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Clicker training is used in training lots of animals, however, it is scarcely used in horses. While I was at University I remember hearing about some studies and dissertations involving clicker training with horses, but it’s something which isn’t really used in the industry, largely because I think it has limited use for what we do with our horses.
However, Sunday afternoon I was doing Scottie’s carrot stretches, but since I am incredibly useless at buying carrots, they were replaced with grass nuts. Not for the first time, I was a bit slow with my fingers and Scottie caught my finger trying to find the small grass nut I was holding for him to stretch to. This got me thinking about alternatives.
The obvious solution would be to remember to buy carrots! But realistically, this isn’t going to happen. It’s expensive to buy small packets if I do remember, and whenever I buy a big bag, I never use them quickly enough and they start to go bad. It’s just not very practical. I have also heard people suggesting using licks instead of carrots. This can be better for fat ponies but also means that they have to maintain the stretch for longer, rather than just snatch the treat and move. But despite Scottie enjoying his molasses licks, he just doesn’t show any interest in stretching for them.
While I was off work, I watched a lot of “It’s me or the dog” dog training show and clicker training featured in nearly every episode. Some of the behaviour students at university also used target training with a lot of the horses at the stud and I thought that maybe I could combine the two.
I could use clicker training to teach Scottie to touch a specific target, I am thinking maybe a tennis ball. The tennis ball could easily be kept outside or in my stable and I always have grass nuts available. So if I could each Scottie clicker/target training, he could stretch for the ball, hear the click to know he has done the right thing and not catch my fingers by mistake trying to find the treat. I can then treat him with the grass nuts safely with a flat palm out of the stretch.
But not only will this training save my fingers, but I also think that it would be good mental stimulation for Scottie. He is a smart horse and enjoys learning new things. I also think that both clicker and target training would be useful in other aspects ‘training’. Target training could be useful for helping to convince Scottie to load drama free and clicker training could help with any groundwork we do or teaching him new movements from the ground.
It was just a random thought I had on the way home from the yard, but I think it is something I am interested in trying with Scottie now. Keep your eyes out in the next few months for updates on my new training idea. Now I just need to buy a clicker and choose a target!
Have you ever used clicker or target training with horses?