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James--Partner of Marie
Rolling his Ball

Different Trainers/Different Techniques

Someone else commented that they, as a novice, felt confused by all the different techniques. I feel for you! I do! There is a difference between principles and trainer specific techniques. Pretty much every single decent trainer, no matter whether they are classical dressage or western roping, uses the same principles. They put different words around what they do but when you look at the fundamentals, they are much the same. So what you need to learn to do is find the fundamental principles at work.

Studying clicker training or more broadly the whole of operant conditioning and reinforcement theory is the best thing that ever happened to me in terms of sorting out all these different trainers. Now I can look at what they do and say, "see how he's using release as a reinforcement?" Or "that was a bit of positive punishment there". Or I can ask mySELF, "ahem, and uh what exactly ARE you reinforcing there dear?"

Broad statements about tools, like treats or longe lines or round pens or whatever, are pretty much trainer specific "superstition". Anything can be used stupidly. The MOST important thing is look to the base principles and what is actually HAPPENING with the horse. Sharon

The idea is to choose something the horse can pretty much do on its own (even if it put up her ears) and reward that. AND remember, always reward the behavior as it is going toward what you want. I videotaped myself working on my mare during a "teach to clip" task, and even though I thought I was rewarding as she was "going toward the direction of the behavior I wanted" which was standing while I had the clippers in a particular spot, the video showed I sorely lacking in timing, and actually rewarding her as she was moving away from the clippers!!!!! We eventually got it together, as even with my lousy timing, she somehow "knew" what I wanted. So, now that you have the burden of training on you.... (if the animal fails, the trainer is responsible), and know that it isn't the area, go out, figure out what you need to do, and above all, make it fun for you and the horse!!!!!! Oh yes, I learned a lot about her in that session, too, what she liked, the hierachy of treats, etc. Actually, I started to appreciate her more because of who she was. Before I just looked at her as a big problem. She proved me wrong on that one!!!!! JYL SNYDER

Improving Gaits

>. We had a blast in the canter. Kvon got so excited about the request (he did pick up the correct lead both ways each time I asked) that I had a hard time getting him to settle down into a walk so that I could ask him again. (He's so cute!!)<<

This is the advantage of adding in the clicker. The click ends behavior. When your horse picks up the canter, you'll let him know that's exactly what you wanted by clicking him after just one or two strides. He'll slam on the brakes. You'll go up over his ears because you weren't expecting such a prompt response, but that's all right. Next time you'll be better prepared.

Stopping never sounds like a good deal to most riders. We've all been taught to keep our horses going, but it really is exactly what you want. Look at all the advantages the clicker gives you:

First, you were able to tell your horse that cantering was a good thing and exactly what you wanted.

You were able to indicate that to the horse while the canter was still good.

By clicking him and having him come out of the canter, you created another opportunity to work on canter departs.

Once the departs are consistent, you'll be able to delay your click to build duration in the gait. You'll do this with your horse staying relaxed because you aren't asking for long stretches of canter. He's learning how to have a burst of adrenaline, and then how to calm back down. Think about a competition horse waiting at the starting line, and you'll understand what a good thing this is.

Those are all the GOOD things that are happening. Now think about all the bad things that DIDN'T happen. A green horse canter can be a wild ride. The horse doesn't understand how to balance in the canter with a rider up. He may start out ok, but then he'll begin to rush. The rider pulls back, the horse twists onto his inside shoulder, and suddenly feels out of balance. Instead of feeling relaxed and confident, he starts to panic. The rider feels him rushing faster, so she pulls him up in the corner. What has this horse learned about cantering compared to the clicker-trained horse?

The clicker-trained horse was back at the halt getting a treat before the canter could deteriorate. He learned that cantering is fun and leads to good things. The second horse is learning that cantering with a rider up can be a frightening experience and ends by having your mouth pulled on.

Even if you're an experienced rider who knows how to help a green horse find his way in the canter, you still have to be able to bring them down out of it. Suppose you get a good canter depart and your horse maintains his balance well down the long side of the arena. You'd like to reward him by letting him walk, so you ask for a down transition. Your horse is thinking forward in the canter. He doesn't really know how to downshift back to the walk yet, so instead of dropping softly out of the canter, he stiffens his jaw against your hand. From his point of view, instead of being rewarded for a good canter, he's actually being punished for it. He was going beautifully, and what happened? He had his mouth pulled on. Even though you are back at the walk giving your horse a nice long rein and a chance to relax, you've really missed your opportunity to reinforce that good canter directly.

Clicker-trained horses get very good at figuring out and repeating the behavior that just earned them a click. It is a phenomenal tool for developing consistency and quality in the gaits. But before you start work in the canter, tune up the clicker with simpler exercises. Begin with basics in the walk so your horse has a chance to understand how the clicker works under saddle. The more experience he has, the better he'll be at figuring out the subtle differences you're after in the more complex work.

Alexandra Kurland

I just wanted to report on my great success. Alexandra's recent post to the click list on the value of rewarding a great gait EVEN THOUGH that ends it, even though that stops what you want to have continue, was a big help. I knew this was right even though it's darn hard to convince yourself to give it away when you've worked so hard to get it.

Part of the reason our lessons have been so bad is that my trainer doesn't teach the release. She rides soft and light so I don't know what she's thinking. I guess in her mind she gives it, it's always there, so she doesn't even think about it not being there. Who knows. Well I've been practicing on my own with Alexandra's post for encouragement.

I was thinking: OK, duration is a separate criteria. Quality is one criteria; duration is a second. You only train for one thing at a time. So on my own I've been getting a softness and then throwing away the reins "GOOD BOY!" I'm making it clear to him that he has succeeded! I can FEEL that as this develops his confidence he will be able to offer me this softness for longer and longer! It's WONDERFUL! Today in my lesson I'd get a softness and right then THROW AWAY THE REINS. My trainer was so surprised. But I began to train her to the idea too. Not in words of course!! That just provokes an argument.

Instead: "Oh wasn't that beautiful!" I'd say and give him a big hug and she would smile and right away I'd pick them up again. Pretty soon she was saying "This is a really good exercise for him" and offering suggestions on variations. Afterwards, she said this was the most consistent I had ever had him. AHhhhhh. It's true too. He was lovely. And I'm having so much fun!! hahahahahah

Thank you all! Amie

I just finished a clinic with David Lichman, who is a senior Parelli instructor in Acampo, California. David while demonstrating, helping, training, teaching several of the clinic participants was eating an apple. He deliberately offered several horses (participants) bites of his apple. Later on during the day, one of David's horses very softly laid down when David asked for a leg--David left the arena to purposely get this mare a treat, while mumbling something about, I hope she stays down till I get back with a treat for her. I thought this was very--very thoughtful. Just proved to me that rewards like food are not just for clicker trainers. Parelli's teaching is not clicker training--it is natural training--yet here was a Parelli instructor using food as a reward. This just cinched for me what I have already been doing--which is combining the 7 Games and John Lyons techniques with Clicker Training.

David Lichman is a very soft spoken man with a very gentle but firm and friendly touch with horses. I was a little apprehensive about this clinic as I took Mariah. She is very sensitive and I do not want any rough 'cowboying' type techniques used on her. I have overcome so much with this mare considering that she was totally wild when I got her and that she would not let me near her for the first month without rearing/walking on her hind legs and crashing into the hot wire to get away from me. Once we got acquainted, I spent the next 4 years getting bucked off of her because of her asymmetrical problem--as all of you that have been on this list for very long already know!

Anyway, I had a very good day with Mariah, we learned how to do all 7 Games in a friendly/firm manner. In fact, she did very well once she understood what it was I wanted her to do. On the other hand, I felt pretty clumsy at first. I was having a hard time coordinating both arms/hands to do different things--felt pretty uncoordinated at times but we got through it. David got after me (in a nice soft/firm way) about not releasing at the smallest try. I think I have more to work on than my horse--isn't that the way it always is? Anyway, I now feel I can go on with the games with all the horses--in combination with their clicker training--in a somewhat orderly fashion and even understand what it is I am suppose to be doing.

I recommend to all of you, if you get a chance, do attend a clinic or some training sessions with an actual natural trainer/instructor. I have a trainer--totally traditional type--that helped me achieve Trail Championships--but I am very confused about whether I will even go back to my old trainer. Just winning seems so shallow now. I want so much more for my horses and for myself.

Are there others out there who feel like I do? You want to be loyal to your 'old trainers' but you know there is a better way? Maybe, I am going through a midlife crises with my horses! My training goals used to be so solid--so black and white. Go out and win! Even though, I have been on the horseman list for over 2 years, and (I thought) following natural training methods, I can see now that I really wasn't. I was not being completely fair to my horses. I don't think I ever really looked at training through the horse's eyes till I read Alexandra's book. Just thinking about becoming the horse and having to try and figure out what the human wants really made me humble!

Now, with the help of David Lichman and the knowledge I gained through Alexandra's book, I have such a different outlook on all of training. The click as the "THAT'S IT, THAT'S WHAT I WANT.' The reward as "The payment.' 'These two things combined with the friendly, fair, firm training of Parelli, the 'set if up and wait' of Hunt all offered to the horse in a fashion that allows the horse to figure out for himself what is being asked makes training so much more than I ever experienced before. I am working on my patience--let the horse 'dwell' as David kept saying last weekend. But what's more, I am having fun training for the first time in my life. Instead of training being a chore, something that always took away from the actual riding and having fun times--training is the fun times! I am anticipating/planning our next training sessions before the last one is over! Teaching is soooo much more fun that just going out and riding! Much more rewarding! Does anyone understand my rambling? Nancy with Sammy, Rocky, and Mariah

Festus, a clicker trained mule, owned by Lee Workman, Lee's Little LongEars.

There's been discussion lately about the value of thinking about things vs just doing it, about left and right brain, about being able to talk about what you're doing and feeling at the same time as doing and feeling it. I like this talk; I find it interesting. I admit to being in the camp of enjoying both doing and thinking, though not always at the same time!

This weekend I read Karen Pryors' Lads Before the Wind which I loved. I laughed and laughed throughout this book. There were a couple of passages that I particularly wanted to share with this group, one of which applies to this idea of the "feeling" and "thinking" approaches. She has just described the Training Game where they got together to practice their understanding of training concepts on each other without using words.

From 'Lads Before the Wind' by Karen Pryor

'It was in the Training Game that I first became fully conscious of the differences between what the skilled operant conditioner knows and what the practical animal trainer knows: between the science of training and the art of training. We called it "Karen-training" and "David-training," and sometimes, for exercise, made lists on the blackboard. Things like whistle conditioning, time outs, and limited holds went under "Karen-training." Things like knowing when to quit and thinking up shaping recipes and choosing a good subject went under "David-training."

'I became conscious of the existence of two vast camps of trainers: the psychologists, with their elegant, almost mathematical rules for training, but no rules for the "David-training" aspects of the work, for the hunches, the timing, the intuitive outguessing of the animal; and the practial animal trainers, with vast individual experience, but with their own superstitious behaviors, people who usually were unable to sort the useful from the merely traditional in their shaping recipes, and who had a tendency to explain far too much on the basis of the personalities of the animals and the magnetic personality of the trainer himself. Two vast camps, and almost no communication between them.

'At Sea Live Park, we had a foot in each camp. With Ron's manual, and scientists coming and going whom I could quiz about details of learning theories, we had a firm scientific footing. With the practical necessities of mounting ten trained animal shows a day, and varying those shows all the time, we had firm footing in the practical camp.

'Somewhere between the two camps, new truths, new understandings, still remain to be discovered. It seemed to me I could sense these truths, or at least the questions that might lead to them, most clearly when we were playing the Training Game. What's "smart"? What's "dumb"? Why does one "love" one animal and not another? Why--oh, why indeed--does the animal love the trainer? At what point, and why, does the artificial communication system of operant conditioning begin to give way to some genuine social communication, to that feeling that trainers call rapport? It is a golden feeling when the trainer really begins to feel as if he IS reading the animal's mind, or when the animal begins to respond to the trainer's voice and emotions, something we take for granted in a horse [!!!] or a dog but have to work to earn with the more alien porpoise... '

She then goes on to describe some incidents of the animal using the training system in its own way to communicate with the trainer. Neat stuff. In this book, Karen also writes about her own first-hand meetings with Skinner and Lorenz which are enjoyable stories. She relates the same kind of sterile polarization between the camps of various "thinkers" as we are currently debating between thinking and doing.

This has just reminded me of a grade-school teacher I had who angrily stated that if you couldn't define a word, you didn't know what it meant. What a discouraging slap that was! Some years later I decided she was wrong: I can use a word appropriately even when I can't put into other words what it means. But being able to put it into other words does give me additional skill and strength with that word -- and it's something I enjoy! I value both the intuition, the non-verbal knowing, and the clear, sharp, articulate knowing. They are both beautiful, wonderful games. And as Karen says, putting the two together opens up all kinds of additional rooms for play. To all players! regards, Amie

>>I find a lot of people don't want to start (us left brainers) working with our horses because we "might ruin them" or do something wrong.<<

This is so true and I'm glad it is recognised. I felt exactly the same way. I have been worried to death since I had my filly as a weanling a couple of years ago that either she would get the better of me or I would ruin her before she had even been backed. I had heard so many stories of youngsters 'trying it on' Had I earned sufficient respect for her not to try it on because if she did I wouldn't be able to cope?

Yes we have got through the two years without too many problems, yes she has tested me to some extent but I am always pleasantly surprised that she stops the unwanted behaviour when I ask. Does she know that if she persisted a little longer I might have given in and that would have been it!!? Clicker training has provided all the positive notes since I started a month ago. I had problems with bridling. She now lowers her head and accepts the bit no problem. I'm still working on the saddling because I did that originally with the round pen method - she accepted it on her back - I sent/drove her away - she bucked a couple of times and obviously was not entirely happy with it. Next time she wouldn't keep still to have me put the saddle on by myself and it fell off [ungirthed] onto the floor which scared her more. So I decided that this was something to c/t train. It just shows that it can take a few hours to undo what a few minutes damage did! She's accepting the saddle on her in her stall but we are not there yet. However that being said the rest of our c/t is progressing well and we are both enjoying it. She canters from one end of the field to me when she sees me get the stuff out of the tack room and at the end she still wants more.

I absolutely love this method. I've always been sold on bribery and corruption anyway!!!:-) Sue

I love the barrel pictures.
That's equine weave poles.
Add a couple of jumps, and a platform and you'll have horse agility!
Alexandra Kurland

When I told my trainer that I was gonna start playing with C/T she looked at me like I was sniffing hoof dressing or something...well..let me tell ya..the other day I demonstrated a few things and she was floored, just knowing the short period of time we've been doing this. She immediately asked to borrow my book. I also loaned her a spare clicker and she is having a blast with her horses now. Her exact words when I asked her what she thought were "I think you're on to something here" She is now going to work it into her training routines. I think we have a convert on our hands :-) Mary Ellen

I just can't believe how amazing this clicker training can be! I went out to work with Skippy today. This time, I had an actual cone for him to target, so I started with that. He got the idea quickly, so I decided to do something else. (there goes that short attention span of mine again. )

Eve and Skippy

Remember last time, we ended with Skippy stepping his front foot over when I touched his shoulder. With a fair amount, but not astonishing, success rate. Well, this time, I didn't bother with a halter, and just took him to the middle of the arena. I got in position, and reached out to touch his shoulder. I just about fell over when he quickly stepped his front foot over without me ever touching him! I c/t'ed, and tried again, this time, I just pointed. Again, he stepped over! He went from just the barest connection at the last session to moving over just with a point! I was so surprised! Once I realized that he was going to do it every time, I started working on the hind end. He got the idea eventually, and I moved on to working for both ends at the same time.

He was working really hard (I could just SEE him thinking about what I wanted), and finally, after circling for a bit, he stopped, and stepped sideways with his whole body. Naturally, I c/t'ed, and tried again. Just like last week, he went back and forth between knowing what to do, and working it out again through different movements. Finally, I got him to take two steps sideways, jackpotted him, and quit. I went to open the gate so the other horses were no longer locked out (they have to go through the arena to get their water) and again, he got in my way. I was standing there with the gate halfway open, and he was blocking me from finishing. I gave him a meaninful look and told him to get out of my way, and I'll be danged if he didn't start doing a perfect sidepass, head held all close and collected, even! I just stood there for a second. I told him he was good for doing it, but I didn't have any more treats to give him. So, I just finished opening the gate, and went to leave through the fence.

I guess he didn't think I had been shocked enough, cause just as I was going through the fence, he started sidepassing again! I'm telling you, I never realized how smart this horse could be! I'm absolutely thrilled about clicker training! Now, I can't wait to get back out there again, and see what he'll try next time. This is such a difference from the way I was training before. Last time my trainer and I worked on sidepassing, we just used the basic pressure/release cues to have him do it. He got terribly tense, and was obviously happy to quit. This time, he was working with me the whole time, trying to figure out what I wanted. And, he just as obviously didn't want to quit. LOL Anyway, I just wanted to share how amazing my horse is. (proud look) I'll keep you posted on his progress. Eve

<< All suggestions would be very helpful! Like I said I am new to this and haven't started using it yet cause I want to know more before I start. I have a green broke horse and I want to use it to better train him to work with me. And I also want to train him the way I want >>

The best way, although most scary, is to jump in there and start. Go to Alexandra's website and start with teaching the target with the cone. Then go on from there. I find a lot of people don't want to start (us left brainers) working with our horses because we "might ruin them" or do something wrong. Unless something traumatizing happens, the horses don't know you are right or wrong. And they don't seem to care that you teach them something else in place of something you might not like.

When I started working this way, I had an old zoo training pamphlet, some John Lyons and Pat Parelli tapes, and Alexandra's website. I started out by using the targeting exercise, then going to the halter exercise. I trained my mare out of fear of noises, such as crinkly plastic bags, stones in cans, and even low level gunfire. I had nothing except those few things I mentioned. Did I make mistakes? Plenty!!!! Did I learn from them?? Plenty more. Did I know more by figuring it out myself. You betcha.

While it is nice to have someone to talk with about what I did, I found the best way to learn about it was to go do it.

So, while you are searching for someone to work with you, go out and play with your horse. Do the exercises on the website. You can work with headshy, or teaching your horse to stand in a bucket, or picking up his feet quietly.. any problem you have to solve.

Suggest you remember the golden rules: you can't get hurt, the horse can't get hurt, and horse is calmer after the lesson than when you started.

Next one is: set the behavior...such as if you want the horse to stand while he is in the bucket, then focus on that, not on the "non-behavior" which is what other behaviors that the horse will offer, such as taking the foot out of the bucket, tossing his head, stomping, etc. Always start where the horse is successful, maybe having him start standing on a flat piece of cardboard, then going to a piece of cardboard that has an edge, then to a low sided feed pan, to a higher sided feed pan, to a low bucket to a regular soak bucket. AND remember that the task is usually a chain of behaviors-- don't see the task as a whole behavior-- see where the problem breaks down... such as the horse stands in the bucket for about 2 minutes... so he is standing in the bucket, but what happens after the two minutes.. that is where the behavior breaks down. He might not be standing on all four feet, might be off center, etc.

Last golden rule is: if the horse isn't performing the behavior you is the trainer's problem, not the horses. The trainer sets the behavior, not the horse. So it is the TRAINER'S RESPONSIBILITY, not the horses, to teach the horse what you want thru good explanations....this will help YOU break down your tasks to ones that the horse is successful with. If my horse isn't "getting it" in a couple minutes, you need to think about what is happening and why the horse might not be getting the idea. So then it is your job to make it easier for them to understand!!!

I was introduced to clicker training first at an advanced Level 2 PNH group lesson. The instructor said the clicker can be very good but you need to be fairly advanced in your horsemanship (Level 2) before you and your horse are ready. The horse needs to know "its got to" before you teach "it gets to". Pat Parelli shows this in rough form on the Liberty video - the "get to" and "got to" aspect.

In less than 1/2 hour my horse went from not wanting to jump over a barrel (when I lined three up end to end against a fence) to willingly jumping over one barrel length wise in the center of the arena on the end of a 22 ft rope.

There is a lot of discussion on the horseman's net these days on NH and the clicker. Alexandra Kurland's book is a great book for horse people, even if you decide not to click. It is as well written as any horse book I have ever read. When I first heard about clicker training, I found all kinds of reasons why I should not do this clicker thing. I read the book and began to understand that the book, "Clicker Training for Your Horse", was not about the clicker at all. It is about training your horse with what ever method you want; and using the click to make it clearer, faster for your horse to understand when he has done the right thing.

The only books on horse training I have ever read that are in the same class of being good and understandable are Pat Parelli's Natural Horsemanship and Marty Marten's Problem Solving both published by Western Horseman.

After reading Alexandra's book I began using her system along with PNH and have incorporated the clicker training ideas into my level 3 PNH work.

Buy the book!

Ray Conkright

From: "Rodney & Nancy DeGan"

I have read half way through Alexandra's new book, "Clicker Training for Your Horse." I want to recommend this book to everyone who owns a horse, rides a horse, works with horses or is just crazy about horses! This is the easiest to read, comprehend, follow, understand book on horse training that I have read. It is interesting and fun to read! I usually read training books because of a sense of 'duty' not because I enjoy them. I have thoroughly enjoyed this book and I believe it is going to be a classic in the horse industry.

I am now ordering another copy of the book for my step-daughter who just bought an Arab filly 10 months old. This book is something a complete amateur 'newbie' can comprehend, follow, and actually train with but I highly recommend it for those of us that have had horses for years and years! I wish I could go back and start over with my horses at 10 months with this book. Rhonda's filly is so lucky to be starting at the same time this new training revolution is taking place!

To all of you that haven't read this book yet--do yourself and your horse(s) a favor and order it now. I have trained several horses over the years and my only regret is that this book was not available sooner--it would have made the training so much more fun, enjoyable, and comprehendible. I usually skim through training books (I start the book with good intentions but find it hard to actually read them), get a little out of them, but spend a lot of time trying to figure out what I read--never really too sure. This is exhausting, discouraging, and just plain hard work, which most of us don't want. We want quick answers.

Alexandra's book is the best you'll get and I have a whole library of horse books--most of which I started, picked through, forced myself to thumb through and never completely read. I AM READING THE CLICKER BOOK FROM COVER TO COVER!!!!! I wish I had more time to spend reading this book! I know I am going to read it again and again--can't say that for any other horse training book that I have ever read before!

Thank you Alexandra! Can't wait for the video to come out! Nancy

Suggested Treats:
black licorice; red jelly beans ("the others don't have enough/any flavor"); jelly bellies (?flavors?); pretzels; sugar cubes; candy corn; hard candies, like starlight peppermints (the red and white ones); afterdinner mints (the soft, chalky, pastel ones); valentine hearts (the soft, chalky, pastel ones); biscotti (presumably withOUT chocolate); plain animal crackers (cheap in bulk) (what about the frosted kinds?); Honey Nut Cheerios; Cap'n Crunch; All types of grain and granola cereals; bread cubes/crusts; pasta (dried) (esp. shells and rotini); burned or stale cookies (i.e. oatmeal); popcorn; Fritos (many people suggested these); alfalfa pellets/cubes; sunflower seeds (shells and all, I've been told); molasses chunks (often found in commercial feeds - good jackpot!); dried cranberries; orange peel (!?!); raisins; dried cranberries (it takes a special horse, I think); various fruits (melons??? lots of animals like cantelope); peeled baby carrots; small bits of carrots; apples; celery; cucumbers; ????? (all sorts of vegetables); Commercial horse treats; Mrs. Pastures Horse Cookies (I smash with hammer for c/t); Joker's ( mailorder only, *very* good jackpot); Energy Snacks (good basic treat); ...and, of course, all sorts of normal horse food too!