Should You Clicker Train Your Horse?
Clicker training isn't just for dogs. Teaching your horse to respond to a clicker can improve behavior, motivation, and confidence.
What Is Clicker Training?
During clicker training, you'll train your horse to perform and respond in specific ways by bridging the communication barrier between you and your horse with the use of a clicker. You can also make a clicking sound with your mouth if you don't want to use a device.
If the horse touches the target you provide, you'll click the clicker and offer a small treat. Over time, the horse will associate the sound of the clicker with treats and the action that led to reward, which will encourage it to perform the requested action again. Your target can be anything you want. Some people use small cones, while others use long sticks or poles capped with small balls or pool noodles.
For example, you might want to train your horse to walk calmly into a trailer using these sequence of steps.
- Tap the target to your horse's nose. Immediately click the clicker and offer the horse a treat. Eventually, the horse will learn to touch the target on its own.
- Once the horse learns to touch the target, lead it to the trailer, stopping a few feet before the entrance to the trailer. Show the horse the target and say "trailer." You can also use hand gestures instead of words if you prefer. When the horse brushes its nose against the target, click the clicker and offer a treat.
- After your horse masters step two, walk it inside the trailer. Repeat the steps with the target, clicker, and treat when it enters the trailer.
Patience is essential during clicker training. After all, it will take time for your horse to understand that touching the target results in a click and a treat. Horse & Hound recommends limiting training sessions to about 10 minutes. After your horse successfully learns an action or behavior, you may be able to eventually stop using the clicker.
Benefits of Clicker Training
Clicker training offers several advantages, including:
- A Stronger Bond. Clicker training is a positive form of training that helps you bond with your horse and builds trust.
- Improved Confidence. Every click is a boost to your horse's confidence. Training can be particularly helpful for fearful horses, as long as the steps are gradual and the process is stopped if the horse reacts negatively.
- Increased Engagement. Clicker training is enjoyable and stimulating for horses and people. You'll probably discover that your horse looks forward to training sessions and is motivated to follow your instructions. A horse can be taught any action you want with clicker training. In fact, Colleen Rutherford Archer described how she taught her horse to fetch, kick a ball, and remove mail from a mailbox in an Equus article.
- Elimination of Unwanted Behaviors. Clicker training can be a good solution if you want to stop problem behaviors, like nipping, cribbing, or weaving.
- Better Public Behavior. Training sessions teach horses how to behave in public, which can be very helpful if your horse participates in competitions. Use the clicker to teach your horse how to move around a ring, navigate an obstacle course, stop, or back up.
- Less Stressful Veterinary Treatments. When you teach your horse to stand still with clicker training, applying medication or giving injections becomes much easier. The training can also be used to train your horse to accept a saddle calmly.
- Quicker Learning Process. Once your horse learns to perform one behavior with clicker training, training for other actions and behaviors will be much easier and quicker.
Clicker training offers important mental stimulation and can calm horses that normally find veterinary visits challenging. If your horse is due for a visit with the equine veterinarian, contact our office to schedule an appointment.
Horse & Hound: Horse & Hound’s Beginners’ Guide to Clicker Training, 2/2023
Equus: Clicker Training for Horses, 3/10/2017
All About Horses: Horse Clicker Training: Positive Reinforcement That Gets Results, 10/28/2023
Cowgirl Magazine: Build The Ultimate Relationship with Your Horse Through Clicker Training, 11/3/2017