Monday, 19 March 2012

Clicker Training

I have had a day of behaviour lectures and practicals today and I really enjoyed it. I have always enjoyed behaviour so I was looking forward to it anyway but our lecturer was really good and we got to have a go at clicker training this afternoon.

The clicker training we were doing was more of a fun ground-work exercise to do with the horse. I am not sure how useful it would be when you are riding the horse to train it as it is relating it back to food.

What is clicker training?
The video below gives an introduction into clicker training!

The clicker is used as it can be used to mark the exact point of time when the horse performs a behaviour rather just giving them a treat a few seconds after. They are still given treats after they perform the behaviour, the clicker is used to mark the exact time of the behaviour and it becomes a reward as they associate the clicker with a treat.

Clicker training may be useful for helping horses load on to trailers as you can click at the exact moment they move a leg forwards so they know this is the correct behaviour.

What we did in our practical
We started off by getting into pairs with other people in my class, my partner then had to go to the other side of the arena. The lecturer told us we had to get them to perform a behaviour without speaking to them and using the clicker to get them to do it. It was a bit like playing the "hotter and colder" game where you tell people if they are getting closer to the right answer. We then had to get them to pick up a cone, put it on the side of the jump and put their hand on it whilst lifting their right leg! This was very difficult to do without speaking but was a really good practise. It made me think that a lot of the differences between teaching us and horses is due to the fact we can speak and they can't.

We then went to get the horses. We had a few different things to play with in the arena such as little cones, sand castle buckets, and big exercise balls. The horse my partner and I had was called Gordon and he was around 16.2 hh and was very alert and playful! He acted like a big pony! We quickly realised that Gordon had done clicker training before as every time my partner clicked the clicker he would look at her for a treat.  One thing that surprised me is that the horses remembered the clicker training even though they hadn't done it for around a year!

We started off by getting him to touch the cone with his nose, every time we did it we clicked the clicker and he received a treat. We then paired this with the command "touch". Sometimes he would get a bit carried away and lift the cone in his mouth and shake his head around (he didn't get a click and a reward for this).

Then we decided to teach him two different commands with the cones and he had to differentiate between the two. The first command was "touch", and the second was "pick" in which he had to pick up the cone. After a few times we realised he was pawing the ground a lot and he may have been taught the command "kick" in the past. We then changed the name of the command to "lift" and this seemed to work much better. Some of the other people in the class using the exercise balls were using the commands "touch" and "kick" so he may have done this in the past.

Gordon learnt this quite quickly. We had a line of cones and once he performed the behaviour we would move onto the next cone and start again. Towards the end we were staring to pair the verbal commands with visual signals. We started holding one hand up as the signal to touch the cone and he was just starting to do this at the end of the session.

The session lasted around 30-45 mins before the lecturer said we should stop or we would start losing their attention. We are  going to have another go at this next week and try swapping horses. Because Gordon was quite lively at first he was just starting to calm down a bit towards the end and was reacting better to the signals.

Have any of you tried clicker training? I want to go home and try it on Trooper now! It was a really fun exercise to do with your horse and helped me to realise how clever horses are!

Love Laura


~Allison said...

I use clicker training with Shy for tricks and ground work. It works wonders. I am not sure how to translate it into the saddle either, as you would have to stop, bend over, and treat. But I do phase out the clicker as Shy has mastered what I ask of her.

Judi said...

I click Cole train for everything--including riding. I find it awesome. I like how I can mark what I like and shape the quality of the movements we do. For example, I can ask for many whoas, but only click for the outstanding ones--that way, they all become outstanding. It isn't that bad giving him treats from the saddle--though sometimes I drop them..

Check out my blog to find the whole history of training Cole with a clicker.

Author of "Trail Training for the Horse and Rider" and "Trail Horse Adventures and Advice"

Miranda said...

Mommy does clicker training, well did. She now does it with her play mini. Mom always said good girl when doing it so that when I was riding and told her good girl she knew she had done it right then got treats at th end while untacking. I like to think it helped.

Mary Hunter said...

Clicker training works great for riding work, although you do have to sometimes be a bit creative.

Like anything else -- it is a tool. I use it when we are starting our horses under saddle and for teaching new behaviors -- once the horse gets how to do the behavior and learns the correct cue, I fade out the clicks and treats. It is especially important for our rescue horses to be able to work without clicks and treats, since most of them will be adopted to homes that do not practice clicker training. But, the clicker can still be a great tool for teaching things under saddle.

Here's a blog post I did a few weeks back that you might find interesting. This is a little mare who is learning how to go on trail rides on her own. We used clicker training to keep the experience positive. I know too many horses who don't like leaving the barn without their buddies! We also used clicker training to make "scary" objects along the rides into "fun" objects.



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