You know, sometimes we go along in our day-to-day training routines and experience little breakthroughs, have training insights, or see our horses reach a new level of skill. I have grown to expect a gradual improvement in most aspects of my horse training because I’m always seeking to raise the criteria of something, even if it’s a simple behavior.
Then every once in a while something will happen that causes me to look back on a whole year of progress. That’s when I experience a broader appreciation of what can be accomplished with clicker training.
Today I had just such an experience with the horses of a friend and client. She has rescued several horses and given them a wonderful new life, but on this day, we decided to work with two of her horses who have had the benefit of some ongoing clicker training. We took these two geldings out to visit a local equestrian area that had been renovated.
There were many little things that caught my attention and reminded me of what was in place from our training. For example, they practically haltered themselves, fly spray was a breeze, they led on a loose line, following our body cues so easily, and they loaded in the trailer comfortably.
Then there was the satisfaction of how they behaved when we got to the turnout arena. Basically, when we turned them loose, instead of running off, they stayed stuck to us like glue. We worked at liberty, giving cue after cue and they performed in this new environment as if we were at home. We didn’t have any wands or tools of pressure, just the cues we had developed over the last year.
At one point I found a Frisbee which became first an object to fetch, then a perfect pedestal. We played for quite a while calling them back and forth, working on their recall. This went on for quite awhile until we just left them in the arena by themselves. At that point they took off and ran like the wind, enjoying the new space.
Later we went on a short hike, explored a big expansion bridge and a creek. The novelty of the bridge revealed some fear in one of the horses, but it was no big deal, we worked within his ability to tolerate the new experience as best as he could on that given day. No drama, no fireworks, just good training.
Looking at how the horses were ATTENTIVE, aware, responsive and yet fully alert made me proud. These horses were not shut down automatons, they were willing and cooperative participants. They had a vote and a choice. They were not dominated, yet they offered cooperation. To me, it is a great illustration of the type of unity I always desired to have with a horse. I owe that progress to the techniques of shaping, capturing, luring, targeting, an understanding of how to train cues, and all of this done with a the clicker and some reinforcers. It was a nice validation of an ongoing process.