Clicker Training Horses

Communication as a two way street

The beauty of communication when it's a two way street.


Sometimes after a training session with other people and their horses, I'm flooded with some new insight that runs around in my brain. This time my thoughts centered on the beauty of communication that is established when one starts to clicker train a horse.

More profound than just simple communication of cues and behaviors, I'm drawn to the beauty of the subtle nuances of body language that forms the relationship of horse and owner. There are so many ways that clicker training can augment and facilitate patterns of communication, many we don't even realize we are forming. For me, it is these patterns and reliable rituals that build a "relationship" with a horse.

To illustrate this point, I can walk into an area with a horse and immediately the training process begins. Because I have a pretty generous use of reinforcers and pretty easy criteria when I meet a new horse, it makes me easier to read and thus we can create our own little rapport and relationship from that first click forward.

I might even be able to shape a couple of behaviors within a few minutes. If I leave for a while and come back, there is a good chance the horse will begin to relate to me by presenting parts of, or the entire behavior that we had just shaped together. I think the first clicker trained behaviors can form an important base in a horse/human "relationship" and the horse presents his understanding of our newly created building blocks of communication as a way of gaining confidence with a person.

The point is these are OUR building blocks; they differ from what the owner has created. Even though the clicker made the construction of these blocks easier, they are still OUR special points of connection and communication. They are based on the whole training context of my motions, timing of click and understanding of what the horse is learning.

I find that process utterly profound. It also makes me think of the misguided people who think clicker trained horses are automatons. Quite contrary to this, I find clicker trained horses can become masters of finding ways to help us understand how and what they want, like, and value with us as humans. Once they understand the significance of being able to behave in ways that affects the human response, they seem to strive all the more to read us and form points of agreed upon "co-cues" that keep a dialogue going.

The fascinating thing is how quickly they can try to make this bridge of communication, especially if they realize we know how to respond with the click/treat.

I look forward to the multitude of established communication-based nuances that make up our rich relationship.


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