FROM CLICKER EXPO IN CHICAGO, PART 1: ALEXANDRA KURLAND AND CLICKER TRAINING WITH HORSES (from old blog 18/03/11)

If the dog training world has been oppressed by the shadows of positive punishment-based methods, oh boy, the horse world has even a longer path to travel to the light! Alexandra Kurland is the pioneer of using the clicker and positive reinforcement to train horses and today was the first time I have heard her talk. Of course the same principles of training apply to horses and dogs but there are some differences due to the different natures of the species.

With dogs positive reinforcement training most often does not involve any kind of physical contact but with horses clicker trainers take advantage of pressure and the release of pressure. This is really nothing new, the whole concept of riding is based on using pressure and then releasing it, but skillful clicker trainers can use pressure in a clicker compatible way. For example, if you want the horse to move away from you, you put your hand on the horse creating just a little bit of pressure. When the horse yields you click and treat and take the pressure away. What is very important, though, is that the pressure applied should never be a threat, it has to be information only! If someone puts their hand on you, you turn your head, and then the person gives you $10, you are happy and the next time you feel their hand on your shoulder you will confidently turn your head again. If, on the other hand, the person steps on your foot and then gives you the money, despite the payment you will most likely not appreciate the stepping on your toes business again.

Like with dogs clicker training is very powerful in overcoming fear with horses as well. Alexandra showed a very nice movie of a training session with an Icelandic horse, who was afraid of a saddle and how in less than an hour she successfully got the horse to have the saddle on again. The horse learned that by her own actions, in this case lowering her heard, she earned a click and treat and the saddle went away. Soon she was able to offer the head lowering even when the saddle was on her because the saddle had become a cue triggering emotional calmness.

Having been involved with horses ever since I was a little girl, my experience is that positive reinforcement with horse people is a big taboo, I mean if your dog takes over the household if you give him a cookie, the horse, oh man, the horse will just destroy you!  Even though I have been clicker training dogs for years, even for me clicker training horses at the barn where I ride had not occurred until recently because of the prevailing culture. Now I will definitely start experimenting more whenever I have a chance and I hope to expand my training to horses as well!

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