KBR Horse Training Information

Exercising Body AND Mind

Clicker Training;
Part Two

"Look, Ma, no lead rope!"

  SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS

Before you run out, buy a clicker and a bag of carrots, you need to consider a few safety issues.

  • The clicker is not a replacement for good judgement / common sense.

  • Use the clicker to enhance your normal training routines. Don't shortcut the basics because the going seems easy.

  • Pay attention when giving treat rewards and don't get bitten.

  • Remove all rings from your hands. If the horse does inadvertently grab a finger, you don't want to get hung up in his mouth by a ring!

  • We made good headway using the clicker, but we are very experienced with some of the more dangerous elements such as climbing under a wild horse to trim feet or leading wild horses through obstacles. Don't get carried away by your success and extend yourself beyond your practical experience.

  • We show saddling and putting weight on horses which have only been handled for a very short period. Although the horse illustrated was only ground tied, we were very methodical and the procedure was closely supervised.

  • Be careful about the games you choose. We once tossed an idea out about forming horse soccer teams. Some folks taught their horses to kick soccer balls. Unfortunatelty in the horses' enthusiastic search for approval, they started going around swatting chickens, cats and anything else roughly the size of a soccer ball!

  • The explanations and ideas presented here are merely a sharing of ideas and do not relieve the reader from exercising sound and practical judgement. Like any other training concept, you are responsible for sensible application and safe handling of your horse.

  OPERANT BEHAVIORAL ISSUES

We can either confine, coerce and control the horse; force him against his will, or we can use the horse's natural instincts to follow and learn and develop a willing, working partner. When bad stuff happens, the rider is much better off with a mount who wants to follow and has a high degree of respect than one who is merely looking to escape the rider's confining and oppressive presence.

The principles of natural horsemanship are designed around exploiting the horse's natural instincts and developing his beneficial characteristics. In many horses this process is relatively easy. They are curious and the horseman employs some herd leadership games in which the horse invests his interest and curiosity. If the horseman is competent, the horse becomes a willing follower.

However some horses come with baggage which inhibits this response. They may be raised in the wild and have a deep seated inhibition with respect to letting a predator into their personal space. Horses may have learned fears due to some prior bad experiences or trauma. They may have aggressive tendencies, perhaps are simply spoiled or may have been so sheltered that they never learned to process their environments and make non-reactive decisions as to how to deal with unexpected encounters.

One or more of these characteristics create impediments to learning. Fear can create it's own stress-feedback loop; the fear building upon itself when the horse is being worked while in an anxious state. Some horses respond to stress by becoming unfocused. These animals don't pay attention, overreact to stimulus and are poor learners. Other horses may be spooky, failing to process their surroundings then suddenly reacting when they finally observe an object which now is only a short distance away. Some horses simply don't like being handled, perhaps as a result of some bad prior experience. A few horses display more than one of these traits.

The clicker becomes useful as it interdicts these destructive processes and focuses the horse in a more beneficial manner. Having a positive conclusion to each step in the click learning process gives the horse a chance to be right, start to see value in the interaction, and eventually start using his cognitive abilities in order to try to figure out the game and win a reward.

Obviously the clicker requires oral gratification in order to start producing results, however once the horse is desensitized to the presence of the human and the training process, he can start to process other forms of positive reinforcement from soothing scratches to verbal praise.

We were afraid that the use of treats would encourage the horse to mug us for carrots. What we discovered was that if the handler is disciplined and only gives treats following a click, the horse won't look for the reward until after the click is sounded.

We tried an experiment with a very hyperkinetic mare we call "Whoa Nellie" which Sharon had spent just a few minutes teaching the "Touch it!" game. Sharon held a target on one side and I stood on her other side with a handful of carrots. The horse could reach around any time to grab the carrots from me but her attention was on Sharon. When she cued, "Touch it!" the mare would touch the target then immediately swing her head over to me and take a piece of carrot out of my hand following the click. Horses have a great capacity for figuring out such simple and interesting games.

Thus the click precedes any treats and the horse tries to earn a click.

  THE CLICKER & THE REWARD

The design of the clicker is perfect. It's easily held and its sound is unique and distinctive, unlike any other sound in the horse's field of hearing. It takes only a few repetitions for the horse to associate the click with a treat reward.

The click can be sounded the instant the horse achieves the objective without the handler generating some visual distraction. The ability to time the click at the proper instant makes the objective more understandable to the horse.

The clicker is distinctive. Humans are usually so verbal that the horse generally accepts our conversation as background noise and when verbally addressed, has to decide, "Was that cue or feedback intended for me?" The click is clear and unmistakable and that is why it works so well.

Once the horse understands the association, the handler needs to set up a very simple exercise that the horse can easily figure out in order to establish the premise that the horse must do something for the click to occur. Once this association is established, the handler slightly increases the difficulty of the objective so the horse starts to reason out the changes which are occurring and curiously tries to determine what he needs to do to earn the click. Once you get that association down, the results that you can obtain are virtually limitless.



Continue to Part Three

Return to Part One

Find Clickers for Sale

Before this mare was put in
the chute, she was conditioned to
the clicker. Once in the chute
her confinement stress-feedback
loop was disarmed with click-
targeting. She allowed us to
touch her and later would return
to the chute without fear,
Haltering in a chute can be
dangerous. We click targeted this
mare to the halter and she
haltered relatively quietly.
Once haltered in a non-
terrifying manner, the mare would
stand quietly on a loose lead and
interact with the handler.
Curiosity is clearly
replacing years of fear.
Targeting the brush...
... which led to being
touched by the brush
... which led to being
rubbed, then scratched,
which brings its own reward.
...which led to other
breakthroughs such as getting
overgrown feet trimmed.

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KBR Horse Training Information, 1997 Lamm's Kickin' Back Ranch and Willis & Sharon Lamm. All rights reserved. Duplication of any of this material for commercial use is prohibited without express written permission. This prohibition is not intended to extend to personal non-commercial use, including sharing with others for safety and learning purposes, provided this copyright notice is attached.
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This information is presented for informational purposes only. The reader of any information provided in this site understands and agrees that (s)he is solely responsible for all activities involving his or her horse, that (s)he must always exercise good judgement and consider safety when involved in any training situation, and (s)he should not attempt anything which (s)he feels is unsafe, doesn't fully understand or is not fully prepared to execute.