using precision and positive reinforcement to teach horses and people




Targeting is a good way to introduce clicker training to horses.††In the easiest version of  "targeting", the horse is taught to touch an object with its nose.   Through targeting, the horse learns that the click marks a specific behavior, and that it will be followed by a reinforcer.


I like starting with targeting because it is a behavior most people and horses donít know, so there is no emotional baggage associated with it. You canít force it and you can learn a lot about your horse by teaching it.In addition, it comes with a cue, which is the presentation of the target, so it is easy to get under stimulus control.

If you want read more about how to get started targeting, please read the targeting workbook which has detailed instructions for how to get started.  This handout is a more general look at targeting.


A target can be anything you choose, but most targets can be classified as either stationary or hand-held. 


Stationary targets are placed in one location and the horse is either parked at them, or sent to them.  Popular stationary targets are mats, milk jugs or other objects that can be tied in different locations, boat bumpers (this is what Shawna Karrasch uses), cones and pedestals.  Any object can be treated like a stationary target once you have targeting on cue so you can ask a horse to target items any item that it is safe for them to touch. 


Hand held targets are carried by the handler and used for targeting exercises that involve motion.  A good hand held target has an obvious targeting location on one end.  You can easily make a hand held target by putting a larger object on the end of a dowel or old whip.   I have seen targets where the targeting "hot spot" is made out of pieces of pool noodle, tennis balls and water bottles.  It really doesn't matter but for a hand-held target, you do want to be able to hold the target so the "hot spot' is out away from you.



Leadingteach the horse to follow a hand held target


Standing while tiedteach the horse to stand on a target (mat) or keep its nose near or on a target


Ground tying: teach the horse to stand on a target (mat) or stay near a target


Lungeingteach the horse to follow a target moving in a circle, or go from target to target so that it travels on a circle


Trailer loading: teach the horse to follow a target on to a trailer or go to a stationary target on a trailer


Stall manners: teach the horset to back to or stand next to a target when you are working in the stall


Approaching scary objectsteach a horse to target new items so that instead of being scary, they are opportunities for reinforcement


Obstacles/trail coursesyou can use foot targeting (touch the foot to the object) to train horses to walk on or over obstacles


First aid and husbandry issueshorses can learn to target with other body parts. If you have to medicate an eye, teach the horse to put the eye in your hand and hold it there.  You can do the same thing with feet and other body parts using the idea of holding on a target.


Wormingteach the horse to target the syringe.


Liberty work and trick trainingtargets can be used in lots of areas, from sending horse to locations, to directing body parts for lateral work, rears, laying down, sitting, spanish walk, etc..


Games that involve picking things up/indicating with the nosetargets can be used to get horses started on the idea of using their nose or mouth to manipulate things. This includes things like playing fetch, soccer (with the nose or feet), indicating letters or colors with the nose or feet, holding things, drawing and painting and so on.


In-hand and groundworktargets can be used to "direct body parts" in specific directions to teach lateral work (shoudler-in, haunches-in, half pass, sidepass, backing, backing in different directions, etc...)


Mounting block mannersteach your horse to line up at the mounting block through targeting, either of body parts under your direction of my teaching him to target a mat next to the block, or the block itself (with his side).


Haltering and bridlingteach the horse to target the noseband (halter) or bit (bridle) so he can self halter or bridle.







Katie Bartlett (2011) - please do not copy or distribute without my permission





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Equine Clicker Training