So, I hope all of you had a look at the video clip from the last blog. I’m pretty sure a lot of you out there may have looked at the video and thought ‘I don’t see any issue here,’ and I know that many people would be happy if their horse looked and acted like this, but I’m looking for more. I want that dance partner that flows with me and matches my energy, my movements around the ‘dance floor’ whether I’m on the ground or on his back. I don’t want my partner to act like a ‘husband going shopping.’
So, how can I get this communication started? I almost always start by teaching a novel behaviour. A novel behaviour is something the animal has not been asked to do before so there is no history around it, or negative emotions or corrections.
I almost always start with an exercise we call targeting. For a complete description of it please check back in my blogs. Targeting is usually started using protective contact, especially if we are unfamiliar with the horse or if he is angry or aggressive. ‘U’ was, from what I could see, a gentle polite guy, so I chose to not use protective contact to start him with targeting. If, after starting, he showed any signs that I didn’t feel comfortable with, then I would have moved to using protective contact. When people or animals get scared they tend to get aggressive and I don’t want either of us feeling scared.
For a target I use a boat float on the end of a squeegee handle because it is light and different looking. I don’t want something to start with that looks even remotely like a whip.
I will show him the target and if he looks in the direction of it I will click and feed him a treat. Horses being curious animals will usually start to think about wanting to touch it. I also set up the environment so that they are more apt to bump into the target with their nose.
‘U’ caught on very quickly and thought this was a great game. This was what we clicker trainers refer to as ‘the light bulb’ moment. It is when the animal figures out the ‘if I do this then this will happen’… ‘if I touch the target I get a cookie!’ It is the opening of the communication door. The click tells the animal when he has done the correct behavior. It’s fun to watch them explore this discovery. You can almost see the wheels starting to turn. So cool!
Here is a video of ‘U’ the second time he did targeting. You can see he is quite engaged in the game.
You can see that I am moving the target around a LOT. I would not be doing this with a horse in the second session if he had not caught onto the game. If he was still being hesitant about touching the target I would present it in the same spot each time until he showed more confidence in the touching, and then move it just a tiny bit and get him confident touching it there before moving it again. ‘U’ however caught on very quickly and was confident in the game so I was able to move the training along faster.
I’m going to make you wait to see what he looked like in his next ‘leading’ video after the light bulb moment of the targeting carried over to the walking. Until next time keep it positive!