Clicker Training

Just because Bravo has been riding the bench lately recovering from all the things doesn’t mean that the training has stopped. I decided to add some R+ to his training repertoire. I bought a book and a clicker and we were on our way. Bravo has responded really well to the training so far, especially when it comes to picking up his feet. He was clearly taught this before I got him but he wasn’t very good for it. He’d inexplicably lift the opposite foot you were asking for or get very impatient and snatch his foot away in the front and he was never great with the hinds. He would often refuse to lift the hinds or threaten kicking once you were holding them. With the introduction of the clicker, the only remaining trouble he has with feet is still some impatience especially if I am painting on durasole or treating thrush.

I have started to use the clicker for other things now, too. I have him back up several steps every time I am out there as a way of strengthening his back and reinforcing some submission and building trust. Since adding in the clicker and treats for every “set” of backing he has been much more willing and I have been able to ask him to keep better posture while performing the exercise, too. I free lunge him often for short sessions in the round pen and I am in the process of teaching him to go long and low with the clicker. After creating a positive association with the clicker while grooming and for backing, I simply asked him to move out in the round pen and every time he stretched his neck out and down, I would click. It didn’t matter to me if he did it to sniff the sand or was clearing his nose- he got a click. After a while he started volunteering to stretch out and even trying to stay long and low while moving. He’s currently best with it at the trot and I try to discourage him from getting too heavy on the forehand or truly peanut rolling.

 

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I want to keep adding things to work on with the clicker. Jen suggested I take a cue from JenJ and try the clicker for desensitization. I think that’s a fabulous idea and would help with everything from our hoof care issues to new equipment, and I can even see some targeting of oral syringes in our future!

It’s not like every session or every part of every session has to be about doling out treats but I like how interested he is in it and how well it seems to be working for both of us. He seems less frustrated learning new things and since he’s a young and curious boy, he stays engaged with trying to answer my questions and will throw out things to get the right answers.

I like to use the following treats because the size seems right, he likes them, I can fit a bunch of them in my pocket, and they aren’t too high sugar. I may start to experiment with some grain or rice bran pellets, too, but for now these are working well.

 

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I was worried it might have the potential to make him even mouthier than he is but I have found that it actually seems to reduce that urge to nose or snatch at my pocket. Almost like he is comforted knowing that whenever I have the clicker out, he will get snacks whenever he gets the answer right. It builds a positive form of anticipation. I watched a video presentation online on the theory behind R+ training and its results as measured by dopamine levels. It was totally fascinating and I am fully bought in.

Earlier this year, I taught my old lease horse, Harley, how to kiss using positive reinforcement. Possibly ill-advised….but pretty much adorable. “No ragrets”

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For now I’ll keep clicker training for groundwork only. Many people have used R+ while mounted but what little training he has had in the past has been with negative reinforcement and maybe we can keep these on two distinct paths so he doesn’t get confused so I don’t get confused.

Have you used positive reinforcement training to teach your horse a particular skill? Have you encountered any downsides?

 

 

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