We all like to hold on to our beliefs and our familiair training aids. I know I do, even when I already know I never will use it. Here are some ways to drop your crop.
Holding on to your riding crop (carrot stick, training stick or lunge whip) gives us a feeling of safety and empowerment. We need our crop, just in case…
But what if you don’t have a crop anymore. What would happen? Would you die? Yes, it can feel that way, but you (probably) won’t. Continue reading
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. is scared to let people touch her legs, especially her hind legs. She kicks out when she feels something touching her hind legs.
In my last blog I wrote how I started her training. She is now used to the clicker. She knows that a click is an announcer of good things coming her way: appetitives (in this case treats). She understands my end of session signal that tells her that there are no more treats to be earned. Continue reading
In a previous post a while ago I talked about How to start clicker training: introducing the clicker. Once your horse knows the click means a reward is on it’s way, you can start clicking for specific behaviours.
The next lesson can be targeting. In targeting you ask the horse to touch an object with a body part. Usually we start with the nose. Later on you can also teach your horse to target with other body parts: the mouth for easy deworming, the hip for lateral work, the knee for Spanish walk and teach your horse to follow a moving target.
Choose a target that you won’t use in your daily routine, so your horse does not have a history with the object. You can make your own target stick with a floater attached to a bamboo stick, use a lid of some sort or a fly swatter.
Make a step-by-step plan in your head (or better write it down) to the end behaviour. First start easy by clicking and rewarding for looking at the target, then moving towards the target and finally touching the target with the nose. It depends on the horse how many steps this process requires: some horses are not used to strange objects, others are curious and want to investigate it.
Functional key lesson
I call targeting a ‘key lesson’ in training because it is extremely functional. Once your horse can target you can use it for many purposes like getting your horse out of a Summer pasture.
[Note to email subscribers: the embedded video below doesn’t show up in emails, please visit my blog to watch the video. Thanks.]
The target means a click can be earned. The click in itself is a reinforcer, but also the (maybe even high value) treat…. Kyra thinks that she should better come over and check it out. Nothing bad has ever happened targeting.
Please let me know how you use targeting in your training. I would love to share some ideas.
If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons below. Or post your comment, I read them all!
Or simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I connect horse women 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 lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training.
Haven’t we all experienced that a horse pulled you towards some grass in order to grab a few bites? Isn’t that annoying? I think it is!
I didn’t want to be pushed around anymore by my horse every time there was some juicy patch of grass growing around. Grass is everywhere! I decided to look for a proper, force-free way to teach my horse more desired behaviour around grass.
I tried a few different approaches, before I found one that works well, gave me a solid result and is totally force-free. I would like to share it with you.
Define ‘proper behaviour around grass’
It took me a while to teach Kyra to behave ‘properly’ around grass. With ‘properly’ I mean: no more pulling me towards grass, wait until I give the ‘graze’ cue and ‘stop grazing and come along’ if I ask her to. I was tired of pulling Kyra off the grass.
I must say before you can start training this you need a bit of preparation and… lots of practice time. After all, what is more enticing than grass? Well, a click can be…
What really helps is already have a solid history of click & reinforce. Secondly a horse that walks with you properly and the key lessons ‘head lowering’, ‘patience’ and ‘targeting’ are required to make this challenge most likely to succeed.
Here is a summary of my shaping plan:
- solid reinforcement history of the clicker
- teach Kyra to walk on a lead rope
- key lesson patience
- key lesson targeting
- key lesson head lowering
How I trained it
I started to reinforce lifting Kyra’s head while grazing. Why? Because this is the first step to move away from the grass. I began with leading her to grass and I would cue her to graze. Then I just waited (very, very patiently) until she lifted her head by herself. That is the moment I wanted to capture and reinforce.
I can’t stress how important it is to wait until the horse moves (his head) away himself. I tried other methods like pulling the head up/preventing the head from going down or asking Kyra to target while grazing in order to lift her head, but reinforcing her own head raise worked best.
High value treats
Every time she would lift her head , I clicked and reinforced Kyra with a very high value treat. One that could compete with grass. After she ate the treat I immediately gave her the cue to ‘graze’. Here is when the key lesson ‘head lowering’ comes is really handy.
I also clicked and reinforced the ‘graze’ cue. But instead of offering a treat off of my hand, the reward was to graze as long as she wanted.
Every time she would lift her head again, I clicked, reinforced and would then give her the ‘graze’ cue.
After a certain amount of training sessions, which Kyra enjoyed very much (!), I noticed that she started to lift her head more often during grazing sessions. This is a perfect time to add a ‘lift head up’ cue. The key lesson targeting helped me a lot.
So my next clicker session looked like this:
- walk to the grass
- give the cue ‘graze’
- wait until Kyra lifts her head
- click and reinforce
- give her the cue ‘graze’
- let her graze until I thought she was likely to lift her head up again, ask ‘touch’ target stick
- click and reinforce
- cue ‘graze’
- et cetera.
In this way she is always reinforced for whatever I ask.
Raising the criterion
After several sessions I noticed that Kyra didn’t seem to mind lifting her head up anymore. She was eager to see what I had to offer her. The ‘diving into the grass’ behaviour was gone. She seemed so much more relaxed on grass.
I thought this would be the perfect time to raise a criterion. Now I wanted to lift her head and take one step forward before I gave the ‘graze’ cue again. I literally built this behaviour step-by-step.
The final step in this process was to teach her to wait for the ‘graze’ cue when we would walk on or approach grass.
Now I can ask Kyra to leave grass at any time. She is very willing to come with me. She never pulls me towards a patch of grass and I never have to pull her off of the grass. Win-win, for her and for me.
Kyra turned from a I-need-to-graze-now-and-store-fat-before-winter-comes-horse into a I-see-grass-so-what-horse. She knows she can trust me and is allowed to have her share… only when I say so.
Join my free Transform Your Horse – Grass Training
Today I wanted to make a video for the FB Grass Training FB Group. Kyra didn’t want to graze, so I couldn’t show how to start walking on grass when all your horse wants to do is graze. Never thought I could be in that position: a horse that doesn’t want to graze because training is way more valuable.
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!
Sign up for my newsletter (it comes with a gift) here: HippoLogic’s website.