equine clicker training

using precision and positive reinforcement to teach horses and people

Thank you, Mr. Rogers

This was originally posted on March 29, 2003 on the clickryder list, which was a very active yahoo list for people who were using clicker training with horses.


This morning, I was sitting reading the newspaper this morning and there was an editorial about Mr. Rogers.  As most of you probably know, Mr. Rogers died recently and there have been a lot of tributes to him for his work on children’s television.  I have fond memories of watching him as a child and my children have watched him some too. 

The writer of the editorial was complaining that she was tired of all the talk about who would replace him, not on television, but as someone who we could look to for guidance. Someone who could teach us to how to be kind and gentle. She was upset because Mr. Rogers’ whole message had been that each one of us is special, and each one of us is capable of being kind and gentle. He wasn’t just telling his audience to appreciate people who were kind and gentle, but that we all had the ability to be that way.

So, what does this have to do with clicker training? Well, at my last clicker clinic with Alexandra Kurland, she asked the attendees to come up with some thoughts on clicker training to share with people she met at Equine Affair. She was looking for ways of explaining clicker training to people who inquired about it. She had plenty of ideas for ways to explain the science behind it, how to do it, and what you could do with it. What she was looking for were ways to explain how special and different clicker training truly is. 

We threw around a lot of great ideas about improved communication, motivating the horse, teaching horses how to learn, building relationships, thinking in positives, and improving our own training skills. I could make a long list of similar benefits and they are all wonderful and worthwhile things.

But as I read the editorial, I found myself thinking about the bigger picture. What did clicker training mean to me as a person? How had it changed me? What had it taught me?

What I realized was that clicker training has been about the power of an average person to change a horse’s life. I don’t mean just by being kind and nice to the horse, although that is part of it. I mean that clicker training empowers us. It shows us that each and every one of us is special and capable and has the ability to teach our horses. We don’t have to rely on finding a qualified professional to train our horses. With clicker training, we can take our time and break things down into little pieces and build things at our own speed. That doesn’t mean we might not need guidance from other horse professionals, but I think it gives us the confidence to say “yes, I can do that.”  It gives us the freedom to work at our own speed and in our own way to achieve a desired result.

And, speaking of everyone being special, I think this applies to the horses too. Years ago, I remember reading an article by Alex and she said something I have always remembered.  I can’t quote it directly but she said that everyone dreams of finding that special horse. With clicker training, your dream horse could be the horse that is already in your backyard. 

If I think of all the stories on this list, I think many of us can agree with that. I read every day about horses who have an owner who loves them enough to chip away at whatever problems they encounter. Owners who find the special horse inside.  I also read about owners who had an “unexceptional” horse, and found that he or she blossomed with clicker training into the kind of horse they never could have imagined.

Well, I think I might be getting too sentimental here, and I’m sure you all get the idea, so I’m off to hug my special horses and go to bed.


image by Pemberley Pond