Building A Solid Foundation For Success

I love that there are more articles on clicker training appearing in magazines (Equus, Practical Horseman, Horse Canada) and that they are finally catching up to Saddle Up, who has been publishing clicker training articles for over two years now! Perhaps we are reaching the tipping point in horse training.

Many people come to clicker training because they have tried other training methods and those methods are not working for them or their horse. They are looking for a different way to solve the problems they are having with their horse. They have decided, perhaps, that it is time for them to think smarter, rather than bigger and tougher. Time to build a relationship based not on dominance, but on mutual respect and cooperation - and have fun doing it!

The articles that have appeared lately have done a good job overall in describing clicker training, the science behind it and how to train some behaviours using it. However, I was very surprised by the behaviours they suggested for those critical first lessons in which people would introduce clicker training to their horse. In one article they suggested these behaviours: touching the head of a horse that dislikes its head being touched, catching a hard-to-catch horse, and retraining a horse that is difficult about picking up its feet.

These behaviours would require the handler to simultaneously introduce clicker training and use it to solve existing problems. While clicker training is a SUPERB tool for solving problem behaviours, it is NOT the place to start when both the handler and the horse are new to clicker training. With both being inexperienced, they can get into trouble trying to use clicker training in these cases, and may conclude that this is just another method that doesn’t work. Before working on solving a problem, you have to look at why you have the problem to start with, and this is usually not a quick fix. Clicker training should not be used as a “Band-Aid” approach to solving relationship problems. You have to get to the real answer as to why your horse doesn’t like to be caught, have his face touched or lift his feet.

Open Up the Lines of Communication - First!

So where should you start if you want to begin clicker training so that you can eventually deal with any relationship and training problems? Alexandra Kurland, one of the pioneers in the development of clicker training for horses and author of three books on the subject, recommends teaching both horse and handler six foundation lessons. These foundation lessons teach the horse and handler the rules of the “clicker game” and ensure a solid foundation that will keep everyone safe. These six foundation lessons are:

• Targeting

• Head down

• Backing in a square

• Grownups are talking

• Happy faces

• Standing on a mat

While working through the foundation lessons,