Teaching a horse to roll or play with a ball is an easy thing to do with clicker training. It’s a variation of Touching Target, but can become a game you play together, kicking the ball at each other to help connect with your horse in some free play. It makes a welcome break from traditional work, can help your horse’s muscles loosen up, and encourages your horse to become more playful.
One real big benefit for me is that by using the ball, and rolling it away from me with Dante following the ball, it removes him from my space. Dante has some rude behavior of being too close too me during workouts so this is a great way to share and play together which allows me to control my space without doing it with punishment (i.e. a whip for example).
It’s so muddy out, I decided to take a $5 plastic beach ball and see how much Dancer might remember of a game we did years ago. When you introduce the ball, the horse is rewarded for touching the ball and later kicking or moving it.
In this video, you see Dancer lifting a leg, and pawing. This is a behavior (lifting leg) that was one of the first things I taught her and which she is very good naturally at doing. She reverts to this behavior whenever she is uncertain or would prefer to do an easier trick then the one I’ve asked. However, in this instance I want her to touch the balls so I wait until that happens before clicking.
Some short clips of Dante learning to squish it!
The more behaviors you have taught through clicker training, the more your horse might present a variety of other behaviors as your horse seeks to understand what you will reward for at that particular moment. Making those mistakes helps your horse figure things out like a puzzle and increases his solving abilities.
Ignore the behavior you don’t want and wait for the desired behavior before clicking and treating. Having a cue for your horse (verbal or body) helps him better understand specifically you are looking for at the time you ask.
Remember, with ponies, keep the treats to something safe they can eat (low calories, low sugar).