In the last few blogs, we have been learning about the foundation exercise of standing on a mat. Now, I’d like to show you how you can use this foundation exercise in different ways to help train a variety of other behaviours.

Now how can that be? How can I take the same exercise and use it to solve opposite issues?

At a recent clinic, I was presented with two horses. One was leading like a husband going Christmas shopping and the other one was like someone after too many of those new energy drinks. How was I going to use the foundation lessons that these horses knew to solve these ‘no go ‘and ‘no whoa ‘issues?

These horses had the foundation lessons of grown-ups are talking, head down and mat work and a bit of why would you leave me in their tool box of training behaviours. Luckily we had several mats available for use and I came up with a plan.

As clicker trainers, we know that when a behaviour is highly reinforced it will tend to be offered. Both these horses had learned the mat lesson well and so were drawn to the mat because of the reinforcement history with it. They liked to be on the mat and I was going to use this to help with the no whoa and no go.

So let’s start with the ‘no go’ horse.

We always start the exercise without the horse and have the handler walk through it with a ‘human’ horse partner, making sure they are clear on the mechanical skills and exactly what they are reinforcing. This makes it easier on the horse as the handler is clearer in knowing what he wants and what he needs to do to get the horse to do what he wants it to do.

We were going to start with the mat and reinforce mat work but not stay on the mat very long as that would not help our stuck horse at all. We just needed to make sure he knew/remembered that good things happened on the mat. We were going to start by having him step off the mat right onto another mat with a click and treat. His reward for going forward was to end up on another mat. We were reinforcing his forward by letting him get to the next mat. The handler was to be clear with her start up cue, but not drag the horse; the mat was going to be her draw. She was to set it up and wait. When the walking on the close together mats was working well we would move the mats a bit farther apart and so on, until the horse walked on from the start up cue and could go a good distance before getting to the next mat. Things worked well and soon the ‘no go’ had some get up and go and was walking smartly from mat to mat.

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