Everyone involved with horses wants them to consistently behave well, and perform to the best of their ability and knowledge. But, as is all too well known, many horses do not cooperate, and this is because they are not motivated to do so. The On Target Training program can change their attitude.
Shawna and Vinton Karrasch are co-founders of this revolutionary method which combines the basics of “clicker training” widely used on marine animals – killer whales, dolphins, and sea lions – as well as dogs, with another reward-reinforcement program known as “target-training”. Shawna trained marine mammals at Sea World in San Diego, California, before joining up with Vinton who had years of experience riding grand-prix show jumpers. Together they have developed this highly successful system of training horses.
Clicker training initially motivates a horse to perform correctly, because the handler rewards him every single time he does what is required. Later, the horse comes to associate the sound of the clicker with an upcoming reward, as a rider can “tell” the horse that he has performed correctly without having to stop and give a pat or a treat. This frees the rider to continue the movement he is performing while communicating to the horse that he is doing it right.
Targer0training takes reinforcement of correct behaviour a stage further. The “target” is a tool – either fixed to a stationary object such as a fence, or held in a trainer’s hand – that the horse learns to focus on completely. Because the horse is motivated to perform well to gain his reward, he can be trained to happily follow the person holding the target.
The On Target Training method is easy for both horse and trainer to learn. There are dozens of practical applications covering every area of horsemanship, from stabling and handling issues, to groundwork, and on to riding. And, just for fun, the Karraschs show how to teach horses entertaining “tricks” such as “bowing” to an audience, spinning in a circle, and smiling!
A good attitude is paramount for progress, safety, and results. Using this system, horses are happy to interact with their riders and handlers, the learning process accelerates, and there is much less frustration involved. The beauty of the On Target method is it can be applied to any horse, whatever their temperament or riding discipline.