By Alexandra Kurland, 3 Oct 12
“I saw the posts on the forum today with questions about mouthy horses. Let me go through the initial protocols for getting started with the clicker. That may help address some of the issues written about in the post about mouthy horses.
Here’s the basic prep:
1.) Count out twenty treats. If you are using carrots, count out twenty carrot slices. If you are using pelleted grain, count out twenty pellets. Hold them in your hand. Get a feel for how heavy twenty treats are, how much volume they take up. Depending upon the size of your treats, you’ll be feeding one to two or three treats at a time. So you have ten plus or minus trials before you’ are going to run out of treats. That limits the amount of training you can do before you have to take a break to refill your pockets.
2.) You’re going to begin with protective contact. That means there will be a barrier between you and your horse. Stalls with a stall guard are ideal, but you can also work over a paddock fence (as long as it is not electric.) The important thing is you want your horse to be free to interact with you – or not. And you want to be safe. If your horse gets excited or pushy, you can step safely back out of reach of your horse. That means you don’t need to correct your horse for unwanted behavior. Your horse is free to experiment. A bit of mugging in the initial steps is actually desirable. Your horse will nudge your pockets, get nothing, and discover that this is not what gains him treats. Moving away from your pockets is the behavior that works.
3.) There are six foundation lessons: targeting, head lowering, backing, “the grown-ups are talking, please don’t interrupt” (in other words, take your nose away from the handler’s pockets), “happy faces” (ears forward), and stand on a mat. You’re going to begin with basic targeting. You’ll be using this to introduce your horse to the clicker. You’ll also be using your initial targeting session to asses your horse and decide how best to proceed with the training.
4.) Have your target, your treats, and your clicker ready before you go to your horse. Be prepared so you don’t confuse your horse or miss an opportunity to reinforce your horse.
5.) Review the lesson with a “dress rehearsal”. Before you go to your horse practice presenting the target, clicking and getting the food out of your treat pocket. Targets can be empty water bottles, small cones, lids off of supplement containers – anything that is easy to handle and horse safe. You’ll have the target in one hand, the clicker in the other. I don’t hold the clicker in the same hand that I hold the target because I don’t want to click the clicker close to the horse’s skull. I generally begin with the actual clicker. I think horses notice the sound sooner and begin to understand its significance when you begin with the clicker. Within a couple of sessions I’ll switch to a tongue click so I have my hands free.
Smooth, prompt, efficient food delivery is important. There should be no movement to your treat pockets before you click. You’ll click, then you’ll take the target down out of sight as you reach into your pocket to get the treat. Not all pockets are equal. So use your dress rehearsal to make sure you can easily get in and out of your pockets. I like to use a vest for my treats. Other people prefer pouches. As long as you can easily get your treats out, either choice is a good one.
You don’t want to be quick in your treat delivery. But you do want to be prompt. What does this mean? As soon as you click, you want to begin your treat delivery process. There should be no hesitation after the click. But you don’t want to race to get the food out of your pocket and to your horse. You’ll control the pace of the lesson and your horse’s energy level, by controlling the pace of your food delivery.