One of the biggest struggles I see, when horse people shift to positive reinforcement/clicker training, is that they are fighting their environment. They love clicker training so much, they want to convince everyone else how great their new method is!
It’s discouraging to discover that “they” won’t listen. Trying to convince other horse people at your barn of the benefits of positive reinforcement will most likely drift you apart from them. I know, I’ve done this myself! We forget that we can not change people, people can only change themselves!
Why doesn’t everyone wants to clicker train their horse?
The harder we try to convince others that clicker training is more friendly, more ethical, more beneficial to the horse-human relationship, the harder pushback we get. It’s called the confirmation bias.
The next thing that happens is that we, as new clicker trainers, get discouraged. We also get conflicted about using negative reinforcement and punishment, the more we learn about the effects on our horses. we might notice that we’re fighting against the norm in our barn.
We keep explaining how clicker training works, and all we get is sneers about how we spoil our horses with cookies. That’s because when we start clicker training our horse, we are not yet experts in it. From the outside it might indeed look sloppy, we don’t get results or we are just feeding cookies… When our horses get really, really interested in our food reinforcers, that’s all “they” see: how clicker training turned our horse into a cookie monster.
This can create reaal doubt and insecurity… You know in your heart this new way of training, is better, but you’re wondering why you feel so bad sometimes.
Change your environment to change your behaviour
I like James Clear’s book Atomic Habits very much! It really helped me understand better why it’s so difficult for most clicker trainers who are introducing more and more positive reinforcement in their daily training and interactions with their horse to keep moving the needle more towards R+.
Our environment influences our behaviour! So if you want to feel good about using clicker training to train and ride your horse, finding a supportive tribe will make it much easier to do so.
Here is a clip from an interview with James Clear about creating new habits, for instance using more and more clicker training.
Find your tribe
In short: when you were using negative reinforcement (R-) training (traditional, or Natural Horsemanship) you were surrounded with like-minded people. They all used R-, and you belonged. You didn’t need to explain why you were using a flag on a training stick, using a rope halter or a whip. Those are the ways of the tribe.
Now you’re changing your ways, and seeing positive changes in your horse and the bond with your horse, you feel the urge to explain why you’re doing things differently. That’s why most clicker trainers start to feel lonely after a while and why they don’t feel they belong anymore.
That’s the point you have to make the decision that in order to make your life better and easier, you’ll need to find a different tribe. A positive reinforcement tribe! So you won’t have to waste all your energy on explaining R+ to deaf ears, continuously defending your new method of training or feeling bad about the pushback you’re receiving now you’re ‘abandoning’ the R- tribe behaviours and rules.
Treat R+ training as embracing a new habit
What James is saying in the interview and in his book, is that when you surround yourself with people who are used to the habit you want to master (clicker training your horse), you’ll make your life much easier!
Don’t think that you’re the only one in your area! I’m speaking from experience that there are many barns with people who are also looking for more friendly, ethical ways to keep and train horses! Even having one clicker training friend at your barn, can really help you feel better! When you can’t find someone, there is always the option to find an online tribe of clicker trainers.
That is the very reason I started the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy: to create a community of R+ trainers, who find the relationship with their horse and the welfare of their equines really, really important! It’s inspiring to be in a R+ community where we get to know each other in person (Zoom really can feel like you’re meeting in person!) and have similar training goals and the same training ethics.
Need help training your horse?
Are you a compassionate horse owner who wants to build a strong friendship with your horse? Would you like to understand your horse better and help your horse to understand YOU better? Get access to many online clicker training courses and a fabulous, supportive R+ community in our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Check out the link!
Not sure? Start with a free clicker training assessment to get taste of what it feels like to work with me. When you have a specific struggle that you want to overcome, don’t hesitate to contact me. In this assessment you’ll discover what’s holding you back from accomplishing the things you want with your horse. After our conversation you’ll know exactly what to do, in order to move forward towards your goals.
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