Alexandra Kurland has been training horses and teaching since the mid-1980s. In the early 1990s, after reading Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog, Alexandra headed out to the barn with a clicker and a pocket full of treats to see what her horse thought about clicker training. What Alexandra quickly discovered was that the clicker was an effective communication tool, a tool that horses not only understood, but responded to with great enthusiasm. Alexandra documented her experiences, and over time developed a systematic, very detailed program for clicker training horses. Her books, including Clicker Training for Your Horse, along with her video lesson series, The Click That Teaches, are designed to give horse owners an overall roadmap. Now, largely thanks to Alexandra, horse owners are putting away their whips and spurs and discovering what Alexandra had the foresight to discover decades ago—clicker training produces eager, happy horses and delighted handlers. We are thrilled that Alexandra Kurland will be sharing her knowledge and insights once again at ClickerExpo 2011, and appreciate that she has taken time to give us a glimpse of some of that wisdom today.
Clicker Training for Your Horse
You can also begin to incorporate the clicker into your horse's regular training. Indy, a six year old half arabian gelding came to me in June for training. He was a kind, beautifully-mannered horse. His owner/breeder had never had time to saddle-break him, so at six he had a lot of catching up to do. During the worst of the summer heat when the temperature was creeping towards 100 and neither of us wanted to work hard, I introduced him to the clicker. He was slow to catch on. It took three sessions before he finally got the connection between touching the cone and getting grain. After that there was no stopping him. He became an enthusiastic over-achiever. He needed only minutes to shift from touching one cone to touching a whole circle of cones. (Figs. 7a, 7b).
So how do you actually begin to teach this to a horse? I start by teaching a simple trick. My intent here is to condition the secondary reinforcer and to establish the link between behavior and reward. I'll worry about practical applications after he's learned how the game is played.
I like to start with something that's very simple and easy to understand. I'm going to teach the horse to touch his nose to an object. I've found this works really well in part because it is outside the horse's normal training program. It's so different from anything else he's been asked to do, he has to pay attention to figure me out.
It’s a sunny spring afternoon in New England at the annual meeting of a group of animal behaviorists. I’m sitting on a folding chair alongside a small corral, watching some demonstrations with horses. My friend Tim Sullivan, curator of behavioral husbandry at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, is sitting on my left.
We’re watching a demonstration of clicker training. A calm old police horse is led into the corral and turned loose. The trainer stands on our side of the fence. She has a clicker, a bucket of feed, and a huge target stick that looks like a toilet plunger, with a big padded lump on one end.