I love watching the enthusiasm from people who are newly exploring clicker training. Once people see their horses begin to develop an understanding, that then morphs into downright enthusiasm, the people themselves get more enthusiastic.
Sometimes people move on to apply the use of the clicker to what they already know, usually pressure/release, so what you see is pressure/release/click/treat. I know a lot of trainers who have had enough positive results at this juncture that they quit learning more about clicker training. In my learning process I camped out at this place for awhile, but then continued studying and learned about the power of shaping, capturing, targeting and luring. This is where I found the true power of clicker training and the bond I was seeking with my horses.
I became very focused on shaping. The thing that makes this technique so different is how it empowers the horse, how it teaches the horse to think and how it develops the eye of the trainer. There is so much to be gained by studying this tool for both human and horse.
For example, with shaping, the horse is put in a circumstance where he can learn from his experience. This, in fact, is THE most natural setting for learning. The animal makes a guess and either it pays off or it doesn’t. In this leaning environment there is no aversive as the basic motivating factor for learning; instead the horse is moving towards something he wants.
The learning process is even more accelerated because the human is marking the correct guesses with a marker signal, or click, while reinforcing the guesses, thereby shortening the time the animal spends learning overall. This is a real win for the horse.
So as you begin to add more depth to your clicker training experience, take the time to explore more about the shaping process. Learn how to step back and generously reinforce the guesses that help your horse learn. Play games with him where he can be rewarded for even the simplest of choices of interacting with an item, as long as it isn’t your treat pouch. 🙂
When you and your horse have learned shaping, you’ll be able to take this skill and apply it to more difficult tasks, even riding.