Fun Friday: Teach your horse to Pick Up items

One of the most fun tricks I ever taught Kyra is to pick up items. It is very versatile too because once your horse can pick up stuff, you can teach them to hand it over.

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Kyra can now pick up and hand over a flower, her food bowl, my clicker, a dog toy, a whip and anything else she can grab with her teeth.

How to start

I started with something really easy to pick up for Kyra: a piece of cloth. In the beginning Kyra didn’t know what to do with it, so I knotted a carrot in it. That stimulated her interest.

I clicked and reinforced for small steps like touching and sniffing the cloth, then examining it with her lips and after a while she tried to grab it with her teeth. Yeey: jackpot! This took a lot of sessions, to be honest. From this early start I developed a clear strategy to set horses and people up for success if they want to train their horse to pick up items, so that they don’t have to get stuck in this part of training.

Putting a cue on the behaviour

Once Kyra understood this new trick, she wanted to grab everything off of the ground. That is the reason I started with an item that was easy to distinguish: the cloth. The cloth itself became part of her ‘cue’.

I didn’t want her to grab my brushes or other day-to-day items. What did happen, so that’s why it’s important to know when you can start adding a cue (a ‘final’ cue) to the new behaviour.

Once she learned what to do with the cloth I added my final cue to it, the verbal command ‘Pick up‘ with a pointing finger to the object I want her to pick up. After Kyra learned the cue I started teaching her to pick up other items. I bought a dog rope toy that is safe and easy to grab. I wish this would have been my training object.

Shaping the behaviour further

Later on I practised with her empty food bowl, my gloves in winter, her halter, the lead rope and so on. It turned out that it is a very versatile exercise. Then I raised my criteria and I threw the item a step away. Now I only clicked and reinforced after picking up the item that was one step away.

The next criterion was to move towards me one step with the item in her mouth. Then I taught her to hold the item until I could grab it. In this way she learned to put it in my hand instead of dropping it in front of me.

Play fetch with your horse

Now Kyra can fetch an item that I have thrown several meters away and bring it back to me. One day I asked her to pick up her toy while sitting on her back. She did it!  I use a treeless saddle, so I have to use a mounting block to get in the saddle.Wow, now I don’t have to dismount anymore whenever I drop something from the saddle. Bonus!

This week I stumbled upon a lovely video of a horse that picked up three rubber rings and put them on a cone. I don’t have rubber rings, but I asked Kyra to put her toy in a bucket. That was fun too.

Here are the videos of Kyra’s tricks.

Video 1: Kyra playing fetch from the saddle

Video 2: Kyra giving me flowers (that would be a nice trick to perform one day)

Video 3: Kyra putting her toy in a bucket

Video 4: Kyra handing over her food bowl after eating

If you like the videos go to YouTube and subscribe to my channel so you won’t miss new clicker videos.

 
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Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

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Fun exercises to start clicker training

Having fun is important because it keeps you and your horse motivated. If you start positive reinforcement training/clicker training you can be overwhelmed by ‘everything you have to do differently’. Not only do things in a different way, but also exactly in the opposite way.

Timing is everything in clicker training horsesIf you come from a traditional background training and riding horses or you come from a natural horsemanship background, you can have the feeling that you’ve been doing it ‘wrong’ all along. That’s not true and it is also not a motivating thought.

People who change their approach because they are looking for a more ethical way of training or the method they use to train horses doesn’t feel good anymore, are often attracted by positive reinforcement (R+) methods. In R+ it’s common to give the animal a voice in training. Giving the animal power over what is happening to him builds trust.

Start easy, stay motivated
_smile_tricktraining_horse_hippologicSet yourself up for success. A good way of starting positive reinforcement training with your horse is to start with easy, seemingly purposeless and completely new exercises to your horse that give a feeling of accomplishment when you reach it.

Start easy and choose something fun so you will stay motivated. Be gentle with yourself: you are learning a new skill. Give you and your horse time to learn and discover.

Choose an exercise that looks impressive but is simple to teach your horse and simple for your horse to learn. Don’t start with complex behaviours before you have enough basics under your belt.

Consider it ‘fun’ time
If the new exercises seem purposeless there is no stress if you decide not to follow up with training and there is no pressing timeline in your mind (like a farrier appointment that’s coming up for a scared or green horse).

Choose something completely new. In this way the horse doesn’t have an existing association with the new things he and you are going to learn. You start with a clean slate.

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Trick training
If you want to practise your mechanical skills in clicker training and you are looking for suitable exercises to start with, think about starting trick training. There are several easy tricks you can teach your horse and practise your clicker skills, your timing and safe hand-feeding skills.

For a safe and fun way to start take a look at my Key Lessons (your Key to Success).

Easy and fun tricks to start with are:

  • standing on a mat, a tarp or a pedestal with 2 front feet
  • smiling (= flehmen)
  • simple bow (front leg one step forward and head down)
  • targeting (touching an object)
  • shaking ‘No’
  • push a ball with his nose
  • back crunch

What exercises or tricks would you recommend to horse enthusiasts that just started clicker training?

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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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500+ LIKES on FB deserves a nice pic

Yesterday I received my 500th LIKE on my facebook page

I wanted to celebrate that lovely event by making a nice picture of Kyra holding up a flag with the text “500 FB LIKES”. She knows how to pick up things and retrieve, so I thought it wouldn’t be a big problem to make this happen. Of course is picking up and holding it something else than picking up + holding + ME TAKING A PICTURE.

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Home made creation. A flag for Kyra to hold

Well, I kinda nailed it, anyway. 🙂

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Holding up the flag

And here a little blooper: she just tried to “kill the flag” by stomping on it and give me a look like this:

Sandra Poppema

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Is that look on her face worth a smile of what? 🙂