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Targeting: Part 1

I hope you had fun practicing you food delivery mechanical skills. You will be happy to know we are ready to get your horse started on targeting.

You should be getting very fluid and confident in your basic food delivery/target technique. Here’s a quick review of the steps:

– You present target

– Your human “horse” touches target with nose (hands).

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

What now?

Managing the environment to ensure successful training is very important so look at the place you are hoping to train in. I like to start with the horse in a stall with a stall guard and away from other horses that he might see as wanting ‘his food’. 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.

Put 20 treats into your pocket or pouch. Move to the side of your horse but outside the stall. You should be out of mugging range to start with, but close enough to deliver the treat.

So now 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 the first few trials just present the treat in front of him using the unfolding of the arm so he isn’t invading your space. Present the treat where you want his head to be.

When your treats are almost all gone, drop the last couple treats into his feed bucket that is easy to reach from outside 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?

Repeat the 20-treat trial several times then quit for the day and let him process what he has learned.

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.

Sometimes it will take a few sessions until the light bulb comes on as we say, and the horse understands the game. Many horses have not been allowed to participate or offer behaviours, often being reprimanded if they did, so these horses will be hesitant and often a bit afraid to try this. They may go and hide in the far corner of the stall. Keep your sessions short and allow process time. Often by letting a horse process the session the next time you try it the results will be much better.

Move the target to different spots and make sure your horse is solid on the targeting. Have fun practicing your targeting with your horse in the stall if need be, to feel safe and that your horse understands the rules around the food. Mugging the vending machine will not get treats!

Once he knows the behavior you can start to play with having him go to a stationary target by slowly increasing the distance he has to go to touch the target by presenting it further away from your body. At some point when you know he will touch the target you can attach a cue to it but NOT before you can solidly predict he will touch it every time it is presented. A cue I use is ‘park’ as it is a different sounding word than my other verbal cues so he doesn’t have to guess what I want.

Here is a short video of my little yearling mini Eggo going on cue to his stationary target in the stall. You can see that the set up allows me to be on the outside of the stall but still move the target easily in small steps from my hand to the spot it is now in. Once the cue is understood you can start to build staying on the target in small steps. This behaviour will morph into standing still while grooming; just one way of the many ways to teach standing still.

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