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Clicker Training

Francisco - Oh Lord, I Do Have A Clicker Trained Horse

Francisco's story started in 1993 when I took two of my good CMK Arabian endurance mares and bred them to Peruvian Paso stallions, attempting to keep the toughness and smooth out the ride. I got a short, stout bay filly we named Jazzy and a palomino colt we named Francisco. Francisco spent the first four years of his life growing up in a big pasture with lots of other horses. At four I started him then turned him over to a boyfriend I had at the time for a trail horse. Francisco packed Mark around the mountains and through four endurance rides, occasionally bucking him off, once breaking his ribs. He was extremely silly and afraid of about everything. Mark left us and Francisco stayed in the pasture for awhile. Then I tried to start over with him. He liked people but was totally terrified and would freak out and blow up.

Then I discovered clicker training. I had read about it in Equus and ordered Alexandra Kurland's book, Clicker Training Your Horse. This book has totally changed my life. It was the missing link I had been searching for all my life. I had found a way to communicate better with my horses. Book in hand, I headed for the barn. Jazzy was the first pupil. We started out targeting with a bucket lid. Within 15 minutes Jazzy was running for the bucket lid no matter where I threw it , touching it until she heard the click and running back to me for her treat. I couldn't believe it. She was going into the trailer, a stall , over log jumps, where ever I would throw it Jazzy would go.

Then it was Francisco's turn. I put him in a corral, showed him the bucket lid and he started shaking and snorting. He was sure that lid ate Palominos. I clicked the clicker and he jumped about 20 feet. So I tied him to a fence about 25 feet from Jazzy's corral and started playing fetch with her. After watching Jazzy and discovering there was goodies connected with this game he was much braver and trying to get closer to the action. We started by teaching him to target on the bucket lid and then moved to targeting other objects and put a verbal touch cue on it. In a short time he had relaxed greatly and was enjoying touching all kinds of scary objects. I could not believe the difference in him. At this point I totally obsessed on clicker training. I ordered all the books I could find through the library including Karen Pryor's books. The one I found very usful was Don't Shoot The Dog. I also spent 4 to 5 hours every night surfing the net reading about clicker training all kinds of animals from whales to chickens.

About this time there was a message on the Clickryder message board from a woman named Jan Norman looking for people in the Grants Pass area doing clicker training. I contacted Jan and she invited me to an informal demo she was putting on for her friends. I was totally blown away by her and Justin. He fetched, snorted on command, free jumped, lay down, bowed, sidepassed to the fence so she could get on, pooped in a shovel and rode very well. What struck me the most was his great attitude. He was happy and willing to do whatever Jan asked. I went home totally inspired and started teaching Jazzy and Francisco a whole new set of behaviors. I would figure out what behavior I wanted to teach and then break it down into the tiniest steps I could. In no time at all I had Francisco and Jazzy picking up a sack of cans and shaking it, playing the piano, wearing and walking on a plastic tarp, kicking a soccer ball, jumping a small jump, bowing, fetching a cone and standing on a stump. The fantastic thing about this was they were both much better to ride. Their attitudes had changed and so had mine.

I talked Jan into doing a demo with me and we were joined by Lisa Michelon, a well known dog trainer who gave a great demo on training agility dogs. We had a crowd of about 80 people and I was totally terrified but my horses held it together for me. Jan and Justin did a great job and I think we made several converts that day.

Since then we have done several demos and clinics . My 8 year old daughter Sarah also sings the clicker song and demos with me. My friend Connie set up a web site for me with how-to-do-it articles about clicker training I have also done home video tapes with my son Justin as the cameraman and am selling them with great success. We are doing our best to teach other people this exciting method. Francisco is now a great riding horse and impresses many people with his array of tricks. We are playing around with learning new ones and are doing more videos so others can learn easier by seeing the training broken down into tiny steps.

Sarah is teaching her classmates about clicker training and Justin is our official cameraman.

Francisco's demos are done with no tack of any kind on him. His tricks on the ground include targeting, fetching a cone, shaking a sack of cans, the yo-yo game, playing the tambourine, kicking a ball, pushing a ball, head down, free jumping, playing a piano, standing on a pedestal, turn on the forehand on the pedestal, honking a horn, crossing his front legs, sidepassing to and away from me, circling when I circle, sticking out his tongue, talking, dancing with Sarah, bowing, lying down, wearing a plastic tarp and taking it off and handing it to me, walking over obstacles, opening a mailbox and fetching the mail, opening the icechest and fetching a soda, handing it to me and walking back to close the lid. His tricks while being ridden with no tack include coming to the mounting block to pick me up, fetching a cone, retreiving my hat, honking the donkey horn, getting the mail, sidepassing, leg yielding, backing, whoa, kicking a ball, pushing a ball, mounting the pedestal, tracking the rooster or cat, peanut pusher, figure 8 and circles and go where I point. Most of all he is a great friend and riding companion.

Happy Trails, Karen

© 2001 Karen Parker