Bella and the Boys
Saturday, May 29, 2021
You Don't Need a Clicker to Clicker Train
How do you coordinate a clicker with a lead rope or reins? You don't have to.
In the beginning, it is a good idea to start with a clicker because of it's distinct, consistent sound. But once your horse knows it well, just move to a tongue click. You only need to make it a distinct, consistent sound like a clicker. Kevin has a really strange sound that is more like a turkey gobble, but Starry knows exactly what it means. He also knows what our clicks mean, too.
Ellen, Shari and I just use a one syllable click. I use it with my dog, Maggie, too. The only one that gets a real clicker is my cat, Thunder, so that he doesn't think every time Maggie gets a click that he is going to get a treat. Unfortunately, Maggie thinks every time I click Thunder, she should get a treat. I make her sit still and stay out of the way when Thunder is doing his tricks--so she earns her click, too.
So don't let the awkwardness of carrying a using a clicker get in your way.
Friday, May 28, 2021
Clicker Training Makes Horses Think
Only someone who has used clicker training extensively would believe how it changes the way that horses, (and I am sure all animals) interact with people. In fact, it really seems like they start to think about the training and engage their brains much more than traditional training. They become very engaged students.
Imagine if every day you went to work, your boss tried to teach your job by putting pressure on you, and you had to guess what he wanted--and that would be the only way to get him to remove the pressure. He didn't explain it to you in your language, because he didn't know your language--instead he would push, poke and squeeze you some way or another. If you didn't figure it out--he would just do it harder.
Even assuming that the person did this in the kindest way possible, how would you feel every day when you went to work?
Now imagine if your boss had a method that, though there might still be some pushing, prodding and squeezing (but gentler)--you not only knew when you got it right--but you got a treat!!! How about M&M's? That would sure be motivating. Why didn't they train me that way for my job of 30 years. I am sure I would have liked it much more.
At our old barn, when I took Cole out of his stall to go in the park we turned one way, and when we went to ride in the arena, we turned the other. He always came out of his stall with a lot of enthusiasm, but when we went towards the arena, he became very animated. He loves training days.
When I teach Cole something new or try to improve something old, he tries so hard to figure out what I want. Sometimes he will try things that I don't expect, too. If I don't want that behavior, I will just ignore it and ask again--then he will try something new. He is an active participant in our project. He doesn't get M&Ms, but it is amazing what he will do for a tiny piece of carrot.
Having a horse that thinks about what we are doing can sometimes be different than what a lot of people are used to. It builds an independent quality in our horses. They don't just do what they are told. Ellen trained Dante to touch scary objects so he wouldn't be afraid of them. Now, when he sees something that looks scary, he wants to go and touch it--which is certainly better than being afraid of it!
All of Cole's tricks are things that he came up with on his own, and I just reinforce them with clicks.
I like having a horse that wants to achieve the same goal that I do. Cole wants that click just as much as I want to give him the click, and he will use his brain to figure out how to get it. We are a team, and it is a great feeling.
Thursday, May 27, 2021
What is Clicker Training?
It's no secret that I am a avid clicker trainer. I trained Cole with clicker from the start. I learned how to do it by teaching Thunder to go into, over around and through obstacles, and it saved my relationship with my dog, Maggie. I don't think we would have made it without clicker training. It was the only thing that got through to her.
Clicker training is a way to use positive reinforcement to train our animals. The clicker marks the desired behavior and tells the horse he will get a treat for that behavior. This helps with our timing, and that is why I think it is so helpful. If you just try to give a horse treats for doing a behavior, depending on the behavior, it can be hard to be precise.
For example, I used clicker training to teach Cole to side pass. I asked Cole to step sideways with my legs and weight. He didn't know what I meant, but eventually he took a step sideways. I immediately clicked him while he was taking the step. He then stopped, I leaned over and gave him his treat.
Without the clicker, his next step might have been forward, backwards or maybe he wouldn't have taken another step. If I gave him a treat for any of those things, he wouldn't have known that it was the sideways step I wanted. I could have stopped him after the first step, but then he may have thought that the treat was for stopping. Poor Cole would have been confused, and it would have taken us longer to sort it out.
Of course, I could have said, "Good boy," but I say that all the time. It doesn't have the power of a click that is paired in his mind with a treat.
He got good at taking one step on command. One day, I didn't click him for it, and he was puzzled. Since he is a brilliant horse, he soon guessed that he might get a treat if he took another sideways step, and he did.
Now all of this could have been done the standard way of training with negative reinforcement. I could have put pressure on his side, and when he stepped--I would release the pressure. Most people do teach their horses this way, and it works, but I doubt if their horses will perform lateral moves with the joy that Cole does. He just loves to do laterals! We will do sidepass, turn on the haunches, leg yields--just for the fun of it. Sometimes we even do it for practical reasons like moving out of the way on the trail for someone to pass us.
And that is why I really like to train with a clicker--because Cole likes to be trained with a clicker.
Thursday, May 13, 2021
A Rainy Ride
What do you do on a rainy morning when you just can't bring yourself to ride in the indoor arena? Go out on the trail.
I woke up with a terrible headache. My the time I got to the barn, the Tylenol was starting to work, but I still didn't feel all that great. I didn't think I would have the energy to ride Cole in the arena, so when Shari suggested a short, fast ride, I took her up on it.
We forgot to check the time when we left, but I don't think it was more than a half hour ride. We trotted and trotted. The only time we didn't trot was when we were going down hill and after we crossed the river on the way home.
At the time, it was just a light rain, so the new leaves on the trees helped keep us a little dryer. The rain had the trail nice and soft, too. Cole appreciated it.
Cole has never cared for rain, and he has even actively protested being in it in the past. He also despises mud. Of course, I have worked with him on the mud. If I insist, he will go in it. If he is outside playing, he refuses to go in it. He will even refuse to be turned out if he sees it is too muddy.
Cole and Bella did what Cruiser and Ranger used to do when we got caught in the rain--they were all business. There were so many puddles that Cole gave up and trotted right through them.
We trotted out to our destination, turned around and trotted back. The park was so quiet. We didn't see a soul--no hikers, joggers, dog walkers and, of course, no other riders. There were very few cars on the road, too. It was just us, the wet wildflowers, the drippy trees and the rain.
Were we wet? Yes! Were we cold? Yes! Did we have fun? We sure did! I think Cole and Bella did, too.
Since it wasn't a heavy rain, they weren't that wet when we got back. I think we were worse off, but we didn't care. Shari and I were smiling the rest of the day--and what a rotten day it was! The rain got harder and harder, and when the temperatures started to drop, it turned into snow. We got to ride during the best weather of the whole day.