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What to Leave Behind, What to Take Forward: Part 2

Expanding Clicker Training Through the People Who Use It

I have always said clicker training benefits the most from two groups. The first are the experienced horse trainers who bring their horse handling skills and knowledge into the community. We need people who know what a piaffe feels like and how it is traditionally trained. We need people who have the timing and the physical coordination to handle the super talented sport horses that are being bred today.

And we also need the complete novice horse owners who never handled a horse before stumbling across clicker training. They know nothing about how it is normally done. They don’t know you “can’t do it that way.” They don’t know you can’t get a horse into a horse trailer by having him push a ball up a ramp. They don’t know you can’t teach a horse to go forward under saddle by throwing a dog toy out in front of him and having him fetch it for you. They come up with creative, imaginative solutions that those of us who have more of a horse-training background might never see.

Both groups need each other. The experienced horse people need to be reminded to set aside their standard tool box. They need to challenge themselves to come up with more creative, clicker-based solutions. They need to remember that clicker training isn’t simply about piggy backing the “yes” of the click onto standard methods. There is so much more to it than that.

The novice horse handler needs to know that not all horse training is abusive. You can use a lead without turning into a monster. Learning how to provide guidance via a lead is an important clicker skill.

I want it all. I want the skills of the experienced horse handler, and the naïveté and creativity of the neophyte. This is one of the great benefits of the clinics and of the on-line course. We have people at all skill levels and backgrounds joining in. That creates an environment in which we can learn so much from one another.

Over time in clinics I would say I have learned more from watching the horse neophytes than I have from the experienced handlers. The solutions someone invents who doesn’t know how something is “supposed” to be done can be just the spark I need to come up with a creative new approach to an old problem.

The challenge is always getting the mix right. You don’t want old, outdated patterns of thought and behavior to get in the way of finding those creative new solutions. But there’s also a benefit to having a solid framework of horse-handling skills that can support the creative flourishes. This is in part why I teach clicker training in the way that I do. I want a solid framework that can support all the many layers of clicker training.

I never get mad at my “stepping stones.” I am never regretful that I spent time learning horse-handling skills. I have quoted Maya Angelou many times. “When I was young, I did the best I could. When I knew better, I did better.” I learned the skills that others in the horse world were teaching me, but I kept my “antennae” out – looking for more. What I wanted and what those skills gave me just wasn’t enough of a match. As I have learned more, I have left many of the training tools I spent so much time learning behind.

So that’s one of the questions: what do you take forward as you progress in your training and what do you leave behind?

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