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

Posts tagged ‘target training’

Husbandry skills: Hoof Care (part II)

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. (more…)

How Trick Training Pays Off

Today I had a really hard time to sit down and write a blog because my horse Kyra is on my mind. Last week she was diagnosed with EMS (Equine Metabolic Syndrome): obesity, laminates (foundering) and insuline resistance are three very important components of this syndrome as well as Cushing’s. _Kyra_hippologic

Change of life style

Kyra needs a different life style for now: no grass, a restricted intake of calories, as little sugar as possible (only soaked or low sugar hay and no apples, carrots or other sugary treats) and more exercise (which is hard since she is very sore on her front hooves).

How trick training helped

Sometimes previous training benefits you in situations you never could have expected. So can trick training. Many tricks may seem useless when you train them, however they can benefit you in surprising ways. Here are some examples.

When the vet came I wanted him to take X-rays of Kyra’s front feet to see if there was any rotation of the pedal bone. She needed to stand on wooden blocks with her front feet to take the pictures.

Clicker Challenge and mat training

Kyra knows how to stand on different kinds of pedestalsmats, tarps and last year we participated in an online  ‘Clicker Challenge’. She had to stand for 5 seconds on two small wooden blocks. Exactly the same blocks the vet brought. In hindsight this was the perfect preparation for taking the X-rays.

I joked to the vet and asked if I could get a discount since Kyra behaved really well and safe. First he said ‘no’ but then he told me I actually just saved $ 50 on the bill because Kyra didn’t need sedation to make her stand on the blocks.

Trick training pays off

When I wrote a cheque he did give me an additional discount (Thank you!). So our trick training paid off! Not to mention the stress we avoided because we didn’t have to make her do something she was afraid of. I didn’t need to stress about it, too. So, this was a triple bonus.

Muzzle and boots

The vet also recommended a grazing muzzle so she can be in the pasture with her herd. I really have a hard time putting horses in a solitary paddock. The stress she has in there worries me. Stress has a negative impact on the immune system and wouldn’t benefit the healing of her laminates (which is an inflammation of the lammellae in the hoof).

Targeting helped me get the muzzle on in no time. Kyra didn’t seemed to mind the muzzle to try it. She doesn’t realize yet that she is rewarded by getting it on, but will miss out on the grass later in the pasture. I feel like I tricked her, but it is the best I can do if I want to get her healthy as soon as possible.

A few weeks ago I had started training Kyra to accept a soaking boot. This related well to the need to have Kyra use soft ride boots now to protect her feet and I didn’t need to start training this behaviour from scratch. It saved us a lot of time and stress when it was needed most. Having trained Kyra in all the basics and having experimented with different tricks has prepared her for a lot of different situations.

Practising for the Clicker Challenge in January 2015:

Here the video in which the behaviour of the Clicker Challenge is established and how Kyra did with the vet.

Ignoring grass

Now I hand walk Kyra daily to give her the exercise she needs. I have a really good barn friend who loaned me some horse boots that really give Kyra some relief. Thanks to the many hours of training her to ignore grass, I don’t have problems walking the street with the very juicy banks of grass.

How did trick training help you in a situation you had never thought it could be useful? Please share your story and help inspire others to enjoy trick training (more about trick training).

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

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Clicker Training 101: How to start, part II

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.

Targeting

_zw_touchtargetThe 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.

Shaping plan

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.

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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.

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

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Key lesson: targeting

In my previous post I talked about the key lessons safe behaviour around food ,  equine emotions during training, head lowering & backing.

Another key lesson I want to encourage all clicker trainers to teach their horse is ‘targeting’.

Targeting
In targeting you ask your horse to touch a target with a body part. You start this game simple and the goal is for your horse to touch a target on a

_targetstick_

Target stick

stick with his nose.

Once your horse knows the target is meant to be touched with his nose (not lips or teeth), you can start experimenting. Hold the target a bit lower, higher, more to the left or to the right. If the horse is touching the target a solid amount of time you can put a verbal cue to this new behaviour, like ‘touch’.

Versatile
Targeting is a very versatile exercise and therefor a really good tool to have in your training ‘tool box’. Once your horse can target his nose to the target stick, you can shift the context: practice in other surroundings, use different objects, teach your horse to target with different body parts, et cetera.

Basics
Targeting is an excellent way of starting positive reinforcement training with any horse. If you use a target on a stick you can create a distance between you and the horse. Therefor it can also be used to train (potentially) dangerous horses. With a target on a stick you can train your horse to move away from you, you don’t have to bend through your knees or stretch to ask your horse to touch low and high targets.

I  suggest working with ‘protective contact’, a barrier, when you start, especially with potentially dangerous horses.  Then the horse can’t enter your personal space while you are still getting used to the mechanical moves of presenting the target, bridge, take the target out of the horses’ reach and present a treat.

Teaching other behaviours
Once your horse knows how to target and you’ve put it on cue, you can use it to train other behaviours. If you hold the target stick a bit closer to the horses’ chest you can elicit a weight shift which can be shaped into backing up. Also the opposite can be achieved and targeting can be used to teach a horse to follow you or being lead. You can teach a horse to lower his head.

verjaardag2011 022

Kyra targeting helium balloons during de-spooking training

If your horse can target different object with different body parts the uses are endless: medical (targeting the mouth for oral medication, eyes to your hand in order to treat infections, ears etc), dressage exercises, de-spooking, hooves for trimming and so on.

Read here my post Targeting for advanced uses.

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what your favourite key lesson is and why.

Sandra Poppema
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Review: target stick

DIY target stick HippoLogic

My DIY target stick

What criteria does a target stick need to meet to be a ‘good’ one? That depends on personal preference.

In this post I will tell you what I think is important about a target stick. I’ve seen all kinds of objects and DIY target sticks for horses on the internet, some look safe others don’t, some look handy others don’t.

If you want to know how a target stick is used, read this post.

My favourite target stick
I made my own target stick. I have experimented with different materials over the years and this is the one that I like the most, see picture on the right.

Lightweight
I prefer a solid lightweight target stick. This is important because you can hold a lightweight stick longer in your hands before getting tired. You can also work more accurately if the stick is rigid. If your target stick is too flimsy it may bend at the wrong moment and you don’t want to bump your horses sensitive body by accident.

hippologic key lesson targeting

I made a special lightweight target stick for my son: a soft floater glued to a whip. For this goal: working with a clicker savvy horse and only asking the horse to touch it with the nose it was OK. I would not recommend it in other situations.

Safe
The target at the end of the stick has to be safe. I choose to use a floater of hard plastic so horses can’t get a grip on it if they are exploring the target stick with their lips and or teeth. I use duct tape around the bamboo stick, to prevent splinters. Tennis balls on whips or sticks or soft floaters/pool noodles are not safe if you work with mouthy horses.

 Hip target stick hippologic

The stick must be long enough

Length of the stick
I want my target stick to have a convenient length: long enough to use it to target my horses hips if I stand near the head and long enough to work with the horse while working with a protective barrier between us. But also short enough not to become too heavy after a while. You need to be able to use the target stick easily in one hand without getting tired.

Obvious/clear
The target must be easy to discriminate from the stick. It will be easier for the horse to see it and understand that it is only touching the target at the end of the stick that will earn him treats.

An obvious target makes it also easier for the trainer to have clear criteria what to reward and what to ignore.. One of the goals of using a target stick is to create distance, so the horse has to learn to touch the end. That is why you put a target on a stick. If the horse can’t distinguish the target from the stick, you are missing the point of this tool.

My first DIY target stick HippoLogic

My first DIY target stick by HippoLogic

This is my first DIY target stick: a dog toy on a willow branch. It was too flimsy, too short to use for different exercises (head lowering or hip targeting), not glued to the stick so it fell off often. The dog toy was easy to grab for Kyra (because of the little bulges) and the willow was way too tasty! 😉 

Small enough
Choose a target that is big enough to notice and get touched by the horse, but small enough to be light and easy to work with. The smaller the target the easier it is to store and to take with you.

Quality
You want to invest in a stick that lasts for years. If your target stick is easy to use, you will use it often. You get used to it and therefor you want quality. That quality doesn’t have to be expensive as you can see with my target stick.

I am curious what you use as target stick. Did you buy one, or do you use an existing object (like a tennis racket) as your target stick or did you make one yourself like I did? Please share your ideas.

Sandra Poppema

10 Tools that changed my Training Approach (IV)

What is so powerful about clicker training? What tools are used and how can they change your training approach?

_targetstick_hippologic

In this series I am talking about 10 of my 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, Training tool # 4 here and Tool #5 here.

# 6 Target stick
A target stick is an enormously versatile tool to communicate with a horse. Targeting means that you teach your horse to touch an object (the target) with a body part (nose) on command.

When I started targeting I didn’t have a clue regarding the possibilities I could use the target stick for. I just thought it was a fun game with my horse. I started teaching my first pony to touch a bright pink skippy ball. Then I taught him to nose the  ball. I think that was about it.

Now I consider the target stick a very valuable tool. Read more about how to use targeting in your training in this post Best Basics: take targeting to the next level.

If your horse can target different kinds of targets with his nose you can teach him to target other body parts. I always thought that would be very difficult: you can ask a horse to move towards you, instead of away from you. Pushing a prey animal away is not so hippologic key lesson targetinghard, if he doesn’t go apply more pressure. But how to react if he doesn’t want to come toward you? You can’t ‘make’ him, or can you? Yes, you can with clicker training!

Once a horse is clicker savvy he will always be very eager to find out what you want from him. In order to let the horse come towards the target you have to set him up for success. Sometimes it simply means that you will hold the target only half a centimetre from his body so the chance that he will bump into it accidentally is huge.

# 7 Treats
Treats are not ‘just’ treats to the horse. Treats have a certain ‘value’ to the horse and also to the trainer. In clicker training trainers often speak of ‘high value’ food rewards and ‘low value’ food rewards. There are also certain advantages about the size of the treats you are using in training. How can you use this knowledge to your advantage and turn ‘treats’ into ‘tools’?

High value treats
High value treats can be treats that the horse doesn’t get often but he really likes, for instance sugar cubes. If you use high value treats sparsely the value doesn’t wear of. High value treats don’t have to be healthy because you won’t use them often.

Most people really like birthday cakes, I do. I thought I could eat them every day. Until I worked in a bakery which sold all kinds of super tasty cakes and pies. Since I could have free cake every Saturday my taste for cake changed and I don’t value them as much as I did before.

_healthy_horse_treats_hippologic_valentine

Super yummie treats can be used to teach your horse difficult tasks, for instance where the horse has to overcome a big fear. Trailer loading can be very scary for some horses and if the reward is something the horse really values he will try harder to overcome his fear and conquer the first step towards the trailer. If you ask a difficult task and the horse gets a treat he doesn’t really like, he might decide that it is not worth it.

Low value treats
In other cases you want to use low valued treats on purpose. When a horse is learning food manners it can be a good idea to start with low valued treats. You don’t want to get him too excited. Especially when he has to learn to take the treat carefully with only his lips off of your hand. With high valued treats the horse might become anxious to loose the treat and he might behave too enthusiastically so he would grab the treat instead of staying calm and taking it gently.

Examples of low value treats can be his diner grain or pellets.

Large treats
It can be safer to start off with larger sized treats on purpose, for instance to teach a horse food manners. A big treat is easier to see and_cutting_carrot_hippologic to take off of your hand gently. The chances of getting bitten while feeding a large treat, like a whole carrot with greens is much smaller.

Small treats
Small treats can be handy for the trainer but they can also be very useful if you want to increase your rate of reinforcement (RoR). Smaller treats are eaten and swallowed faster so the training is not  interrupted by chewing and eating the reward.

If a horse mugs you but he can take treats very politely off of your hands you can increase the rate of reinforcement by clicking and feeding treats faster. You can click the horse for ‘not mugging’-behaviours like: looking away, keeping his nose away from your pocket, keeping his head and neck straight forward if the trainer is standing next to his head. Clicking for the right behaviour while the horse is still eating will prevent the ‘mugging’ behaviour which often will be displayed after he is finished eating.

To be continued….

Sandra Poppema
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Best Basics: take targeting to the next level

DIY Target stick

Target stick, made out of a floater, glued to a bamboo stick covered in duct tape to prevent splinters

Of the seven key lessons in clicker training  ‘targeting’ is my favourite at the moment. I love targeting so much because it is inexpressibly versatile and I am excited because I just discovered new possibilities of this game myself.

What is targeting
In targeting you ask you horse to touch a target with a body part. You start this game simple and the goal is for your horse to touch a target stick with his nose. Once your horse knows the target meant to be touched with his nose, you can start experimenting. Hold the target a bit lower, higher, more to the left or to the right. If the horse is following the target all the time you can put a verbal cue to this new behaviour, like ‘touch’. Then you can hold it a bit closer to its chest in order to teach him to back up.

Moving targets
Once a horse knows to touch a target with his nose and it is under command you can take this game to the next level. Try asking your horse to 1_chasetargetfollow a moving target. Start easy with just a tiny step forward and build on that. Of course every step in the process is clicked and rewarded.

When your horse follows a target in walk, you can ask him to follow it in trot and even canter. If you don’t like lunging or driving your horse around in the round pen, you can use the target stick to get your horse moving. You can use the target stick to teach your horse to come to you in the pasture or entering a trailer.

It is totally the opposite of traditional methods where you use pressure to teach, so this can be difficult at start. You have to be willing to keep an open mind and keep thinking out of the traditional training box. That can be a challenge in itself.

Stationary targets
You can also teach you horse to target a stationary target. A stationary target doesn’t move and is attached to a wall in his stall, the trailer or at a gate in the pasture. You can train ‘duration’ and see if you can teach your horse to keep his nose  against the target for 2 seconds, then 3, 4 up to several minutes. A stationary target can be used to teach ground tying.

Stationary targets can contribute to safety around horses. If the target is attached on a fence in the pasture a few meters away from the gate you can use it to send a horse to touch it and stay, so you can get another horse safely out of the pasture without being crowded by horses who all want to work with you. You can put hay safely in the pasture without being surrounded with agitated, hungry horses and so on.

These are just a few training suggestions for touching a target with the nose. There are an infinite number of uses you can think of the use of a target.

Target other body parts
You can also teach your horse to touch other body parts. I’ve taught Kyra to touch the target stick with her knee in order to teach her the polka and Spanish walk.

I recently worked on the ‘hip target’ where Kyra has to step towards the target with her hind quarters in order to touch the target stick with her hip bone. This comes in very handy when she is not aligned to the mounting block. Now I can simply ask “hip” and hold my hand in position so she steps towards the mounting block with her hind quarters._Hip_target_hippologic

Teach your horse to target his shoulders. Imagine what complex movements you can create if you can move your horse’s hips and shoulder at liberty. I’ve seen people use it to teach their horses dressage exercises like travers, shoulder in and half-pass.

Kyra also knows how to target her hoof sole to the target stick, which helps with hoof care. She knows how to target the corner of her mouth to the dewormer syringe and targeting the halter makes haltering a piece of cake. My friend taught her horse to open his mouth in order to take the bit and bridle him.

Like I said: the possibilities are endless. How do you use targeting in training?

Sandra Poppema
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