This is a fun activity when we don’t have a lot of time with our horse. Or we can use it to begin or finish a longer training session.
We can expand the task as much as we like, depending on the space we have available to lay out the ‘treasures’.
Horse confidently follows a trail of markers to find a treat under or alongside each marker.
- Horse is relaxed enough in the venue for his curiosity to be engaged.
- Horse readily targets the ‘markers’ you will use when you hold them in your hand. In the clip I used small plastic plant pots that are easy for the horse to push aside and easy to see.
- Horse is used to picking treats off the ground (not sand or open soil).
- Horse understands a signal to move away from the handler so we can ask him to explore markers on the ground. This clip demonstrates touch and voice signals to ask the horse to move forward away from me. Instead of a halt signal, the horse moves on to seek out the circuit of treasures. Click here.
- A strong WAIT with duration is helpful if we want to set up a treasure trail without having to contain the horse physically. See The Wait Game: Click here. Alternately, we can teach ground-tying to a high standard: Click here.
#227 HorseGym with Boots: TREASURE HUNT
#236 HorseGym with Boots: TREASURE HUNT GENERALIZATIONS
Materials and Environment
- A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
- Horse is not hungry.
- Ideally the horse is at liberty, but if that’s not possible, the horse can be on a long light lead and encouraged to do the exploring for each treasure while we tag along behind keeping the lead out of his way.
- Targets we can place or hang around our training area, e.g. rags or plastic drink bottles if we need to teach the horse to move out ahead of us.
- A surface from which the horse can safely pick up treats, e.g. grazed paddock, solid footing areas (not sand). If only a sand or soft soil area is available, we can lay out mats or similar to put under each marker.
- Markers to put over each treat. The purpose of the markers is to have the horse use his initiative to move the marker to find the treat. In the video clips I use small plastic plant pots. Any small pot or pottle will do – margarine containers, even something as large as one-liter ice cream containers or cut down milk containers. Make sure that it is safe and easy for the horse to move the container aside with his nose to reach the treat, especially when first introducing the task.
- Treats to put with each marker. These can be carrot/apple strips, pieces of celery, an unshelled peanut, horse pellets.
- Halter and long, light lead if you can’t have the horse at liberty.
- Halter and short lead if you want to ask the horse to wait while ground-tied.
- Mat, pedestal, or balance beam if you want to use a WAIT spot while you set out the treasure trail.
- For generalization, stones or pieces of wood to set out as marking points.
- At first, use single obvious treats such as a large strip of carrot or any vegetable or fruit your horse likes. Once the horse understands the game, it is easy to switch to a few horse pellets or an unshelled peanut under each marker.
- Ensure the horse can easily move the marker with his nose.
- As a first task, we have to teach the horse (or refresh) a signal indicating to ‘seek’ by moving away from us toward a target. Begin by hanging targets at nose level around your training area and have the horse walk with you between the targets, with a click&treat for putting his nose on each one. Rags or plastic drink bottles make good targets.
- Once 1 above is ho-hum, stay back a little bit as you approach each target and develop a hand gesture paired with a voice signal to let the horse know you would like him to move ahead of you to ‘seek’ the target. I use a light tap behind the withers as a touch signal, as well as an arm/hand gesture. Click when he touches the target and walk forward to his head to deliver the treat. This builds up Prerequisite 4 – horse confidently moves forward away from you.
- Play with having the horse target the type of marker you will use on the ground, while you hold it in your hand.
- With the horse nearby and watching (behind a gate or tied or held by a helper), be obvious about putting a treat on the ground nearby and cover it with the marker the horse has been targeting in your hand.
- Encourage the horse to move forward away from you to ‘seek’ and explore the marker to discover the treat under it. Some horses may need you to ‘help’ move the marker during the first one or two trials. As the horse begins to understand the game, gradually hang back until he can do it on his own.
- Begin to create a trail of multiple markers. Put them close together at first, then gradually further and further apart. If your horse lives on a track, you might lay the trail around corners.
- Lay out the treasure hunt in different venues.
- We can use rocks or pieces of firewood to mark the site of each ‘treasure’ and occasionally move these around to change the puzzle. We may need to guide the horse from marker to marker the first few times. Start with them close together and gradually put them further apart. This system means we don’t have to pick up the markers each time.
- We can add complexity by using a variety of markers as long as we teach each one separately at first.
- We can add interest by putting a variety of treats or fresh herbs/willow twigs into a series of cardboard boxes scattered around in different places each time. These are more visible and work well if we set them up before releasing the horse(s) into the space. However, be careful not to use boxes with staples and the glue in the carboard is not safe to eat. Some boxes will also have been sprayed.
- When the horse finishes seeking out a line of treasures, we can add a recall back to us, which earns a click&treat celebration.
- When trailering a horse to a venue, have him wait in the trailer while you set out a circuit of treats with familiar markers. Then as soon as he exits the trailer, encourage him to come with you to do the treasure hunt. By having something familiar to do right away, the idea of a new/different place can be less worrying for the horse. I used to do this without markers and found it hard to remember exactly where I’d put the strips of carrot, so markers are helpful.
- We can ground-tie the horse or ask him to stand on a mat, pedestal, or beam for the ‘WAIT’ while we set out the treasure hunt. This gives him a definite place to be. Of course, we’d have to spend time teaching ground-tying or WAIT duration first.
- We can set out rails between the markers to encourage more varied movement. The horse will usually step across them if they are in direct line to reach the next marker.