equine clicker training

using precision and positive reinforcement to teach horses and people

What Can I train? J is for …

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.

I’ll be adding to these posts over time when I have time and new material to share. In some cases, I have intentionally been brief because the topic cannot be covered appropriately in this format, but I wanted to mention it so you have more complete list of ideas for things to work on. If there is a topic that interests you, and you would like more information, let me know and I will consider writing a more detailed article on the subject.

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.


Contents: jambette, jingle a bell, jog, jump, jump rope


Jambette

The jambette is another name for extending and holding up the front leg, one of the building blocks for Spanish Walk. Most horses can learn to do a jambette but the shape (rounded vs. straight) and height will vary based on the horse’s conformation. It can be an excellent exercise to loosen the shoulders, but should be taught carefully so the horse does not hollow his back.

I’ve always taught it with targeting. With Willy, I taught him to target his hoof to a round supplement lid on the end of a dowel. With Rosie, I taught her to target her forearm and then her cannon bone to a whip. One thing I learned from training several horses was that it was important to click for contact with the target, not moving toward it. This makes it easier to control how high the horse places her leg and makes it clearer to the horse that the behavior is to touch the target, not just fling the leg around. Once the horse can touch the target easily, I can add a verbal cue and fade out or change the tactile cue. For the finished behavior, the cue I use is a light touch on the shoulder/base of the neck area combined with a verbal cue. Having two components to the cue makes it less likely that it will be confused with other similar cues or behaviors.

This is a behavior that should be taught with stimulus control from the very beginning. I always use a unique target and teach it in only one location. By doing this, I’ve never had the horse offer it off cue until later in the training when I am generalizing to new locations. By that time, an offered jambette is not as big an issue because it’s a controlled behavior and easy to interrupt if I don’t want it.

An additional note about the jambette is that it can reveal some interesting asymmetries in your horse. Most horses find it easier to lift the leg higher on one side and you may get a straighter jambette with one leg and a more rounded one on the other side. Rosie had an odd behavior where she would counterbalance the leg lift by swinging her head to the opposite side. It took me years to figure out if that was something I accidentally reinforced or if it was a physical issue. It turned out to be the latter and playing around with these kinds of exercises turned out to be good for her.

Jingle (a bell)

If you have taught your horse to target an object, you can teach him to jingle a set of sleigh bells. This behavior may sound like it’s just a fun trick, but it has some other benefits and practical applications. Jane Jackson, of Bookends Farm, taught her pony to ring a bell to indicate when she was done with breakfast and ready to go out. Jane made a video describing why and how she trained this behavior.

Another practical application is for noise sensitive horses. It turns out that if animals are taught that they can control when noise happens, they are less reactive to noise in general. At least that’s what Eva Bertilsson and Emilie Johnson Vegh of Carpe Momentum found with their dogs. They taught the dogs that noise predicted reinforcement and the dogs learned to love making noise. You can see an example of the training in this video clip.

Jingling a bell is just one kind of “noise making behavior” that you can train. I taught several of my horses to honk a bike horn – one of those that has a rubber bulb you squeeze. Buster, the mini, was very enthusiastic about it.

I have several friends who taught their horses to knock over objects and make noise and they felt it decreased their horses’ reactivity to unexpected sounds. When Aurora was young, I taught her to bite on a squeaky toy until it made noise. She became very good at it and I think she liked it because she got feedback from the toy as well as from me.

Jog (for the vet)

In the horse world, there are two meanings to the word “jog.” To western riders, it’s the gait between walk and lope. To english riders, especially those with an eventing background, it’s more likely to mean trotting for the vet. You can teach both with clicker training and I’ll talk about shaping the jog (or trot) when we get to the letter “T.”

Here, I’m going to share some tips on teaching your horse to trot next to you while on a lead, which is something that should be on every horse owner’s to-do list. If your horse is lame, it will make the vet’s job much easier if your horse already knows how to trot in a straight line toward and away from her. Trotting in a straight line is also part of grooming and showmanship classes and many breed inspections.

Jogging for the vet is not one behavior, but a combination of several behaviors and each of them must meet certain criteria. I teach the horse to do them from both sides. I want the horse to be able to:

  • Stand next to me until we are ready to go
  • Walk or trot off when asked. Trotting off promptly is important for flexion tests.
  • Stay in his own space and in position while I run and he trots – no cutting in front of me or lagging behind.
  • Travel in a straight line
  • Stop when asked

If your horse tends to be an energy conserver, the most challenging part of teaching him to jog may be getting him to pick up and maintain the trot. But most of the horses I’ve trained have had the opposite problem. Once they trot, they want to GO.

If your horse is likely to behave like this, then it’s a good idea to teach the horse to jog while you are on different sides of a barrier, what we call working from behind protected contact. You don’t need anything fancy, just a location where you can be on one side of a fence and the horse is on the other. If that’s not possible, then an easy way to discourage too much forward movement is to place a target or mat at a short distance and teach the horse that you are only trotting to that location. Once the horse has learned to trot a short distance and then stop, you can increase the distance and fade out the mat or target, if you wish. Another option is to teach the up transition (walk to trot), the down transition (trot to walk), and then add more trot steps in between.

I like to have the walk-trot transition under good stimulus control, right from the beginning. When I taught Aurora to jog for the vet, she was only a few years old and I had worked a lot on relaxed leading. I didn’t want her to start offering trot when I didn’t want it. To minimize the likelihood of this happening, I set up a specific pattern of cones and poles in the ring and I never asked her to trot unless we were working within that structure. Later, once she could trot calmly, I started removing the structure and generalized the behavior to other locations.

Jump

I’ve taught a few horses to jump using clicker training. The photo is my daughter’s pony Molly who came to us with no experience jumping (or with any ring work) and became quite a brave little jumper. I used a very traditional approach, starting with ground poles and building up to small jumps. This can be done under saddle or on the ground first.

When I taught Rosie to jump, I had her go from one target (or mat) to another and put the “jump” in between. The jump started as a single ground pole, then a series of ground poles, then a small jump. I never taught her to jump anything other than small crossrails, but I have met many people who have used clicker training to teach horses to jump different kinds of obstacles and to be more brave about jumping in general.

Clicker training has been used by some professionals, even those who typically use more traditional training methods, to solve specific jumping problems. Beezie Madden used clicker training to help the jumper Judgement get over his fear of water jumps. Shawna Karrasch was working with the Maddens at the time and she showed them how to retrain him to go over water jumps using positive reinforcement. It was so successful that he was able to go back to competing at the highest levels and did very well. You can read about Beezie and Judgement here.

Tips:

  • If your horse has been trained to stop as soon as he hears the click, you will not want to click over the jump. It’s just as effective to click after the horse lands or when he arrives at a target or mat.
  • If you do want to mark some aspect of the jump, then I suggest you teach the horse another marker that is paired with a different reinforcer or type of reinforcement delivery. Then you can use that marker over the jump without interrupting the behavior.

Jump rope (hold a)

This may seem like an odd one but a long time ago I saw Bob Viviano teaching his horse Crackers to hold one end of a jump rope while one friend held the other end and a second person did the jumping. It’s probably not that hard to teach if you have a horse that likes to hold things and you desensitize him to the movement of the rope and the person jumping. Whether or not the horse would enjoy it, I don’t know…

And then there’s this:


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.

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