Here’s the next installment of the article “Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers”
Part 4: Clicker trainers see every horse as an individual.
1.) Clicker trainers, regardless of the species they are working with, love their animals.
2.) Clicker trainers focus on what they want, not the unwanted behavior.
3.) Clicker trainers are creative.
4.) Clicker trainers see every horse as an individual.
If WHAT we choose to click matters, then just as important is WHO we click. Clicker trainers know that they need to structure their training to meet the learning needs of each individual horse. It helps to pick a horse who is a match with your own training style. If you enjoy easy, pick easy. Easy horses give you time to think. They are forgiving and will fill in for you if you make a handling error. If you want a challenge, consider well what you are getting yourself into. Are you up for the emotional roller coaster ride this horse will take you on?
At a recent clinic one of the participants had several mustangs. Her oldest is a 13 year old stallion who was “gathered” when he was five. When he was captured, there was a miscommunication between the company who caught him and the company who were supposed to transport him. His herd was left behind in the holding pens for two weeks with little food or water. Many of the horses died. He was one of the few survivors. He was passed around from one horse rescue to another before my client finally adopted him as an essentially untouched and rightfully fearful ten year old. To say that he was complicated would be the understatement of the year. He is a deeply troubled, emotionally damaged horse. You can’t start with him at the same point where most other horses begin. He forces you to be creative, patient and above all persistent.
His new person is more than up for the challenge. She’s an experienced clicker trainer with a broad understanding of learning theory. She’s both creative and persistent. And she has other horses which gives her a better understanding of this horse’s unique learning challenges. Difficult horses take you on a journey of discovery. If you find yourself with one of these horses already living in your barn, you are in for quite an adventure. They are the best teacher you will ever have! If you’re still looking for the perfect equine partner, consider well what sort of emotional journey you want to go on.
One of the best ways to get a quick insight into the type of horse you’re taking on is to do a round or two of basic targeting. If this is a horse who has not yet encountered clicker training, you’ll learn a lot. Is he curious? Does he catch on fast? Is he more interested in the game and the social attention, or is it the food he’s fixated on? Is he the timid one who sees the target and plasters himself in the back corner of his paddock? Or is he the pushy one who touches the target and then demands more, NOW, FASTER!! Does he grab the treat and then instantly bump the target, or does he chew his carrot slice with slow deliberation while he thinks over the situation?
Which horse would open your heart? Which one would drive you crazy, or overwhelm your skills? Simple targeting can give you great insights into the kind of training project you’re about to take on. And if this is a horse who has already taken up residence both in your barn and in your heart, it will tell you how many proverbial cups of tea you’re likely to be drinking while you figure out the best way into his heart!