Wednesday, December 16, 2009

And the grooming - clicker post

After the ride, I wanted to take pictures. But Miss Thing had some seriously nappy frizzy mane hair - getting snowed on and frozen really didn't do it any favors. That meant Show Sheen, which comes in a Horse-Eating Spray Bottle, which means either a fight or clicker training. I was certainly not going to spoil a perfectly nice day with a fight, so clickery it was.

I don't usually use an actual clicker with Dixie. I know I'm losing some amount of subtle benefit by using a tongue-click instead, but honestly, I'm not very coordinated. I'd rather get the timing perfect and use an imperfect tongue-click than be constantly dropping stuff, trying to click the handheld clicker, and missing the perfect moment to mark. I'm a work in progress.

The Show Sheen was half-frozen, so it made an interesting noise when I shook the bottle. I c/t'd her for touching the bottle several times. Then I pointed it away from her and squirted it a couple of times - got some ssssssh squirting noises and a few of those quacking noises spray bottles sometimes make. Dixie jumped to the end of the lead* and quivered, head all the way up. I held the bottle up and urged her to look at it and touch it, and went back to c/t for touching it with her nose.

*The interesting thing is that she wasn't actually tied up. I just loop the lead around one of the cleats on the side of my truck - she rarely pulls, and when she does pull loose, she walks 10 feet away and nosedives for the alfalfa. So even though she was scared, she wasn't terrified.

I repeated squirting away from her and c/t-ing for touching the bottle a few times, then I started holding the bottle up near her mane. She yanked her head up, but didn't move, so c/t. Touch the bottle, c/t, hold the bottle up, c/t. Eventually I squirted her and clicked before she had a chance to go ballistic - once I'd done it once, the battle was won.

I got that whole unruly mane absolutely coated in Show Sheen in minutes. Of course I kept clicking - at first it was a click for every single squirt, and a bit of "touch the bottle" every now and then, but she calmed down to where I could squirt 3-4 times before I c/t'd. Then while her mane dried, I picked her feet and packed some goo in the crevices of her frogs, then brushed out the mane and took pictures.

I like to write about clicker training every so often in case somebody's sort of "on the fence" about it. Yes, if you get good at it and really enjoy it, you can happily incorporate clicker training into every single aspect of your horse care. But you don't have to go whole hog. I suppose if you do not ever feed treats, it's not a good training tool for you - but it can work for anybody else.

When I was first getting into clicker training, I wasn't sure about frequency and timing and stuff, so that's why I just described the whole Showsheen session. You don't want to bore the horse with an hour of "touch the bottle," and you don't want to move too fast and scare the horse, or positive reinforcement will cease to work. There's a lot of times where I'd get some good early stages of "touch the bottle" but then I'd push too fast with the later work. She'd get really scared and shut down mentally, and I'd have to put the evil spray bottle away for another day. But horses are forgiving and greedy, so we'd keep coming back to it.


  1. I'm like you - I don't use clicker for everything, but I use it in precisely the situation you describe - and it works like a charm - it can even make things that are scary fun. And I think using your tongue for the click works perfectly fine - horses pick it up really quickly.

  2. Nice post, Funder!

    I used clicker training once when I was trying to find out if a particular horse was really as stupid as a particular trainer said.

    To do that, I decided to clicker train the horse to "fetch" a stuffed animal, figuring that it was a skill we could safely bet had not been previously taught.

    It took about a week. It would probably have gone faster if the horse was a foodie, but she wasn't.

    My conclusion: the horse wasn't stupid. She didn't like the trainer, and resisted everything the woman made her do. By contrast, the horse liked me, enjoyed cookies (although not to the point of piggyness, which would have been handy for the experiment), and didn't mind performing a meaningless task.


  3. funder, what a great post, i loved it.

    first of all, i have never succeeded in getting baasha over his absorbine show sheen/farnam super-sect fear. a spray bottle is his worst enemy, and i cannot do anyting about it.

    i just spray his forelock after i've pulled it way back to his mane, there is no way i could spray it on his forehead where it lays. he would just die.

    it's funny to me that such an old horse has such issues with something as trivial as a spray bottle. but immediately up goes the head, back go the ears, and i have a statue-tense horse in front of me, ready to leap away.

    and he's not food motivated so clicker training is very slow.

    or, maybe i have not found the perfect food yet.

    i wanted to mention that when i started using clicker training here in germany, my man wanted to feed carrots, but didn't want to go get the clicker. he just started making a clicking noise in his mouth, and baasha responded just like a clicker. baasha lifts his leg to shake hands every time he sees my man. no clicker there, and often i need my hands free so i join the game.

    thanks for the post!

    p.s. that pic of baasha in that frozen field, the first thing i thought when i saw it was, "he looks just like funder's mare!" (in the eye) she has such a sweet expression.

  4. Hey Funder, Jane at The Literary Horse posted photos of you and Champ today--how did you do those snowflakes? It looks awesome!

  5. I'm always glad to hear about other people who clicker just a bit, for something that is best done with positive reinforcement. :) Lytha, I Windexed my horse today! The showsheen was in the tack room, and the windex was nearby, and I wanted to do a tiny bit of c/t with the bottle... so she got a squirt or two of Windex.

    AareneX - oh cool! I haven't checked my blog reader in a couple days so I didn't know he was up there! The snowflakes were clip art, blown up to fit a sheet of paper, some of that clear plastic stencil material that craft stores sell - and FAKE SNOW IN A CAN! Finally, a good use for that stupid stuff! It brushed right out after the ride.


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