In the November/December issue of Horse-Canada, in my article “Starting Them Young: Clicker Training Foals,” I mentioned two new games – Magic Hands and Touch the Goblins.
The goal of magic hands is to have the horse maintain a light contact between the part of his body you are touching and your hand, usually the shoulder. As you move and stop and turn it is his job to stay glued to you through the contact of the hand as a guide in order to earn reinforcement.
Here is an example, with Jen Digate, whom I interviewed for the article and her youngster, Rune. Here Jen has added in a voice cue after building the initial behaviour.
See my previous blog, Clicker Training Foals, for more about starting them young.
Touch the Goblins is another version of targeting. In it, we use nose targeting, which was one of the first lessons taught, so will have a high reinforcement history and is, therefore, more likely to occur. We use this nose targeting to turn new, scary objects into an opportunity to earn reinforcement. As in, “If you touch this with your nose, you can earn a click and treat.”
We start almost every horse with the foundation exercise of targeting. It is a novel behaviour that most horses will not have ahd a bad experience with. After the horse will readily and predictably touch a target when presented we can add in a cue ‘touch’ or whatever you’d like to call it and this cue will predict the touching behaviour. We then present the target near another object we would like them to touch, eventually fading the target and having them touch the new ‘target’ on the touch cue. As the horse catches onto this game they start to get keen on finding things to touch and get a reward. Eventually, they will seek out and touch ‘scary’ things that before they would have gone the other way to avoid. Most commonly we use a nose to do the touching but targeting cam be done with any part of the body.
Very often, in the world of horse training trainers make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard. in positive reinforcement training we make the right thing easy with no consequences, no pressure,no punishment,for the ‘wrong’ thing.
There are those who would say they only do it for the food….well that’s a bigger topic and one I’ll discuss at another time in a more scientific blog. For now just enjoy watching a young horse confidently exploring the world without fear of being wrong and being rewarded for being confident and curious.
Here is Valor, playing touch the goblins.
Here is another video of Run playing too.