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Clicker Training

Clicker training is a method of positive reinforcement using a clicker to mark the desired behaviour and bridge that behaviour to the reward. This is the most basic description, of course, but there is much more to this method.

I find it to be an easy-to-understand (for the animal) method of training and doesn’t require force or punishment. Some years ago, I had used basic clicker training to teach my parrot to target, wave his foot and ring a bell. I had never really thought about using it with my horse.

Earlier this year, my stable hosted a clicker training clinic, where we learned the theory and basic practice of clicker training. So I took this knowledge and tried to apply it. The first behaviour normally taught is to target a hand-held object (usually a stick with a ball on the end), because it’s fairly easy to learn. This is actually quite challenging for my horse because she’s blind. Scenting the target or adding a bell was suggested, but I decided to try something else.

Standing still. I was grooming Lacey in a stall the day after the clinic, and decided to click and treat any moment of stillness. She actually seemed to pick up on this idea, so now she understood the procedure of clicker training.

With my parrot, I had just trained him to do simple “tricks.” With Lacey, I’m using this method to build life skills and overcome obstacles. Trailer loading, hoof trimming, stretching (I’ll explain later), and so on.

Lacey’s always been fidgety with the farrier, so I decided to teach her to pick up, and hold up her feet. I started doing this outside in her field because she’s also fidgety on crossties (I think this ties back to my magnesium post). This is our progress so far:

I’ve also started rewarding her for relaxing her hind legs. She strongly pulls them up, which makes it difficult to trim her hind hooves and certainly doesn’t aid in releasing tension in the hindlegs, quarters, or back!

I’ve also used clicker training to help with trailer loading. I think this will be a much longer process, however, because she can break down into full blown panic attacks if we push too far. For now, I’m looking for easy walking in, and calmly backing out. Eventually, I’d like to ask for standing inside for progressively longer periods (starting with, maybe, 30 seconds), then just holding the divider against her (without latching it), and step-by-step, until she can handle the trailer without so much panic! It had been suggested to start with a bridge, then a bridge with “walls” (hay bales, or the like), but Lacey has no issue with these things, she can tell the difference between them and the trailer. Here’s a video of some work we’ve done earlier this summer:

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