Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dawn Does Clicker and Maisie Works

I wanted to do some work with Dawn today, but didn't want to ride, lunge or do in-hand due to her being in heat and somewhat unpredictable, and she isn't ready for long-lining yet. So I thought we'd start some clicker training. Dawn has particular issues with all sorts of scary objects, but she's curious and motivated by food. I've been enjoying reading Alexandra Kurland's book The Click That Teaches - A Step by Step Guide in Pictures, which Helen at New Beginnings recommends. It's very clear and informative.

I groomed Dawn before we started - we did this outside so as not be be distracted by other horses. She took up the "stretch" position she often takes when she's in heat. Foot-picking, even the rears, went well. We started our clicker training at the beginning - I had Dawn loose in a small paddock - and we first worked to make sure she associated the click with a treat. Unlike Lily, who was afraid of the noise of the clicker, Dawn didn't have a problem with it. In a few minutes we moved on to having her touch a target with her nose - I used an orange traffic cone that she's familiar with. She got this instantly. Then I moved the cone around to her sides - that came quickly too, although she was more cautious when the cone was on her left. Then I put the cone down low - she did that too. If the cone got too close, including near her chest - I wanted to see if she would arch her neck and reach down for it - she was nervous. We stopped there and she went inside for her dinner. Next time I do clicker with her, I'll introduce some new objects for her to target.

Then I groomed and rode Maisie. I had set a pattern of four cones, and we used that to work on our walk and trot speed regulation with my seat, while asking for softness with my hands. We also did some transitions off my seat, which worked very well. Her backing and turns on the forehand and haunches were excellent. I was also able to ask for some lengthening of the trot while rising, although I stayed sitting when I was asking for transitions down or slowing of gait. We did some leg-yields from the center and quarter lines and some spirals in and out. Then we tried a little canter work, off a nice relaxed soft trot circle. She gave me an instant transition, but then on the first step with her left hind her stifle either locked or gave way, and she ended up on the wrong lead behind - which certainly felt awful to me - very lurchy -and I expect to her too. I brought her right back to the trot - she was worried at that point which I don't blame her for. No harm was done that I can tell so far - she walked and trotted sound afterwards. Her left stifle has been a bit sticky lately - when she turns in the stall she often drags the left hind under her body rather than lifting the leg, although she's fine when moving ahead. The footing in the ring was somewhat deep after rain and dragging, so it just may have been too hard for her to manage at the canter. She's had lots of hind end soundness issues, and I want to be careful. Next time we ride, I'm going to put her Sports Medicine boots on behind to give her some suspensory support, and if we canter we'll do it on the straight to start.


  1. I find that clicker training very interesting. I have never done it with horses, only dogs. I will be curious to read your follow-ups on this. Thanks for the book refrence.

    DO you ever linament Maisies stifles after she has one of those sticky moments? I have found that it seems to ease the muscle tension... whether fromt the linament or the massage or maybe a bit of both and can maybe help keep an issue from flaring up.

  2. Stephanie - thanks for the suggestion of linament - I've never tried that and should!

  3. Thanks for the visit and comment! It sounds like we have similar feelings about our horses. We use basic clicker training as well and it's how we start all of our 'wild ones'. They very quickly make the connection that we are starting a conversation that makes sense to them and suddenly the fear disappears. After that, everything is easy! Carmon

  4. I have used clicker training with great success on two different horses. The first one was a jumper that I had several years ago. The people I bought him from warned me he was terrified of the clippers and would have to be tranquilized to be trimmed, clipped, etc. I didn't realize just how terrified they meant until the first time he saw the clippers in my hand - they weren't even plugged in. I was just walking out of the tack room and was a good 10' away from him. He went up and almost fell over backwards. I knew that the slowly de-sensitizing approach would take a lifetime with this horse. So I tried clicker training. I taught him to target and the moved right on to the clippers. Within a week I could clip him without even a halter on, he would just stand there and go to sleep.

    I also used clicker training with my horse Bonnie. I have no idea why, as I've been present for every injection she's ever had, but from day one (literally) Bonnie has had a needle phobia. She would rear if anyone tried to give her any injection. Obviously that type of behavior is not one I will tolerate from any horse. I used clicker training on her, first using toothpicks to stimulate the needle, and then using a syringe w/o an actual needle. She doesn't think twice about injections of any type now.

  5. Carmon - thanks for visiting!

    Melissa - those are very interesting stories about what can be done with clicker training - I'm hoping Dawn will begin to learn that scary objects can produce food treats!

  6. I've had lots of experience with stifle issues. Keep the angle on the hind foot a big higher and keep the toe well rolled.

    Then, your horse does need to be really fit. Trotting is the key...25 minutes worth of vet would like even more--up and down hills as well.

    The idea is to build up the muscles around the stifle to help stabilize the joint.

    Nice work with Dawn. I do like her intelligence.

  7. Clever Dawn! I love clicker, it opens up a whole new world.

  8. Jean - You're certainly right about fitness helping stifles. I haven't been working Maisie as consistently due to my work with Dawn, and we do need to work more on her fitness. When she's been truly fit, we've had few problems.

  9. Good luck with the clicker training! I just started trying this with Mosco a few weeks ago, teaching him to touch the tarp when I point at it (like Dawn, he has a plastic bag phobia big time!). I just used a special click with my mouth, rather than a handheld clicker, because I'm so absent minded I'd lose one right away! I was amazed at how he was so motivated to try his hardest to touch that scary tarp beast! He was also so cute; I asked him to walk over the folded tarp (pinned to the ground), and he knew what I was asking, but it worried him a bit. He was stuck in his dilemma for a moment, then I saw a lightbulb click on, and he took his BIGGEST strides ever and completely stepped over the whole thing! Sometimes being 17 hands comes in handy!

  10. Cool Clicker training! I did some with Bodhi when he was too young to ride but I still wanted to spend time with him. I taught him to touch a target, kick a ball, and pick up a jolly by the handle. I also used targeting to get him to load more efficiently. That is a great book recommendation. I also recommend "Don't Shoot the Dog" by Karen Pryor for anyone interested in an introduction into positive reinforcement training.


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