An Introduction to Clicker Training: Day 3

This is Part 4 of 4 in this series.  The horse I am featuring was one of the horses at the November 2015 Arkansas clinic.  He had no clicker training experience prior to the clinic.  We tracked his progress via video over a three day period.  What you are watching  are the training sessions we gave him throughout the weekend.

Part 1 covered the morning training sessions of Day 1

Part 2 covered the afternoon training sessions of Day 1

Part 3 covered the training sessions of Day 2

If you have not already read Parts 1 – 3, I suggest you begin there.  This article covers the training sessions in Day 3, the final day of the clinic.

Note: If you are new to clicker training yourself, this article and the videos they contain introduce you to the way that I recommend beginning with a horse.  They are not meant to be complete instructions.  For more on getting started with your horse, please visit my web sites: and

You will see from the videos that I began with this horse in a stall.  If you don’t have a stall available, you can use a small paddock.  The only caution there is the fence that you are working over needs to be safe. No electric, even if it is turned off, and obviously no barbed wire or splintered boards.

Also, you will want to begin with one horse at a time.  You don’t want to create a safety issue by having several horses arguing over who gets the treats and the attention.

Always training is a study of one.  You are watching Nick, a quarter horse who has come out of a reining horse background.  Your horse might be more timid, or much more eager. You’ll want to adjust what you are seeing here to meet the needs of your horse, but this will give you a good framework to follow.

Day 3: Session 1:

We’ll begin by going straight to Nick to see what he’s processed from his first two days of clicker training.  You will want to watch the previous two days of training in order to appreciate the changes he’s making.

Video:  An Introduction To Clicker Training: Day 3 – Session 1

I took a very short break to refill my pockets and then went right back in with Nick.  I broke this next session up into three video clips to make for easier viewing.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

I was enjoying this session so much I decided to go directly back in with Nick.  As you watch these videos, note how quickly I have switched from counting out twenty treats and making sure the session is short to this much longer training format.  This is very typical.  The total training time on Nick’s first session on day one was a minute and a half.  Now on day three this session was twelve minutes followed by a very quick break while I refilled my pockets and then a second sixteen minute session.

As you can see, this last session covered a lot of ground.

I continued to work on head lowering, but it was head lowering with a twist – or really I should say head lowering without a twist. I was very mindful how I lowered the target, and where I placed it to encourage him to release through the poll so that he could stretch down straight.

Balance – The Core of All Good Work
For me balance sits at the core of all good work – emotional balance as well as physical balance.  Throughout all the lessons you can see attention is always given to the horse’s balance.  Remember in the very first, most basic, targeting lessons, how very mindful I was how I fed Nick.  I used the food delivery to encourage him to stand in good balance.

Now with the head lowering, as I take the target down, I am watching how he reaches for it. I am making small adjustments in where I place the target in order to encourage a release through the poll.  He is learning about the connection between a marker signal and treats.  He is learning how to use the information that the click provides.  He is learning how to track a target, and to back up or lower his head when requested.  Those things are easy to see.  What is more subtle is he is learning how to release long-standing tension in his spine and to stand in better balance.  Through this simple attention to detail, I am preparing him for riding.

Balance comes into play in other ways.  I am careful to balance one behavior with another.  You’ll see how I work on head lowering for a few minutes, and then I switch to grown-ups.  This helps him to understand that there are many ways to get reinforced.  I don’t want to reinforce one behavior so heavily that that’s all he wants to do.

As Nick makes the choice to stay with me, you’ll see the beginnings of liberty work and basic leading.  All this is done in a stall.  It is amazing how much good work can be done in a very small space!

The work is quiet.  There are no fireworks going off.  Progress unfolds in small steps in which core issues are addressed.  Best of all this kind of work is accessible to everyone.  So give clicker training a try.  It’s tremendous fun!

Alexandra Kurland

This is Part 4 of a 4 Part series on introducing a horse to the clicker.

My thanks to Cindy Martin for organizing and hosting the November clinic, and to all the clinic participants, especially Wendy Stephens and her beautiful Nick.

Please note: This article gives you wonderful details to get you started with the clicker, but it is not intended as complete instruction.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:          

4 thoughts on “An Introduction to Clicker Training: Day 3

  1. thanks Alexandra for sharing this valuable information. I never thought of “head low with a twist” . This is something I want to practice with Dreamer since he is stiff and has alot of tension in his neck.


  2. I really enjoyed this series. It was a good reminder for me of some of the things that have gotten sloppy with my own horses and Nick is a lovely horse!!


  3. Pingback: Creatures Great and Small | catself

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