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Clicker Training - Targeting

I hope you had fun practicing your food delivery skills. You will be happy to know we are almost ready to get your horse started on targeting, but first I want to give you the final skill you will need before you try this with your horse.

Up until now you have been presenting the food pretty much directly in front of your human horse. You should be getting very fluid and confident in your basic technique.

Here’s a quick review of the steps:

You present target

Your human “horse” touches target.

You click, change hands on target (removing the target from sight), and reach into your pocket with the correct hand to deliver the treat.

Now we are going to add in the next step of turning into your human “horse” as you deliver the treat and unfolding your arm towards her shoulder. This will cause your “horse” to move backwards to get the treat. It may take a couple times for your human “horse” to figure out she now needs to move her feet to get the treat.

It is the stepping into your horse and unfolding your arm into her shoulder that will send the energy needed to encourage her to move back. Why is this step important? When your horse moves back out of your space to get his treat, it helps develop the polite, safe manners we expect to see in our clicker-trained horses. You’ll practice this with your human partner until you have things smooth. Two YouTube videos will show this final step in the process. They are titled November Targeting Video 1 and 2. When you feel confident in this last step you are ready to get your real horse.

What is wrong with regards to food delivery in this photo?

E-mail me your guesses at

I like to start with the horse in a stall with a stall guard. Safety is always paramount, and it is best to start clicker training with ‘protective’ contact as some horses are very eager to get that treat. If your horse starts to get too pushy or eager for his treats, the stall guard means you can just step back out of his way while still keeping the target out where he can easily reach it.

Count out twenty treats and put them in your pocket. Go through all the steps you did with your human partner with your horse. This should be easy now that you have the mechanics down pat. Present target where he will likely bump into it with his nose, click when he touches it, change hands on the target, present the treat. For this first round of twenty treats just present the treat in front of him using your unfolding of the arm so he isn’t invading your space.

When your treats are almost all gone, drop the last couple treats into his feed bucket that is inside the stall and step away from his stall. While you are reloading your pocket, think about how he did. Is he confident, smart, eager, timid, uncertain? The most important question of all: is there anything about his behaviour that would suggest to you that it would be unsafe to go into the stall with him with your pockets full of treats? If the answer comes back yes, you’ll continue to use the protective contact of the stall. You’re teaching him emotional self control and basic good manners with these early clicker lessons. That’s especially important for very pushy horses.

Take your time with these foundation lessons. A little extra time spent now will pay huge dividends in the long run. With the next round of twenty treats many horses will be ready for you to add in your new food delivery skills. Hold the target out to him, click as he touches it, now step into him and deliver the food so that he is backing out of your space to get the treat.

Why is this final step in the food delivery important? The most obvious reason is that it teaches your horse to move back out of your space in order to receive his treat. If you do this consistently (consistency is the basis of good training) your horse will begin to automatically step back after hearing the click. The food delivery will have helped him understand your body language. You won’t have to “get tough” with him. He’ll back up easily from a light request. Not only does this create a very polite horse, it also sets him up beautifully for the weight shift s you need for advanced performance work.

Sometimes it can take a few sessions until the “lightbulb” goes on, and the horse understands the game. Many horses have not been allowed to offer behaviours, oft en being reprimanded if they did so. These horses will be hesitant and often a bit afraid to experiment with the target. Keep your sessions short give them lots of time to process these sessions. The next time you try the targeting the results will be much better.

Now I know there are those of you out there thinking… okay so now I can get my horse to target his nose to an object I hold up ... so what? Targeting is one of the six lessons that form the foundation of clicker training. To have a really solid understanding of clicker training, you’ll need all six lessons, but targeting is a great place to begin. Can you begin to think outside the box “stall” and see all the useful and fun ways you can use your targeting skills? Here are a few pictures to help you begin thinking outside the box “stall.” And there are a couple cute clips on YouTube. Blessing Waiting for Dinner and Thunder Helping Out.

Next month I’ll introduce you to another of the six foundation lessons. In the meantime have fun practicing your targeting skills. And if you’d like to jump ahead and learn more about clicker training you can visit www. (I have some books and DVDs available to order from me.)

Monty Gwynne owns a private training/boarding facility, Flyin G Ranch, in Cochrane, AB, where she assists owners in training their own horses using clicker training. Monty has successfully trained horses of many breeds for many disciplines over the last 30 plus years, including gaited breeds. Monty is the only Canadian-approved instructor for clicker training using Alexandra Kurland’s program (the founder of clicker training for Horses). She has been training using the clicker for the past 12 years.

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