equine clicker training

using precision and positive reinforcement to teach horses and people

What Can I Train? K is for …

What can you do with clicker training? Sometimes we are limited by traditional thinking or just need some new ideas. In this A to Z series, I’ll be sharing ideas for things to train. I’ve trained some, but not all of them, and will share links to resources for more information whenever possible. I hope this list inspires you and you can’t wait to go out and teach some new behaviors to your horses.

I’ll be adding to these posts over time when I have time and new material to share. In some cases, I have intentionally been brief because the topic cannot be covered appropriately in this format, but I wanted to mention it so you have more complete list of ideas for things to work on. If there is a topic that interests you, and you would like more information, let me know and I will consider writing a more detailed article on the subject.

If you have a suggestion for an addition to this page, would like to share a photo, or add a comment, please send me a message.


Contents: kick a ball, kiss, kleenex, kneel, knock-it


Kick a ball

This is the first time he has met the ball and he’s not too sure about it.

There are a number of different games you can teach your horse to play with a ball. I usually teach a horse to push a ball with his nose, but some horses prefer to use their feet. If that is what you horse offers and you want to go with it, you can certainly do it, just be careful to put the behavior under good stimulus control.

If you want the horse to use his feet and he keeps offering nose touches, you need to change something about the set-up so that he is more likely to make contact with some part of his leg or hoof. One option is to put the ball very close to the front legs and cue forward movement. Click for any leg movement, even if he doesn’t take a full step or touch the ball. After you reinforce leg movement a few times, he should start to offer it deliberately and it’s easy to select for contact with the ball. I find it easier to teach this using a large ball so that the horse is more likely to make contact with the ball with his knee or cannon bone.

Kiss

Willy is giving me a kiss. I’m not sure what my expression means…

Teaching your horse to give you a kiss can be a fun trick, but I have to say I’ve only taught it to one horse because I decided I didn’t really like having the horse’s teeth that close to my face.

I taught it by teaching the horse to target the back of my hand and slowly moving my hand close to my face, until he was targeting my hand on my face. Once he had the idea, it was easy to convert the targeting hand into a cue (I touched my face) and fade it out so that I didn’t have to hold it in position on my face when he gave me the kiss.

Kleenex

When I was teaching a lot of tricks, I thought it would be fun to be able to ask Willy to get me a kleenex. He already knew how to pick up and hold an object so it was an easy trick to teach once I figured out to substitute a piece of cloth for the kleenex. Willy had already learned to pick up objects of varying textures, but there was something about kleenex that he didn’t like. A small square of fabric was much more acceptable and durable too. I did teach him to take it out of the box and put it in the blue bucket, but the picture of the handoff seems to have gotten lost.

More information on teaching a horse to pick up and hold an object can be found in the blog “What can I train? F is for …” under fetch.

Kneel

Buster found it easy to kneel and offered it when I was working on the bow

The kneel can be taught as a separate behavior or as a step on the way to teaching the bow or the laydown. A lot of horses find it easier to kneel than bow, so it might pop out when you are working on the bow. That’s what happened with my mini Buster. In the picture above, he’s actually on his way to the laydown which is why his hind feet are so far under him. However, if I had clicked just before this point, he would have stopped in a kneel. I have to confess I never got as far as putting the bow, kneel, and laydown on verbal cues but it can certainly be done.

The easiest way to teach the kneel is to capture it. It’s a natural behavior and if your horse is clickerwise, you should be able to click when he goes into a kneeling position before rolling. I’m going to describe how I taught a laydown when I get to the “L” blog, but the basic approach is to set up the environment so the horse is likely to roll and either capture the laydown or some approximation toward it.

If you want to try shaping the kneel, one approach is to teach the horse to bow on one knee from both sides. It doesn’t have to be a finished bow, but you need to be able to ask him to pick up, bend and lower himself on to either the left or right knee, depending upon which one you cue. Once you can cue the horse to lower himself down on to each knee separately, you can ask for both at once.

Timing matters as the horse will find it difficult to bend the second leg if he has committed to the full bow with one front leg extended. For some horses, it may be confusing if the bow is too confirmed and this is one reason that people often teach the kneel before the bow, or only teach one of these behaviors (the bow or the kneel but not both). I’ve also seen people teach the bow and then ask the horse to lean sideways to bring the second leg underneath but I’ve never tried that. Instructions for teaching the bow on one knee can be found in the article, How to teach your horse to bow on one knee.

Knock-it

Rosie knocks the tennis ball off the cone

Knock-it is the name I gave to a game I’ve played with several horses.

I got the idea from Jim and Amy Logan’s llama videos that were one of my first resources on clicker training. The Logan’s set up a line of cones, each with a tennis ball on top, and taught the llamas to walk down the line, pushing off each ball. I taught the same thing to Willy, who thought it was a a fun activity. Besides being a great game, it’s an easy way to teach a horse about chaining. I used forward chaining to teach Willy to push 6 balls off the cones for one click/treat, but I think it would be even easier to teach with backchaining.

If you want to read more about the Logans, Karen Pryor (www.clickertraining.com) has a nice article called Polish, No Spit: Learning from Llamas.

Here’s Willy showing how it’s done.


If you have a suggestion for an addition to this page, would like to share a photo, or add a comment, please send me a message.


If you want to learn more about clicker training, check out my book, Teaching Horses with Positive Reinforcement, available from Amazon.

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