Shaping Behaviors: Using Horse Treats for Stretching

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Shaping Behaviors is the art of soliciting and rewarding the incremental steps of a behavior we are teaching, while ignoring the incorrect responses. Shaping behaviors makes better trainers of all of us and imparts concepts of learning to our equine friends that enhance development for the rest of their lives.

In Shaping Behaviors we encourage, engage or lure a horse into an approximation of the desired behavior. Prior to starting with any new behavior, teach the basics of using horse treats as a Training Tool and a variable reward system. The most important aspect is recognizing and rewarding the “try.”

For instance if we desire to teach a big stretch of the neck toward the hip, we would initially ask for a small stretch as we lure him into position with a food treat. A longer stretch perhaps reaching all the way to the hip bone is developed incrementally as his body becomes conditioned.

Teach Your Horse To Stretch:

Walk your horse parallel to a fence or wall and halt. The wall will encourage him to keep his body straight and not to wiggle out of position.

Present his favorite flavor of horse treat and lure him slowly into a small stretch as he reaches for it. Picture how we humans gradually work our own bodies into stretches and go slowly.

Treats for horses

When he has reached the position you desire, give verbal praise “good boy” followed by the treat cue “cookie time” as you let him have the reward.

The sequence is “Good boy” followed by “cookie” or “cookie time.” Continue to lure and then “treat for position” as the stretch length is slightly increased. Three or at most four repetitions on each side with a walk-about between is plenty for one session. As the horse’s stretching ability increases, reward only for improvement.

It may seem as though we are only teaching a stretch yet we are encouraging him to “learn how to learn.”

The timing of your reward signals (cues) must be accurate and consistent so the horse can instantaneously understand if his response, even a small approximation was what you wanted.

Photo: Lure him into a deeper stretch incrementally as his muscles develop

horse treats

You want the horse to be successful and to earn a reward. Your job is to coach each tiny step giving encouragement and praise as the performance requires. The goal is to keep the horse engaged so he will continue to steadily improve his tries.

Photo: The Obeisance is an advanced stretch that creates strength and range motion in the shoulders and entire top line and willing obedience.

The 10 Commandments of Shaping Behaviors

1. Train with a plan.

2. Have the horse’s attention.

3. Minimize distractions.

4. Never assume the horse knows a lesson that you have not taught him.

5. Set the horse up for success.

6. Explain requests in a way that he can understand and in incremental steps.

7. Recognize even the smallest try.

8. Avoid confrontation.

9. Don’t over train, a few repetitions are all that most horses need or can understand.

10. End each session on a successful note!

treats for horses

Photo: Shaping Equine Behaviors is fun! Two horses in perfect unison with their full attention to the handler. The move is a Jambette or Salute.

As our understanding of equine learning abilities increases, our horses will have a more comprehensive education in line with the science of animal behavior. Our horses, our companions are ready and willing to learn anything imaginable. We dare you to just imagine!

Happy Training!

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Suzanne De Laurentis

Suzanne De Laurentis

Allen Pogue and Suzanne De Laurentis, authors of the book "The Trick Horse Companion" and owners of Imagine a Horse, have spent a quarter of a century perfecting modern trick training methods. Enlightened Trick Training is intended to increase the intelligence, adaptability and predictability of today's companion horse as well as enhance the relationship between horse and rider. http://www.imagineahorse.com/

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