My life with horses started before I was in the double digits, which is not unusual as horsegirls go. I collected model horses, subscribed to riding magazines and attended two weeks of “horse camp” every summer , the first of which I never removed my jeans and boots, even refusing to swim, so no one would mistake me for a “normal” camper. I know this describes thousands of little girls, past and present, who are enamoured with horses. By highschool I took riding lessons every weekend, and by the time I was 18 I was running the barn at the same summer camp I had attended, caring for 15 horses and giving 6 hours of riding lessons daily. Yet I never had heard “training” mentioned in any serious way, and I didn’t give much thought to how the horses we rode had learned what was expected of them. I was innocent.
I am an INFP by the Meyers-Briggs temperament test, which for me translates into : I am process over goal, incredibly sensitive to nuances in emotion and energy and aligned with a personal, internal set of morals. When I was younger this often meant I felt very alien in the world, but as I aged, it has transformed into a beautiful skill set when working with people and animals.(Ok, human and non-human animals;) I am an animal trainer by profession, but it is also what I do for fun and most people would call it obsession. I am never tired of it.
I train all the animals I work with using a device called a “clicker”. It’s just a little plastic box with a metal lever inside that makes a clicking noise when pressed. Simple. Deceptive. It doesn’t look like much at all, a child’s toy, really, but there is no better way to communicate with an animal. The click is a reward marker, it is always followed by a small edible reward. In dog training, the clicker has become close to a standard tool. But in horse training it is still on the fringe at best and generally misunderstood. There’s a fair amount of mythology in horse training about the danger of using food in training and how out of control horses can become when fed by hand. The truth of the matter is ALL animals become somewhat unruly when fed indiscriminately, but when food is paired with a clicker, so that the click PREDICTS the food, animals very quickly understand the rules.
This blog is the chronicle of my clicker training journey with my horse, Dragon, my partner’s horse, Fig and any other horses or people who may join us along the way. A map of a new frontier.