Here’s the next installment of the article: Ten Characteristics of Good Clicker Trainers Part 5
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.
5.) Clicker Trainers love detail.
When I am working with horses like the mustang I described in the previous section, or a stallion who has become angry because of aggressive handling, one of the mantras that I keep repeating is “it’s not your fault.” When I slide up the lead to ask a troubled stallion to take a step back out of my space, I want to take all the make-it-happen force out of my body. He should feel only a quiet asking, not a command. Reminding myself that there are reasons for a horse’s anger and mistrust helps me to be non-reactive. When you are working with emotionally complex horses, you need to pay incredible attention to detail.
The expression, “It’s not your fault”, comes from the book “A Long Way Gone” by Ismael Beah. Beah was a child soldier in Sierra Leone. He didn’t just witness the atrocities of war. He committed them. When he was pulled out of the army and sent to a rehab center, he and the other child soldiers at the facility would lash out at their caregivers. The adults never retaliated by punishing the behavior. Instead they would remain non-reactive and repeat over and over to the boys: “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.” At first this enraged Ismael even more. How could it not be his fault – he had done terrible things. But gradually their kindness broke through to him, and he was able to move on from his nightmare years as a child soldier.
This part of his story reminded me so of some of the horses I encounter. They have so much rage inside them, so much to say about how they have been treated. I don’t want to suppress that rage through the use of punishment. Instead I remind myself that it is not their fault. I am not ignoring their terrible behavior. Instead I remain as non-reactive to it as I can. In clicker training we begin by managing the environment well, so we do not have to manage behavior through force and intimidation. That means we have to become very good with the details of training.
When I first started teaching clicker training, the instructions I gave to people were pretty simple. Horse by horse I learned that more was needed. One of the participant in my new on-line course recently wrote: “Its subtleties like this that I had no ideas about before this course and when watching the video on finding your balance point I thought, ‘yeah, but what does it have to do with training?! I very soon found out! It definitely makes a big difference to my sensitive horse.”
With a straight-forward, easy-going horse you can get by with simple. But the emotionally complex horses tell us that details matter. If you take on one of these horses, be prepared for a steep learning curve. They will stretch the boundaries of what you think you know about training. They are incredible teachers, and they can wind themselves into your heart like no other horse. If you stay the course, you will end up with a relationship that has no measure. You will also gain a deep understanding of, and appreciation for the details of training.