Tips for Clicker Training from the Saddle

It seems complicated to use positive reinforcement during riding. Most common struggle points are: ‘It’s hard to hold a clicker and the reins in my hands’, ‘Clicker training is useful on the ground, but I don’t know how to use it from the saddle‘ and ‘If you use clicker training in riding you have to stop all the time to give a treat‘. How to address these issues?


Keep it simple!

Positive reinforcement is positive reinforcement, whether you apply it from the ground, standing next to your horse, or when you sit in the saddle. Therefor you have to apply the same rules to set you and your horse up for success:

  • Start with your shaping plan: write down your step-by-step procedure in which you describe how to train a specific behaviour._arena_work_hippologic
  • Write a separate plan for each behaviour you want to train under saddle. You also can take into consideration how you can ‘chain’ two or more simple behaviours and turn them into a more complex behaviour.
  • Just like on the ground you only train one behaviour at a time. This means only one behaviour per clicker training session. I see riders making the mistake to click for multiple behaviours under saddle in one session. This can cause confusion in the horse. It’s better to focus on one specific behaviour. It will be easier to see if the behaviour improves in quality, declines or stays the same.
  • Focus on very small improvements and raise your criterion only bit by bit. This is called ‘splitting’ a behaviour and it’s the opposite of ‘lumping’ (making the steps too big). Lumping can cause frustration and can cause the horse to ‘tune out’ of your training.
  • Keep your training sessions short! Riders often think that they have to ride for 45-60 minutes and therefor they make their training sessions under saddle way too long. Longer sessions don’t give better results. Give your horse lots of breaks and keep training sessions short. I get the best results if I keep my sessions 5-10 minutes and then take a break. It depends on the circumstances how many sessions will give the optimum results. Evaluate this as you go.

Practical tips

In my decades long career as a riding instructor I’ve only heard a few riders complain about holding a whip in their hands while riding. I had a very simple solution for them: ride without a whip!

When it comes to riding with a clicker a lot more riders seem to have this problem than riding with a whip. The solution stays the same: if you find it too hard to use a handheld clicker in the saddle, don’t! You can easily train your horse to another bridge signal: a tongue click for instance. Make sure you introduce the new bridge properly.

_give an appetitive HippoLogicUse treats that are easily fed from the saddle. Experiment with different sizes and values.

Find a way to take keep enough treats on you while riding. Use deep pockets  and don’t overfill them so you don’t loose them during trot or canter. I like to put my food scoop with treats on a jumping standard so I can do refills from the saddle.

Mind your own training!

I see riders often worried about their training under saddle. Instead of focusing on their own results, they are concerned about what other people might think: ‘What would they think when I only ride 5 minutes?‘ or ‘I would stand still more often than I ride. They might think that’s silly or counterproductive.’

Accept that your approach is different than all traditional and natural horsemanship methods. Don’t try to fit traditional rules, habits or even myths into your training.

  • You don’t have to ride for an hour when you are teaching your horse a new behaviour.
  • You don’t need to ride for an hour in a lesson.
  • You don’t let ‘the horse win’ if you don’t get supernatural results in one training._reinforcing_rider_hippologic
  • The horse doesn’t need to sweat in order to have had a ‘good ride’.

Set your riding up for success

Don’t start with a new behaviour in the saddle. Find ways to prepare your horse from the ground to the exercise you want him to perform under saddle. This will make riding with the clicker so much easier!

Have fun riding!

Read more:
Tips to prevent Frustration in Riding or Training your Horse

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6 thoughts on “Tips for Clicker Training from the Saddle

  1. Loved it! Starting my first colt with clicker training I have used most of these. Using my tongue instead of a clicker was the first and foremost followed by very short riding sessions. It helps that there’s nobody around watching and judging 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Sandra. So useful! Thank you. I only ride with the clicker, and never have a whip in my hand. Very useful for me: train only one behavior. This is one thing I take with me from your article. And yes, shorter sessions. But so hard not to become greedy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Spoiler alert: the short sessions (you can do more than 1 in one training) will lead you quicker to results. So it will pay off, but you need a bit of courage to try it out. I know you can do it! Let me know how it goes! 🙂

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  3. The issue I have with clicker training is that, in my experience, the animal comes to care more about the treat than about me. For instance, when I trained my dog to come when I called, she would only come if the treat was worth more than the distraction. If she wanted to play with the dog across the street more than she wanted to get a tasty tidbit, it could end in disaster. So I started doing something else, in which the reward was literally the action — I called her name and then ran away from her. Suddenly I was something to chase and it was a game. Now she comes about 90% of the time…

    I’m trying to figure out if there’s a comparable concept in the horse world. Thoughts?


    • In my 20+ years of training with Positive Reinforcement (R+) I discovered that the training is only in the very beginning about the treat. In the second stage it becomes to evolve around the click and then it seems to be evolve to be all about the challenge, the mind game you offer. Which is really very reinforcing for animals: learning to learn. So please don’t stop at the first stage, keep going. Evolve! It is fun!

      In training it is all about the motivation of the animal (and person). Does the animal wants to avoid/move away of something unpleasant or move towards pleasure?

      If there are more motivators at work usually one is the strongest and determines the animals behavior.

      Just like you said: if you dog can choose between a treat and a distraction, the distraction has more value (he is moving towards pleasure), if you run away what is the motivation of the dog?

      Is it really positive reinforcement or does he gets anxious to be left alone? That can be an even stronger motivator (avoid pain: loss of his person in this case). That is training with negative reinforcement. I am not sure if you are looking for that kind of solution (NH will teach you how to use R- to keep your horse near you at liberty). If ‘running with you’ is a pleasant experience, you can use that as a way to keep the dog with you in the first place and avoid running away.

      So finding out what the animals motivation is, is the first step to a win-win solution. You can reinforce behaviour with behaviour, food and/or other things the horse wants to work for. It is very personal: after all it is the receiver that determines the reinforcer, not the trainer. The horses history can influence very much what he perceives as unpleasant or pleasant, that is for the trainer to find out.

      What behaviour do you want to teach your horse? OR in what situation you are looking for R+ solutions with your horse? You can email me at if you want to talk about how I can help you.


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