What now? The horse, right? No, not yet!
Now that you have your food delivery skills perfected, it’s time to add another new skill: handling a target. A target can be anything that is easy to hold and is horse safe. An empty plastic water bottle, the lid off of a supplement container or a small cone, all makes great targets.
You will be teaching your horse to touch his nose to a target, in your first horse lesson, so we need to practice with your human horse first.
Pretend that your human horse is in a stall with a stall guard across the door.
Here is the loop of behaviours – standing on your horse’s left side, hold the target out with your left hand in a position where she can easily bump it with her clasped hands (they represent the horse’s nose). Click as she touches the target with her “nose” and hand her the treat with your LEFT hand. But here we have a problem! You are holding the target in your left hand. So, as soon as you have clicked, pass the target to your right hand and reach into your pocket with your left . As you are getting the food treat out, the target should be held down and clearly out of range. Hand your partner her “treat,” then switch hands with the target and begin a new cycle.
Easy, right? Once you start practicing, you may find yourself stumbling over the details. And the details are important! Your “horse” partner can act as a coach reminding you to switch hands and to take the target down between trials. You may also want to set up a video camera to help you spot details that are being overlooked.
All this human practice will pay huge dividends once you go to your horse. It is well worth taking the time to do this.
If you are clumsy, if the timing of the click is off, if you forget to switch hands after the click, if you feed in too close to your body, all these things can create frustration in your horse and lead to unwanted behaviours.
If you are well-practiced and smooth, your first clicker session will be easy and your horse will think you’ve brought him the best game ever!
Have fun practicing your clicker targeting skills. Don’t forget to practice on both side of your “horse.”
See if you can see all the food delivery booboos in this picture!
Next month we’ll introduce your real horse to the clicker beginning with this lesson on basic targeting. That’s the first step in teaching him to be polite around food.
If you would like to see this lesson, check out the video below: