Step 2. Back Off
You should have taught already taught your horse to Look away. The next step to introducing your horse to clicker training is to teach the horse to step backwards away from you.
You can do this exercise anywhere, it will help to have a safe, fenced area or some kind. You could do this exercise in a stable or yard or anywhere that you can work with the horse on its own where it can concentrate on you.
What do I need?
- A clicker with a wrist strap
- Bumbag full of treats
- A rope halter and lead rope
- A horse
How do I start?
Stand in front of the horse on one side of them.
Hold the clip on the lead rope or hold the halter right under the horse’s jaw. Because the food is all new to the horse it is important that you hold the halter right up under the horse’s chin. Don’t hold the lead rope down near the horse’s mouth as they will want to look for food in your hand until they learn the rules of clicker training, so don’t give them this option. Hold the clip or the lead rope or the halter itself and start by applying steady gentle pressure straight backwards towards the horse’s chest. (Don’t touch the horse’s chest though) Use the halter and gradually increase the backwards pressure on the halter until the horse steps backwards. As soon as the horse steps backwards, click, then wait for the horse to look away and then give it a treat.
Try to click while the horse’s foot is in the air moving backwards. Imagine you are taking a photo of the foot in the air moving backwards.
You will need to have the clicker in your hand ready to click while you are asking the horse to go backwards.
Repeat the process, apply light pressure straight back on the halter, gradually increase the pressure on the halter, as soon as the horse steps backwards, click, then wait for them to look away and give them a treat.
Then repeat the process many times until the horse will take a step backwards from a very light pressure on the halter.
Click when the horse takes the first step backwards, then wait for the horse to look away and then give them the treat. So the process is “step back, click, look away, treat.”
After the click always wait for the horse to look away before you give them the treat.
You are clicking when the horse steps backwards but the rule about feeding is that the horse has to have its head away before you give them the treat.
Within 10-20 repetitions the horse will get the idea and will move backwards in response to a very light pressure cue on the halter. Some horses may be heavier to begin with and may take a few more repetitions to get to the stage where they will respond to a very light pressure cue.
More than one step backwards
When the horse can step backwards in response to a really light pressure cue you can then try getting the horse to step backwards two steps. To do this you first ask the horse to step back one step, then release the pressure on the halter but don’t click, then ask for another step backwards. Click when the horse takes the second step backwards, then wait for the horse to look away and give the horse a treat. So the process is backwards, release, backwards, click, look away, treat. Repeat the process with this new criteria where you only click for the second step backwards.
When the horse can go backwards two steps in response to a really light pressure cue on the halter, you could then raise the criteria and try getting three steps backwards.
Again remember to release the pressure after each step, but only click and treat on the 3rd step. Backwards, release, backwards, release, backwards, click, look away, treat.
Repeat this stage until the horse will go backwards three steps in response to a very light pressure cue. Then you can repeat the process and gradually raise the criteria so that the horse has to go backwards more and more steps in order to earn the click and treat.
When the horse can go backwards really well you can increase how far the horse has to go backwards to earn the click and treat. Can you get the horse to go backwards 10meters? 20meters? Gradually raise the criteria so that the horse has to go backwards further to earn the click and treat. Remember to release the pressure between each step. The release can be really quick e.g ask, step, release, ask, step, release…etc.
Eventually the horse will be able to backwards with nice long steps and with a nice even rhythm. The horse will also start to round their neck and their back and lower their hindquarters. These are all signs that show that the horse is really understanding how to go backwards really well. You could then repeat the whole process with a bridle and reins instead of the halter and lead rope.
When the horse gets really good at all this you could even try going backwards over objects. Can you get the horse to go backwards over a pole on the ground? Backwards over a tarp on the ground? Backwards over a puddle? Backwards up a hill?
If you are asking the horse to go backwards over an object like this it is easier to first lead the horse forwards over the object, then stop them on the object, then ask for them to back off the object. Then when they can do this well you could then try going backwards over the object without first going over it forwards. You could also get the horse to go backwards between two drums or backwards underneath some streamers…get creative!