Why horse trainer traditionalists resist Clicker Training

I’ve been doing clicker training with my horses for over 10 years and during that time I’ve dealt with a lot of resistance from horse trainers and riders both in person (at various barns) and online to this method of training. These are some of the excuses or arguments I’ve heard from others:

Clicker Training is just “tricks.” A trick is defined as something to outwit or deceive; a peculiar habit or mannerism. Implied in this argument is that any work achieved through Clicker Training is not useful as it isn’t “real” work or training. That Clicker Trained behavior is an aberration like a horse standing on its head (and no dressage master *cough* would have taught a horse to canter backwards, galop en arriere, or to canter on three legs, galop sur trois jambes, like Jean Francois Baucher did in the late 19th century).

Typically, I see this argument set forth by trainers who feel their hard won knowledge, vast expertise and talent is being regulated to the same level as anyone – that someone using carrots can gain the same results as they can (which in many instance no they cannot but that is an essay for another time) really doesn’t sit well with them. It’s an affront to their dignity.

The horse world has long been elitist and this is just another pissing contest based on who can piss further instead of who can piss the best.

I also think at the root of this argument is how uncomfortable people are with the idea of horses as pets – if they can be trained like dogs, and a horse can be trained like a dog, what does that speak to how we view horse-human relationships?

You would be amazed at the amount of people who do not want to view horses as anything but farm animals that are there to do a job at the convenience of the human. As evidence of this, horses are classified as livestock in the U.S. and of course in Europe, people feel comfortable eating horseflesh when they would shrink back in horror in eating dogmeat.

The horse is ONLY being motivated by food. This argument is implying that the horse’s greed for food makes the training meaningless or less valuable. Horse people have long had a problem with feeding treats to horses: the horse will bite you! You will lose a finger! He will get greedy! You are spoiling your horse.

When in reality there is a CT method to remind the horse that mugging (begging for treats) will not be rewarded and thus discourages this behavior. I’ve actually found horses that are well trained by the clicker to know they must wait for their reward (however, this has to be done by someone who understands CT and unfortunately some who use the method don’t carry all the way through with their discipline).

What is interesting with this argument is the idea that food rewards are less valuable in motivating the horse than say punishment, physical pressure  or force (traditional methods of training). Force is okay – giving a food reward is not okay. Strange huh?

I train with treats which is just as good. This was an interesting argument set forth by a horse friend who was completely uncomfortable with the idea of using a scientific method (clicker training using a marker followed by a reward). She felt she did as well by giving a treat at the end when the horse had a good ride.

These two things (clicker training vs providing treats unattached to a marked behavior) are completely unrelated in terms of training and how fast results are gained. I will dare to put forth the supposition that it is highly doubtful the horse knew why he was getting a treat and never connected it to any sort of desired behavior.

In her mind giving a treat was okay, but giving a reward linked to a request was not. Not sure of the logic of this argument.

You’re not a real trainer. So using clicker training means you are a fake trainer? Some of this is related to my previous explanation – that commoners can achieve the same result in training as someone with real life, hard won experience in riding and training. The horse community is elitist so for someone younger, with less experience, with less money or advantages, or with less riding talent can train a horse to achieve something “higher” does not receive anything but ridicule.

Part of this argument is also that Clicker Trained results are not achieved using classical methods or traditional methods so they are suspect. Remember, horse training should be traditional which translates too: punishment, force, pressure training, not spoiling your horse with affection that could turn them into a raging monster, and not thinking of your horse as  pet.

The reality is that there are many paths to achieving the same result in horse training. The smart trainer has a toolbox of methods they pull from because horses can present different problems or learn differently because of their life experiences (i.e. poor training, abuse, neglect, medical issues etc..).

The person who works with a variety of horses, learns that different methods can get it done faster, easier or with less stress on the horse. I find that Clicker Training for certain parts of my training achieves this and I encourage you to try it out despite what others around you might say.

After all it is your horse right?

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