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Nose Targets in horse training

Love teaching with nose targets and here’s some points I am always returning to in training and teaching.

Painting shows work from front position but this applies from all positions. When we work with targets we want bake our future body language in and prepare our horses to work also without targets.

Basic targeting is one of my start up lessons after teaching pause. And all the four foundation behaviors is ment to help us start create a language we can speak with each other. After that we can go in to more nuances.

Give your horse room to move

I often start looking where I want to place myself before even thinking about what behavior I want to encourage with the target. 
Our position matters a lot when we work with horses. 

Creating enough space between ourselves and our horse makes a huge difference.

Doesn’t matter what exact position we are working on, creating space will help us. 

Space gives us better overview and often help our horse to relax.

Space allows for more possible movement directions and transitions into movement.

Especially if we work from the front position, as shown here on painting. Because from this position we are already placed with a huge stopping impact on our horse.

But no matter which position we start from, where we place both ourselves and our target matters a lot. I often start with creating the general idea of a search forward. An important concept in riding. In the beginning before the horse is more educated I just want a general idea. Like here below on video with Tiny.

He knows how to dock in to the barbecue glove. I use as target and later we can use the same idea for creating bigger movements. Or add in other types of targets to communicate with other body parts.

But lets focus on nose targets here and save the rest for another post :) What happens in video: He docks in to my hand in first sequence, a movement I transferred to the rein aid: come to this direction with your head please.

That's the first part, the second part is asking the shoulders to follow to a full step. If you notice my position here I try to think about giving him enough space to move to, to not be in the way of the movement I used asked for

It is very common that we forget about this when we are busy placing our target and just by NOT moving out of the way accidentally creating a different movement than the one we had in mind.

I was teaching classical dressage way before I started my journey into positive reinforcement and this part I strongly feel has not changed at all. It takes training to be aware of all the components and before we are fluent with the movement in our own bodies. Spending time practicing body awareness is always time well spent when it comes to being a better guide for our horses.


So how about our horses position? Targets are just great to help our horse be aware of their position.

Nose target for riding
Different nose targets has built all Najaggs work with his straightness, balance and later on neck rope and rein aids

To start their gymnastic education, lengthen their top line and give them an idea of where in space we would like them to be.

I work with different types of nose targets for different types of exercises but ultimately they. all have the same goal: help the horse organize their body parts and clarify directions in which to move.

A target is in it self super helpful for body awareness.

I personally ALWAYS keep the target idea strong in my horses. Even if I want to be able to also do the same without the target later and work with reins on, I certainly don't want to be limited to reins as the only precision tool.

A lot of the movement I want with reins I create initially with the target. I also avoid shaping on the point of contact until the horse has an advanced understanding of tactile cues.

Why...because I want to avoid associations with negative reinforcement. Especially for horses coming for a more traditional training setting to avoid the old associations with escalating pressure to influence our training.

But actually also for us riders, years of training using escalating pressure influences also us.

And for creating a search towards the hand that we later can transfer to reins: it is just excellent.

The exact point to place the target will depend on the horses individual conformation and the education stand point and the exercise….but not too low is something I return to in teaching all the time.

We don’t want to put the horse on the shoulders and causing them to loose balance. Looking at the picture of cold blood trotter Najagg. A horse naturally more heavy on the front hand than most. A lot of his early gymnastics in liberty was me teaching him different types of nose targets so that he could balance himself better. Both flexions at the poll and a chest lift is built from targets and transferred to neck rope and later, rein aids.

So for me I view target as a very organic tool and not something to rush over to get to work with other stuff.

Often in early clicker teaching days the idea was to fade it out as quickly as possible. I have the opposite view now. Targets are always relevant in our training. And to normalize them as a useful teaching tool is doing everyone a favor.

Personally I am very invested in building our training as reward based as possible without relying on aversives. But even for those who mix their training I see several scenarios where basic target training really could help horses to better understanding of some concepts in their everyday life and contribute to higher welfare.

I have a lot more on this subject but for now.

Go target train :)



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