Ben wants and expects clicker training, that much is evident.
Ben is not relaxed during clicker training, that is also all too evident.
I have found that clicker training has its limitations. I have not been able to use clicker to convince Ben to approach a feared place. Once, after I had ridden a relaxed Ben in the picadero, we headed out towards the back gate. Something was rustling in the hedge and Ben spun around and headed away from the gate. I had ‘head down’ on cue and asked for it, and he gave it. I turned him towards the gate again. He advanced so far and spun around again. I tried this a few times. Ben himself tried this – he often does I have noticed if his anxiety is high. He could not bring himself to get any nearer the gate. So, I got off and led Ben to the gate, past the feared place and resumed riding.
I have heard and read clicker training being recommended for approaching feared situations, but in my experience with Ben, when his energy/fear/stress is high, positive reinforcement is not what he needs. He needs leadership he can rely on; in this example, me on the ground in front of him.
Positive reinforcement (through use of a clicker) has been useful in teaching Ben new skills, specifically in-hand work, but has also resulted in him becoming too focused on the source of food and not focused on me. Once, when we were doing what I thought was some nice lateral work (on a ‘why would you leave me’ circle), something rustled in the bushes and Ben jumped, almost knocking me over. This has really put me off clicker training to the point where I would happily have abandoned it, except that Ben has been demanding it, demonstrating this by nipping and clearly being frustrated. We have also had good sessions with clicker training.
One of the great advantages of keeping a blog is that I have been able to look over old posts I wrote about clicker training. A year ago I described a situation when Ben was on winter grazing where we started with some clicker targeting and ended dancing together with no click and no treat. That is the result I want. That was harmony.
At that time I was using Ben Hart’s approach to clicker training: using both an intermediate bridge (one or more clicks) and a terminal bridge (hand to food pouch). Over the last few days I have read his book again and it made a lot of sense. He addresses frustration in equines, he also emphasises that clicker is not for all situations (or even all horses or trainers). But most importantly he disagrees with the approach of a providing a reinforcer following each click.
So I went out to Ben and used this approach. He understood instantly and nipping and air snatching almost disappeared.
I then searched the internet for examples of trainers using intermediate and terminal bridges and that has led me to Kayce Cover’s SATS approach. It is very early days but I am reading her manuals and really liking what I read. There will be more to come with SATS I am sure.
Ben: my guide to the world of communicating effectively with a horse: push him too far and his aggression or panic can rise; meet him in the right way and his cooperation knows no bounds.