Yes. The On Target Training system is very similar to the training methods used at Sea World to train marine mammals, such as 12,000 pound killer whales, walruses and dolphins. It’s also been used successfully at many zoos around the nation, to train “wild” animals to allow zookeepers, veterinarians, and feeders to enter their enclosures and to be able to perform routine husbandry tasks such as physical examinations without stress to either the animals or their keepers. Many people have used this training in teaching their dogs obedience as well, and have had a lot of success with it.
Yes and no. On Target Training does include the use of a bridge signal (such as the sound of the clicker) between a good performance and a reward. We also teach people that the bridge signal doesn’t have to be a clicker. At Sea World we also used whistles and our voice. However this is a small step in a much bigger picture with On Target Training. We’re trying to enlighten people to the behavioral principles that influence our horses’ lives. In some situations we can offer solutions with out the use of either clickers or targets, but by simply altering our actions or our horses’ environment. While the bridge signal serves as an important tool for communication, the target is even more important to inspire performance and to begin establishing a good working relationship. On Target Training stresses the importance of setting your horse up to succeed. We teach them to touch their nose to the target. When they know to follow and hold on the target we can then set him up to succeed by using the target to help make it clearer for the horse to understand what we are looking for.
On Target Training can be used as the primary method for training, or integrated into your existing training program. By using the On Target Training system, you’ll see dramatic improvement in your horse’s attitude, increased motivation, and a more effective way of communicating with your horse.
On Target Training can be applied to any situation you want to teach your horse. We use it to teach our horses everything from the basics of good manners, standing still while mounting, and letting us into the stall to feed them without begging, to trailer loading and clipping, to complex scenarios such as lunging and flying lead changes. See our video and book for examples of every day applications.
Yes. The same principles apply. We recommend reinforcing horses from the saddle. Simply bridge the actions you like and reinforce accordingly. We ride with a lined fanny pack for our rewards and a clicker attached to a riding stick. To reward your horse after clicking, use the rein to gently pull your horse’s head to the side. Then lean forward and feed him.
Not long at all! When you first begin training your horse, the first step is to associate the clicker with a reward, and with a simple action such as looking away from you (not begging). Some horses begin to pick up this association within one or two minutes, others may take five to ten minutes to understand it.
The basics take roughly a week and about 10-15 minutes a day. Once your horse has bridge conditioning and target training (the fundamentals) down, you are ready to move onto your specific goals. The progress will vary depending on your horse, your goals and your horses’ history with this subject. For example, let’s say you want to teach your horse to load in a trailer. If he has no history then he will progress more readily than a horse that has an unpleasant history with a trailer and panics as soon as he sees one.
The On Target Training system is simple and easy to use on horses of any age. The sooner the better – you can start as soon as your horse is weaned. We started working with Dandy when he was only five months old. He was young and had a lot to learn, but adapted to the training system extremely well. If you want to begin with a weanling, we recommend you begin with basics such as learning to walk beside you, to stop, and how to be mannerly around people.
We began working with Hershey when he was 14 years old. He was having some confidence problems. It only took a few 5-minute sessions with him to see positive results.
We recommend you incorporate On Target Training as a part of your daily routine. If you see your horse once a day, do a session when you first get there and one before you go home. The more often the better. But horses really retain the lessons they learn. Gaps in training do not usually result in setbacks, just pick up where you left off.
We recommend three five-minute sessions a day if possible. After three days, you should begin to see recognition of the clicker, and recognition that food is coming. This is a very important step. Soon, the clicker will take on a value of its own in your horse’s mind. Be patient and take the time to go through each repetition.
As the clicker begins to take on a value of its own, the horse understands that he did something right, he did what you wanted him to do. Operant conditioning has proven to be even more highly effective though if you vary the rewards (type of feed, for example), and how often you give the reward. At the beginning of the process, it’s critical for your horse to associate food with performance. Once the horse begins to recognize this, you can gradually begin to back off how often you reinforce with food. But only begin varying your reward once your horse consistently performs the behavior to your criteria. Eventually you can build up to many complex behaviors between reinforcements, like jumping a course, riding a test, running a pattern, etc.
Every time you ask for a behavior and the horse does it right, until the horse has mastered the task. As the horse succeeds, you can begin to make more complicated requests.
Immediately upon the horse doing the right thing. It may take you a moment to find the feed to reinforce, so you want to be sure that the horse associates the click at the same time he performs the correct behavior.
Yes. The important thing to remember is that the bridge signal (clicker) and target can be repeated in any situation with any rider. We begin with the clicker because we have found that horses have become desensitized to our voices, they hear us talking to them and other people every day. The clicker provides a unique, distinct sound that grabs their attention, and expedites the training process.
The hand-held target is useful because it’s seen as an extension of your hand and becomes familiar to your horse. Horses by nature are curious, and will want to touch the target to see what it is. By providing the white float (target) at the end of the stick, you have given the horse an object to focus on. So you want to use an object with a distance end on it. Some thing that is light and easy to use consistently.
You are setting your horse up to succeed with the target.
No. The clicker requires the force of your finger into the click box. We have found it very useful to have the clicker attached to the crop for immediate reinforcement, as it allows you to hold one less thing in your hand and still have immediate, easy access to it.
Over a period of time, your horse can learn to recognize multiple targets. Again, the key here is to set your horse up for success. We use two targets, one that we operate with our hand to teach the horse what we want it to do when interacting with us. The second, stationary target is useful in teaching the horse where to go, when in his stall, loading into a trailer, etc.
You may train other objects as targets but be consistent. Part of the horse’s success is in recognizing what to do with that particular object. He should hold on the target with his nose. You will have more success by teaching fewer number of objects as targets, but by having the same object in more places. You may have five stationary targets in different places but they should be visually the same for your horse. This way it will be easier for him to know what to do with the target when he sees it, even if it is in a new place.
Yes. For instance, in trailer loading, you use the hand-held target to encourage the horse up the ramp and into the trailer. Once at the top of the trailer, the horse can see the second stationary target, and that can be used to encourage the horse the rest of the way into the trailer and to stand where you want him.
The clicker, once your horse is conditioned, provides a bridge between the desired behvaior and the time you can reward him. This timing is crucial for the horse to understand what he did that was correct. For instance, a woman was trying to train her horse to hold his foot up for her to pick out his hoof. As soon as she was done she would let go of the foot and then get food. By the time she gave him the food, he had put his foot down. Gradually, he began to associate putting his foot down with the reward, not holding it up. Thinking that he was doing the right thing, he’d stamp on the floor, expecting to be rewarded. By adding the clicker to this scenario she let the horse know that, “Holding your foot is the behavior I like and I’m going to reward you for it.” All she had to do was click during the action she wanted.
No. However, it is strongly recommended that you use food. Every healthy horse in the world will respond to food. It is one of several primary reinforcements, meaning that they need it to survive. Therefore they are born with the desire to search for food. Being Grazers they constantly want to eat. This makes food an exceptional motivator: it is something they really want. You may find other things that your horse enjoys like toys, turnout, rest, a scratch on the withers, etc., but these things vary from horse to horse and usually hold less value than food.
You are teaching your horse to think, which means your horse will have to make decisions. Naturally, there will be times when your horse makes the incorrect decision. Ignore the unwanted behavior. You don’t want to draw attention to the incorrect behavior. Use a three second pause to communicate that you are not going to reinforce this action. Then ask again for the correct behavior. By ignoring the undesired behavior and rewarding the the desired behavior, your horse will learn to make the right decisions and you’ll begin to see less and less incorrect decisions. Keep in mind if any behavior whether good or bad is increasing in frequency, something in his environment is reinforcing it.
Always aim for good manners, and never reward any pushing, mouthing, pawing, nudging, etc. If your horse is displaying begging behavior, he doesn’t understand the criteria for rewards. Ignore the undesired behavior. When your horse looks away, immediately click and reward. He’ll begin to learn that standing quietly will get him rewarded while pushing on you won’t.
On Target Training expects a 50/50 relationship between you and your horse. If you feel like you are doing all the work, then you need to take steps to get him back on target. If he still isn’t trying and you are doing ground work, then put him away whether he lives in a stall or a paddock, and try again later. If you are working under saddle and you’re convinced that your horse isn’t misbehaving due to confusion or a physical problem, drop that particular issue and either work on something else or just exercise him. Don’t immediately put him away, since you would be removing the exercise factor. He may learn to misbehave to get out of work.
Undesired behavior may cross over to dangerous behavior. This should NOT be ignored. For safety sake use whatever measure necessary to stop dangerous behavior. If you routinely see potentially dangerous behavior, you should seek professional help immediately. Don’t take chances.