In horses, clickers can help train performance skill in-hand and under saddle, as well as develop polite ground manners and self-control.
At first, the clicker sound often has no meaning but gains value when it’s reliably paired with a primary reinforcer such as food. Once the clicker is charged, simply hearing the unique click sound activates the brain’s pleasure centers. The clicker is now a secondary or conditioned reinforcer and can be incorporated into horse training.
The value of the clicker reflects the value of the primary reinforcer. What will your horse work for? Nearly all animals are motivated to eat, which makes food a universal reinforcer often used in clicker training. Other reinforcers include withering scratches, opportunities for social interactions, and freedom to explore. In one study, researchers found that food was a more effective reinforcer for horses than petting and scratches. Without food as a reinforcer, it’s rare to find a horse with a burning desire to execute a flying lead change, pull a cart, or perform any number of jobs we expect of them. Food provides an extrinsic motivation for the horse to learn these skills.
The clicker sound pinpoints the exact moment the desired behavior occurs, and if the click is early or late, a different behavior has been marked and reinforced and will be repeated. A common error made by novices is using the clicker sound to grab the animal’s attention and distract it away from doing an unwanted behavior. Unfortunately, whatever the horse was doing when it heard the click (in this case an unwanted behavior) will be repeated
Clicker training is precise, positive, and focuses on the desired behavior. In horses, clickers can help train performance skills in-hand and under saddle, as well as develop polite ground manners and self-control. Clicker training can improve learning speed and accuracy in any horse, and—because it’s positive and low stress—it’s a preferred method for horses who have past unpleasant experiences with punishment and harsh training.
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