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Can you have your foal...1) Drink when asked?  2) Go potty on cue?  

3) Sidepass to a mounting block?  4) Come to you while in a herd?  

5) Lounge, back, trot poles, jump free?  6) Pick up things for you?

We can, and we did it with Clicker Training. Your success may only be a Click away.


Clicker Training is a form of positive reinforcement that uses a Click to mark a desired behavior in a way your animal is taught to understandThe Click tells him "Yes. That is what I want you to do".   They are then rewarded, usually with a food treat, but when a foal is very young, you can use a friendly scratch or rub.



Clicker Training stimulates and expands the desire to learnRewards in the form of food are very motivatingIt is never too early to introduce your foal to Clicker TrainingWe saw that our foals understood the concept in only a few days, making us realize that we could teach them more than we ever thought possibleIn short, it really worksYou don't need anything you don't already haveWe don't even use a mechanical clickerWe make a Click sound with our mouths to mark behaviors because it leaves both hands freeIt is a distinctly different sound than the kiss or the cluck sound many people use to ask for movement.



The first step is to decide what you want to teachWe felt our foals needed to stand quietly for the veterinarian and farrierThey needed to allow us to touch them all over and pick up their feet.  

The next step is to decide what your cue isWe like to have both a verbal cue and a physical cue for each behaviorThat way you can use one or both, depending on the situationWe started by cradling them in our arms and cueing them with the word "whoa".  When they relaxed, we marked that relaxation with a Click and gave them a friendly rub as a rewardNext, we looped a soft rope around the rump, low around the neck, crossing over the back..  We then could hold them with one hand while introducing them to being handledAgain, we Clicked acceptance and rewarded with rubs.

Step three is to break it downFor example, you want your foal to allow you to handle their hind leg without moving away or lifting itAt first maybe you will be able to only touch the lower hip before they moveFind that spot and click, treat, and repeat. Gradually work your way lower and lower down the leg, asking for a little bit more each time you work with them on itClick/treat, Click/treatRewards should come frequently when they are learning to accept any new feeling or behaviorTime your Click to when they are standing stillThis is very important because if you Click a movement, they will want to repeat that movementOf course that makes it great when you want to teach them to trot in hand or any other movementThe power for shaping behavior is thereIt may take days, it may take minutes, but the end result is the sameYou wanted to be able to handle your horse's leg while they stood quietly, and now you can

It doesn't matter what behavior you want to teach, break it down into manageable steps based on your foal's reactionYou will change the timing of the Click sound as the desired behavior is learnedLets take backing up for instanceAt first, you will Click and treat when you see the slightest tryLike a slight backwards shifting of weightLater, you Click when the behavior is happeningA foot steps backwardYou can eventually ask them to back several steps before the ClickIf you lose them somewhere along the way, just go back to where they can succeedConcentrate on ending your lessons on a positive noteRemember the Click should be like a contract with your foalA reward is coming and they quickly learn thatYou can use praise to encourage them towards your goal and save the Click for their best efforts once they show you they understand the concept

We don't accept bad behavior from our foalsMany people are concerned that using treats creates a spoiled horseNot so if you do it rightWe offer the treats away from our body and are careful to not allow them to come into our spaceWe try to use the least amount of discipline necessary to achieve this. After they want to play and learn, simply walking away from them can be enough for them to not repeat the unwanted behaviorWe also use discouraging sounds, a horse-like squeal or a loud uh-uh.   



Many of the behaviors you want repeated are things your foal already knows how to doThis is where it gets really fun.  

Hate that urine smell in your trailer?  So do weDoes it annoy you when you show your horse and it urinates during the class?  We have a solutionWe taught our foals to urinate on request by Clicking and treating them each time we witnessed the behaviorWe are surprised how often they will repeat this behavior for a treat.

The order of things is changed when you observe a behavior you want repeated on cueInstead of cue, Click, treat, you will Click, cue, treat, as you witness the behaviorIf you are shaking your head like bees have nested there, don't be discouragedIt wasn't that easy for us to understand at first either.  

Here goesYou see your foal urinatingClick, name it, and deliver the treats as fast as you canYou can name it whatever you want, but be consistentIt will become your cueBe prepared to Click, name, and treat this behavior over a period of several weeksBy noticing where and when they go, you can begin to ask for the behavior when you feel you have the greatest chance for successThe first time you are able to cue for and get the behavior, make over them like they just won you the lotteryAt first we were successful only at home, in familiar surroundingsWe can now get results before trailering, going into the show ring, or out on the trailRemember to consider your foal's preferencesMost choose a place where their legs don't get splashed

By being alert and observant, your opportunities seem to have no limitWe have even used Clicker Training to teach our foals to drink on cueThis proves the saying; "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink", isn't always true.  



Horses of any age can be introduced to Clicker TrainingWe haven't found one who doesn't catch on to the conceptThey really look forward to learning when they know a reward is comingYou can practically see the cogs turning in their brains asking us "What do they want me to do"?  It doesn't matter what type of activities you pursue with your horses, or what training program you useRewarded behavior becomes repeated behavior.  

By Beth Bliss and Jan Norman