I started out almost 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.
Alex’s teachings and exercises are foundational and embedded in all my work with horses, even when I don’t have a clicker in my hand. Alex’s work inspired me to delve deep into the roots and reasons of clicker training, leading me to enroll in The Karen Pryor Academy of Animal Training and Behavior. Graduating with distinction, I learned more about how to apply exciting clicker training concepts in my work teaching dressage and mindfulness to people and horses.
With clicker training, a horse learns a behavior with an awareness that doing so results in a “good thing” (a treat). Treats are part of the learning process, not something that is forever required to get the behavior. Once a horse goes through the steps of learning a behavior and learning a cue that goes with it, the treat is gradually discontinued.
The trainer watches her horse closely and “clicks” a mechanical clicker at the exact moment that the behavior she wants occurs. Then she gives the horse a small tasty treat. Gradually the horse learns that doing a specific task will result in the trainer giving him a treat.
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!
To be effective, clicker training requires its own process of learning for the clicker trainer. As with other methods, if you only learn a small part and do not complete your understanding, it will not work as well. This is why you will sometimes hear that clicker training will make your horse bite. You may hear some people say they already use positive training methods because they tell their horse, “good boy”, when he performs the behavior they want. However, a skillful click is quicker than the voice and has one tone that sounds the same every time (invariable in its sound and tone). Because horses are extremely sensitive, they may pick up subtle nuances in our voices that may imply a variety of emotions and meanings, some of which we are unaware of. The click bypasses this distraction. It clearly marks what you want your horse to do.
A bonus of clicker training is that it allows you to correct mistakes in training that have been made, even when you’ve made them yourself!
The close attention that clicker training requires is an introduction to the practice of mindfulness in riding.