Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Clicky Dixie

I was inspired by Michelle's recent posts. Her horses are so well behaved, and I know it's cause she clicker trains them, and dammit I can do that too! So off we went to Walgreens for some Frosted Mini Wheats and then out to work with Dixie.

I started off with head-down to get her thinking about working with me, then I tied her up and did some foot picking up stuff. Ideally I'd be able to pick up and work on her feet at liberty, but I wanted some successes to reinforce. I have a short attention span. Here's how it went:

First, I'd c/t (click/treat) for her picking up a hoof, no matter how briefly. It's absolutely crucial to get the click in that split second where the hoof is in the air - otherwise, you're rewarding the horse for slamming her feet back down and then you'll have successfully clicker trained pawing. I have already successfully clicker trained pawing with one horse so I'd like to skip it with this one. I did all four feet this way, maybe 5 times on each foot.

Then I moved to "let me hold your foot." If she yanked her foot away, no c/t. If she let me hold it, just for a couple seconds, she got a treat. I did that on each hoof several more times, then I went and got a hoofpick.

I am not coordinated enough to hold clicker, hoof, and hoofpick, so I decided she'd just have to be patient - and anyway, I want to reward the entire action. I cleaned all four feet - twice actually! - and she behaved quite well for it. She is usually a horribly impatient bitchy mare - yanks her feet away, every now and then she'll cow-kick at me, paws nonstop, threatens to lay down if you won't let go of her foot. It's not that she doesn't understand picking up her feet, it's that she doesn't want to cooperate about it.

In a sense, clicker training really is just bribery. But it's exceptionally clear bribery! And the alternative to bribery is pressure/release, which boils down to "do what I want or I will annoy you nonstop til you give in." Sometimes, I can see a better way to do something with pressure/release, and sometimes I can see an easier way with clicker training. It depends on the difference in the horse's personality, too.

I think the more traditional way to get her to pick up her feet and hold them up would be to just refuse to let the hoof go until she quit fighting, repeated over and over til she decides on her own it's quicker to just cooperate. The NH way would probably be to send her out in circles, or make her back up, or something similar, whenever she yanked her feet away - making the wrong thing hard. Both of those methods don't work well with Dixie. She has a tendency to get angry or panicky or something and try to lay down if you refuse to let go of her hoof, and she gets kind of spazzy and her brain shuts down if you keep punishing her with round pen work. But clicker training leaves her intrigued and relaxed and really thinking about what on earth I want from her.

I don't think I'll train everything with the clicker. Our under saddle work is coming along really well with the sort of classical pressure/release work we've been doing. But ground manners with the clicker is a lot of fun and works pretty well too!

Anyway. You never see pictures of her feet, because she's so horrid about picking them up and I have no doubt she'd step on the camera if I dared to set it down. But hopefully I will have pictures of her (still kind of strange looking) hooves to show off soon!


  1. Nice job Funder, sorting out what is going to work best for each horse and WHY it will work too!

    Good example for lots of folks not to put all their eggs in one basket.

    Sonny Bunz is a real jerk about his feet as well. I tend to work with his hoof lifting AFTER he has been worked/ ridden for a few days in a row- then he tends to be more able to concentrate on the job at hand. I dont think he is one to try clicker with though- he has a stronger work ethic than food motivation.

  2. I love clear bribery. :) Glad to hear of the progress.

  3. Great job! You'll have her handing you her feet in no time.

    I'm a major fumbly clutz. don't even attempt to see me dance at a wedding ;-) So I avoided the whole fumbling-with-the-clicker thing by tossing it, and using a tongue click. I just say "tock" you know how you put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and make that "tock" sound. That is my click. It works great, and I always have it with me.

    I've even been known to click one of my horses when I am not actively training, when they really had a hard time with something and gave me a really good try (i.e., at standing still or letting me mess with their ears when I was just grooming and wasn't expecting a freak-out, so you kinda work with what you have, sort of thing), and I'll click with my tongue, then race in the barn and grab a treat. They know its coming, so still understand what they did right.

  4. If you get any pictures or video of one of your clicker training sessions, I would love to put them on the ClickRyder blog:


  5. Mrs Mom - that's really encouraging, that a trimmer has a horse that's a jerk about his feet! I assumed I was just a bad owner and if I were just good enough all my horses would act like Champ. I mean, I'm still going to try to get Dixie to act like Champ...

    Sara - :)

    Michelle - I should try working in a tongue-click too. Good idea.

    IceRyder - I will try to get some video for you!

  6. nice!! I've never really seen clicker training before - it looks very sensible to the horse.

  7. Flying Lily, it's just amazingly intuitive for the horse. And you really can use it as much or as little as you wish - just for ground manners, or for trick training, or for teaching complicated dressage moves from the saddle. You should try it next winter, when you're snowbound and booooooored!

  8. I used some clicker stuff on crazy Mojo last year and was AMAZED at how well it worked


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