When you are new to the idea of clicker training your horse you might ask yourself: How do I start? What do I need? Where do I buy these things? How do I teach my horse to respond to the clicker? These and more questions are answered in this blog to help you get started. Continue reading
Since I was a little girl, I was fascinated by horses. Every year on my birthday and every Christmas I asked for a pony. I dreamt about riding and training horses at liberty. Of course in these fantasies the horse and I were one.
We could communicate in a way that the horse would do everything voluntarily and with ease. I never needed to use force, or use training aids like a bit, a whip or spurs. I dreamt about being friends with my horse and that he would trust me in every situation. That we really could rely on each other…
When I was older I chose to study animal management. A study in which animal-human relationships and animal welfare were key subjects. After my bachelor degree I became a certified riding instructor. I trained horses, but I still had the feeling there should be something else out there, something better…
The traditional and classical ways of training and riding horses were too focused on getting results. There seemed no place to spent time and effort on the relationship between the horse and the rider. Something I was still longing for. I wanted to train and ride my horse, but wanted to have a solid foundation of trust and friendship first. No one seemed to teach this…
Move away from pain or move towards pleasure
When I started studying learning theory, I learned that there are basically two ways to train behaviour. We all have this in common. We either want to move away from/avoid discomfort or pain or we want to move towards pleasure. This was when it hit me: I was still using discomfort to train my horse. Even though I was told I was playing a ‘game’ with my horse, he was still learning by moving away from discomfort (which was called ‘yielding to pressure’ to make it sound more humane).
Apparently you can also do the opposite in order to teach behavior and use ‘pleasure’ to teach your horse new skills. Horses are like humans: we share the same emotions. Like us, horses also like to move towards pleasure.
Change the foundation of your relationship
What really amazed me when I started changing my ways is that the relationship with my pony also totally changed. I used to think that I had a good bond with my pony because I trained him from the day he was born. We spent 18 years together. After changing my training approach and using positive reinforcement, I noticed that my pony was also changing. He became eager to work with me, he started whinnying as soon as he saw me coming and he even started to canter to me in the pasture. Something he normally didn’t do. He didn’t walk away, but I always had to come over and get him. In a short period of time we became really good friends and developed a partnership based on trust, which is an excellent basis for all training.
Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t easy to throw out all the equipment that I used to force a horse into doing things. It was a process. A long process with lots of ups and downs.
Are you ready to change your ways?
If you are ready to make the change to a more ethical approach of horse training and improve your bond with your horse and have more fun together, let me know by sending me an email.
I offer personal coaching in which I help you train your own horse. I believe that you know your horse best. I think there is more value in you training your own horse than sending your horse to a stranger to get trained. I want you to gain the knowledge and the experience so you become the best friend you can be for your horse.
I wish for every equestrian to have a click with his or her horse. Visit my website http://clickertraining.ca if you want to learn more about me or my training method.
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to firstname.lastname@example.org
The most important thing about the treats I use is that it has to have enough value to my horse to reinforce the desired behaviour. After all it is the receiver that determines the reward, not the trainer: I want the behaviour, my horse wants the treat. Let’s make it a win-win.
Treats can differ in ‘value’ for the horse, depending on circumstances. Not only the value matters when you use treats in training. There is more to consider when you choose treats for training.
When you introduce the click or another bridge signal to your horse a small treat that can be eaten quickly is a good choice. If the horse isn’t very interested in the treat, try a higher value treat.
If your horse has trouble ‘finding’ the treat on your hand and or gets nervous about missing out, try a bigger size treat. One that he can see easily see and take off your hand.
The trainer can carry more treats if they are smaller. More treats means less refills. This can be handy on a long trail ride or during training sessions where the trainer doesn’t want to leave the horse (vet treatment, farrier).
A food reward shouldn’t take long to eat. If the horse has to chew too long it distracts from training.
If the treats are very small, like pellets, it can take a while before the horse eats everything. The last few pellets might be too small to eat safely. Consider just dropping them on the ground.
There are low value treats and high value treats. It is always the horse who determines if something is high or low value to him. Low value treats can be normal dinner grain or hay cubes, high value treats are special treats that are extra tasty, like carrots.
Work with treats that are as low value as possible, but still reinforces the desired behaviour.
Use high value treats for special occasions. For example if the horse has to do something difficult, painful (like a vet treatment) or scary.
High value treats also make excellent jackpots.
If your horse gets greedy or displays dangerous or undesired behaviour like biting or mugging, try lower value treats.
For horses that are overweight, have a tendency to get overweight or founder easily low calorie treats are a healthy choice.
Deduct the amount of calories offered during training from your horses normal feeds.
Vitamin pellets are often a healthy choice, check the label. Most ones have a decent size, they are non sticky and are low in sugar and calories.
Practical things matter
Not all trainers like to have sticky treats like apple pieces or sugar covered cereal in their pocket.
My horse Kyra likes soaked beetpulp, but I don’t like to carry it around. Sometimes I bring it to the arena in a plastic container which I put on the ground. Not very practical during riding, but perfect as jackpot in groundwork or during trick training.
Some treats, like sour apples, can increase the amount of saliva in your horse’s mouth or can cause foaming saliva. Which can become messy. It can also increase behaviour like licking your hands. If you don’t like that, try avoid these treats.
If you bridge and reinforce a lot, cost can become an issue. Commercial horse treats are very expensive per treat in comparison to home made treats, dinner grain or hay cubes.
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect you with your inner wisdom (you know what’s right) and teach you the principles of learning and motivation, so you become confident and knowledgeable to train your horse in a safe, effective and FUN way. Win-win.
All HippoLogic’s programs are focused on building your confidence and provide you with a step-by-step formula to train horses with 100% positive reinforcement.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and you will get a gift right away) or visit HippoLogic’s website.
Recently I have received the same question from several people. Why do you need a clicker when you could just use your voice as a bridging signal? What are the advantages of a clicker?
Why a bridging signal is needed
If you want to reinforce certain behaviour one has to reward the horse at the moment the behaviour is still going on or within a few seconds the behaviour has stopped in order for the animal to associate the behaviour with the reward he is receiving. It is almost impossible to give the horse his reward during the behaviour, which is why positive reinforcement trainers use a bridge signal.
A bridge or bridging signal is a specific signal for the horse that connects the moment the reward is given to the behaviour he was doing. Most clicker trainers use a special device named a clicker as bridge. The clicker makes a click sound.
When the horse has learned that a click is always followed by a reward, the horse starts to pay really good attention to the behaviour he was displaying at the time of the click. He is smart and he wants to train you to give him more clicks. Animals like it when they have the feeling they can control the environment (you and his rewards).
Advantage of a clicker
A clicker always makes the same sound and therefor it ‘travels’ the same path in the brain. The horse understands quickly what the sounds means. A click is not influenced by emotions of the human voice. It doesn’t matter who presses the clicker, it still sounds the same. So other people can ride and train your horse without confusing the horse about the bridge signal. The click of a clicker can be delivered instantly. Timing is everything. The more accurate your bridge is, the easier the horse learns what you want to reward him for.
As long as the bridge signal is a specific sound it can be used. I taught my horse to respond to different bridges. I use the high pitched and long stretched word “Good” as bridge and Kyra also knows that my tongue click is a bridge.
Advantages of other bridges
The main advantages of a verbal bridge and a tongue click are obvious. The first is that you always have it with you. No matter where you go you can always use your bridging signal.
The second is being able to keep your hands free. Using a clicker always requires a hand to click with. In some situations being able to use both hands can have be a huge advantage.
Disadvantages of a vocal bridge
A vocal bridge always has a little delay, because before you can speak you have to inhale fist. Your voice also can differ according to circumstances: a cold may effect your voice, but also your emotions. When I am excited or annoyed the pitch can change, for us it means the same thing because we know the meaning of the letter of a word. A horse knows the meaning of the sounds of a word. Because your voice sounds only “generally” the same every time, it makes a different, wider pathway in the brain. This sound means: a reward is coming. And this one too. And this one means the same thing. The horse needs to decide every time he hears your voice: was this a bridge or not? Therefor it can take a little longer for the horse to become “clicker savvy” with a voice bridge.
When I introduced the word “Good” I still lived in The Netherlands. They generally don’t speak English to horses, so it was a safe word to use. It was a unique sound. I was the only one who used it and my horse was never trained by someone else. The difficultly with the word “Good” in Canada is that other people use it as praise (reward) instead as bridge signal. That means it might not always be followed by a reward. This can confuse the horse.
Another reason to teach your horse the click of a clicker as the bridge: other people can train or ride your horse and communicate clearly. The click sounds the same every time.
Related post: Introduce your horse to the click
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult today!
When I started clicker training I thought it was a pretty simple and forward concept: ‘You bridge (click) the wanted behaviour and give the horse a treat. Make sure your timing is right. That’s all you need to know.’
Bridging and getting your timing right are both very important and it was an excellent start. I have been training horses with reward-based training since ’99 and I still learn so much every day. It helps that science is coming up with new discoveries, too. And that other trainers (horse owners as well as professionals) are sharing their experiences over the internet.
Of course timing is important. In clicker training we say: ‘You get what you reinforce.’ So if the horse is displaying some unwanted behaviours, that means that the trainer has a question to think about: Did I bridge or rewarded this behaviour in any way or is this be self-rewarding behaviour? In self-rewarding behaviour the horse found a reward which motivates him to do it again.
The timing of the bridge (click) and the timing of giving the reward are both important. Those two moments are reinforcing the behaviour of the horse at that time. So, if you click for a wanted behaviour and your horse is doing an unwanted behaviour (pinning ears, snapping, pawing) at the moment you give the treat, you are still reinforcing something you might not want. It might not show directly, but it will show sooner or later.
You are not only training just the behaviour but there can also be an emotion attached (associated) to that certain behaviour. In the beginning I never paid conscious attention to Sholto’s emotions back then, while I clicker trained him. I didn’t notice unwanted or dangerous emotions (rage, fear, over-arousal). To be honest I don’t think my pony experienced those during clicker training. He seemed very engaged and eager to work with me if I was preparing to do some clicker training.
Looking back at my training sessions using Natural Horsemanship this aspect was less important. The horse was required to fulfill his task regardless of his emotional state.
In clicker training it is much more a two-way communication. You have to be aware of your horses emotional state because it is a part of your training. When you click you click for all aspects of your horse at that time, his physical stance and his emotional state.
My current horse, Kyra (see picture), did express a lot of fear in the beginning and I started to take her emotions into account while bridging certain behaviours. I’ve learned that you can strengthen the a certain behaviour by reinforcing that behaviour.That behaviour might be very much attached to an undesired emotion. Now I pay a lot more attention to horses emotions when I bridge a behaviour and I can use this information to my advantage.
There is much more I can tell you that I have learned over the years. I am really excited every time I discover a new use for an old tool or approach. To me my journey to the reward-based training method still is very exciting.
What was one of your eye openers on your journey?
Read here part II of New Uses for ‘Old’ Tools in Clicker Training
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult today!
In clicker training we use a ‘click’ as bridge signal to communicate to the horse that he has done something wonderful. Immediately after the click we deliver a reward to the horse. How do you start teaching what the click means?
You need a bridge signal or an unique sound, like the click of a clicker, a tongue click or a unique word. I prefer a clicker because that always sounds the same and it is very quick to deliver. The bridge signal connects the click and the time it costs to deliver the reward.
Rewards. Choose your horses favourite treats. Even if they are not very healthy, you want to choose a treat that has a high value to your horse. Something that will get their attention.
Reward pouch/bucket. You need to stash your reward in a place where you can access them quickly but in a place out of reach of your horse. A money belt or an accessible pocket will work, or a bucket. Place the bucket on a chair so you don’t have to bend over every time you need to reach for a treat. Make sure your horse can’t reach it or start training ‘ignore the food bucket’.
Barrier. If you want set up your horse and yourself for success, start training with a barrier between you and your horse. A fence or stall door prevents the horse coming into your space to get the treats himself. You set yourself up for success if you don’t have to handle your horse or a lead rope and a clicker and the treats, all at the same time.
Lesson 1: introducing the bridge
When you want to start clicker training you will have to introduce the click sound to the horse. You also need to teach your horse that this sound has a meaning.
You can just start with a click & reward your horse. Deliver the reward as soon as possible after the click. The quicker the reward is delivered after the click the sooner the horse will associate the click with something positive coming. With ‘soon’ I mean within 3 seconds or even faster. It can be almost simultaneously: click&reward.
- Make sure the food always moves towards the horse, so the horse never has to come to you to get it.
- Make it a habit to feed with a stretched arm, so the distance between your pocket (the source of the treats) is as big as possible.
- Deliver the treat straight to the horses mouth, so he doesn’t have to search for it. This prevents frustration and mugging.
- Deliver the treat as fast as possible to prevent mugging and frustration.
- Make sure the treat is a reasonable size, so the horse can easily find it and it doesn’t get lost.
- Count your treats and always check if you still have a treat left, before you click.
- Click first, then reach for the treat. You want your horse to (re)act on the sound of the click, not on your hand reaching for a treat.
In general it takes 30 – 50 clicks until the horse has learned that the click has a meaning and it means something positive. Most horses show interest in the click much sooner and you can already start to work on specific (easy) behaviours. The horse now wants to figure out if he can influence the click by his behaviour and that is the point where you can start clicking purposefully for a certain behaviour. Now you can give your horse a break until the next training session.
Read also 5 Tips for Starting Clicker Training.
If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons below. Or post your comment, I read them all!
Or simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I connect horse women with their inner wisdom and teach them the principles of learning and motivation, so they become confident and skilled to train their horse in a safe and effective way that is a lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training.
First of all: a click means “Horse, you did the right thing” and that means that I, the trainer, have booked a success, too. And I am addicted to success. Before clicker training, I was always telling myself what I did wrong, instead of what I could improve. I would see my failures instead of my triumphs.
Second: I just love to feed animals. I don’t know why, but it is very enticing and rewarding for me. The more I click the more I am allowed to feed my horse.
I realized one day I was addicted to clicking my horse. It really felt like an addiction because it felt like a computer game with a victory tune to announce you have completed this level and you can go on to the next. Is it dangerous? Could it be detrimental to the training?
Once I realized that I clicked too much, I discovered that I was not getting the best results I could. What is “too much”? For me it meant: not raising criteria after 3 successful attempts, clicking for already established behaviours like coming to me in walk when called, nice transitions under saddle that Kyra already
would do with a success rate of 90% or more.
The key is to write down goals, make a training plan and keep a training journal in which you describe in positive words what you’ve accomplished in your training. I can recommend it to every one to find a support group/friend with whom you can share your successes and points to improve. Talking about your training with others can help you reflect and stay motivated.
With clicker training ‘Less can be more’. If you click less, the horse will answer with better tries. Sometimes you get amazing results, like I described in this post. For instance I don’t click Kyra for coming to me in walk. I’ve set her up for success so I could click her for coming to me in trot. The goal I am working on now is asking Kyra to come to me in canter.
Since I click less, Kyra is improving significantly in all behaviours and therefor the click has become even more addictive to me. It is as if I have moved up multiple levels in our game and a whole new world has opened.
I am definitely high on our success and craving more.
Safe the date: Thursday March 7, 2019
Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Succes
- Want to get the results in training you really, really want?
- Want train your horse with confidence?
- Want to learn all there is to know about training your horse with positive reinforcement?
Join this online course and participate for free next time!For as long as you want, you’re welcome. Click here
Clicker Training Mastery (advanced course) starts March 6, 2019
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the results in training they really, really want with joy and easy for both horse and human. I always aim for win-win!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
PS If you really need a ‘Trainers Anonymous‘ group or want to be part of a supportive R+ community check out HippoLogic membership. We have a great community that supports you in accomplishing your goals with clicker training and improving the relationship with your horse in training.