Learn Positive Horsemanship

Welcome to the wonderful world of positive reinforcement horse training! Many people have seen this type of training with dogs or exotic animals at zoos or marine mammal parks, well horses are no exception to behavioral science. If you’ve trained horses before but this method is new for you, that’s a great start, you already have the observational skills and knowledge of the species you’re working with! But be prepared to turn alot of your thinking upside down, this method is, in many ways, opposite what you’re used to. Regardless of what you are or aren’t familiar with this is the basic rundown of how horse clicker training works.

First we set the scene, we arrange the antecedents (all things that come before the behavior) to make the right answers easy for our horses to find. We can use a variety of creative arrangements, using fences, stall doors, ground poles, cones or other obstacles. This can help the horse figure out what we want and how to quickly earn reinforcement.

Then we need to get the behavior happening, as opposed to negative reinforcement we don’t use pressure or aversive stimulation to create behaviors, so we need to get creative! We typically use free shaping, targeting, or capturing, there are many more options for how to inspire the behaviors we want, but these are some of the most straight forward and easy to use techniques that we can use to teach anything we can dream of. Your only limit is your creativity and your horse’s ability.

Once the horse is doing the behavior you want or shaping towards it you need to mark it so the horse knows exactly what they did that earned the reinforcement. We’ll use bridge signals like a click or whistle or hand signal to mark the exact moment and bridge the gap between when they do the right thing and when the food is delivered, a moment later. Now that you’ve reinforced the desired behavior the horse will begin to offer it to you, in hopes of reinforcement. This is when you can begin to add a cue, building distance, duration, and tolerance to distraction, on the cue. Once the cue is solid you’ll also want to ensure they have cue control, where the desired behavior only happens when cued.

To learn more you can find detailed articles on all these topics and more in our Blog or you can formally study positive training with our Online Course, with detailed “how to” videos and instructions on training a variety of behaviors.

Stand Facing Forward (safe manners around food)

Back Up (without aversive pressure)

Send to Target (move away from handler/food)

Move Shoulder Away (without aversive pressure)

Head Down (a great starter behavior)

Hips Away (without aversive pressure)