Move the feet or target?

Wanted to share some things that crossed my mind tonight as I was working with Moonshadow. Most of you know she’s a little horse that I consider to be neophobic; she is afraid of almost everything that’s new to her.

I do really love her and I’ve had her since she was 5 months old but she definitely has been one of the more challenging horses I’ve met. Challenging because her extreme timidity and hyper-vigilance makes her more reactive to many situations.

Tonight we had a fair amount of wind which means things were flapping around in the breeze and she was on the alert. I look at these kinds of situations as training opportunities and tonight was just perfect for working with distractions and new things.

I decided to use the hay carrier because it was flapping about and she was looking at it with wide eyes.  I took one end of the hay carrier and put the handle in the gate, and I held the other and stretched it out so she could interact with my little makeshift tent.

I started clicking her for targeting the carrier and she put her little nose on,  under, around and basically all over the hay  carrier. She has also learned to target her forehead to things, and she offered this as well. So far, so good.

I knew that while she was willing to put her nose on something, I also wanted her to learn that moving her feet in a forward motion towards an item was also a way to earn reinforcement.

I think this is a very, very important process for both the horse and the trainer to grasp. The horse needs to learn to shift its focus away from its nose and onto its feet and legs. The trainer needs to learn how to click in such a manner that the horse realizes the shift in focus to a different body part.

I think this is the place where clicker trainers get stuck. They assume that because the horse moves forward to touch something with its nose that the horse understands that movement is the game, and it isn’t necessarily so. Poking a nose towards something is a very different experience than taking a step towards it, the emphasis on the body part changes.

So I made this shift with Moonshadow and begin clicking for foot movement. It was more tentative than when she offered nose targeting, but that’s okay with me. I knew I was beginning to shape and train the experience of approaching something that was scary for this little horse, and broadening her understanding of her feet in the equation. I am certain this kind of training will bring her more confidence.


About clickertraininghorses - Peggy Hogan

I teach people and train horses using positive reinforcement. The horses I work with are given choice, the freedom to volunteer behavior. The joy is that they strive to volunteer what works for both of us.
This entry was posted in clicker training horses, Training blogs and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Move the feet or target?

  1. sallypetty says:

    Hi Peggy, this technique worked so well with Lily! Like Moonshadow, she was willing to target all sorts of scray things with her nose. She loved that game & it gave her such confidence. A couple of summers ago I tried to get her into the water – a small river boarders our property & the horses had access to it for drinking – so she was very used to going down to the river but she never went in or got her feet wet. So I took her to the edge of the river – it is gentle flowing and shallow – she was nervous when I walked into the water, she wouldn’t follow me at all. I let her stand on the edge while I was a little ways out in the water. she was stuck at putting her nose to the water, drinking, looking at me in confusion. So, I took her a few feet away from the edge & if she even shifted toward the water, I c/t. She caught on quickly, but became stuck again once we got to the edge. She of course reverted back to the nose to the water behavior. The look on her face when I didn’t click that was priceless. She actually ended up putting her nose about 2 inches into/under the water trying hard to get me to click! Her next move was to get sick of playing & move away – bingo! She shifted her weight to move & got c/t! She was happy again & started working on figuring out the new game. I got some foot movement, but always to the side, so stopped clicking that. she finally offered a step forward & got jackpotted! From there it only took a couple of clicks & she actually put a foot in the water – another jackpot with lots of lovin’! That was it, she walked right in to the middle where the water was just to her chest. We had a great time splashing & playing in the water – now one of her favorite summer pastimes.
    I wasn’t sure if it was the movement of the water, the unknown of how deep, or what that she was so hesitant/afraid of. It takes a lot for Lily to be afraid of anything – I give credit to clicker training for her confidence with new things. The river was the first time I had seen her so uncertain. And, the fact that they could go to the river from their turnout & drank out of it often was interesting, too.

    • Thanks for sharing this Sally! I do think they gain a lot when they learn that “moving feet” pays just as well as “nose touching or nose following.” I do not have proof of how or why, so I can only comment on my thoughts and speculations. But I DO think that they organize their thoughts, movement and maybe even bravery when they approach an item with thought and focus on FEET.

      Love your story about Lily. She is such a treasure and quite a little mind on her! You guys are lucky you have each other. 🙂

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