What is Clicker Training – Part 4


Here’s the next installment of the “What is Clicker Training?” article.

Part 1 defined What clicker training is.
Part 2 looked at the basic procedures of clicker training.
Part 3 looks at reinforcers.
Part 4 asks WHAT we teach.

What Do We Teach?

What do we teach?: Horse Friendly Behaviors.  Clicker training is a very powerful teaching process.  That means we need to be ethical in how we use it.  For example, I can easily teach a horse to orient to a target for a click and a treat.  I can imagine how I could then teach that horse to track the target up until he was rearing up on his hind legs.  I could then teach him to stay up and to walk the length of my arena on his hind legs.  It’s easy to design the lesson plan for this, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should.  Having a horse walk upright on his hind legs certainly makes for a showy circus trick, but it does nothing for the long term soundness of that horse’s joints.

So what DO we teach with the clicker?

1.) Basic handling and husbandry skills such as leading, grooming, foot care and other health-related procedures.
2.) General good manners and emotional self control.
3.) Safe riding skills.
4.) Balance.
5.) Performance.
6.) Enrichment (This includes trick training and other fun activities that bring people and horses together.)

I know that clicker training can be used to teach a huge variety of behaviors.  No matter what your interests are: jumping, dressage, reining, endurance riding, horse agility, pleasure riding, etc. clicker training can help you achieve your performance goals.

Over the years I’ve made a huge effort to make clicker training as all inclusive as possible.  I don’t want to exclude someone who rides in a western saddle because they see me riding in a dressage saddle.  However, in that effort to be so very all inclusive I think the keys-to-the-kingdom core of clicker training is sometimes overlooked.  There are two words that describe what I think should be at the center of every training program and they are: GOOD BALANCE.

Too many times we see riding break horses down.  Most of us have seen horses who live with the chronic pain that can result from hard riding.  I’ve heard trainers state outright that riding damages horses.  They will tell you that if you ride, you are breaking your horse down.  That has NOT been my experience.  What I know is good riding can actually help horses stay sounder and be healthier.

My horses are family.  It’s important to me that they stay as comfortable and healthy in their bodies for as long as possible.  With the good nutrition and medical care we can now provide, horses are routinely living into their thirties.  So keeping our horse companions sound doesn’t mean for a year or two.  It means for decades.

So the core of clicker training is teaching good balance – mental, physical and emotional.  Tricks are fun.  Riding is fun.  But the core foundation is balance.  To be a complete clicker training program balance needs to be a key component.

What does this create? Most of think of leading as simply getting a horse from point A to point B, but when you teach work in-hand via the clicker leading becomes a dance.  Your equine partner answers you with a glorious on-pointe, floating-on-the-tips-of-your-fingers connection.  You communicate with one another through the tiniest change of weight or focus of thought.  This transfers directly to riding where the central focus on balance creates a free flow of power and joy.  If clicker training were just about teaching basic manners or fun tricks, it would be an interesting side bar to training.  But it is this feel-like-heaven ride and the story book relationship it creates that keeps us delving deeper and deeper into clicker training.

As one person put it: clicker training is like the Tardis from the Dr. Who science fiction series.  It is much bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside.

What we teach leads us back again to how we teach behaviors.  That’s coming soon in Part 5

Alexandra KurlandThe Click That Teaches

Visit http://www.smaarthorses.co.uk to find your
UK The Click That Teaches Approved Instructor

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