Magic Mustang Tamer

Task 08: Target to individual trainers in a group of humans.

We can’t ever train horses to accept to other people without using other people. Group targeting is an exercise that horses really enjoy once they master the idea. It’s also a great way to get a glimpse into some interesting aspects of horse cognition. We present this with a right first, but some horses will be more comfortable with left first, so adjust accordingly.

MAJOR ALERT: Have a safety drill before going into the pen, so that incase the horse panics, the people will automatically and quietly step to the middle of the pen. The edge of the pen and the gate will be very dangerous.

MINOR ALERT: Do not habituate the horse to you standing and calling its name. Try to get its attention right away. Try to set the horse up to be ready to move on to the person following you.

Task 8 Subtask 1 Target to other trainers turning to the right with low latency *

Objective: The animal will be able to go from person to person to touch their nose to a finger target, circling in a circle to the right.

The Set-Up:  This requires a group of people. We have used up to six with good results. The animal should have a name. Have a safety drill before starting the horse – if the horse gets scared the people should step together into the middle of the pen so the horse can run around the edge without running anyone over. Practice this outside the pen one time to make sure EVERYONE understands.

Prerequisite Training: The animal must know how to target the nose with a person in the stall (T4 & T7). The animal should look in response to its name being called (T7.1)

Protocol: One person enters the pen and starts targeting practice, calling the horse’s name, offering the target, and requesting “target nose”. When the horse can do this calmly with all the people watching from outside the pen, a second person enters. The two people take turns calling the horse, offering the target, and requesting the behavior. The rewards should be kept small and you should try for a high rate of reinforcement. If the horse doesn’t respond a little, don’t call him a second time until you have given him a 7 second timeout to process the situation. The second person may need to start at the gate, but within a few iterations, the two people should arrange themselves to be in diagonal quadrants, with the quadrant at the gate unoccupied. When the horse is going between both people, introduce the 3rd person. Keep the people spread out uniformly to avoid holes where the horse could get stuck. Chances are good that the horse will never get scared, but if it does, everyone should step to the middle. Keep adding people as the horse relaxes. This ends up being a lot of fun and helps the horse learn to look when he hears his name from various voices.

What ifs:

  • What if the horse quits? The horse is not motivated or it can’t process all the stimulation. Usually by the time it gets to this exercise, there is no problem, but go back to where your animal was being successful and work for relaxation at a high rate of reinforcement.
  • What if the horse won’t come out of the corner or away from the fence? Gather all the people into a smaller group and take turns stepping out of the group and having the horse target face to the finger target. Give the horse plenty of room so it doesn’t feel overwhelmed.

Task 8 Subtask 2 Target to other trainers turning to the left with low latency *

Same, same….

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