This game has several different names, but the one I learned it under was “Catch the Tiger” from the Art of Natural Dressage forum boards. In the game, the horse is to touch, follow and then play with trying to tag the Tiger (a piece of cloth scrap or bag attached to a long pole or stick).
The purpose of the game:
- allows Free Will of the Horse to engage with you – or not
- increase the horse’s desire to follow you (you control the tiger’s path obviously)
- increases the horse’s play drive
- increase the horse’s vibrancy – his natural “proud” posturing during play
- fun physical therapy (no trotting around in the circle for us!)
- the horse learns in an environment that is playful, increasing retention
- and eventually as the horse becomes stronger and more animated, he lifts the front legs higher, striking the tiger and thus develops more hind end power, translating to better upward transitions.
First, how do you make a Tiger? Again, be creative, but this is how I made mine. I started with a lunge whip where I cut off some of the swing tail, and braided it back up under the outer sheath of the whip where it is glued. When I brought the tail back up, I made a small loophole and it is there I attached a brass swivel clasp.
My Tiger cloth itself is a highly durable, striped fabric. I selected stripes because horse vision sees high definitions between black and white. Look for heavy duty materials like canvas, outdoor fabric for deck furniture, or vinyl tablecloth material – anything that can take getting dirty and doesn’t fray into a mess. You could even use a feed sack!
I cut mine in a strip about 18 inches wide and 2 feet long. At one end I attached a grommet (those kits are at your fabric store and just take a hammer – no sewing to punch out the fabric hole) which I can use to hook into my whip clasp.
Introduce the Tiger
Dante already knows how to follow a target and he is also not afraid of much – rather a solid guy – so how you do this and how long it takes before your horse becomes comfortable will depend on your horse.
Dante quickly catches on that this is just another example of the Target game. He touches and gets a click-treat. He follows and gets a click-treat. Now he stomps on it and he gets a click-treat. Eventually, we will be moving faster and I’ll be looking for more animation before the click-treat.
Our first session below:
With the Tiger you are allowing your horse to play – but a distance. You must continue to reinforce and reward behavior where he follows the target – not you – because once the play gets intense, you want that directed away from you.
Play this game in a large arena or field. Do not play in a round pen, paddock or smaller space. Your horse needs room to come and go, play or leave.
Be sure to keep the Tiger out, perpendicular to your body, and stay in front of the horse. If planning a turn, give yourself time to stay ahead so you and your horse don’t crash into each other.
WARNING: When I tried this with Z, who was naturally aggressive, this game quickly spun out of control. If you are already having aggression shown by your horse towards you put this game on the shelf for now.
If you still want to try, put a fence between you and your horse. Run along the outside of the fence and let your horse play on the other side. In all games, keep yourself safe!
For horses that have been withdrawn from people, shutdown, or are frightened of new items begin with the game Touching Target. Introduce the idea of a moving piece slowly and reassure him with lots of clicks and treats.