Saturday, November 16, 2013

Clicker Training

Yesterday was N's birthday. We didn't ride, but we did do dinner with her and then walked over to the barn before having cake. It was about 9 pm, brisk and dark. We kicked on the outdoor lights and let Cali and Ashke be idiots for a while.

They had a great time. I can say Ashke is always respectful, even when really up and bouncing from it being both dark and cold. The lights were just beginning to turn on when we let them loose. They flew around the arena like they were being chased by wild dogs. Cali showed that she is half Paint every time she turned up the arena, head stretched out and flying. Ashke can usually hold his own with her, but not last night. Last night she kicked it into high gear and left him trailing her on the inside of the arena.

After they had raced around the arena four or five times, Ashke broke into this beautiful, high stepping extended trot that was amazing to see. I haven't seen him move that freely since I brought him home. He looked magnificent. And of course we were under canned lights and a full moon, neither of which provide enough light to video tape the action. At one point, both Ashke and Cali were high stepping and flicking their hooves out in front of them. Then they stopped and blew big, snorting, WTF blasts at the world around them. Ashke must have done it four or five times. Then we gathered them up and took them in.

So, about the clicker training. N is getting a puppy next week and has been researching clicker training for dogs. She is a bit obsessed, which doesn't surprise anyone who knows her. She decided to try it with Cali. Cali has a tendency to try and mug you for treats and N wanted to change that behavior. In ten minutes she had. We will have to wait to see if it works.

I decided to try it with Ashke. You may or may not know, but he has a nasty habit of biting. He plucks at your clothes with his teeth and is very lippy. He chews on my hoody strings, pulls at buttons, licks me and sometimes bites. He has bitten J as she walks past and he has nipped T. Any time he actually catches flesh, he always knows, because he throws his head back like he's expecting to get whacked. I have tried a bunch of different things, T-touch, biting him back, yelling, stomping, etc. to get him to stop and none of them have worked. I figured after seeing how quickly Cali picked up on the clicker that it was worth a try.

Two five minute sessions and then focused twitching (flapping elbows, sudden movement, startle response) to keep him from putting his mouth on me, has Ashke no longer lipping at me. He thinks about it, turning his head sideways and trying to figure out how to entice another carrot from me, but he hasn't actually touched me with his teeth or tongue since he figured out what I wanted.

How it works: I stood next to his head and ignored all of his behavior EXCEPT what I wanted him to do. In this case, I wanted his head away from me. When he moved his head to where I wanted it, I click the clicker and immediately gave him a carrot. Five minutes and he knew he had to have his head away from me to be rewarded. I did this from both sides and today I stood in front of him. When I stood in front of him, he turned his head to either the left or the right. As long as it was away from me, I clicked the clicker and gave him a carrot. I fed him the carrot directly in front of him, though, regardless of where his head was when I clicked. I am trying to train out of him his desire to put his mouth on the person standing in front of him. So far, working.

Since he is responding so well to the clicker, I am going to teach him to sidepass with a verbal cue combined with a physical cue. I am going to start from the ground and use the clicker to show him what I want. The verbal cue will be "side" and the physical cue will be a heel touch just behind the girth. My goal is to get him to sidepass over a pole. At speed. Eventually.

Our ride today was awesome. I think he is getting stronger with each passing day. There was a woman and her three year old little girl in the waiting arena watching the eight year old sister take a riding lesson from the BM. One of the times we circled past, she told her mom, "I want that horse when I am older. He is sooooooo beautiful." She said it several times. I didn't stop and tell the woman that obsession can start that young. I just smiled and let Ashke preen.

We only did walk and trot transitions today, in part because the wind was blowing hard enough it was rattling the arena, in part because there were little kids around and Ashke feels about little kids the same way some horses feel about minis. They are scary and eat horses. His trot to the right was wonderful. To the left, he was a little strung out. I kept asking him to bring his butt up underneath him and he kept trying to go faster. When I told him no, not faster, more collected, he said his head was way too heavy for him to hold up on his own. I refused to hold him up or let him lean on me. Once we got through that argument, he was much better and more rhythmic at the trot. We rode about 45 minutes or so and then I put him up.

As he gets stronger, the short stride becomes less and less. The stronger he becomes the bigger the trot gets. I hope at some point he gets strong enough to do his floaty, extended trot with me on him. And, as always, I hope I can ride it.


  1. Oh that poor mother... Ashke, what have you done?! lol

    I hope he gets strong so you can both experience that trot under saddle, too!

    Can't wait to hear more about the clicker training pursuits with the sidepassing.

  2. Yay for clicker training!! If you have read my blog for long you know I love it. If you haven't I have my clicker training posts tagged if you want to check them out. I've been using clicker with Chrome since he was a yearling or maybe a bit younger, I can't really remember. It took a while to find a treat he liked. I taught him to back up, yield his shoulders, yield his haunches, lower his head, heel like a dog (at liberty), stand on a pedestal, shake his head no, smile, chase a whip, etc. It is so much fun and once they figure it out they love it. I use clicker training with my dogs too. My Beagle mix knows over forty tricks. I post about my dogs on my other blog ( if your friend is interested and seeing some of what I do (or did, been too busy this last year) with them. :) Anyway sorry for rambling. And I hope you will post pictures of her new puppy when she brings it home. Pretty please!

    P.S. Happy birthday N!

  3. Ashke is beautiful. I can totally see what that little girl saw. :)

    How awesome on the clicker training!! It's something I've always wanted to try; a girl at my old barn was using it successfully to get her horse more confident on the trail. Great idea on using it to get him to stop nipping. Looking forward to reading how he does with training the side pass!