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Please do this...well done!

Some aspects of horse ownership aren't overly pleasant for the horse. Getting into a float, vet care, stand and hold a hoof up while a nail gets hammered in, let me squirt a disgusting taste into your mouth for your own good...etc...etc...

A question I ask many owners is

What is really in it for the horse?

Yes, I acknowledge, horses just need to do as we ask.

However, if we can make it more pleasant for them - why wouldn't we?

By putting your horse into a happier place, we are also making them safer. A horse who is confused, afraid, nervous of what it might be asked, pissed off, are not safe horses. They are more likely to react spontaneously and unpredictably - and that isn't safe or fun for anyone.

What does this mean?

If we only train using pressure - release (negative reinforcement) we might get a horse who responds to our signals...but how do they feel about the training?

If we only use reward, scratching or food (positive reinforcement), how safe are they, when the environment is "too loud" for them to want the reward?

Combined Reinforcement

When we combine both pressure - release AND reward we are maximising the horse's training and learning.

First we have our question (pressure-release)

Then we have our feedback (reward)

Imagine these 2 scenarios in your job:

a) You get asked (or told!) to do your job. You never receive a thank you, or a well done, or any long would you stay in that role?

b) You never get asked or told to do anything and get rewarded, apparently randomly. You have to figure out what you are being rewarded for...frustrating? I would say yes! Plus, the reward would have to be pretty high to keep me motivated in working out what behaviour worked and didn't work.

I didn't set out to be a clicker training guru or advocate. Using scratches as a reward was where I started. However, I have seen the biggest change in horses once introducing clicker training.

Why does it work so well?

- Tells the horse exactly what we want. The feedback to a signal we have asked is instant. The more you practice the timing of this, the better the training becomes.

- Due to this timing, learning new things is sped up.

- Increases motivation to trial a new response. When asking something new, horses are more likely to be motivated knowing they have a reward on its way.

- Helps make horses feel good about training. Who wouldn't want to work for something delicious?

- Helps keep them calm. The food is a pleasant thing and they will associate training with something pleasant. PLUS if they stop taking food, you know their threshold for learning has gone and you probably want to stop training at this point!

- You will be associated with something pleasant. I've had horses in the past who do not want to be caught. Afterall, what do I give them except "demands"? Clicker training changes this completely, as training becomes highly rewarding.

What clicker training is NOT:

I often hear reasons why people don't want to clicker train their horse.

Mugging for food:

Mostly there is a fear of creating a monster who mugs for food. There is nothing better than creating some rules around food - and this applies to all food, buckets, hay, the carrot in your pocket, the friend's kid who comes to give them a treat...Clicker training comes with clear guidelines.

Spoiling your horse with treats:

The other thing I hear is "I don't want to spoil my horse". I don't even know what this means! Don't we want to give our horses the best? I don't feel overly spoilt when I'm given feedback or pay, I feel more motivated to work again. I want my time with my horses to be beneficial for both of us - with the strong realisation that I probably get more out of the relationship than my horse does!

When horses are working they are working:

I feel really sad for any horses that are trained in this way. Do you work for free? How miserable would you be, if you did? Enough said.

Using food to bribe them to do something:

Clicker training is NOT randomly feeding your horse. It is precise and it is systematic. Some owners find this a bit daunting. What if they F - it up?! Horses are way more forgiving than we realise and anything we accidentally train can be de-trained. I still make mistakes - I click when they do something I didn't want; forget to click; mess up the timing. We are only human and horses are horses. We learn. They learn. Once you get to grips with the basics, you can teach your horse anything.

(Email me if you'd like the quick guide to "Clicker Training Rules" document)

I don't want to rely on food to train: The whole intention of clicker training is to 'shape it out', that is, not need it anymore. The training journey may look like this:

1. One step on float ramp - click/treat

2. Two steps on ramp - click/treat

3. All 4 feet on ramp - click/treat

4. Into float - click/treat

5. Walking onto ramp, into float - click treat

6. Walking onto ramp, into float, closing bum bars - click treat

7. Walking onto ramp, into float, closing bum bars, closing tailgate - click/treat

That is the aim of clicker training! Chaining the questions we want together (this is a simplified version of course!)

Can my horse be trained using clicker training?

Most horses can be trained using the right food reward - yep, and I am also including those FOOD ORIENTATED / FOOD OBSESSED ponies!! (in fact, they are the easiest to train with clicker training!). The only horse I stopped using clicker training with (food as the reward) was a highly food aggressive horse that had a past of being starved - makes sense?!

I had someone once message me about clicker training and say "why do you treat horses like dogs. They aren't dogs".

My question back is, if they can train lions, dolphins, elephants, chickens with the same principles - why wouldn't you use clicker training with horses?


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