Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A little structure

The first concept I got out of the clinic was structure and direction for my training.

Alex outlines six foundation lessons for creating a good equine citizen. I'm going to be intentionally vague about them, if you want more information go to her website, The Clicker Center, and purchase one of the books or videos (If you're really nice I'll email you some more info, I just don't want to splash it all over the internet on her.).
  1. Targeting = teaching your horse to touch their nose to a target. This is a great lesson because there is so much you can do with it.
  2. Head Lowering = I've mentioned this before, it teaches the horse emotional control.
  3. Backing = teaches the horse to respect your space.
  4. Grownups are Talking = essentially teaches the horse to stop mugging you for treats; is the first lesson for ground tying.
  5. Why Would You Leave Me? = teaches respectful leading skills.
  6. Happy Faces = rewards the horse for looking pleasant (like having their ears forward), important because people react positively to horses that look pleasant.
So now I have some short term training goals. I had already started Gwen on 1, 2 and 3, now I just need to add 4 and 5. To be honest, number 6 doesn't really apply to my horses, I can't remember the last time I saw them pin their ears and look nasty. They are both very pleasant characters.

I've already started incorporating lesson 4 with both the quarters. After I groom them I take them off the cross ties and we work on Grownups are Talking. Gwen has picked up on this much faster than Coriander, but she was never as much of a mugger as him anyway. I plan on making this a regular addition to grooming time.

For the next week and a half I'm going to concentrate on teaching Coriander targeting and getting Gwen really good at head lowering. This already involves backing so we'll have that one covered too.

After my screws come out on June 1 we can start working on Why Would You Leave Me. I'm very excited about that one, I hope it creates a significant difference in how Gwen leads.


  1. I am working on all of them except for #1 and #6. :-) What would be the benefit of teaching your horse to touch a target on command??

  2. So many things! You can use targeting to bring a horse closer to something that scares it or you can ask a horse to target on the actual object that it finds scary. Targeting is one way to teach a horse to free lunge or to walk next to you without a lead rope. You can also use a target to teach a horse to pick up things. You can use a target to teach a horse to come when they're called!

    Targeting can also be a pretty fun game to play in the stall or pasture. See if you can get the pick to raise or lower their head to touch the target, or turn their neck for it without moving their feet.

    I used targeting to get Gwen used to the saddle. Once she touched it with her nose it wasn't nearly as scary for her to wear it around on her back.

  3. horse- not pick. Where did that come from?

  4. Understood! I would be all over Gem coming when he's called. I am working on that one, too. Geez, so much to work on. I like the game to raise or lower their head. I am going to try that one.

  5. Yep targeting is why Bodhi loads well, lunges without a line, will touch a spooky object with his nose on command, and pick up a cone and hand it to me. Targeting is my all purpose tool. It is a way to get motion without driving your horse from behind.

    I am constantly striving for structure. I tend to be a little bit scattered. Your 6 basic goals are good ones. My main goal is to add the three d's to my current cues (distance, duration and distraction) I love teaching new things but I feel like I never finish anything.

  6. Have fun Wolfie, that's what it's all about!

    Hi Golden! Isn't targeting great? So far it's my mare's favorite game. Not having structure was the greatest flaw in my clicker training since I started with it in January. Now I feel like I've got some purpose and direction that will make building up the 3 d's much easier.

    Have you done any mat work with Bodhi? That's on the top of my mind right now since I just watched three days of it. In case you haven't, it's another tool for helping with the 3 d's.

  7. No, mat work is on the top of my list as well. What are you going to use for your mat? I tried a feed bad and Bodhi tore it up instead. He definitely could use some calming clicker work :) to develop more emotional maturity.

  8. At the clinic they used a rectangular piece of rubber floor mat. Most of the women there said they used a piece of plywood at home, but the horses made the switch to the rubber mat easily. I'm going to see if I can find a heavy duty door mat to use- I might spray paint it a bright color so if it gets covered by sand the horse can still see it.