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Quick Start Guide to Clicker Training - Page 5

Putting The Steps into Actions


You're ready for your first clicker training session with your horse. You know what you want to teach, and you've got yourself organized. That's important. You don't want to offer your horse a target to touch, and suddenly realize that you've left your clicker in the house, or your treats are still in the tack room. That's a sure way to frustrate an eager student. So the first steps before you begin any training session are to collect your thoughts, your clicker, and your treats. Now you're ready for some fun!


Here's an easy step-by-step checklist to follow to help you with your first clicker training lesson:

* For safety put your horse in a stall with a stall guard across the door. If a stall isn't available, use a small paddock.


* Hold a cone or some other small object up in front of your horse. Horses tend to be curious about such things. Your horse will probably sniff the cone.


* The instant he touches it, click, and give him a treat. Take the target down out of sight. Reach into your pocket and hand your horse his treat.


* As soon as he's taken the food from you, hold the target back up for him to touch. Make sure it is within easy reach so he can be successful.


* If he tries to mug your pockets, step back out of range, but continue to hold the target out where he's likely to touch it.


* When he does, click and reinforce him.

Remember the order in which events occur. The click is the bridge between the behavior you like and the reward. Be certain to click BEFORE you reach into your pocket for the treat. Reaching for the treat too soon dilutes the power of the clicker. If you are in too much of a hurry to get to the treat, the "click" becomes the premature movement of your hand, not the sound of the clicker. 

When the horse touches the target, click! The click is a cue.  It tells your horse that a treat is coming.  It also cues YOU to go into your treat delivery.  The click cues you to begin delivering a treat.


Since the click is a cue it is ALWAYS followed by reinforcement.  So it's get the behavior you like, click!, reinforce.

Take the target down as you reach into your pocket to get a treat.

Note how I deliver the treat well out away from my body. The mantra is: feed where the perfect horse would be.  In this case I am presenting the food approximately where the target was.

As soon as the horse has taken his treat, begin another cycle.  Hold the target back up so he has another opportunity to figure out how this game works.

Clicker training is great fun. This Quick Start Guide is intended to give you a general overview of clicker training. To continue on my books, DVDs, on-line course, blog, and many articles in this web site provide a one-stop shop for clicker training. Have fun!

Mouthy Horses and Hand Feeding


Your horse may start mugging your hands as soon as he realizes that food is involved. Keep yourself safe, but let your horse explore. This is the reason why we start with the horse in a stall. We want him to be free to experiment: to discover what works and what doesn't. If your horse gets too pushy, just step back out of range. He's going to discover that nudging your pockets never earns him treats, but bumping the target does. That's his first step towards becoming a clicker-wise horse.


When you feed your horse, be certain to control the food delivery. Do not offer him the treat in close to you body. That will only encourage more mugging. Instead keep your hand closed over the treat until you've extended your arm out away from your body.

Note: These photos come from videos that were taken at one of my clinics.  This horse was new to clicker training. Over the course of the clinic, we videoed all of his training sessions.  You can read a full report of his introduction to clicker training at my blog:  Look for the November 2015 posts

Keep yourself safe, but let your horse explore.

Feed out away from your body.

If your horse is already mouthy, you may be worried that all this hand feeding will only make him worse. That's what many of us have been taught. We've been warned over and over again never to hand feed our horses. Hand feeding, we've been told, turns horses into biters.

Training Tip


The clicker is a gate keeper. It creates rules around the food so we can use treats in training. Take your time to establish these rules well. That's what turns a pushy, in-your-face horse into a polite student.

The clicker negates this concern. It tells the horse when he can expect food, and when he can't. If you click, that means a treat is coming. In the absence of a click, the horse can nuzzle your pockets all he wants, but you aren't going to feed him. If he wants the treat, he's going to have to learn polite manners. Rather than making horses more mouthy, the clicker can actually eliminate this behavior. Reinforce what you want, and that's what you'll get more of.

Clicker Fundamentals


Safety should always be the number one concern of ANY training system, both for us and for our horses. For this reason I build six behaviors into the foundation of every clicker-trained horse I work with. I usually begin with targeting because targeting is a simple way to teach the horse what the clicker means.

Most horses have never encountered targeting before so it is a clean slate.  I think of it as data collecting.  I can learn a lot about a horse through this simple lesson.  What I learn tells me what to work on next as I continue to introduce the horse to clicker training.

Training Tip


Just as a house depends upon the strength of its foundation, so to does a horse. Take your time establishing these early lessons. They are the building blocks for the rest of your training.

The six foundation lessons of clicker training.  These lessons are not taught in a linear order.  They are instead a cluster of lessons that help you and your horse understand the basics of clicker training.  Taught together they help teach polite manners, and they give you the building blocks for teaching advanced performance.

The foundation lessons create wonderful ground manners and give you the building blocks for moving on in your training.

Clicker Solutions


So what can you do with clicker training?

What do you want to do? That's the real question.  You've already seen that clicker training teaches great ground manners.  Here are a few other suggestions to inspire your own clicker adventures.

Training Tip


With clicker training there are no limits. If you can dream it, you can train it!!


Clicker Training turns the ordinary into the EXTRAORDINARY!!

Learning piaffe

This mini is a guide for her blind handler. You can read about her training in the Panda reports.

This is Crackers, one of our early clicker pioneers. The tricks were fun to teach, but that was just the beginning. For years his person took him to visit nursing homes to entertain the residents with his many tricks.  He was much loved by many hundreds of people.

Trick training

Riding that is fun for both horse and handler

Balance is central to everything I teach with the clicker.  It opens the door to beautiful performance and even more important it helps horses stay sound through all the decades of their lives.  Good balance is the key to great training.  Good balance is taught through clicker training. They are twined together supporting one another to create beautiful horses, beautiful relationships.

Beautiful balance is a hallmark of clicker training.

This is the last page in this Quick Start Training Guide.  Please remember this is not intended as a comprehensive introduction.  For more detailed instructions I'll refer you to my on-line course and my books and DVD lesson series.   Click here to visit the Clicker Store. 

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