One of the biggest keys to success with clicker training, like any form of training, is about how to set things up to be successful before you actually do any training. Most people don’t think too much about what they wear to the barn as it pertains to clicker training, at least not until they find themselves in a pickle with the training not going well and wonder why.
I drive my daughters crazy when they are with me and I am shopping for clothes. They tell me that I am obsessed with pockets. I hate to say this, but it is true. As a clicker trainer I covet good pockets on clothes; pockets that permit smooth easy food delivery and are big. Pockets like this are NOT easy to find and are almost never to be found on clothing in the horse stores. I have taken to thinking outside the ‘tack box’ to find suitable clothing for clicker training.
Let’s talk pockets first. As far as meeting the needs of a clicker trainer there are a lot of useless pockets out there. They either hinder your ability to smoothly deliver treats or don’t hold enough treats to make it worthwhile or dump the treats out every time you bend over. In the picture to the right are examples of good pockets.
If you cannot get in and out of your pockets smoothly you will cause your horse to become frustrated while you fumble about and this can lead to training problems! I love the sweatshirts with the kangaroo pocket on the front. It allows me to deliver treats with either hand and not worry about my being out of treats in the pocket I needed them in. Look for a deep lip on the pocket so the treats stay in when you bend over. These pockets hold lots and lots of treats and are great to ride with as well. Many people use the old fanny packs, but I find they are awkward and dump out easily.
Even better are the hoodies with zippers on these kinds of pockets so that when you take them off over your head when you get to the house you don’t end up with all the cookies on the floor, though my dogs love it when this happens! You can find these in snowboarding and ski shops. If you are over 30 and obviously not a snowboarder, you will get strange looks from the staff in these shops when you go in. Just pretend you are shopping for your son or nephew who is about your size. Actually, for winter wear I get a size bigger for my hoodie so that it will fit over my other jackets etc. and I can have on lots of layers to stay warm.
In the summer I use a fishing vest to train with as it has lots of pockets but here again check out the ease of treat delivery as not all fishing vests are created equal! Pocket lining should be silky and smooth otherwise the treats tend to catch on the fuzz, not so much in the kangaroo pocket style but the side pocket styles with the fuzzy polyester lining.
I have found that you do need to think outside the ‘tack shop’ box when you want functional clothing that is warm and works. I don’t think my horse cares if I have an equestrian designer name jacket on as long as I can get into my pockets easily for the treats and am warm enough to play a long time!
Gloves are just as hard to find. Again I look in the sporting good shops or the ski shops, but garden gloves for summer work well too in the winter overtop of a thin glove. I usually put one of those hot shot hand warmers between the garden glove and the thin glove on the backside of my hand as that is where the blood flows. The garden glove (the rubber palmed type) keep my hands dry, important if you have a drooly treat taker of a horse, and are thin enough to allow me to feel and pick out the treats from my pocket. You do not want gloves that are fuzzy as the treats catch on them and make getting the treat into your palm difficult. Regular winter riding gloves I have found to be too bulky to be of much use. Fuzzy gloves are like the fuzzy pockets, the treats tend to stick to the fingers and not get to your palm for good delivery.
All of this is much more important if you have a ‘new to clicker training’ horse. My ponies, who are old pros at clicker, know that in the winter mom is a bit slower on the treat delivery, but they know the reward is coming and are happy to wait the little bit of extra time it takes.
What kind and type of treat will depend a lot on your horse. Can he handle high energy treats or is he an easy keeper? You want to experiment a bit and see if he likes a bigger crunchy style treat or the smaller pellets. I have found that bigger treats seem to work well especially in the beginning and are much less messy re: getting dropped on the ground and then the horse searching for them there. The bigger treats will also keep him busy for a bit longer chewing and give a new clicker trainer a bit more time to think!
Remember to take the amount fed out of his daily ration of ‘grain’ so he doesn’t get too fat. And I always have a special pocket for the ‘jackpot’ reward for a really good effort.