Mindfulness, clicker training, and dressage: they all go together. I teach people to pay attention to the exact moment (or nanosecond) when their horse is successful. I teach people to pay attention to what each horse needs to learn in each present moment, and what each rider needs to do in each present moment. When you know how to pay the right kind of attention, you mark the very exact moment of success with the sound of a click. This makes it easy for horse and rider to understand each other and make progress.
With clicker training, a horse learns a behavior and knows that doing so results in a “good thing” (a treat). Treats are part of the learning process. When the rider/handler learns the whole process, the field is open to take clicker training to a new level of connection and understanding in their relationship with their horse. The pleasure of giving and receiving treats and good behaviors becomes a shared space where you and your horse connect together in an ongoing and balanced two way communication.
You train your horse so that the consequences of doing a collected trot, canter pirouette, or what ever you want, are good consequences. That gives him a wonderful reason to do the dressage movement the next time you ask, and he will do it willingly with expression and enthusiasm. Sometimes he will even offer it to you in a magic moment of balanced connection.
To be effective, especially with dressage training, clicker training requires its own process of learning for the rider/handler. As with other methods, if you only learn a small part and do not complete the whole process of clicker training, it will not work as well.
The Loving Presence Clicker Training Dressage program begins with teaching your horse several foundation behaviors, just as you learn your ABCs before you are able to text or write a story. Learning these foundation behaviors is fun for both handler and horse. They are truly foundational because Intro and FEI level riders and horses alike use them to play and learn in everyday Clicker Training Dressage. Mistakes fade as learning opportunities pop out for horse and rider with the mindful attention required to time your click at the very right moment of success.
This is an explanation. It is not intended as instruction on how to Clicker Train Dressage.
- You identify something you want to teach your horse to do.
- You watch him closely.
- When he does what you want, you click a mechanical clicker (or make a clicking sound with your tongue) the very exact moment he does it.
- He hears the click and expects a treat.
- You reach to get the treat in your pocket or treat pouch and give him the treat.
- Note: You must know and be able to practice many specific rules and guidelines to make clicker training a success, especially for Clicker Training Dressage.
Clicker training is most often introduced to both horse and person by using a very simple behavior to click, one which will happen very easily, such as presenting a “target” (for example, a tennis ball) in front of a horse’s nose, and waiting until he touches it with his nose. Then, click and treat.
When I train something new for my horse, I use a mechanical clicker. It’s a bit scientific because the distinct sound of the clicker goes directly to the amygdala, the part of the brain that is the integral center for motivation as well as emotions. When the horse is familiar with the new behavior, I use a click of my tongue instead of the mechanical clicker. Most horses understand that this means the same, and it is more convenient, especially when riding.
How to ride a dressage test with a clicker trained horse
Once you train a horse the movements in a test with dressage clicker training, you put them all together in one long chain of movements and click and treat when you exit the arena. When you study Clicker Training Dressage, you learn how to use chains and patterns so that each movement leads enthusiastically to another.
How I got started in clicker training
I started out over 20 years ago clicker training horses on my own. It worked so well that I went on to study with Alex Kurland, author of several books and dvds about clicker training horses. The happier and more willing that my horses and my students’ horses became the more I wanted to learn. My curiosity led me to study the science of clicker training, learning theory, and positive reinforcement and I became a Certified Training Partner with Karen Pryor Academy, graduating with distinction.