No, I don't mean that we're going to head out and start shooting things. However we will be teaching our horses to take aim! Target training is a great exercise with tons of uses. It's used in the training of virtually all animals that you see trained in this world, including dolphins, dogs, birds, you name it. The concept is what you might call a building block to plenty of other exercises, as well. Not only is this a useful trick, but it is also extremely easy and straightforward to teach.
First, create an object to target. I use a stick with a tennis ball stuck on the end. It is literally just a ball that I stabbed with some scissors and proceeded to stab with a stick. Balls were harmed in the making of this target stick. As you can see, Loki gets quite jealous when the horses get to play with a ball so I have to alternate and let him target the ball as well. Yet Trubee's the only one who tries to take away the ball to chew on!
The first time the horses saw the target, they wanted to sniff it. This is usually the case with new things! So have your clicker ready, the first sign of interest is the quickest, easiest way to teach them the exercise and you should be ready to take full advantage of the moment. Click the second their nose touches the target so they know exactly what they did right. If you have a horse like Trubee, however, be prepared to move the object away as soon as they touch it so that they do not consume. Consuming objects is not recommended. Trubee tries very hard to eat everything!
Continue to click and reward whenever your horse touches the target with their nose, and in no time they'll be targeting machines! After this concept is solidified, you can advance your horse up to the next level and move the target all sorts of directions. Up, down, left, right, under their belly or just in front so they have to walk up to it. You can even have them chase the target or do it from their back! It can be a handy game to play for a horse that is nervous about a new trailer, too. Just start the game outside the trailer and gradually work your way into the trailer (or wash rack, stall, any scary place really). Not only does the game give them something other than the fear to focus on, but it offers a little blanket of security since its something they already know how to do.
Watch this video to see the different ways we play the targeting game with Tucker, Trubee and Moxie!
And really, to make a target stick you can just find a stick, and then stab a tennis ball with it.