The clicker training we were doing was more of a fun ground-work exercise to do with the horse. I am not sure how useful it would be when you are riding the horse to train it as it is relating it back to food.
What is clicker training?
The video below gives an introduction into clicker training!
The clicker is used as it can be used to mark the exact point of time when the horse performs a behaviour rather just giving them a treat a few seconds after. They are still given treats after they perform the behaviour, the clicker is used to mark the exact time of the behaviour and it becomes a reward as they associate the clicker with a treat.
Clicker training may be useful for helping horses load on to trailers as you can click at the exact moment they move a leg forwards so they know this is the correct behaviour.
What we did in our practical
We started off by getting into pairs with other people in my class, my partner then had to go to the other side of the arena. The lecturer told us we had to get them to perform a behaviour without speaking to them and using the clicker to get them to do it. It was a bit like playing the "hotter and colder" game where you tell people if they are getting closer to the right answer. We then had to get them to pick up a cone, put it on the side of the jump and put their hand on it whilst lifting their right leg! This was very difficult to do without speaking but was a really good practise. It made me think that a lot of the differences between teaching us and horses is due to the fact we can speak and they can't.
We then went to get the horses. We had a few different things to play with in the arena such as little cones, sand castle buckets, and big exercise balls. The horse my partner and I had was called Gordon and he was around 16.2 hh and was very alert and playful! He acted like a big pony! We quickly realised that Gordon had done clicker training before as every time my partner clicked the clicker he would look at her for a treat. One thing that surprised me is that the horses remembered the clicker training even though they hadn't done it for around a year!
We started off by getting him to touch the cone with his nose, every time we did it we clicked the clicker and he received a treat. We then paired this with the command "touch". Sometimes he would get a bit carried away and lift the cone in his mouth and shake his head around (he didn't get a click and a reward for this).
Then we decided to teach him two different commands with the cones and he had to differentiate between the two. The first command was "touch", and the second was "pick" in which he had to pick up the cone. After a few times we realised he was pawing the ground a lot and he may have been taught the command "kick" in the past. We then changed the name of the command to "lift" and this seemed to work much better. Some of the other people in the class using the exercise balls were using the commands "touch" and "kick" so he may have done this in the past.
Gordon learnt this quite quickly. We had a line of cones and once he performed the behaviour we would move onto the next cone and start again. Towards the end we were staring to pair the verbal commands with visual signals. We started holding one hand up as the signal to touch the cone and he was just starting to do this at the end of the session.
The session lasted around 30-45 mins before the lecturer said we should stop or we would start losing their attention. We are going to have another go at this next week and try swapping horses. Because Gordon was quite lively at first he was just starting to calm down a bit towards the end and was reacting better to the signals.
Have any of you tried clicker training? I want to go home and try it on Trooper now! It was a really fun exercise to do with your horse and helped me to realise how clever horses are!