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Horse Training: Horses Associate Clickers With Treats
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Horse Training: Horses Associate Clickers With Treats

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.

Disclaimer: Of Horse! and sponsors do not endorse nor validate the accuracy of a blog post. Each article is the opinion of the blogger.

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  1. Ceec
    I love clickers too hahhaaha
  2. jst4horses
    I think clickers are ok, but feel, having spent most of my professional career rehabilitating horses that have severe behavior problems before they are referred to me, and I charge a LOT, even though I ask the owners and trainers to donate to children's and veteran programs, that clickers come AFTER well grounded behavioral training. A horse has to know who is the alpha mare, and you want it to be YOU. I began to notice this a couple of years ago while disabled from a vehicle accident and watching tv a LOT at my older son's home. Watching the Dog Whisperer, I noted how many professional dog trainers, and sellers needed Cesar to come and help their dogs. Often the dogs had problems from abuse, or other negative treatment before rescued or purchased. They were well trained, but not well behaved. I have a Director in our equine program that was a special ed teacher for forty years, she was not a horsewoman, but went to the restroom when we were filling out the paperwork for the Foundation and ended up being the one with her name on the Director line for registering to IRS. BUT one day she saw a successful barrel racing star struggling with a horse that had a few "forward rush" problems. My friend said, can I model something for you, and she did. In less than five minutes she had that horse walking without rushing her legs, or poking her back and got the mare to go in and out and in and out of stalls, and arena gates without a hint of rushing and stomping all over her. The owner tried it, and the mare was "cured". Just be careful you are not substituting tricks for good behavior. Also, I have seen perfectly trained horses stop in a road and get hit by cars...........a horse needs to know when to be smart in its own right and in its own best health. While lounging around I also read old books, and Barbara Woodhouse used to train in her work to make sure your dog is not just a trick dog, but a partner. She mentioned in one of her articles a dog that was so perfectly trained that while running free, it crossed a road, a huge truck was coming, the owner got scared and stupidly said SIT. The dog did. It was its last trick. You want to have a horse, or dog, or child that has the sense to get out of the road, and THEN come ask you why you are so stupid.

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