Mat Madness

In the photo above, I’ve asked Boots to put all four feet onto our plywood mat.

With so many new people taking up equine clicker training, I will find some of my favorite blogs from years ago when I started sharing them. The first video clip below demonstrates 22 different tasks we can play using a mat as a focal point. A mat allows us to have a specific conversation with our horse. If we have an exact idea of what we’d like, it is easier to shape the horse toward our goal and reinforce him for each small slice toward the goal behavior. Some further relevant YouTube clips are listed at the end.

Different types of mats are best suited to particular tasks. In this clip we use a plywood board, an old bath mat and pool flotation mat. Rubber door mats are good in that they don’t bunch up like the bath mat does.

The challenge for you is to choose one task and create a training plan to teach the horse as seamlessly as possible. When your first task is mastered, choose another one. Some tasks are much more complex than others. Most of them (but not all) require the horse to know the task before adding the mat into the picture.

Hints: Start with what the horse can already offer. Work in multiple mini-sessions. Three attempts are often ample for one mini-session. Stop when you get a good response or ‘try’. Maybe you can fit several mini-sessions into one longer session when you are doing chores other things with the horse. Work on new tasks one at a time.

Experiment until you and your horse agree on a clear signal for each task. Pay attention to your consistency using the signal. I struggle with staying consistent, but when I achieve it, things suddenly get much better.

Some people life to teach everything at liberty. I like to start most things with halter and lead so I can easily give the horse more clues about what will earn the click&treat, causing less frustration.

List of 22 Tasks: The list below is in the same order as shown on the clip.

1. Horse targets mat as his own idea, at liberty.

2. Use a gesture to send the horse to a mat.

3. Walk together around the mat before asking the horse to target the mat.

4. Person asks horse to wait, goes to stand on the mat, then returns to the horse.

5. Person asks horse to wait, walks to stand on the mat, then asks horse to recall to the mat.

6. Mat moved to a different venue, encourage horse to target the mat at liberty.

7. Short recall to the mat, handler facing the horse but not standing on the mat.

8. Short back off the mat; handler facing the horse.

9. Back off the mat; handler shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse.

10. Back off the mat; handler behind the horse.

11. Handler on the mat, horse circles to the right and left and halt on the circle.

12. Front feet stay on the mat, yield the hindquarters, from right and left sides.

13. Walk across mat and halt with hind feet on the mat.

14. Yield hindquarters off the mat, from right and left sides.

15. Yield hindquarters onto the mat, from right and left sides.

16. Yield forequarters off the mat, from right and left sides.

17. Yield forequarters onto the mat, from right and left sides.

18. Left front foot onto a mat.

19. Right front foot onto a mat.

20. Right hind foot onto a mat.

21. Left hind foot onto a mat.

22. Handler in front of the horse, ask horse to back both hind feet onto the mat.

These clips may also be helpful or interesting.

#9 HorseGym with Boots, Putting the Mat Target on Cue (on Signal).

#10 HorseGym with Boots, Generalizing Mats.

#11 HorseGym with Boots, Mat-a-thons.

#15 HorseGym with Boots, Parking with Duration & Distance.

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