Several of my fellow bloggers are using clicker training with their horses. I bought clickers several times over the years and never followed through. I used a clicker with my Aussie when he was six weeks old and had him sitting, laying down, and rolling over. I am not sure why I didn’t stick with it. I think I just got busy with life. Now that I have Dickie clicker training seems like a necessity. He is easily bored and has a short attention span. I can’t ride him yet and the usual ground work (lunging, ground driving, etc) gets boring for him really quickly. He is also very big with a stubborn streak so trying to push this horse into anything is out of the question. Clicker training is the perfect option for an independent extrovert. I get to keep things exciting while teaching him things that will be helpful for his career as a riding horse.
I was a psychology major in college round one so I have some experience with operant conditioning. I took several classes on learning, behavior modification, and experimental psychology. In one of the classes we taught the rats how to complete a fairly complicated series of behaviors. With the in mind I feel pretty confident that we can figure it out. Dickie is really good at targeting objects but until recently I hadn't done much more than that. Last week we started shaking hands. This is great because he will pick up his feet and hold them up for me. Plus, it is really cute…..
One of Dickie’s weird quirks is that he hates it when you ask him to lower his poll. If you press on it he will start flipping his head and even rear up if he can’t get you to release the pressure. If it's his idea to lower his head you get lucky, if it's not his idea then watch out. He has gotten better about putting his head down for the halter but still doesn’t try to help much. And sometimes it is downright hard to get that rope halter tied because he goes into giraffe mode.
I decided that clicker training would be a great way to overcome this issue. I started with something he knows, shaking hands, so he knew was game we were playing. From there I put my hand on his poll. Immediately he started shaking his head and if I put pressure his head shot up. When he figured out that I was going to follow him everywhere he decided to rear and make himself too tall for my short little arms. When you are teaching a behavior you start with the behavior that is closest to your goal behavior. I went into it intending to start by clicking with any release to my pressure. I quickly figured out that the starting behavior was Dickie just standing still without tossing his head or rearing. He has a short attention span so we couldn’t work on it for long. The furthest we got was him allowing me to put pressure on his poll while keeping his head level with my shoulder. He didn’t want to give to pressure yet but letting me put pressure without panicking was a big step as small as it might sound to outsiders. During the next session I didn't have any of the crazy head flipping and he even lowered it a few times. Good boy!!
I am not sure why he has this weird reaction to having his poll touched from the side. He will let you touch his poll if you are in front of him just giving loves. He isn’t head shy. He lets you rub his face, poke in his ears, and play with his lips. I can reach into his sheath without his flinching. Even if he doesn’t like something he is pretty tolerant about it. He was handled kindly both at his breeders and at Pony Up. There is one month between those two homes where he was purchased to be a Mexican Dancing Horse. I did some reading on the training these horses go through and it isn’t pretty. Maybe something happened to him in that month that caused this behavior. Who knows. What I do know is that clicker training is an easy nonthreatening way to teach my tall goofball to make his head a little lower for his momma.
If you've ever thought about clicker training you should do it!! It is so fun and very easy. It's really great for those rainy days when you aren't up for a ride. This is kind of a fun website to give you an idea of how to get started: http://www.horsetricks101.com/