I went to another clicker clinic last weekend. It kind of snuck up on me so I didn't post beforehand that I was going. I had a great time once again. I met a dressage instructor who does distance learning that I think I'm going to take some lessons with and I met a fantastic barefoot trimmer from Canada (All Natural Horse Care) that we convinced to trek back down to NY and put on a trimming clinic. Alex was great, she's so enthusiastic about how much the horses improve even in just the tiny little things that it's infectious.
Once again I want to encourage anyone interested in clicker training to try to attend a clinic. It's not just trick training or teaching your horse to pick up their feet, Alex's program really concentrates on making horses into balanced, supple athletes that are happy to work with their humans. She has a strong background in classical dressage and also incorporates a lot of John Lyon's work into her program. It's really an entire training philosophy.
My favorite thing about clicker training is how much it trains us humans to really pay attention to our horses. I mean really pay attention. When you start into microshaping and begin looking for tiny weight shifts or muscle contractions you really start to see your horse in a whole new way. You also learn how to spot when your horse is actively making a decision, more on that in a bit.
Anyway, fresh out of the clinic I was inspired to do some more groundwork with the quarters. Using cones as markers, we'd circle halfway around them and then back for a step or two. The goal of this exercise is to improve their balance and to get them to listen to a very light touch on the lead rope. Coriander was excellent, of course, he's already very light from our riding work. But when it came time to work with Gwen the most interesting moment to me came before I even got her to the cones.
I had set them up in the top part of the pasture and the herd was grazing in the bottom of the pasture, meaning the herd would be out of sight while we worked with the cones- a tough proposition for a herd bound horse like Gwen. As I was leading her up to the cones she stopped about halfway up the hill and debated leaving the herd. I stood in front of her with the slack out of the rope and waited for her decision. It took about a minute but she finally decided to go with me and we had a great session. She was a bit sticky at first but it wasn't because she was upset about leaving the herd. I don't know if I would have known to let her make that decision before I started clicker training, but it was obviously the right thing to do.
Another thing I really like about clicker training is how it brings out the playful side of horses. As I was walking out of the pasture for the night Coriander started following me- he still wanted to play. I took the opportunity to see if he would mimic me: I took one step forward and clicked when he moved forward, I took a step back and clicked when he stepped back. He caught on really quickly and soon we were doing a little two-step together. So much fun!