Horse training series: Clicker training

Training your horse: Clicker training

Clicker training rewards your horse or pony’s good behavior. It can be used for most horses; young horses, older horses, nervous horses, horses that can’t be ridden and horses that are bored and need extra stimulation etc. You can use clicker training when riding or from the ground.  You can train your horse in a range of activities from basic manners to schooling movements and building confidence. Clicker training is great horse therapy; you get to spend time with your horse, increase obedience, understand him or her better and strengthen your bond.

What is clicker training?

Clicker training involves identifying the specific action you want your horse to do. Showing them what needs to be done, in a way that they can understand. And rewarding them for doing it properly. The method is similar to a game, it’s very kind and affirming for the horse when done correctly.

What do you need to clicker train your horse?

1. You need a clicker.

If you don’t have one you can make a verbal click that sounds like a clicker sound.

2. You also need small treats to give your horse.

Carrots cut up into tiny pieces work well. The treats must be easy to hold.  Keep them in a bag that you can reach fast and easily. A fanny bag works well for this.

What is the basic process?

1. Decide what you want your horse to do

Make sure you have broken the process down into clear and separate actions.

2. Being as clear as you can

Ask your horse for the action or behavior you want. Remember to place him or her in the best possible position to provide this behavior. If he or she responds in any way that is towards the behavior that you want, click the clicker and give a treat.

3. Be consistent

Use the same method of asking for the behavior.  Being consistent is important, ask the horse for the same behavior again. If he responds, click the clicker and give a treat.

4. Repeat steps 2 & 3

Make sure your horse has made some progress, is having fun but is not getting tired or bored.

5. Remember: Your horse will not get it all correct at the beginning

Clicker training, like any other training, takes time and patience. You need to reward your horse’s good intentions and efforts.

Example: Teaching your horse to load into a trailer (or box)

First do the clicker training so that your horse places his front hooves on the ramp. Once he or she has mastered this then do the training for him to stand fully on the ramp. The final action you will train for is loading into the trailer. Let him or her stand still for a minute or two before your either walk out or go for a drive.

Be sure to…

  1. Keep your sessions short.
  2. Click at the exact moment your horse performs the behavior you want. This will help him or her understand what behavior you want and are reinforcing.
  3. Ignore behavior you don’t want.
  4. Be kind and patient and keep it fun for your horse.

What should I do if the clicker training isn’t working?

  1. Check that what you are asking your horse to do is a clear and simple action that is easy for him or her to understand. You may need to break the action down further for your horse; especially if he or she is scared of something.
  2. Check that he or she is able to do what you are asking at this stage.
  3. Check that you are asking your horse clearly and positively. You must be confident and positive to help your horse feel that he or she can do what you are asking.
  4. Don’t train over mealtimes when your horse could be distracted.

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