How to Teach a Horse Clicker Training Basics
- 1). Prepare. Have your clicker, your treat bag and your carrots (or other similar treat) in hand. One of the best starting places is the barn. Have your horse in his stall, you on the outside. (This can also be done over the fence of the turnout.) Show him the treat bag and the clicker, but don't let him have a reward. You need to make sure he associates the sound of the clicker with the reward. As you're standing there, click and reward. Click and reward. Click and reward. Make sure to click before handing out the treat. He should start looking for the sound first, instead of the reward.
- 2). Continue until he has put the two together. Once he's associated the click with the treat, there's a very real possibility that you've created a treat monster. That's perfectly fine; that leads right into the next lesson. A horse that mugs for treats can be dangerous, so you're going to have to lay out some ground rules for clicker training.
- 3). Now, you can make her work for her reward. If your horse stretches out over the stall door, step back. Don't click and reward for this kind of behavior. As soon as your horse looks away, stops straining or backs up, click and reward. She'll probably go back to reaching for the treats; step back. Repeat the process. Every time she stops reaching, click and reward. It may take some time, but you'll soon have a horse that will stand without mugging you.
- 4). Teach your horse to target an object. The object can be anything, as long as your horse can see it and touch it with his nose. Choose a cue word. It can be anything; we'll use "target." Hold up the object; horses are naturally curious, and when he touches it, say "Target!" click and reward. Make sure you speak and click as soon as he touches it. That is the behavior you want him to learn as being correct. Move the target around: high, low, behind you, near his chest. Once he figures out he can touch the target and get a reward, you'll have him targeting like a fiend.
- 5). Teach your horse to back up. This is crucial; not only is it sometimes an essential safety factor, but it's a great way to get her attention focused back on you, instead of the distractions around her. Choose your cue word; we'll use "back." Stand to the right of your horse, stepping to her chest. Pressure is a wonderful teaching tool; press your hand to her chest. As soon as she takes even one step back, release the pressure, say "back!" click and reward. Repeat the process. Each time, make her back up a little farther. Once she has associated the pressure, the word, the action and the click/treat, eliminate the pressure. She should begin to back up at the cue word, which is what you want. Click and treat!
- 6). Move the lesson. Eventually, you're going to be in all kinds of settings and teaching your horse all kinds of things, so it's best to start early. Choose somewhere secure, like a small turnout or round pen. This can have a dual purpose. If the new area is somewhere familiar, you should have no problem continuing clicker reinforcement and building her confidence. If the new area is somewhere unfamiliar and a little scary, clicker training is a great way to get your horse to focus on something good and familiar (you and the treat bag), instead of the scary monsters that are going to eat her. Begin in the new area with standing still; it's something she should already know by now.
- 7). End each lesson on a good note. This will not only be a great way to reward a day's learning, but it'll help reinforce just how much fun the clicker game is. Save an apple, a whole handful of carrots or a peppermint for the end. With the last click, give him the extra big reward and shower him with praise. He'll be eager to play next time.