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Targeting is the place to start with most domestic horses. Targeting is a great first building block for hundreds of training topics. Some of the topics are trailering, standing still, obstacles, desensitizing, clipping, tying, fetching, haltering, bridling, playing the piano, mounting, and hundreds more.
Place the horse in a stall or corral with a stall guard or rope across the door. Stand outside and hold the target near the horse's nose. when the horse touches the target, click, remove the target and give the horse a small amount of food. Lavish praise helps to show the horse he did the behavior you wanted. Repeat many times until the horse touches the target consistently every time you hold it up. Then put a verbal cue on it such as touch or target. Say your cue right as the horse puts his nose on the target, then click. Repeat many times. Some horses will understand immediately. Others may take up to five short sessions to be consistant. If the horse has much conventional training based on negative reinforcement and punishment he may take a lot longer to understand than a horse that has not been trained. Keep the sessions short in the beginning so the horse does not become bored with the game. Several short sessions are better than one long one. You want this to be fun for you and the horse.
If the horse starts to mug you simply step back out of reach. He will soon learn mugging doesn't work. If he gets nasty step back and turn around or leave. Timeouts are very effective in stopping undesirable behavior.
Once the horse is targeting the cone consistently on your verbal cue, move the cone slightly to one side so he has to reach for it. Move it around in small increments up, down and both sides, until he will follow it wherever it goes. Click and praise generously. Continue moving it further until he is touching it when it is on the ground.
Staying On The Target
This is useful for teaching a horse to stand still. You can also mount a stationary target in his stall and have him keep his nose on it while you are cleaning the stall, grooming him or tacking him up. He will learn to stand perfectly still for almost anything without a halter and rope.
To teach this, start delaying the click a second when the horse targets the cone. Slowly build on the time his nose is on the cone before you click and reward him. If he has trouble at any point, back up several steps and start again. Go very slowly one second at a time. You want the horse to be successful. You can build this up to a long time fairly quickly. This really builds a horses patience and is valuable in calming hot horses.
© 2001 Karen Parker