So, how do you start getting your horse to offer to hold up a hoof?

Here are the videos that go with my article in the March/April issue of Horse-Canada.

I will share some video clips showing how to start this process with a horse (pony in this case) that has had a bit of clicker training, so understands the relationship between the click and treat and how it is linked to a behaviour we like.

These videos of Squirt were done early on in his clicker career. As you can see, he is a busy little guy so getting the timing for the click was challenging. He is one end of the spectrum while the other end is the horse that never offers to lift his feet. I will discuss the training for both types over the next several blogs, so stay tuned. I would love you to comment and ask questions if you need further clarification on how to do this.

I would suggest you watch the clips several times before trying to shape this behaviour. Depending on your horse, things may go faster or slower and you may need to be happy with less progress during a session.

How to

Let’s start with the hoof that is the least stuck to the ground, and it will be to your advantage it you have your horse in a place where he is inclined to move about a bit but not where he is so distracted that he can’t focus on the training.

You are going to watch the chest of leg with the hoof you have decided to work on or the stifle if it is a back leg. Why? The chest/stifle muscles will start to move before the hoof starts to come off the ground. Remember in clicker training, like all good training, you need to break the training down into easy, small steps so the horse and you can be successful.

Now, I hope you realize that it would be unrealistic to expect him to lift his foot up and hold it up right from the start. It is funny, but most people in traditional training expect this. Rather, we will capture and shape successive approximations of the end behaviour that we want.

I like to start shaping this behaviour by placing my hand on the point of his shoulder. I can then feel his muscle tighten as he is getting ready to move his leg. I am NOT pressing or pushing on his shoulder to get him to move, I am using my hand to give me an early warning signal to his actually moving his leg by feeling the muscle contract. At the slightest contraction of the muscle, I will click and treat for the smallest try.

Look again at video one. You will notice here that the lead rope is helping me out a bit by encouraging movement forward. I don’t usually tie while teaching this, but needed to this time as I didn’t have help videoing and needed to stay in frame. In this instance it worked a bit to my advantage. With another horse it might not have helped at all.

I am not going to bend over and try and grab his foot. Do not bend over or assume your regular hoof picking up position, stand upright. You are going to click and treat him for any slight movement of his leg that is a forward lift, a move that will eventually lead to his lifting his hoof off the ground. If your timing of the click is good, he will quickly figure out the reward has something to do with his lifting his hoof.

In the second video, you can see where when my timing is a bit off it is harder for squirt to figure out just what I want. We all have our off days, even the horses but by the end I managed to get my act together. It is harder to do with a busy horse than one who is a bit more grounded and moves less. The rule for clicker training is that if you click you feed a treat even if it was a really bad timing. This is my promise to my horse and keep our relationship working. Otherwise, the click really doesn’t mean anything.

In video three you can see he has processed more and now is readily holding his hoof up. He has had time to process. Now I can reach for and hold it for a split second, giving it back before he loses his balance. You will notice he is quite fine with this. These videos show the entire shaping process for this one foot done over these three sessions. There were no additional training sessions.

Now, perhaps you are asking how he was to do his feet before this work. Seems we always wish to have that ’’before’ video, but never seems to do it! So, all I can say is he is small, but it was not a pleasant, nor pretty sight to do his feet. He would try to pull his foot away and try to rear.

You can see how short time it took to shape this behaviour. It is far from a finished, solid behaviour, but it is a great start. By simply reinforcing these tries we can build gradually on height and duration of the lifts and you will soon have a horse that will offer you his own hoof and he will hold it up by himself to be cleaned.

In the next blog, we will look at how to shape this behaviour with the hind legs. See of you can figure it out on your own before then.

Here is another clip of a horse a bit farther along in his training and perhaps some of you can see how this could increase a horse’s balance and lead to movements like piaffe!

And just for fun a talk given by a trainer who is second to none. He is truly amazing. Enjoy!

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