Clinic Report by Philippa Gort-Barten
Gosh what a wonderful day – AND the first clinic I’ve ever attended in which I can remember what happened AND how to have a go myself at home! Despite being excited and bedazzled this felt totally different – I have been given tools to enable me to do it myself – SO empowering!
Having got to the venue after a long and stressful journey, Amanda’s calm, welcoming and humorous authority instantly got me settled and in the mood for learning.
We began the day by introducing ourselves and chatting through what brought us all there – there was instant solidarity between attendees and teacher. Then we went out to the arena and started on the morning session, which was learning about rope handling skills and treat delivery – two vital ingredients in clicker training. I hadn’t realised how essential consistency in these areas was! We all got into pairs and played ‘human horses’ (one person handles the rope and another holds the end to see how it feels to be the horse) and Amanda guided us through how to gently but clearly direct the horse when using the lead rope – what a revelation! Not least to experience how different it feels to the horse when we are using our stronger, then our weaker hand to manipulate their lead rope.
There was much discussion amongst the group and oodles of ‘light bulb’ moments. We were also joined by two equines who had mooched over our way – since many of us had treat pouches on in readiness for afternoon one to one sessions, this kept us on our toes!
After a warming lunch (much needed!) in which we were all buzzing with clicker chat, we began the afternoon’s individual clicker sessions.
I was there solely as a spectator in the second half of the day, but just because I didn’t have my own one to one session, I didn’t feel in any way not part of it. Others had brought their own horses with them, and some were borrowing horses kindly leant to us by the venue. During every session we were all involved, really feeling the emotions of the horses and people concerned!
Engaging in The Learning
There were a few horse and handler combos who had never done any clicker before, including one horse who suffered from awful separation anxiety. Her owner was concerned as to how she would cope with the all the comings and goings in the very busy yard that was our venue, but as soon as she had become engaged in the clicker process, the mare in question completely relaxed. Her owner was amazed!
All the horses that were having their ever first clicker session initially had a short go, one after another, at targeting (using their handler’s new found treat delivery skills) and it was interesting to watch the different characters of the horses coming through. What was most interesting though was that these horses were given a break whilst other sessions took place and then returned to at the end of the afternoon for more targeting practice. Without exception the horses had processed what they had learnt from the first sessions and were hugely more accomplished in terms of patience, control and understanding the second time around. It was as if they have been practicing!
Amongst the other sessions were a horse and handler that were further down the line and had their first go at equine pilates. Amanda showed the handler how to wait for the horse to tense a particular muscle and to click for it every time it happened. If I hadn’t have seen it myself I would not have believed just how quickly the horse got the hang of this! It’s really exciting to think about where this could lead – I can’t wait until my horse and I are ready to try it!
There was a horse and handler working on ‘3 – flip – 3’ – clicking for jaw releases – which produced some gorgeous poise in the horse. Also there was a student borrowing a horse from the yard, the latter being a particularly cautious and thinking creature. At first he was a little suspect of this new person in this stable and was moving the merest amount and engaging in the slightest way possible, almost as if fearful to do more. Amanda showed the handler how to ask the horse to join in a dance with her and with repeated targeting success, the horse suddenly came out of himself and came alive. It was wonderful to see!
When the day was over I don’t think any of us wanted to stop – the more the saw, the more we wanted to see. It was fabulous to have Amanda’s constant guidance – we really felt like we were in knowledgeable, capable and safe hands. As we went through the day all sorts of issues came up (as they do). However, there was nothing that Amanda didn’t have the tools or the creativity to deal with, plus the ability to share the answer with us all in a way that made it sound clear and simple and the problem surmountable – truly fantastic!!!