First Step: The clicker trainers begin by teaching a horse the principles and philosophies of positive clicker training. Through fun games and exercises a horse soon learns the relationship between the marker signal and the “thank-you” reward. Because clicker training is consistent and depends upon the horse as a willing participant, it’s a great opportunity to help re-build or create bonds with nervous or distrustful horses.
It is very important to match the training pace with the horse’s rhythm at this point. Because patience is key, the training sessions are tailored to the horse’s energy level and desire to learn.
Every horse is an individual, so the initial games and exercises are a wonderful way to assess the strengths of a horse and also see where the trainers can help out with any confusion.
Next Step: Once the horse understands the principles of clicker training and knows the ground rules of good, safe behavior around humans, the trainers then address the more individual needs of the horse. Some horses, for example, might have difficulty with foot handling. They’re asked to relax and take part (by allowing humans to hold their leg up) in this vital element of their own care. Other horses might need some guidance on how to stand still at a mounting block or how to enter or exit a trailer.
The more experience a horse has with clicker training, the more relaxed and trusting they become. In fact, many issues tend to disappear as we continue training just because they were based on general fear or mistrust. A horse who was hard to catch, for example, will soon begin to approach the trainers. This is because clicker trainers now represent clarity, fun, and games. So, these types of issues begin to take care of themselves.
As you can see, there’s no problem with a long “laundry list.” In fact, every issue is an opportunity to help horses relax and see how fun humans can be.
Third Step: When a horse understands and is able to perform what is needed from him/her on the ground, it’s time to advance to the next step: preparation for riding.
It’s helpful to start from scratch with every horse – even if they’ve been ridden for multiple years. With horses who have been ridden in the past, the trainers will assess how they learned (or were forced) to carry a person. Many horses have been discouraged from developing the proper muscles needed to carry the weight of a human. For more information, visit Saddle Training.