Magic Mustang Tamer

Task 04: Targeting Face to Finger

Task 4 is the opportunity to create a differentially reinforced incompatible behavior to kicking. It also creates a method to easy move your horse as it follows the target.

ALERT: Remove the target between each trial to make it mean something special. Don’t interact with the lips.

Task 4 Subtask 1 Target face to fingers 10/min

Objective: The horse will move its face (nostrils or above) to make contact with a V-sign (finger target) made with the fingers. Your fingers can provide handy targets and your horse will develop a positive appraisal of human hands.

The Set-Up: You are working through a panel with the horse.

Prerequisite Training: The horse has learned to take hay while remaining relaxed.

Protocol: When the horse is waiting for a bridge and food, put the finger target into the pen very casually. Keep the energy in the movement very low and don’t stare at the horse. The horse will almost always sniff your fingers. Bridge and reward. Repeat many times in exactly the same way every time, removing the fingers between each trial. Do not bridge or reinforce for touches with the lips below the nostril. Shape the behavior to get above the soft part of the muzzle. After the horse does it correctly 3 times in a row, be strict about touching with the bony part of the face. Let the animal initiate the trial by looking at you or at your hand.  If it is still snorting, it is not relaxed. Do this until the horse can do it as relaxed as it was free feeding. Only then start changing things — the next step!

QC: The horse can target the bony part of its face to your fingers 10 times per minute.

What ifs:

  • What if the horse wants to nibble me? Don’t reinforce touches with the lips. If the horse is attempting to mouth you, give them a 5 second time out, before you start again. If it is actually trying to bite you, train Task 5 before you train Task 4.
  • What if the horse won’t try? Check that Task 2 is working and investigate any possible causes of suppression. Check your hay quality. Reduce the size of your bites. Let desire grow and try it later in the day.
  • What if the horse keeps snorting and being tense? It’s going to require more patience on your part. You may have jumped the gun in his earlier training. If you have done this for a week and you still have a tense horse, there may be other things affecting the psychological state of the horse. You could try using the glove on a stick or a similar target instead of your fingers, and then gradually get your fingers up close to the animal by holding farther up the stick part. See the Trouble Shooting Guide.

Task 4 Subtask 2 Move to target face to fingers 1-3sec latency

Objective: The horse will seek out the finger target where ever it is presented within its living environment. This creates a handy way to position your animal. As a default behavior, it is incompatible with kicking you.

The Set-Up: You are feeding a relaxed but motivated horse that knows how to touch a finger target with its nose. It may be easier to work through a fence panel. It is mandatory to do so if you do not totally trust the horse.

Prerequisite Training: The horse knows how to target your fingers with its face (NOT LIPS).

Protocol: Start offering the finger target in different locations. At first, move only a few inches, increasing the distance gradually. When the horse can look for the target and start seeking it out, move higher and lower as well as right and left. When the horse can follow the finger target to anywhere on the fence panel, move around to other panels until you have the horse moving anywhere you offer the target. Be sure to practice having the horse move to look up, down, right, and left. This will expose each eye to the trainer.

QC: The horse can move its feet to put its face on the target with little latency.

What ifs:

  • What if my horse is partially blind? Make sure you are not hiding the target on his blind side and associate presentation of the target with a verbal cue. I say “target” whenever I present the finger target. It gets the horse in looking for the target. Remember all horses have blind spots under their face.
  • What if the horse is just barely touching the target and turning to grab the food? It is time to move on and build duration. Don’t let your horse practice grabbing food.

Task 4 Subtask 3 Target face with duration CD(10) *

It is often easier to teach T4.4 and then come back to T4.3

Objective: This task helps the horse to understand to stay in place. It also continues to build the very useful understanding of continuing a behavior.

The Set-Up: With a motivated and relaxed horse, stand at the side of the horse with your treat bag on the side of you that would be farthest from the horse if you were facing the same direction as it. (on the left side of the horse, your bag should be on the left side of you). Change your bag to the other side, each time you change sides of the horse.

Prerequisite Training: The horse should be able to touch the finger target with its face with low latency when the target is presented (T4.2).

Protocol: Review simple targeting face while standing, then start using the CD(5), counting very quickly. If the animal breaks contact, quit counting and start over. Slow counting down as the animal understands the task, then switch to CD(10) going fast again at first, then slowing down. Be strict about the contact and don’t compensate by moving your hand. It will not help the horse to understand.

QC: The horse can maintain contact with the face and target while the trainer counts down from ten.

What ifs:

  • What if my horse is getting frustrated? It is the trainers job to make the animal successful. Count faster until the animal gets the idea.
  • What if my animal is wiggly? Relax the criteria to allow a small degree of movement at first. There is some point where your animal will not be discouraged from trying by negative punishment of wiggling, but at first, you might want to just allow a little wiggling while you maintain contact. But as soon as possible, get strict again.

Task 4 Subtask 4 Associate hand on face with food delivery

Objective: A respondent association between food and hand on face will help the animal be calm about and enjoy handling of its head.

The Set-Up: Try to limit distractions if your horse has a nervous disposition.

Prerequisite Training: The animal should already know how to target its face for duration (T4.3).

Protocol: Arrange yourself and your hay-bag so it will not flop around as you are petting the animal’s face. Start by asking the animal to target and then stroking down the face/nose as the hay is delivered. Some animals can simply be petted and for others you will need to gradually increase the amount of the face that you can pet. Eventually, you should be stroking from the forehead to the nostrils, with the food being delivered slightly before the hand leaves the face. The stroke of the hand should predict the arrival of the food. Simply pet and feed for a minimum of one full session. Try very hard to keep the horse from going over threshold into a fear response.

QC: The horse anticipates food delivery when stroked on the face.

What ifs:

  • What if my horse is avoiding my touch? Something about your longer touch is creepy. Fix it. Then start again from Subtask 2 (instantaneous touching)
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