17 May Clicker Training Dressage Horses
Q: Can you train a dressage horse with clicker training?
A: Yes! Here is a pic of my warmblood horse Joey who was first in his dressage test last weekend with a score of 76.3%
Q: You can’t click while you are in the competition arena so why would you train with a clicker, won’t the horse want to stop and look for food in the test?
A: We use the clicker to teach a new behaviour or improve a response. Once the behaviour is established and reliable you can phase the clicker out so you won’t need to be clicking while you are in the competition because the horse will have already learned all the behaviours it will need for that event. You should be training a level above what you compete so that when you go out to a competition where there is a lot of distractions the horse will be performing movements and behaviours that have a strong history of reinforcement and the horse is very confident with.
You are not allowed to ride with a whip at a national or international dressage event, yet many people use a whip in training to teach the horse to do the movements correctly. Clicker training is a different way of motivating and communicating with the horse using a marker signal and positive reinforcement. We use the clicker in training but by the time we get to the competition arena the training should be already done.
Q: I notice you use the clicker and rewards in the warm up arena, why do you do that?
A: In the warm up arena I want my horse to be relaxed and confident so I click and mark some movements that the horse is familiar with this helps the horse to focus on me and to relax in the distracting competition environment.
In the warm up arena I also like to click and reward a few of the movements that will be in the test. This means the horse will be really confident about the movements in the test since it recently was rewarded for these behaviours.
Q: Will the horse try to stop and get a treat during the test?
A: No, the clicker trained horse will not try to stop and get a treat during a test because there will be no click during the test. The horse is really confident at the level it is competing at and can do all the movements for a duration anyway. The horse will try really hard with all the movements just in case there is a click.
Q: What if someone in the crowd was to click would the horse stop?
A: It is a good idea to train your clicker trained horse around other horses that are also clicker trained, this way the horse will learn to tune into you and your click and will tune out the sound of clicks that are for other horses. The horse also reads your posture, energy and intention and these are other signals that tell the horse if the click means they are getting a reward.
Clicker training is not only the most ethical training method but it is also the most effective way to teach a horse to be a really motivated, keen participant in the training process.
Clicker trained horses are calmer, more focused and try harder than those trained with traditional classical training alone.
I have ridden dressage horses with and without a clicker. I find that the horses are much happier when clicker trained and they also try harder. Dressage training is also easier with a clicker because we can communicate with the horse precisely when they get it right.
There is no downside to training dressage horses with clicker training, only benefits. It is only a matter of time before clicker training is mainstream in the dressage community.
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