Don’t Sink To Horse Clicker Training Level

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Clicker training is not for horses


Picture a horse running in the ocean “following” a person; so loyal, so majestic. Isn’t that what everyone wants from their horse, a true companion, a relationship, a bond?

Of course you want a relationship with your horse, you want your horse to respect you, trust you, and enjoy your company (both riding and on the ground). Are there “win-win” ways to create this “special” relationship with your equine through “totally positive” messages?

Well, there is a new wave of “natural” horsemanship that wants you to believe just that. You too can have a true bond with your horse, a “special” relationship – with clicker training. But in reality, what you are really creating with horse clicker training is a 1200 pound dog. Not a good dog either, a food motivated animal, who has no true respect for you, only an expectation of treats. And what else do you get with horse clicker training? BONUS! If you have a gelding, your “special” clicker training relationship may also include erections every time you “work” with him.

Wow, now that is groundbreaking training!

No, not really. Every animal on the planet can be “trained”, or more accurately, “conditioned” with treats. You can even do this with people. Does that mean you have a trained, obedient animal? No, you have an animal that does not understand consequences (good or bad). Clicker training conditions your animal to follow food, not you. You have “bonded” your animal to treats, not you. There is nothing special, unique, or beneficial to this “training” (again, other than a giant dog with erections).

If you have a gelding, your “special” clicker training relationship may also include erections every time you “work” with him.

Now, let’s go back to that horse running in the ocean “following” a person. Not so loyal or majestic. This horse isn’t following a person; this horse is CHASING a person for FOOD. There is a huge difference between a horse following a person because of a bond, loyalty, herd status, or respect and a horse chasing a person for treats. The former can happen, but for safety of yourself and your horse, its just not a good idea. The latter is just downright stupid.

Clicker training a horse is only for that special horse. The horse you don’t want to actually do anything with besides, maybe trail ride and of course, do tricks. Don’t plan on the clicker trained horse being good for anyone else, and don’t plan on the clicker trained horse to have any respect for any kind of boundaries. If you are lucky and you don’t have a horse with any kind of brain, yes, clicker training will work for that slow horse. With clicker training, you can absolutely create a large pet that is good for circus shows, and maybe, stupid pet tricks (“Here we come, Letterman!”)

A clicker trained horse is not going to excel in any athletic discipline. A clicker trained horse is not going to be a truly safe horse; the clicker trained horse is conditioned to do tricks for treats. The clicker trained horse is defined by its uncanny ability to distinguish humans by their food carrying (or not) presence and perform tricks (even if not asked) just to get that food.

If you have a horse that is inquisitive, perhaps even a horse who also suffers from little ADD, clicker training this horse would be suicide. With clicker training, you would wind up with a horse who will not only take your hand off, but who will also become severely aggressive with absolutely no respect for people. Because with clicker training, horses never, ever receive negative reinforcement (only “positive”, treat based reinforcement – the basis of clicker training), the “win-win relationship” coined by many clicker “trainers” would turn this once inquisitive horse into 1200 pounds of disrespect.

A clicker trained horse is not a truly safe horse; the clicker trained horse is conditioned to do tricks for treats.

Think about clicker training and why it was created. Clicker training started with dolphins in oceanariums and aquariums. The reason dolphins were clicker trained was not to build relationships with their “trainers” (or more accurately, their caretakers). Clicker “conditioning”, in its inception, was for a purpose. Clicker training was essential for dolphin husbandry. Researchers found out quickly caged dolphins needed routine vet care and daily health inspections. Putting stress on a dolphin in an already unnatural environment with uncooperative restraint, on a daily basis (just to care for them) was counterintuitive. Instead, handlers started “training” dolphins by using a clickers and treats to positively reinforce behaviors the dolphins where already performing. Conversely, clicker training also turned out to be helpful in exercise, to alleviate boredom, and to allow aquariums to increase revenue by putting on shows.

This method was not created to so trainers could enjoy a bond with the dolphin; it was created out of necessity by using already natural behaviors of the dolphins. Last time I checked, it was not natural for a horse to pose in positions, Spanish walk, or sit. Horses do not need clicker training, nor is clicker training beneficial for the horse. Additionally, handlers of the clicker trained horse, outside of the clicker trainer, are not grateful of the said clicker training.

Clicker training was developed for dolphins in captivity, a proven way to help handlers manipulate these animals safely; it was not developed for horse training. If you are looking for a way to bond with your horse, create a trusting relationship, or overcome some training obstacles, there are many effective ways to do this without resorting to a treat based training system.

Please don’t clicker train your horse. Use common sense, treat your horse with respect, and always command respect from your horse. All this can be done without treats and also without cruelty; two extremes that are completely unnecessary.