What can you do with clicker training? Sometimes we are limited by traditional thinking or just need some new ideas. In this A to Z series, I’ll be sharing ideas for things to train. I’ve trained some, but not all of them, and will share links to resources for more information whenever possible. I hope this list inspires you and you can’t wait to go out and teach some new behaviors to your horses.
Horses often react to the smell or sensation of ointment, especially on an injured or sensitive area. You can use clicker training to teach your horse to remain still while you treat her.
Aurora cut her eye a few years ago and I was able to break the process down and reinforce her for small steps so that she was comfortable with me treating her. It helped that I had already taught her some body part targeting and she knew to bring her eye to my hand. I was able to start with that behavior and slowly raise the criteria until she would keep her eye next to my hand while I put ointment into it.
Articles on related topics:
- Body part targeting
- Aurora gets a bath: Some tips on how to train your horse for husbandry behaviors
- Teaching husbandry behaviors with clicker training: Tooth inspection.
AROUND the round pen
Teaching a horse to travel around the outside of a round pen is a great way to combine liberty work with protected contact. If you don’t have a round pen, you can make something suitable by using temporary fence or cones with “horizontal connectors.” Many people use this set-up for groundwork, but I also used it for riding when I was introducing my mare to ridden work on a circle. I had the round pen set up in the middle of my arena and I would use it to to practical circles or curved lines.
ASKING or ANSWERING Questions
This could be a simple party trick like teaching yes and no. I taught my TB gelding Willy to answer yes and no and my kids loved to come out to the barn and ask him questions. It didn’t really matter that they didn’t quite understand how to cue him. He quickly learned he would be reinforced for the “yes” and “no” behaviors I had taught him and it was fun to see what he would answer. I taught “yes” by capturing a head nod and “no” by tickling his ear and capturing the head shake.
It could be about structuring your training and finding opportunities for your horse to make choices or indicate preferences for when and how things are done. Here are some ideas for questions you could ask your horse…
- When are you ready to start?
- What behavior would you like to work on?
- Where would you like to go? Ring, yard, or the trail?
- Would you like me to get on? Get off?
Do you want to learn more about giving your horse choice and control? Check out my notes from the 2017 Art and Science of Animal Training Conference where the theme was Choice and Control. You can find links to the notes by looking in the Archives. You may also want to look for information on using startbutton behaviors (I’ll get to that when we get to S) and using control as a reinforcer. These are hot topics among animal trainers right now and there have been numerous blogs and articles on the subject.
This is not a specific behavior but a training strategy where you teach two separate behaviors and then ask the horse to combine them by cueing both behaviors at the same time. The horse can do one behavior immediately followed by the next behavior, or do them both at once. It’s a fun way to get some new behaviors and explore how well your horse understands your cues. It also makes it possible to build more advanced behaviors out of a few simple building blocks.
Here’s an example of combining two simple behaviors – a hand target (open hand) and a leg lift. I started by cueing each one separately and then asked her to do them both at the same time.
Is your horse an ARTIST?
Horses can learn to paint by holding a paintbrush in their mouths or by painting with their noses. There are a number of trainers who have taught their horses to paint. The first one I ever saw was Debra Olson Daniels (an artist herself) who taught her horse Magic to paint. I explored this a little bit with my TB gelding Willy and taught him to draw with markers.
Peggy Hogan has taken this to a new level with her mini McKee. Here are some of his pictures, complete with his own personal “signature.”
Would your horse like horse AGILITY?
Horse agility is a fun activity to do with your horse, whether you play at home or compete. It’s easy to use clicker training to teach your horse to go out and over obstacles as well as perform some of the more complicated patterns. I haven’t tried it myself but there are many good resources on how to do it. To get started, you may want to check out:
- The international horse agility club
- The Facebook group for equine clicker training obstacle work
- Hertha James’ blog. Hertha is a clicker trainer who teaches and writes about horse agility exercises.
If you have a suggestion for an addition to this page, would like to share a photo, or add a comment, please send me a message.
If you want to learn more about clicker training, check out my book, Teaching Horses with Positive Reinforcement, available from Amazon.