Control or Communication?

Most of us would agree, Clicker Training (or reward based training) is a fantastic, kind and fun way to train your horse new behaviors. As Reward based trainers we opt for training opposites or changing the motivation to get rid of unwanted behaviors. But is that all we do? Add or subtract behaviors we like and don't like?

Many people have added Positive Reinforcement to their bag of tricks to control horses. They use whatever works to get the desired behavior. This can be necessary in situations for the horse's benefit, but it's vital we continually ask ourselves "What's in it for the horse?" With Positive Reinforcement we can teach our horses to tolerate a great deal. They can learn to tolerate being stuck with needles, taking disgusting tasting paste in their mouth - they may even learn to tolerate ill-fitting or aversive tack or to go past their comfort zone in fear or separation situations. Because of this it's vital we go the extra step to ensure the horse's comfort, emotionally and physically. We must ensure we are using this method to benefit the horse's well being.

For me, this style of training for me has become so much more than just altering behaviors. It has become a way of life. Since starting this my horse's environments have changed a great deal. From individual turn out to group turn out (though it was never my preference for individual, it was just the circumstances i had). From horses turned out on empty lots with grass or hay, now to lots full of curiosities, swimming pools, toys, games and puzzles. Even their stalls have toys and puzzles inside.

We have developed a new form of communication, the ability to say 'yes' to our horse. To teach them a way to communicate back beyond just our foggy (and often misinterpretted) recognition of their language. While it could be used for selfish purposes (just getting what we want), i find it actually helps me provide them with their needs better. The horses have a much louder voice in our conversations now, they will be heard because they have free choice. Someone said this in another thread and i really liked it "are we clicking to control or clicking to communicate?"

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