Clicker training with Sid

Jane&Ziggy

Jane&Sid these days!
Apr 30, 2010
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Surrey Hills
Sid is a very well behaved horse, despite his grumpy faces. However, he finds his daily treatments for mud fever, debriding his scabs and rubbing Hoof To Heal into the sore areas, very difficult to bear. He has never prevented me from treating him, but it's clear that he finds the whole process stressful and certainly uncomfortable, probably painful.

He is a very typical food-orientated cob, and I thought that bribery might help him put up with it. That brought clicker training to mind. I did do about 10 minutes of introductory clicker with him a few days after I got him, just asking him to turn his head away from me and prick his ears, but after hoof and mud fever care today I thought I would start properly.

He was loose in the shelter with the gates open, but the moment he heard the clicker he wasn't going anywhere! My goal for this session was to get him reliably to touch a target, the handle of a schooling whip. The first couple of times I touched the whip to his nose and clicked him, then I left him to figure it out for himself and he had to think about what worked to get that click and treat.

It took him about 5 minutes to solve. It was absolutely fascinating watching him think about it. His blue eyes are very pale and bright and I can really see when he is looking at me. He thought really hard - eyebrows wrinkling, lip quivering, uneven breathing. Then he tried a number of things.
  • turning his head away and pricking his ears (he remembered!)
  • rummaging at the bag for the treat
  • nudging the clicker itself (in my left hand)
  • touching my right hand
  • touching my shoulder (as he did when we were walking together and he wanted reassurance)
  • snuffling my hair
He was very, very gentle and polite with all these gestures, and writing them down I recognise that most of them (apart from the bag rummage, which got a gentle "nope") are things that he has been praised for, which makes me feel that nothing I do around him goes unnoticed!

After that he looked at the whip and tried touching the shaft, next to my hand. No, not right. Then he touched the handle and got the click.

You could see the light bulb go on. He was a little hesitant about the next try, but after that he touched it wherever I held it, to either side of me and of him and even where he had to stretch his nose to get it. When he kept his feet still but reached around like a carrot stretch to touch the whip, I jackpottted him (a big handful of treats, plus praise and excitement) and called it a day.

I wish I had had a camera running to get some film of his face. The concentration was extraordinary! It was a joy to see him thinking hard and interacting happily and positively with me.

I'll use this to get him doing his carrot stretches, and then I think I'll try to use it to help me get him to step across and under nicely in his suppleness training. Oh, and being a good boy to have his feet done.
 

Jessey

Well-Known Member
Dec 20, 2004
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Suffolk, UK
Aw good lad Syd, he sounds like he’s going to be taking in everything you do, I bet his grumpiness half stems from the fact that he’s often been given mixed signals and the poor lad doesn’t know what’s right.
 
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