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Classical Conditioning Classical Conditioning (Learning by Association) Classical conditioning is used by trainers mostly to create an association between a stimulus that normally would not have any effect on the animal and a stimulus that would. This type of learning was made famous by Pavlov's experiments with dogs.

Habituation As a prey animal the horse needed highly tuned senses, and a hair trigger for the flight response. However, jumping and fleeing at every sound expends a lot of energy. This is not very efficient, especially in times of drought, high temperatures or if food is scarce, when the horse needs to conserve its energy. To combat this the horses brain has developed the capacity to habituate to things, repeatedly occurring in the environment, that did not lead to fear or danger.

How Horses Learn Before we start working with the horse, it is important for you as the horse's trainer and teacher, to understand how the horse learns. This will allow you to present ideas to the horse in a way that makes it easy for the horse to understand. It will also allow you to problem solve, and come up with your own solutions should the need arise. There are many ways to teach the horse the same thing, this is important to remember, so if you are not having success with one method, find another.

Clicker training and the competition horse? The clicker is used to train a new behavior or improve an existing response. Once a behavior is established, reliable and on cue, the clicker and reward are phased out and only used again if you need to “tune up” the response to that cue. By the time your horse goes into a show ring or competition, the horse should have well established responses to all the cues you will need for that type of event.

How will clicker training fit into my existing training program? Perfectly! Most natural, traditional and classical horse training methods are based on negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is about removing a pressure when the horse responds correctly. For example, when riding we ask a horse to go forwards by applying a light pressure to the horse’s belly with our legs. We squeeze the horse with our legs and gradually increase the pressure with our legs until the horse steps forwards. When the horse steps forwards we release the pressure of our legs.

 Dopamine, oxytocin and clicker training? Clicker training uses the reward circuitry in the horse’s brain. This causes an increase in the levels of dopamine and oxytocin in the horse’s system. These are neurochemicals that are responsible for making a horse feel good. As a side effect of training with positive reinforcement we actually end up increasing the neurochemicals that make a horse feel good.

My horse is not really interested in food rewards, will clicker training work? Yes! Some horses will appear to not be interested in food rewards in the beginning. They might take one or two treats and then seem like they are full or not interested in the food or even spit it out. These horses will end up keen and enthusiastic about clicker training within a few short sessions.