You’ve seen our first 2 principles:

Now you’re ready to:

Enhance Your Training Toolbox

In Principle 2, we explained that you want to Look for Your “YES!” and reward it. But you can’t say yes to a behavior that’s not occurring, can you? So how do we get our horse to offer a behavior we want in the first place?

We carefully consider how we can Create an Opportunity for the horse to obtain a reward. When we utilize positive reinforcement (R+), we trigger a horse’s natural seeking system. We tap into their curiosity and desire. Our R+ tools and skills—such as using targets, the reverse round pen, liberty leading, marker signals, counter-conditioning, behavior chains, and backchaining—may seem new and a bit challenging to learn at first, but they give us the means to create behavior we want without pressure, and then the opportunity to reinforce our “Yes.”

We can’t teach you all about how to use these tools and skills in one short article, but the principle Create Opportunity is intended to alert you to the R+ tools that exist and remind you of the reasons we use these tools. There are many creative ways, both on the ground and under saddle, that you can trigger and then reward the behavior you want through desire on the horse’s part. The more you learn about these tools and skills, particularly how to create the behaviors most equestrians want from their horses, the larger your Priority to Positive® training repertoire becomes.

Integrating these new tools into more typical training exercises such as cavaletti increases the possibilities for refining the behavior. And like many traditional tools used in training, such as side reins, most of our R+ tools are intended as early guides that are faded out as the desired behavior is learned fluently.



One of the early Priority to Positive® lessons we teach our horses is how to follow a target. The target is a tool that creates motion through the horse seeking for it.

Jasmine targeting with Primo

For instance, we can use a target to create upward and downward transitions while teaching the horse to willingly respond to walk, trot, canter, and halt aids. We also can use a target for behaviors like trailer loading, lining up for mounting; going forward, slowing down or halting under saddle; free jumping, holding still for veterinary procedures, and so much more. By using a target, we can create behaviors at liberty without ropes, lines, reins, or pressure. The horse learns the behavior is an opportunity for reward.

As the horse learns to offer a behavior fluently, we can and want to fade the target away until our cue/aid alone triggers the behavior we want. (Read how we use a target to put a leg lift on cue.)

2) Markers

Let’s be honest, we all have body language we use to tell a horse when they’re doing something we don’t like. What we’ve been missing is how to tell your horse without words when they are doing something correctly. You can’t always acknowledge their effort at that moment—or can you?

We use a marker to communicate the message “You’re right!” to our horses. It’s a signal that marks a moment in time and helps a horse associate what they did at that moment with a coming reward. It bridges (connects) the time gap between behavior and reward, and is sometimes called a “bridge signal.”

If you go online and search “positive reinforcement training” you’ll find “clicker training.” This sometimes leads people to think it’s all about the clickers. But this marker signal can be anything the horse can perceive and you can produce consistently: a sound, a touch, or even a light bulb coming on. You can choose what to use as a marker as long as you teach it correctly. With correct and consistent conditioning, you can even use different markers in different contexts, such as a clicker at home and a touch on the withers at competition.

For this tool to work for us and the horse, the reward that comes after the marker must be truly valuable to the horse. (Watch our video to learn from Vinnie the Via Nova school pony what he thinks is truly valuable and why.) We always teach new behaviors with food because food is such a powerful motivator. Does this mean you always have to feed when the horse performs correctly? Not always, but Priority to Positive® will show you the important details of how, why, and when it’s effective to fade or replace the food reward.

We use the marker as communication. It not only lets your horse know when they’re doing something right but also tells the horse precisely what you want to see more of. With high motivation and clarity about what you want, your horse will start to offer the behaviors you’re looking for!

Via Nova’s School Pony, Vinny, introduces Priority to Positive®

Check out a follow-up video with Vinnie on conditioning a marker.

Positive reinforcement trainers have already developed lots of ways to solve training challenges utilizing the target, but the possibilities are endless. Principle 3 can inspire your thinking outside of the box. By creating behavior through opportunity, we empower our horses to join us in the training, and the results are amazing.

All of this sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But in practical terms, how do you get from following a target to jumping or loading or standing calmly for the farrier? That falls under upcoming Principle 4: Shape Toward What You Want.