I have been wondering about what other uses trick training can have in regards to furthering a horse’s education. I wondered if using clicker training to shape a “trick” would be beneficial, so I decided to test it. I have a six-year-old Kentucky Mountain Saddle horse mare, Cinder. She is a mostly confident, moderately challenging horse (read Ride the Right Horse by Yvonne Barteau to learn more about horse types). Cinder has always been bossy and mouthy. I decided to try and see what kind of changes I would get by using shaping to teach her a trick or two.
Previously, I spent four sessions with Cinder, about 5 minutes long each, working on “charging” the clicker and teaching her to turn her head away before getting a treat. Today I brought her to the round pen and set her loose. My goal was just to have her step up on the big pedestal by herself. At the beginning, she was more interested in eating the already fallen grain that was on the snow. So I went and walked around a bit and when she started coming toward me, I clicked and rewarded her. If she stayed with me for a little bit, I would click and reward her.
Then I walked over to the pedestal and stood on the other side of it from Cinder. If she sniffed it, click and reward. When she stepped closer to it, click and reward. Cinder did not show any fear of the pedestal at all. By now, she was standing pretty close to the pedestal. Then, instead of stepping up, she leaned forward. I clicked and rewarded that too. After rewarding leaning forward about three times, I waited for her front foot to move. After several moments, during which she leaned forward and tried to figure out what I wanted, she put her front foot on the pedestal. Click and reward!
While she ate that handful of grain, she kept her foot on the pedestal, so I clicked and gave her more grain. Then she stepped up with her other foot, click and reward! I gave her several handfuls of grain while she was standing on the pedestal. At this point, I had accomplished my goal and I was out of grain! So I asked her to get down and then put her away.
For that day, I think my plan worked. Cinder was very interested in getting the grain, but was able to focus on figuring out how to get it. My goal over the next couple of weeks is to see how many things she can learn through shaping behaviors. And to then see if she is willing to work and focus on whatever training we are doing.
Watch for more updates on Cinder!