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Are These Just Tricks?

Written by Hope Bell


Although this training method has been successfully used with other animals for some time, it has only recently been introduced as a training method for horses, and many people don’t consider it to be a “serious” training method. Whether because of it’s historical use for teaching tricks, the non-aggressive approach, the treating, or simply its name, many people, mistakenly, have a negative or skeptical view of this wonderful training tool.

Clicker training can be used to train or correct any behavior. The concepts for teaching manners are the same as those that we would use to teach tricks. It doesn’t matter if you want to train your horse to stand while you get on him, load onto a trailor or bow. Clicker training is one of the best “helpers” I have found for communicating with my horses and works well combined with other non-aggressive training methods. The click tells your horse EXACTLY when he’s doing something right and the accompanying treat gives him the incentive to try what you’re asking, and to keep trying. In most cases, the treat is in the form of food but it doesn’t have to be. A pat or a scratch can work just as well, as long as the treat is something the horse really enjoys and is willing to work for.

When beginning school, getting a gold star for correct work is a great motivator to do our best. In the same way, we must motivate our equine friends to pay attention, work with us, and do their best to get clicked for a right answer and a treat (their gold star). This applies to ground work, manners, advanced performance moves and tricks . The great thing is, CT is fun and easy to learn for everybody involved (horse & owner) and can be done anywhere, anytime, by any age group. It encourages people to scrutinize what it is they want to teach, break it down into little steps, have patience and do it - one step at a time. Humans learn about horses and become better trainers and communicators without using aggressive measures and at the same time, the horses are enjoying their lessons.

Many people are anxious to teach their horse tricks. Although it is great fun, in my opinion first priority is teaching your horse basic ground work and manners - do not crowd, stand still for mounting, having his feet handled, etc. etc. When he does well in these areas, then have fun with tricks, keeping in mind a horses limitations.

I would describe tricks as a unique, well trained maneuver with very good communication between the human & equine involved. The “tricks” could not be taught without a human/equine connection. The clicker, acting as a translator, helps us develop this, but please remember - work as partners! Just as the horse is doing his/her best to understand the human, we must also strive to understand the horse and never ask of him what he is mentally and/or physically unprepared or incapable of doing. A lot of the “tricks” require an abundance of balance, co-ordination, trust and lack of fear on the horses part. Not all horses are capable of doing some “tricks”. Decide what is best for you and your horse to work on and if you haven’t already done so, buy a “clicker”. Try it! You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

A special thank you to Alexandra Kurland and Karen Pryor for sharing this wonderful training technique with us.