Positive reinforcement training or clicker training. This was not just “another method” to me. To me it was a completely different approach to training horses. I was told, and I believed, that I had to “dominate” the horse otherwise he would dominate me, I had to be the “leader” to my horse and that horses “had to respect me” and I never could “let the horse win”, whatever that meant.
A step-by-step program
Then a Natural Horsemanship method came along in my world. I was thrilled: finally a step-by-step- program that taught me “games” I could play with my horse, that sounded like fun. Yeey!
The voice in my heart
I wasn’t too happy with building up the “phases” and building more and more pressure on my pony until he moved away like it was described in the pocket books. I think I confused Sholto by starting with this NH method and clicker training tricks at the same time. Sholto tried to tell me in many ways that he didn’t agree with this “natural” training method, but the books said: “Don’t let him win”. So I kept going. I heard a little voice in my heart that said: “I don’t like this accumulating pressure thing”. I ignored that voice.
I practised my new Natural Horsemanship method with a lot of other horses. I didn’t have a real passionate connection with these horses because I hardly knew them. I found it a lot easier to apply accumulating pressure on them, but this voice in my heart kept telling me that this wasn’t really “partnership” nor “friendship” in a way I was looking for.
Clicker training changed my pony’s attitude completely
Since my pony was about 20 years old, I decided to let the NH method go and take a lot more effort in researching information about the clicker training/positive reinforcement training. After all: he was already ‘old’ and he was not suppose to learn new tricks anyway. He surprised me by learning new things so much quicker as I added rewards instead of pressure. Wow, my old pony got really engaged in my training.
Instead of “dominating” my pony and what felt to me as “forcing” him into new behaviours with accumulating pressure I had to outsmart him with clicker training. Set it up for success, was very useful advice from the NH method. I still use that one. A lot.
Learning another jargon
It was really difficult to “Set Sholto up for Success” because I hardly knew what I wanted and I didn’t have a training plan to follow. So I struggled along for a few years and gained lots of knowledge during this process. I didn’t know at that time that I could let go of terms regarding “dominance”, which apparently doesn’t even exist, inter species wise speaking.
I am so relieved that I now can be my horses teacher instead of her “herd leader”, be her friend instead of being “the dominant one” and just be her “human” instead of being her “alpha mare”.
Clicker training is truly a wonderful new experience. It is not “just another training method” it became a “life style”. It is truly the journey that counts, not the destination.
Read more: 5 Tips for Starting Clicker Training
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