Suppose we’d like our horse to lift a foreleg. How can we convey to the horse that this is an opportunity for a reward? (Versus, for instance, tapping the leg with a whip to annoy the horse into lifting it.) There’s more than one way to do this with positive reinforcement, but if we’ve already taught the horse to follow a target, which is one of our fundamental PtP tools, then we can ask the horse to follow the target only a tiny step forward. This will automatically cause the horse to shift their weight onto one shoulder and start to move their leg. The moment the foreleg is lifted from the ground, we’ve created the beginning of the behavior we want, so we mark and reward it.

Be sure to mark while the foot is leaving or off the ground, before the horse puts it down again! You’ll have to pay attention. Timing of the marker is everything, because the marker is what communicates “YES!” to the horse at that exact moment. (If you mark after the hoof hits the ground, you’ll be telling the horse you want the foot on the ground!)

With a few consistently timed repetitions and rewards, the horse will realize that lifting the leg gets a reward and will begin to offer to lift it. Now we have a behavior that was created through opportunity for the horse!

The next steps will depend on what you want to do. Once the horse is consistently offering the leg lift in response to the target, we can fade the target and replace it with another cue of our choice, such as pointing at the leg. We’ll get the behavior we want when we ask for it—because the cue becomes a pleasant opportunity for the horse!