Thursday, February 14, 2013

Clicker Emergencies

I'm going to call this "clicker emergencies" to distinguish between this and clicker training. Though these examples aren't intended actually teach the horse anything, having a clicker trained horse does come with a few side benefits that I've found very useful.

One example is for when you need your horse to do something new and there's no time to actually train the behavior. For instance, my colt needed somewhat urgent hoof care when I purchased him. He'd never been worked on by a farrier before and had a terrible flare and a few other issues I wanted to attend to right away, especially since it seemed like he was having strange bone development in order to balance himself on his hooves. By the time the farrier came out (about week into using clicker training), Flash knew what the clicker meant, but we didn't have time to work on picking up much less holding his feet for the farrier. My dad, a skeptic about my clicker training, came out to help me hold him for the Farrier. Flash was not happy and didn't participate, and I could tell my farrier was exercising a tremendous amount of patience. It wasn't long before I told him I could go get my clicker and that would probably help. My dad said the farrier probably didn't want me messing around and giving treats, but the farrier said to go ahead and do anything I thought might help. Out came my bag and the clicker! Normally, I would practice just picking up feet, then holding feet for a second, and then holding them longer and longer to actually train the behavior. However, there was no time for that. As soon as the farrier picked up Flash's foot, I started clicking and treating constantly. If he pulled his foot away or put it down, the clicking and treating stopped. It took him one try to figure out the game and then he was the easiest 18-month-old you've ever tried to work with! Again, this didn't teach him to hold his feet, but it got us through a nearly-impossible hoof trim. In addition, simply feeding him wouldn't have worked since it would have just created a mouthy and impatient horse trying to get more snacks. With the clicker, he knew he had to earn the treats and that they wouldn't just be given to him for no reason. (Since then, we've done a lot of work to train him to be good about his feet, going through the process I describe above of asking more and more from him in order to earn the click, and I can now work with all his hooves without any problems and without the aid of a clicker or treats)

My second example of where the clicker has helped in a tight spot is to get a horse's attention in a critical and urgent situation. For example, last fall I was leading Flash back from a ride and he got excited and took off loping and bucking home, pulling the lead rope out of my hands. However, the place I was boarding was off a main road with lots of 50-60mph traffic and there was a good chance he would run right out on the road if I couldn't get him stopped. I yelled "woah" and "Flash!", but he was headed for home! Then, almost by instinct, I started clicking my clicker furiously to get his attention - And he stopped immediately! Hey, he wasn't going to miss out on a treat! He stood still and waited for me to catch up to give it to him - At this point, I started clicking about every 5 seconds to tell him he was doing what I wanted (standing still) and keep him standing there while I caught up. Crisis averted!

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