Foot Targeting a Mat
Goal: Horse stands with both front feet on wood or rubber mat approx 18 inches square 2 cues (one of them is the presence of the mat) for 10 seconds
This behavior is the early beginnings of standing still, walking across objects, ground tie, stepping into trailers and small spaces and teaching a front foot pivot.
For this behavior, you need a square of mat, rubber or plywood about 18inches square.
Start this session with some targeting of a familiar object with his nose x5.
Next, place the mat on the ground just in front of your horse’s front feet. Stand off to the side and make eye contact with your horse, then look down at the square with your eyes. C/t for any movement your horse makes toward the square. He might lower his head to sniff, try to touch it, shift his weight forward or take a step towards it. All of these would be clickable behaviors in the early stages of training.
What if He’s Afraid of The Mat?
If he shows any fear of the mat, you might want to place it higher (on a fence or trough) where you can c/t for interacting with it more easily. Lower it to the ground as his confidence with it grows. Now try for movement towards it again. You can also use this technique to get him interested in it.
What if He Gets Stuck and Won’t Move?
Try taking a step forward to see if he will come with you and accidentally touch the mat. If not, turn around and take a step backward to see if he might follow your movement. Keep an eye on him so you can click any leg or foot movement toward the square. C/t if he lifts his foot, grazes the mat with his hoof or places his foot onto it fully. When he is moving on his own, fade your movement.
You can pick up the mat and move it a short distance between c/t if he doesn’t show much interest in it. Fade this behavior once he is showing consistent interest in interacting with it in some way.
When he has one paw placed on it fully, use reward placement to get him off the mat and restart the behavior. Make sure he is clear that the foot flat on the mat is what you are looking for.
Pawing the Mat
If he starts pawing the mat, c/t a little early just as the tip of his hoof touches the mat but before he can paw it. Later on, make sure not to c/t any pawing movements as well.
When he is consistently placing one front hoof anywhere on the mat, start waiting a little before you click to see if he’ll start bringing his other foot. C/t any movement of that second foot towards or on the mat. Reward him off the mat so he has to move off and make the choice to get back on. Aim for two front feet flat on the mat.
When he is placing both front feet on the mat, start adding duration. Count using the 300 Peck method:
that is count
one, one thousand, c/t, reset (move him off the amt by offering treat to the side or front of the mat)
one, one thousand, two, one thousand, c/t, reset
one, one thousand, two, one thousand, c/t, three, one thousand, reset
Work your way up to 12 seconds.
If he moves off the mat before the numnber you are aiming for, start again back at one, one thousand and work your way up as you did before. This gives him successful practice at what he can do. This builds confidence and keeps your reinforcement rate high which keeps his interest.
Every now and then, ask for a shorter duration so the activity isn't always getting harder. For example, you are aiming for 7 seconds and you instead stop at 3 seconds and c/t.
Take the training to several other locations in your home location and start training from the beginning. Likely the third and subsequent times, he will progress more quickly.
Adding the Cue
When he can offer the two front feet on in several locations, it’s time to add the cue.
Lay the mat down, and just before you know he is going to do the behavior, give the cue (verbal or hand signal) and c/t for his response after just one second. Keep pairing the cue with his predictable response for several short training sessions. Slowly add duration back in.
When you have done about 100 repetitions (some need more) and built back up to at least 10 seconds of target time on the mat, you will want to test to see if he understands your cue. Try cueing the behavior on a new training day. If he can do it the first time, he likely knows the behavior. Try testing in the different locations you trained around his home location. If he doesn’t seem to know what the cue means, retrain in that location, pairing the cue with the behavior and try testing later.