From Karen Willmus:
I've been clicking several of the same horses, now, since Alexandra Kurland first published her book Clicker Training for Your Horse about five years ago. I've used it on Arabs, Quarters, Andalusians, and ponies. Also used it on the cats and dogs. With the horses I piggyback the clicker to Parelli, Lyons, and Classic dressage-type principles. Some of my horses have daily training, and sometimes some go for months between training.
A couple of things that I've observed over time:
- Horses NEVER forget the sound of that clicker. Neither do they forget the principles behind volunteering behavior once they are started properly on clicker training. The really remarkable thing about this is, a lot of quality learning takes place over night in the pasture, or even days and weeks later. Sometimes, I'll barely introduce a concept to a horse one day, and then a couple of days try it again and he'll have it! Seems like he just needed time to process it by thinking it over.
- All of the horses went through a period of testing. (Nipping, pushing, or getting grabby.) The testing period went from five minutes to several training sessions, depending on the age and temperament of the horse. I use a variety of reactions to this "testing," (time outs or removal - doing it over a fence—using "horse language," etc.) In my opinion, displaying mildly obnoxious behavior is an expected part of the learning process—an exploration of the parameters of clicker training—and should quit quite quickly. (BTW the ponies and the two-year olds have been the most obnoxious.) I feel that once past the testing period, clicker trained horses are LESS likely to bite or nip than "normally" trained horses.
- The biggest benefit to clicker training is the positive attitude the horse develops and the willingness to work with you. That would seem like no big surprise, but in my mind, it really is a miracle. Every day since I started, ALL my horses are waiting for me at the gate the minute I see them. They come at a run when I call, out of a lush pasture nearly a 1/4 mile away. Doesn't matter whether I'm calling them for the farrier, the vet, or a long ride on a hot day—they're ready and willing to go. I can walk up to each and every one of them and they lower their head and butt their nose in the bridle. The only problems I have with some of them is putting them back in the corral. Sometimes, they don't want to quit and they seize up at the gate going back out to pasture. It's a problem I can live with!
- Through clicker training, I've taught all my horses, regardless of age, to stand still to trim and clip, to free lunge to arm and voice signals, to step over cavaletti and jump small jumps, to walk on hollow-sounding boards, to cross tarps and railroad tracks, and to load in the trailer. Of the horses I've clicker trained under saddle, I've never had one try to buck me off. Depending on age and character, again, we've had our days...but the problems I've encountered are short-lived because of the pure power of positive reinforcement.
- I wouldn't try to teach a horse any other way. Clicker training is so fun that I've completely lost interest in showing or breeding or competing in any way. To me, the real thrill is to start with a baby or a teenager who's initially afraid of me and develop this undescribable bond which happens when we clicker-train!
- Horse characters and personalities REALLY come out with clicker training. A clicker-trained animal is completely different from a non-clicker trained one—this includes other animals, too. A friend of mine who clicker trained two feral kittens frequently tells me that even now, when the cats are four years old, they do the nuttiest things and have far more character than their non-clicker housecat companions.
I hope this helps to encourage people who are just embarking on this voyage. A few of us have been traveling this road, now, for quite some time, and for one thank the Lord for bringing me this knowledge. Keep trying until you learn it—you won't regret it.