Is your horse afraid of the target or the sound of the click?
This is not uncommon as I too have experienced both of these with some of the horses I’ve worked with. The sound of the click is something they usually have not heard and when combined with an object it can really get their flight response going.
Getting Past the Fear
There are several alternatives that can help your horse get past the fear of the sound the clicker makes. There are also things you can do to help a horse that is fearful of the target. Here are some things to consider that will help your horse get past this.
If your horse is fearful of the sound the clicker makes you can try the following:
- Muffling the sound by putting the clicker in your pocket
- Getting a clicker that makes a quieter sound
- Making the sound with the click of your tongue
- Snapping your fingers
If your horse is worried about the sound this is the first place you would start before introducing the target. For instance have them in their stall and when they look your direction or touch their feed bucket, click then give them a treat. It won’t take long for your horse to understand what the click means.
I highly recommend the first method (muffling the sound by putting the clicker in your pocket) as I have all my students start out using a clicker because the sound is distinctive.
Once your horse gets past being afraid of the sound the clicker makes then move on to using a target.
When you introduce the target, your horse may jump back the first few times you click. I’ve found this does happen with some horses. You always want to click for the behavior you want but if for some reason your horse continues to jump back every time you click when they touch the target, then change to a different target.
If your horse is afraid of the target, you can use something they are familiar with, like a feed bucket.
Another thing you can do is purchase a boat buoy (I got mine at Wal-Mart) and tie it in their stall for them to get used to it. (The buoy will come in handy for other things also.)
I hold the hand held target out away from my body and when the horse looks toward the target, I click, then treat. Before I give them the treat I put the target either down to my side or behind me. It doesn’t take long for your horse to understand that touching the target will get them a reward.
Just remember when starting out, don’t get discouraged if your horse is fearful. Always take the time your horse needs instead of rushing them through the process. If you continue to have problems reach out to a professional clicker trainer to help you out. Clicker training is a powerful tool that will bring many rewards for you and your horse.
Kim Wende offers a series of private clicker training horses for equestrians of all levels. For more information visit her website at Passionate Horsemanship.