Key lesson: targeting

In my previous post I talked about the key lessons safe behaviour around food ,  equine emotions during training, head lowering & backing.

Another key lesson I want to encourage all clicker trainers to teach their horse is ‘targeting’.


Target stick

In targeting you ask your horse to touch a target with a body part. You start this game simple and the goal is for your horse to touch a target on a

stick with his nose.

Once your horse knows the target is meant to be touched with his nose (not lips or teeth), you can start experimenting. Hold the target a bit lower, higher, more to the left or to the right. If the horse is touching the target a solid amount of time you can put a verbal cue to this new behaviour, like ‘touch’.


Targeting is a very versatile exercise and therefor a really good tool to have in your training ‘tool box’. Once your horse can target his nose to the target stick, you can shift the context: practice in other surroundings, use different objects, teach your horse to target with different body parts, et cetera.

Basics of clicker training

Targeting is an excellent way of starting positive reinforcement training with any horse. If you use a target on a stick you can create a distance between you and the horse. Therefor it can also be used to train (potentially) dangerous horses. With a target on a stick you can train your horse to move away from you, you don’t have to bend through your knees or stretch to ask your horse to touch low and high targets.

I  suggest working with ‘protective contact’, a barrier, when you start, especially with potentially dangerous horses.  Then the horse can’t enter your personal space while you are still getting used to the mechanical moves of presenting the target, bridge, take the target out of the horses’ reach and present a treat.

Teaching other behaviours with targeting

Once your horse knows how to target and you’ve put it on cue, you can use it to train other behaviours. If you hold the target stick a bit closer to the horses’ chest you can elicit a weight shift which can be shaped into acking up. Also the opposite can be achieved and targeting can be used to teach a horse to follow you or being lead. You can teach a horse to lower his head.

verjaardag2011 022
Kyra targeting helium balloons during de-spooking training

If your horse can target different object with different body parts the uses are endless: medical (targeting the mouth for oral medication, eyes to your hand in order to treat infections, ears etc), dressage exercises, de-spooking, hooves for trimming and so on.

Read here my post Targeting for advanced uses.

Links to other key lessons, your Key to Success in Clicker Training

Key Lesson Equine emotions during training

Key Lesson Table manners for Horses: safe behaviour around food and treats

Key Lessons Head lowering & Backing

Key Lesson Mat training
Key Lesson ‘Patience

Want to become an autonomous clicker trainer and enhance the friendship with your horse? Join the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy.

Sandra Poppema, BSc

Sandra Poppema BSc HippoLogic Clicker training coach

I teach horse people to connect with their horse in training, so they get results and the relationship they want with their beloved horse. Make training win-win!

16 thoughts on “Key lesson: targeting”

  1. Ik vind je trainingsartikelen zo interessant Sandra! Heb dit soort dingen nooit met een paard gedaan, maar dat maakt ‘t niet minder leuk om over te lezen! 😀

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