Photo: Mats laid out in our training area make good destinations to encourage willing movement to the next destination to earn a click&treat. First we can have them close together, then further apart. Once the horse understands the game, we can use small ‘mat’ targets like plastic lids.
Destination training adds an important dimension to a horse’s ability to understand what we would like him to do. We have to remember that the horse is captive to an alien species. Unless we take him through a careful, thin-sliced training program to teach him what we would like him to do, he has no way of knowing what we want.
While we are trying to figure out how to communicate with our horse, he is trying even harder to figure us out, and work out what we want him to do.
Giving the horse destinations helps him to make sense of many of our signals, because he sees a purpose to what we are asking him to do. He is not forever locked into a mystery tour. Like us, to remain confident, horses like to know what is going to happen before it happens.
Photo: Here we have set up a series of white target disks along a track. Boots earns a click&treat for targeting each one with her nose (or foot). Gradually we would spread them out further and further, eventually attach them in appropriate places along a longer walk or ride on a road or trail.
Once the horse eagerly targets hand-held targets, we can tie similar targets around our training area and ask the horse to walk with us from target to target. This gives us many opportunities to seamlessly show the horse that walking with us (being led) is a fun thing because we are always reach a destination that results in a click&treat.
We can ‘stretch the value of each click&treat’ by gradually putting the targets further and further apart and/or in more challenging places. Doing this, we continue to build the horse’s willingness to come along with us because he knows that we know where these magic ‘click&treat spots’ are.
For horses that are barn/buddy sweet (they are not confident about leaving home) we can set out targets in a curve that gently goes away from home and then returns home. As the horse becomes more confident with the game, we can make the curve further and further away from home.
Once the horse is keen to hunt out the next target to earn a click&treat, we can set the targets in a straight line leaving home, being careful to stay within a distance that allows the horse to remain comfortable. We click&treat at each target going away from home and again on the way home. Eventually the targets can be a long way apart.
Once the horse is keen to walk forward to target a familiar object, we can use something like a Frisbee to toss ahead of us, walk to it, target it to earn a click&treat. Then toss it forward again, and so on.
More About Foot Targets
When we introduce mats as foot target destinations, we open up further possibilities for seamless teaching/learning. Once the horse is eager to approach his mats because he knows he will earn a click&treat, the mats can serve the same purpose as the nose targets — desirable destinations.
But that’s not all. When a horse learns to line up his front feet tidily on a mat, he will generalize this to a tidy approach to the mat so he can step on it elegantly. We have given him a reason to line up his body and use it with more precision.
An energy conserving horse will be motivated to speed up to reach the mat. A rushing horse will be motivated to calm and collect himself to reach the mat.
For teaching the leading positions, the mat helps sustain the horse’s attention and focus. We can also use a mat as a positive destination or ‘relaxation spot’ to visit periodically while we work on more complex tasks.
Once the horse has established the habit of moving on with us to find the next target, we can introduce targeting of natural objects like trees or rocks, bushes, particular fence posts. We can also teach ‘target places’ like corners of paddocks or favorite grazing spots.
Video Clips Available
My video clips are available on YouTube by searching for HorseGym with Boots or Herthamuddyhorse on the YouTube search engine.
In this clip the targets are close together for ease of filming. I eventually tied rags to fences and hedges far apart so we did a lot of walking between a click&treat upon reaching each target.
Clips #3 – #14 of HorseGym with Boots go through the detail of using destinations to give the horse a sense of purpose when we are asking him to walk along with us.
Number 16 in my Blog Contents List (link at the top of this page) will take you the blog that has details about teaching smooth WALK ON and HALT signals.