Clicker Training Horses – Bank Accounts and Relationships

Bank Accounts and Relationships

We all know that our horses make dents in our bank accounts.  No matter how much we try to cut back on what we spend on our horses, they are expensive to keep.

Our relationship with our horses is like a bank account.  We can make withdrawals and we can make deposits.  The aim is to have the balance very healthily in the black (in credit).

Instead of the currency being money for this bank account, it is ‘trust’.  We can build up trust by doing things our horses think are fun, by using positive reinforcement to train them and listening to their body language to have a conversation.  These are all deposits in to the ‘trust’ bank account.

A deposit for a job well done

A deposit in to the 'trust' account

However, there are times when we have to say to our horses “you really have to do this for me”.  they might not like it but we have to insist they do it.  Things that spring to mind are vet visits for less than pleasant treatments, for some horses it’s the farrier/trimmer, maybe even the dentist or getting in to the trailer.  Each time we have to ask our horses to do something that they really don’t like, or even if we accidentally mis-handle them, then we make a withdrawal from the ‘trust’ bank account.

It’s important that we are aware when we are making deposits and withdrawals so that we can keep tabs on how much credit we have left.  With horses who have been abused and struggle to be around humans, their ‘trust’ bank account is heavily overdrawn and a huge amount of debt has to be paid off before they can trust another human.

For horses who have a wonderful relationship with their handler, the account will be hugely in credit and you can make a fairly big withdrawal without making too much of a dent in the remaining balance.  We need to know the balance before we start to work with our horses each day.

Not only do we need to know when we are making a deposit or a withdrawal, we need to know how much it is for.  If we are making small deposits and one day take one huge withdrawal out then we can very quickly find ourselves in the red.  If we are making big deposits then we can be safe with the knowledge that we can make larger withdrawals (e.g. if a horse has long-term illness, abscesses that need regular cleaning or other unpleasant/painful procedures regularly) without denting the balance too much.

If we are making small deposits and small withdrawals then the balance on the account will never change.  What I am sure we all strive for is the balance to be as high as we can possibly imagine.  So we need to make sure we are making substantial deposits and not taking too much back out.

There is another scenario…how about making deposits at the same time as making withdrawals !  If we can clicker train our horses to cooperate with us for the less pleasant things that we have to ask of them (how many people have to trick or force their horse to take wormer paste) then we can keep the balance steady even when we have to make a withdrawal.

This raises a very key point to keep in mind when we are teaching our horses to cooperate with us for things they don’t like…..just because we are training with positive reinforcement does not automatically mean the horse is having a positive experience.


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