Clicker Training Horses – Hand Feeding Makes Horses Bite, and more myths

Hand Feeding Makes Horses Bite, and more myths

Hand Feeding Horses Makes Horses Bite

This is one of the reasons that many people use to dismiss clicker training as an option for their horse.  It is definitely a myth, at least when the handler understands how to teach their horse about clicker training.

When we introduce the clicker some horses just take it in their stride, others seem to think you have just turned in to a vending machine.  Either way, the second lesson we teach to the horses is called “The Grown Ups are Talking, Please Don’t interrupt“.  This lesson is about teaching the horses that although we now have food with us, they need to learn some emotional control around food and not mug us.

Why do some horses start to bite ?

What I see with biters is that there are lots of reasons; pain, fear, previous learning, and more.  And, yes, I do see some horses who learn to bite as a result of hand feeding.  But why do they bite and clicker trained horses don’t ?  The answer is that, not only do we actively teach the horses emotional control around food (and everything else), but we also learn good mechanics as to how to hand feed our horses.

Have you ever watched a child hand feed a horse for the first time ?  They will often put their hand up and then at the last-minute they get afraid and pull their hand away.  What sort of frustration must that cause in the horse !  I was about to get fed and then it got pulled away !  So the next time your hand goes up they might try to get the food a little faster, because it might only be on offer for a short period of time.  If they get faster their aim often is not so good so they have to grab at a larger area.  And so biters can be created.

I see lots of people hand feeding horses where their hand (with food in it) is a moving target and they are oblivious to that.  Clean up our mechanics of how we give horses treats and we are well on the way to having horses who are mannerly around food.

Clicker Training Is Bribery

This has to be the most common myth I hear.  when I had my horses in livery yards I was always hearing “when are you going to stop bribing that horse”.  It was never really put to me as a question, more of an instruction.  what they were not understanding was that I was not bribing my horse, I was reinforcing behaviours I liked.

What is Bribery ?

Bribery is where you use the reward/reinforcer to get the animal to perform the behaviour.  So the horse is following the food, is being lured, is only working to get the food that is in front of it.

Clicker training is not bribery, we are not luring the horse.  Instead we are teaching them how the behaviours are put together, we are teaching them the alphabet and words, then we can play around with sentences.  We are teaching them to problem solve.  By leading them to the right answer with food we would simply be giving them the right answer every time.  By teaching them the building blocks we teach them to problem solve and think for themselves.

Read more of my thoughts on clicker training versus bribery.

And a little more.

You Will Always Need Food to Train

When you start out with clicker training you click and treat frequently (keep the rate of reinforcement high).  So it looks like you will never stop feeding the horse.  If you find yourself in that situation then you need to think about building duration to the behaviours.

The common phrase is to ‘fade the clicker’.  I’m not so keen on this phrase as it seems like we are removing the thing that the horse is working to gain.  That feels negative to me.  Instead, the phrase I use is ‘ask for more behaviour to earn the click’.

The more behaviour we ask for (building this up step at a time as the horse understands each step) we can build up large chains or repertoires of behaviour.

Read more about the click AND treat.

The Horses are Only Interested in The Food

I’ve written about the really interesting research that has been done on the pleasure centers in the brain and how they activate during clicker training.  Here is the link to this post.

If you have heard other myths about clicker training and would like us to help dispel the myths send us a message below.


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One Response to Clicker Training Horses – Hand Feeding Makes Horses Bite, and more myths

  1. Lisa R says:

    Thanks for writing this great article in relation to hand-feeding and clicker training. It definitely can be used to dispel the myth that all horses that are hand-fed become biting, obnoxious animals, and that clicker training can’t be used because the horse is “too mouthy”

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