Training with REWARDS is SO much more than ‘Clicker Training’

Posted in: Clicker Training, Equine Training, Positive Reinforcement Training

clicker_765_1‘Clicker Training’ was a term coined by Karen Pryor. She was one of the early founders and pioneers of the use of a mechanical clicker in training animals. She brought her experience as a marine mammal trainer into the dog world, replacing the whistle as the marker signal with a mechanical box clicker instead.


The term ‘clicker training’ has become such a well known phrase, it can often lead us to believe that it’s a so called ‘method’ of horsemanship, where there is a set procedure or pattern that is followed to achieve the end goal.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a ‘Method’ as “A particular procedure for accomplishing or approaching something, especially a systematic or established one.”

You would be forgiven therefore for naturally assuming that a ‘clicker training’ procedure would involve using a clicker to train the animal!

And indeed sometimes it does, but the catch all phrase of ‘clicker training’, I believe can actually do a great injustice to reward-based training because of this focus on it all being about a clicker.

In actual fact, I now prefer to use terms such as ‘positive reinforcement training’ or ‘positive horsemanship’ to describe this style of training, because it is SO much more than using a clicker to train our horses. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that it SHOULD be about SO MUCH more than the clicker.


Wood workingBecause the clicker is a tool! Just the same as a specific wood working tool has its specific job, it has been designed for that very intricate and specific purpose, so has the clicker a very specific job for specific purposes.

But there are other tools which suit other jobs much better within reward-based training as well.

The purpose of training our horses is to modify and manipulate their behaviour – whether you are wanting to get your horse to come to you when you call it, or balance better round a circle when riding.

Behaviour is what horses DO, its not what they ARE.

Behaviour is changeable – we can motivate our horses to perform any desirable behaviours we would like by using lovely rewards. And more rewards produces greater enthusiasm for the task.

But once the horse has learnt HOW to perform that task, and knows WHEN to perform it, we can (and should!) begin to introduce the use of natural rewards that exist in the environment maintain their enthusiasm and motivation to perform it over time.

The video below shows a long chain of behaviours, which have all been taught using positive reinforcement training and rewards, including the use of a marker signal (a clicker) and food treats at the very beginning. But now she knows HOW to perform them and WHEN, they are often maintained by those natural rewards – in this particular case – hay, but could just as easily have been grass or scratches.