Modern Horse Training – Today’s post: What Comes Before

I’ve been telling you about my new book, “Modern Horse Training: A Constructional Guide to Becoming Your Horse’s Best Friend”. The publication date is April 26 so not much longer to wait.

In the constructional training approach that the new book is built around you are teaching component skills that you can then use to teach the next, more complex lesson. So in this form of training, what comes before matters. The same can be said of “Modern Horse Training”. It is my fourth book on clicker training horses.

I know going forward I’m going to receive emails from people who are new to clicker training and who feel overwhelmed by all the resources I have created. It’s easy to get stuck at the starting gate. They will be asking me where do they begin? What book should they buy?

With clicker training it is always good to begin at the beginning and work your way systematically through the core foundation lessons. They provide the launching point for your training.

But that doesn’t answer the question – what book should you buy? Part of the answer to that question depends upon why you came to my web site? Did you come because you want to learn about clicker training? Did you come because you are having a problem with your horse that you want to solve?

My answer to both of these needs begins by describing how I see each of the books. First of all, it’s important to know that I am a bit of a pack rat. The dictionary says a pack rat is someone who saves unnecessary things or is a hoarder. That’s not what I mean. I like to think that everything I save serves a function, and I’m not really a hoarder. I’m just not good at throwing things out. I began writing about clicker training in 1996. I can’t begin to guess the number of emails I’ve written, or the number posts I’ve sent out over that time span. But a fair number of the words I have written have landed in my blog and on web site. Once they get lodged there, I’m not good at clearing them out. Think of my blog like an attic. There’s a lot to explore, but you will need some time to go through all the “boxes”. They are worth rummaging through because you never know what treasures you are going to find. That includes the Panda reports and the JOYFULL Horses book which I produced in a serial format on the blog.

And then there are the books themselves. The first book, “Clicker Training for your Horse”, was published in 1998. This year marks its 25th anniversary. Back in 1998 I know there were people who thought clicker training was just a fad that would go away. Clearly they were wrong.

Clicker Training for your Horse” was the first book in the horse community on clicker training. In 1998 there was a strong cultural bias against the use of food in training horses. The common wisdom was that treats spoil horses. You were told, if you use treats, you’ll teach your horse to bite. You’ll ruin your horse. One prominent clinician declared that giving treats was one of the worst things you could do in training.

Oh dear!

I had quite the up hill climb ahead of me to get clicker training introduced to the horse world. But we all know how you get to the top of a steep hill. You go one step at a time. So I started climbing and pretty soon I was joined by others. My fellow pioneers made the journey a lot more fun, a lot more interesting, and certainly a whole lot easier. Working with other people meant there were more stories. It was no longer just my experiences that I could talk about. We were seeing so many more ways in which you could use clicker training, both to teach new skills and to solve behavior problems

I had raised my own horses so when I started to write a clicker training book I wanted it to be a complete soup to nuts training program. I wanted to present the full arc of a horse’s life beginning with working with foals, through to starting a young horse under saddle, to performance training, and on into the senior years. I wanted to show that clicker training was relevant to all horses, all ages, all breeds, all sizes, and all performance goals.

As I write this I am realizing that when I wrote “Clicker Training for your Horse”, I was much closer to the early years with my own horses. Robin came to me in 1996 the same year that I started the book. Clicker training was new and my horses were still very young. I have traveled through the long arc of our lives together, and I am writing this fourth book from the perspective of looking back over the maturing of both my horses and of clicker training.

So “Clicker Training for your Horse” represents the beginning. I love stories. We learn a lot through the telling of stories. They help to anchor ideas and to clarify concepts, so to ease people into clicker training I shared a lot of stories. Instead of writing in general terms about working with aggressive horses, I included a case history written in diary form of a client’s horse. Instead of writing in general terms how to teach trailer loading, I wrote about a haflinger who didn’t just refuse to load. He would tank over the top of his owner to get away from anything he didn’t want to do. That included lunging as well as loading.

One of my clinic organizers told me that the first time she read my book, she cried when she got to the end. Her husband wanted to know what she was reading and was surprised to discover it was a book on horse training! When she got to the last chapter, she didn’t want it to end. I can think of no better compliment than that. And of course, it didn’t end. I keep adding more to that original book in the form of new books, DVD lessons, clinics, and an endless stream of on-line resources.

Clicker training began to take off from the launch pad of my first book. I remember the first time I did the Equine Affaire, people were mystified by the basket full of clickers that were on display. What were these things? What were they for? Children clicked them incessantly. What amazed me were all the parents who bought their children a noise maker! Eight year olds would walk off clicking the clicker at their siblings. I remember thinking the parents were going to have a miserable drive home, but they did it to themselves!

That was the first year. By the second year people were stopping by to share their clicker success stories. That was a delight, but I was also getting questions from people weren’t sure how to use clicker training. They had taught their horses to touch a target, but then they got stuck. The stories in the first book had encouraged them to dip their toe in the water, but they still didn’t know how to swim.

So I wrote the second book, “The Click That Teaches: A Step By Step Guide in Pictures”. The original version came out in 2003 so this year marks its 20th anniversary. This book strips out the stories. Instead it presents an easy to follow lesson plan. Each lesson represents a step in the training. There are a hundred lessons. Each one is described within a page that includes a description of the lesson plus pictures that highlight key elements of that lesson. It’s an easy book to use. Every chapter is color coded so you can move easily from one section to another. It begins with the foundation steps and moves through ground work and then on into an overview of riding with the clicker.

That book has served the clicker-training community well. It has helped spread clicker training around the planet. But even with two books published, there was still a missing piece and that was riding. Yes, both books included sections on riding, but they didn’t go into the depth that I wanted to cover. When I wrote “Clicker Training for Your Horse” the original manuscript was over 500 pages. Half of it was on riding.

A five hundred page book would have been too much so the riding was reserved for a second book. Because I wrote the Step By Step book in-between, there was a delay getting the Riding book out. I knew that other people were not thinking about clicker training all day, every day the way I was, so I began the new book: “The Click That Teaches: Riding with the Clicker” with a refresher course. I started with a review of the basics before I launched into detailed instructions for riding with the clicker.

The book begins with safety and then takes you to performance training. The core of it is balance – no surprise there. And the beauty of this work is the same lessons that keep you safe, perfected take you to performance excellence.

The riding book is not where you begin. It is built around an understanding of lateral work and the teaching of good balance that is introduced in the first two books. So you begin with one or both of those books and then move on to the riding book.

In addition to the books, during this time I was also producing videos, first as VHS tapes and then as DVDs. People needed to see what the work looked like. Much of the video that I used in these lessons was taken at clinics, so you are watching horses and handlers going through a lesson in real time. This is what a particular lesson looks like. These are some of the puzzles and stumbling blocks you may encounter. These are the details that make a difference. You are learning right along with the people you are watching. The DVDs do not take the place of the books. They were designed to compliment them. I think you need both. The DVDs can show you details that I couldn’t possibly describe in a book, but the books put those details into an overall context. They provide the road map. The DVDs give you more information about the individual “scenic attractions” you’ll be visiting along your training route.

I wanted these lessons to give good value for money so I packed as much into them as I could. When I was first producing them, a VHS tape could hold two hours so that’s what determined the length of the lessons. No three minute YouTube videos for me! I wanted to give you real substance. That’s both a plus and a minus. A two hour training video gives you a lot of good information, but it’s a lot to get through in any one sitting. Sometimes all we have time for is a three minute clip, not a feature length movie.

All the while I was working on the books and DVDs, I was teaching clinics. We were all learning a lot. Every horse/handler team added to our understanding of clicker training. Horses revealed more details that made a difference to them. I developed more teaching strategies for dealing with the different situations I was encountering. After all, one of the core principles is there is always more than one way to teach every lesson. If one strategy isn’t working, change what you are doing.

Horses made us look for those other strategies. I got better at explaining what we were doing and why. There was so much more new material to share, so I built the on-line course. It combined text with video. The video clips were shorter than the DVD lessons. You read about a lesson, watched the video, read some more about the lesson, watched the next video. The course is self-paced so you go through it on your own schedule. It complimented well the books, DVDs and clinic resources.

In 2020 when the world shut down, I switched from teaching in person clinics to teaching on-line. Out of that experiment I developed a series of eight on-line clinics. I have discovered that these clinics are an effective way to teach. They offer a great way to get together, and for people to get direct feedback on their training without the stress and expense (and carbon expenditure) of travel.

So how does the new book, “Modern Horse Training”, fit into this? Much of what I was teaching thirty years ago, I am still teaching today, but I have gotten better at explaining the what and why of the training. So I have once again packed a lot in. You could think of this new book as the Step By Step book on steroids.

So which book should you start with. Certainly “Modern Horse Training” will get you off to a great start with the most up to date teaching material. But I hope you’re like I am. When I find an author whose work I enjoy, I want to read every book they have written. That holds true for training books as well as for fiction.

When you read “Clicker Training for your Horse” you get to go back in time. How was I talking about clicker training in those early days? Reading the earlier books may give you a different way of thinking about a lesson. What have I added to the explanation? What story did I tell share before that got squeezed out this time? The books look at the work in different ways and at different times in the development of clicker training. When you hear something explained in slightly different ways, you may see connections you didn’t make before. But if you are limited in terms of time and budget, certainly beginning with the new book will get you off to a great start. And if you are already an experienced clicker trainer, I think you will enjoy seeing all the updates and additions to the teaching.

What has changed probably the most in “Modern Horse Training” is the way in which I construct the layers of the training, but to find out what I mean by that, you will have to read the book. And you will be able to do that after the publication date on April 26, 2023. Less than a week to go now! Very exciting.

Modern Horse Training” will be joining my other books on April 26. You can order them through my web site: Visit my web site to learn more about the books, DVDs, on-line course and on-line clinics mentioned in this blog.

You will also be able to order the book through Amazon and other book sellers