Improve your clicker training from the saddle

Many equine clicker trainers ask me: ‘How do you start clicker training under saddle?‘ and ‘Do you have a video of clicker training while riding?‘ They expect something spectaculair in a video.
In this blog I explain one of the biggest struggle points of taking my clicker training from the ground into the saddle.
I didn’t know this then and I did find a way to coop with it, but if I had know what the ‘forces’ were that I was fighting it would have been so much easier.

Recently I dedicated a blog about starting/using clicker training under saddle, read it here. I was wondering what makes it so difficult to clicker train from the saddle? What is the difference between clicker training from the ground and clicker training while riding? This is one of the reasons why it is hard to start clicker training from the saddle:

Your brain is wired to 'complete' an action

Riding: Traditional/NH vs Positive reinforcement

Riders who are traditional trained in riding or used natural horsemanship methods in riding were told that:
  • You have to ride for at least 30 minutes to make it count
  • A riding lesson has to be 45 to 60 minutes
  • You can never let the horse ‘win’
  • If you didn’t sweat, it wasn’t a good ride (Seriously, I have heard this one more than once claimed by several clinicians/instructors)
  • Riding involves all three gaits
  • Don’t stop until you get results (read: try to get to the end result ASAP)

Do one of more of above statements sound familiar to you?

I think all of these (unconscious) beliefs makes it very difficult to use clicker training in the saddle, because the positive reinforcement approach is almost the complete opposite of these beliefs. In clicker training we teach:

  • Keep training sessions short
  • Be satisfied with tiny improvements while training a new behaviour
  • Use a shaping plan and split a behaviour into as many steps as you can think of
  • The more you stand still, the more successful you training session was (read: standing still equals moments to reinforce your horse)
  • You train one behaviour per session, so if you are working on an exercise in walk you don’t trot or canter.
PS I am talking about the learning phase of clicker training. Once your horse has learned the new behaviour, you can start phasing out the click & treats for one behaviour and you can start chaining behaviours (get more behaviours per click).
So ‘short rides’ and ‘standing still a lot’ (to reinforce behaviour) is only a phase in your training under saddle. It doesn’t have to stay that way.


Studies show us that it is hard to interrupt a learned behaviour. Ask yourself:
  • Can you give only half a carrot to your horse and keep the other half for next day?
  • Can you clean out the dishwasher by only taking out the plates?
  • Can you saddle your horse without riding?
  • Can you clean only 3 hooves?
 motivation vs habit
The same principe is used to learn a new behaviour. This is how you start a habit (tiny steps that form a sequence), but once you create the habit, your brain wants to keep going if you take the first few steps.
I think this is one of the reasons that makes it hard to use clicker training in riding. Your brain is still used to the traditional or NH ways of riding, see above.
Your brain needs to complete the trained sequence in the way it is used to: saddling is followed by riding, starts with a 10 minute warming-up, then ‘train for 30-40 minutes’, then a 10 minute cooling down, untacking your horse, brushing the horse or hosing him down and so on.
_rijden_hippologicYour brain is not used to a new sequence. Your new sequence of actions (habit) can look like this: warming-up exercising from the ground (stretching or trick training), then 5-10 minutes riding or a few 5 minute riding sessions with breaks in between, cooling down with ground exercises like work-in-hand/straightening training and ending your training with trick training.
Your brain is not used to this new sequence and you have to train your brain. Once you are used to this new habit of training it is easy and fun!
Think about it! What are your old habits that are ‘incompatible’ with clicker training from the saddle according to your own brain?
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Do you want to work with me or do you want to sign up for the next  online course ‘Set Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them‘, please visit my website. I am here to help you and your horse to become the best team you can be.

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3 thoughts on “Improve your clicker training from the saddle

  1. So true! It must look odd to others when they see Billy & me standing still a lot, we’re probably really boring to watch! Its a shame they didn’t notice what happened the moment before I clicked. I prefer to be smiling at the end of a ride, not sweating😀


  2. Hi,

    I am new to clicker training. Are the modules on your 4 week course dedicated to clicker training ?





    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Michelle, Glad you asked! The Goal Setting course is for everyone who needs a bit of direction in setting goals and it is not so much about learning to clicker train. I am thinking about offering an online clicker training course which will offer the basics. Search “Key Lessons”( your Key to Success in Clicker Training) on my blog to get you started. 😉 If you want to stay updated please visit my website and sign up for my newsletter. Thank you and I think it is wonderful that you are trying clicker training. You could be at the beginning of a wonderful and life changing journey! Happy Horse Training, Michelle.


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