A Tool to Compliment any MethodClicker training can be done from the ground and the saddle and can be used for everything from basic ground manners, to de-spooking and upper level dressage movements. It compliments many other training methods and once you know the basics you can start using this valuable tool right away.
To get started you’ll need:
- A clicker. These are carried at pet stores or buy them online (Buy it Now).
- Treats for rewards. This can be small pieces of your horse’s favorite treat: horse crunch, apple cubes, carrot slices, with a few mints or sugar cubes.
- A container for rewards. I use an old nylon fanny pack.
First StepsFirst teach your horse that the ‘click’ means that a treat is on the way. Some people start with their horse in a box stall and themselves on the opposite side of the closed door. Because my horses only have a run-in shelter, I started with my horse tied where I normally groom and saddle up outdoors. I started by simply ‘clicking’ and ‘treating’. I clicked and treated maybe a dozen times in a row and then let the horse go and did a small chore. About 15 minutes later I repeated the ‘click and treat’ sequence over. Again I let the horse go. I repeated the whole sequence about 3 times. Lyric caught on very quickly, but some horses may need a few more sessions.
Take Small StepsIt is very important to keep the sessions short—5 to 10 minutes. Several short sessions are more effective than one long one. I find it difficult to keep my training short because I am having so much fun with a very eager student.
Touch a TargetI began clicker training Lyric by teaching her to touch a target. Target training has many uses, and is an easy way to demonstrate how quickly horses can be clicker trained. Start with your horse in its stall and work over the stall door, or if you’re like me, work in a small paddock with halter and lead rope. You’ll also need a target. I duct taped an old shampoo bottle to the end of a broken lunge whip, but you could use the bottle on it’s own, a plastic plate, a small pylon or anything else that is easy to hold and easy for your horse to see.
Hold the target in front of your horse’s nose, where it can see it. Horses are curious, so it will likely bump the target with its nose. This is where timing is important. When the horse bumps the target ‘click’. Then offer a treat. Hold the bottle in front again. Click and treat each time the horse bumps it.
Reward Good IntentionsIf the horse doesn’t seem inclined to touch it on its own click and treat each time the horse looks at the target. If the horse maybe just bobs its nose towards the target, click that. Then when you have the partial behavior secure up the ante slightly so that your horse moves from look, to head bob, to actually touching to earn the treat.
Remember to work in very small sessions. Be patient and reward small steps. It may only take one session to teach your horse to touch the target, or it may take several. Lyric learned in about three five-minute sessions, my daughter’ s Arab took several days. The Arab is not terrible social with people or food oriented, Lyric however is very social and loves cookies. Horses, like people, learn at different rates and are motivated by different things.
The next step is to teach the horse to follow the target. Instead of putting the target directly in front, hold it to the side or down. Eventually the horse can be taught to follow the target into a scary trailer or stall, the target can be a focus to stand untied in the stall for grooming and many other useful and fun behaviors.
Things to AvoidOne small pitfall to avoid is rewarding the wrong behavior inadvertently. Your horse may be a cookie fiend like mine and paw impatiently for the reward. Make sure you don’t reinforce the pawing behavior by clicking or treating as the horse paws. Another is to treat too quickly and allowing your horse to be too demanding of the treats. Don’t worry that you have to dole out treats quickly after the click. The click serves to tell the horse a treat is on its way, and you can vary the time a little.
More ResourcesI've listed some web resources that have extensive information about clicker training in the "Elsewhere on the Web" box. Two books that I have found very helpful are:
Clicker Training For Your Horse (Buy it Now) by Alexandra Kurland
You Can Train Your Horse to Do Anything (Buy it Now) by Shawna Karrasch