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.

Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online courses that will change your life.

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DIY target stick

DIY Target stick for Horse Training

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Happy Horse training!

Sandra

Choosing the right 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. A flimsy target is harder to hold still.

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, just to make a picture it was OK. I would not recommend it in other situations: too flimsy and inaccurate.

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.

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!

HippoLogic.jpg
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.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin