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The Best Target Stick For Horses

The retractable fly swatter is a great target stick for a number of reasons, one being that it comes in super fun colours!

Let me tell you how I found this target stick, and why I think it is so great!

The retractable fly swatter is my number one go to R+ training tool. I can’t say this enough… It makes the best target stick!! When people talk about things that they imagined for themselves as adults… I bet they don’t mention getting ridiculously attached to retractable fly swatters…. Um yeah that’s me over here, pretty attached to my fly swatters. I’m not sure how I feel about it… but these fly swatters are fantastic, and my positive reinforcement history with them is just too strong to resist.

They come in packs!

I buy them in packs of 5, and have spares stashed all over my house… If you decide to become attached to them too and go and purchase a pack, be sure that you don’t buy them all… I will likely need more!!

My niece loves them too!

My two-year-old niece has even caught on to the obsession… She is always asking me where my fly swatters are. One of her favourite games is to get the fly swatter, and a clicker, and train her aunty. I’m especially good at jumping to catch fake reinforcers. Her laugh is of course the best reinforcer. She’s right, I need a fair amount of training… I mean after Covid I’m pretty much feral now. My husband is very supportive of her efforts. Even though he knows it is 100% a lost cause. Some critters really can’t be trained…(we all know that’s not true… but its my excuse and I’m running with it)

I discovered fly swatters as target sticks when I joined my first R+ course.

My attachment to the fly swatters began when I joined my first clicker training course. One of the requirements of the course was to have a stick with a target on the end. I live in the middle of nowhere. It takes weeks to have anything shipped to me… so I went online and searched to see what other people were using for targets. There were a bunch of do-it-yourself websites describing how to make the perfect target. This was a disaster for me because I am 0% into doing crafts. I literally can’t sit long enough (refer back to the training that I’m desperately in need of).

The joy of living in a remote town… Sometimes it’s a good thing!

Then I read a suggestion on the course website about getting a retractable flagpole and a ball… should be easy enough right? Well do you think I could find a flagpole in my small little town? Nope. So, with zero time to order anything (I didn’t have a month to wait), I looked around my house, and found the old worn out, retractable fly swatter. At first, I picked it up thinking, I guess I will have to make do… Fast forward…It works so well that a lot of the do-it-yourself people are now using them too!

    

Fox caught on to touching the target stick very easily!

I’m sure people wonder why I’m packing a flyswatter around in the middle of winter…

The course was online, so nobody around me in real life, had a clue what I was up to when I started packing the old flyswatter around. It doesn’t help that I loaded it into a sleigh with horse feed and other equipment and pulled it down the road to my arena. I get the strangest looks from people driving by, I just wave… They don’t understand that I need these things to develop the perfect antecedent arrangement. One neighbour who has a couple of horses actually stopped and asked why I don’t just keep my stuff in a shed next to the arena… Um no thanks! I prefer to keep people guessing. No one has suggested a psychological evaluation yet, so I feel like I’m doing well… Also there isn’t a shed next to the arena… So I’m wondering about my neighbour…

Can you spot the target stick here? The possibilities are endless when it comes to shaping behaviour with it!

Fox quickly learned the target stick!

Fox loved the fly swatter from day one! Once we had the general concept of him touching it with his nose established, the sky was the absolute limit on what we could train with it. I’ve used it for trailer loading, teaching leading, gate changes, developing dressage movements, building alignment, grass training, feet training, so many things!!!

My favourite thing with the fly swatter is that Fox knows exactly what it means and has a very strong reinforcement history with it. The other day he accidentally got out of his pen. I was pulling his hay in (in the sled), normally he just follows the sled, and I leave the gate wide open. This time he ignored the sled and walked through the gate. He was out of his field, and in a pen with horses he knows, but hasn’t lived with for a while.

Fox and the other horses were pretty excited and running around.

Fox quickly started running around with them, while taking a few drive-by snacks out of their round bale. It was a very cold day, and I was kicking myself for getting so complacent with the gate. I absolutely did not feel like trying to catch him, and bringing him back in. Especially when he was ripping around the way he was with the other horses. Anyways I happened to have my fly swatter in my pocket, and figured it was worth a try. I held the target up where Fox could see it. We were pretty far away from each other at this point.

The second he saw the target stick he came at a gallop!

The second he saw it he came at a gallop and put his nose right on the target. He then just calmly walked back to his pen with me and went to his hay. It was like nothing had happened. That was massively reinforcing for me! It sure felt like magic!!! From a scientific perspective, it works so well because I have spent a lot of time building up a history for Fox and myself using the flyswatter to gain rewards. Fox’s reward is the appetive, mine is seeing Fox willingly performing the behaviour that I am training. When I present the target to Fox he remembers how great it is, and that trumps running around with newish friends, or eating from a round bale. Pretty cool hey? I will make a post explaining reinforcement history in more detail in the future.    

One of my favourite moments with the target stick was when we first began grass training.

Another crazy (in a good way) experience with the fly swatter was when I took Fox out to graze on the tall grass. In the past it was always a pulling match to get Fox out of the grass. It felt like a real battle. This time I had brought the fly swatter, when I was ready to go back, I just presented it, Fox followed it, and off we went. No pulling, no fighting nothing. Fox didn’t even look back at the grass. I have repeated this so many times now its crazy! This also put us in the perfect position to begin grass training. Something I will discuss in a different post.

Fox has always been hard to pull out of the grass… not anymore!
Can you see the target stick here? Its in my back pocket. Fox doesn’t follow it unless it is out of my pocket and in the proper position.

Eventually the target stick should be faded out… which was harder for me than it sounds.

At one point during our dressage training the instructor mentioned that I should fade the target out for some of the exercises. This was a good thing as it pushes us to move forward in our training, but it was hard for me to let it go. There have been so many good training moments with the fly swatter. I literally have a strong reinforcement history with it too, and I like using it.

Don’t worry I pushed through the pain… It just lives in my pocket now, so I can pop it out whenever I like. It’s great in emergency situations when I need to choose a heavily reinforced behaviour in order to keep Fox’s attention on me. Or whenever I decide I need to shape a new behaviour, and it would be useful.

The fly swatter is meant to be a steppingstone to shaping new behaviours. It isn’t the behaviour in itself. The idea is to fade the target out as soon as possible once a behaviour is established, and on cue. This way the horse doesn’t become dependent on it.     

So what makes the retractable fly swatters so great?

  1. It’s retractable, so I can set it for whatever length I want in its range. This helps when training close or further away.
  2. The end is flat, so the horse can put his nose right on it.
  3. It’s flexible so if the horse runs into it he doesn’t hurt his nose. Which would discourage the behaviour.
  4. It’s affordable. They are pretty durable, but when they break they are easy to replace.
  5. They don’t require any do-it-yourself alterations.
  6. They come in packs of 5, so you have lots to work with before you need to order more.
  7. They are excellent for knocking pesky horsefly’s, and hornets out of the sky so they aren’t harassing the horse when you are trying to train.
  8. They come in lots of fun colors.
  9. They are a fun gift idea for friends when they come to the dark side and begin their clicker training journey.

The fly swatters only have one drawback.

  1. They aren’t quite long enough for every behaviour that I want to train. They work well for most things though. So it is a very small drawback.

I may be the crazy lady that trains her horse with a fly swatter, but when you find something that works this well, and provides so many training possibilities how can you resist? I hope you too decide to give the retractable fly swatter a try, and you have as much success and fun with it as I have!

Have A Lovely Day,

Courtney         

2 Comments

  1. Kim
    December 12, 2022 / 9:09 am

    What brand of fly swatters are these, please? What is the link to order the fly swatters?

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