Is CT Right for Every Horse?
Sometimes people ask me if clicker training is really right for EVERY horse? Are there times you don’t use clicker training? Do you ever use negative reinforcement? Punishment?

Well, 90% of the time we jump right to using positive reinforcement with our horses and don’t even look at the other quadrants (intentionally). With some, however, we can only start with negative reinforcement. Some horses are so fearful, we can’t even get close enough to start adding something positive. We’ll use techniques like approach and retreat, and sitting with a book while the horse habituates to us, before we ever introduce a positive reinforcer. Adding food too soon in these situations can put pressure on the learner to go faster than they’re really ready. Only when they’re comfortable in our presence can we begin adding a positive reinforcer to begin that positive conditioning.

But more than looking at which quadrant we want to use, sometimes instead I look at it as operant vs classical conditioning. Of course the two are constantly happening hand in hand. But there are times – in this case with Taina, I’m going to put my focus on classical/respondent conditioning. I’m not going to begin looking for operant behaviors yet. In a situation where the horse is comfortable being near a human, but has obvious, blatant trauma that has unpredictable triggers – and also in a situation where the horse is starving, it’s absolutely unkind to put strong criteria on food. While she’s tolerant of touch and likes some itching on her neck, touch isn’t strongly reinforcing either. So while she’s starving and afraid, the food will be free-flowing. The only contingency, is that we are nearby! This just straight classical human=best time of the day. Everytime I feed her I spend a few minutes patting her all over, scratching her neck. I also hand graze her as much as possible. Originally she would graze at the furthest point the lead would let her from where I was sitting. Now she comes and grazes right up around me. This will be a long process and we’ll slowly add some easy concepts like conditioning the click, stopping for the food, and standing facing forward.

So when do we not use clicker training? When is it not right for a horse? Only when they’re working their way towards it