Goal: Horse nose targets the larger end of the target stick from 5 feet away, 2 cues (the stick is one cue)
This tool is useful for adding distance to a hand target. This skill will allow you to cue him to target objects further away than your arm can reach, can be used while on his back, get him moving in a specific direction from behind, teach him to turn his head and body around and many other uses, trailering a fearful horse etc. Think of it as an extension of your arm for hand targeting.
What Kind of Stick?
First, make a target stick. It needs to be made of a lightweight material, ideally telescopes for further reach, and has a surface on one end that is too large for him to bite. An old light-weight handle (such as from a Swiffer or Vileda product) with a 2 cup or larger rounded plastic container duct-taped on the end works well. An extendable golf ball retriever works very well too. Once your horse understands how to use at target stick, you can try the end of a whip that has some tape on the tip as a target (as long as he is not afraid of the whip and you teach him not to bite it).
Start by holding the stick near the container and place it just to one side and in front of your horse where he can see it. If he has been taught ‘food zen’ or ‘hand targeting’, he will be curious and will probably approach it to sniff. When he does, c/t just as he is about to touch it and remove it out of sight and reach (behind you back may work if the stick is not too long). Present the stick to him until he is consistently touching it with his nose.
He Tries to Mouth or Bite It!
If he tries to grab for the object at any time with his lips or tires to bite it, remove it out of reach (behind your back), wait a few seconds and try again. If he continues to grab for it, place the target part towards him but at a slight angle from above his head or from below. When he reaches for it, be ready to c/t just as he grazes it with his nose so he doesn’t have a chance to grab for it. Practice this several times until he seems to understand that a touch, not a grab, of the object is what you are looking for. Test this by bringing it into his reach. If he still grabs for it, you need to continue practicing just the glancing nose touch.
Video from cwagner87's channel on youtube.com
Generalizing the Behavior
When he is consistently touching it with just his nose, Start moving it around. A little to the right, a little to the left. A little upwards and a little downwards. Increase the distance as long as he is successful.
Now, move your hand back on the handle of the stick a few inches from the target end. Practice the above again.
Keep moving back a few more inches at a time until you are holding it at least 3 feet from the end and your horse is consistently targeting the object on the end, not the stick itself. Train your way until you are holding the other end of the target stick if it’s longer than 3 feet.
At this point, your horse should be reaching for the end of the target stick when you present it to him, while you hold the other end.
He Noses the Stick Shaft, Not the End!
Start with a shorter hold on the stick (only exposing a nose width of the stick and the target on the end). C/t for him choosing to nose target the end only. Move your hand away from the end 3 more inches and try again. Only move your hand back if he is touching only the tip at least 8/10 times. If he is trying to touch the stick itself, keep shortening the distance to where he can be successful and work at that for awhile. Try adding a little more length again and see if he gets it.
Let’s Get Him Moving
Now you can start to get him moving with the stick. Stand with your back to the open part of his yard or stand and walk parallel to the fence. This will allow you to safely back up without getting penned or cornered by your horse.
Place the target end of the stick just out of easy touch range and to the side of his nose. If he attempts to nose touch it and shifts his weight towards it, c/t. Now ask for a leg movement towards the stick. Then a small step. Then a normal step. Then 1.5 steps, then 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, etc. Stop at each click to reward, then step backwards, making sure you have room to move behind you. Again, start back in front of his nose and ask him to move towards it on the other side. Ask him to reach up above his head and down to the ground. A useful tool here is to ‘work the clock’ as you did for the cone target.
Next, start by placing the end of the stick just off to one side and slightly behind his ears. Move it a little further each time towards his shoulder. Soon, he will be turning his head around and touching his shoulder. This is helpful skill to train for neck stretches and also for treat delivery when you are in the saddle.
Next, can you shape him to walk in a tight circle while following the target stick?
How about a figure 8 around some barrels?
Video from cheerioTrainer's channel on youtube.com
What other things can you do with this on the ground?
While in saddle?