October 2, 2020

Introducing (and using!) Clicker Training with Aeres

Last night I finally got around to introducing Aeres to clicker training. I had tried it with Connor in the past; he was supremely indifferent to it, but I had a strong feeling Aeres would be different. She reminds me of Hank in how treat motivated she is, and more specifically in how a treat seems to turn an "I'm afraid of this/I hate this" situation into "Oh yeah sure totally" for her.

Easily bought. Like yesterday at the vet's when the vet was definitely killing him with those nail clippers until the vet came back with a treat bag.

With Aeres, I introduced the clicker differently than I had with Hank or Connor, based on an idea I got from a Facebook group JenJ added me to. Someone suggested standing next to the horse's shoulder facing forward, which naturally makes them want to crane their necks around to investigate you, but only click-treating when they get bored of that and face forward, standing quietly. So stand quietly facing forward becomes their default response in the future, especially when they're confused about what you're asking.


This could not have worked better or faster with Aeres. Not only did she quickly understand the ask, she started to play with her response. How long does my head need to be forward before the treat? What position? Do I get a treat if I swing my head back around after the click? It was so cool to watch her brain work, and to give her a chance to do real work that doesn't cause anxiety, that she has no pre-existing associations with.

That was as much as I'd planned for last night, intending to keep it short and simple, but she was so engaged and excited about puzzling out the clicker training that I decided to see if I could transpose that into the mounting block. Up to that point, I had had to either have a ground person hold her, or squeeze her against the wall to get on, because otherwise she'd swing her hindquarters away from the mounting block.

Sorry about the glare, I only took these videos to prove it to Mary, because I knew she wouldn't believe me

I broke it down into tiny steps, asking her to stand while I stood at her head, then her shoulder, one foot on the mounting block, two feet on the mounting block, scratching her withers, scratching her hindquarters, standing on the mounting block, rocking the saddle, finally getting on, click treating all the way. In between each of those especially at the beginning, I had to stop and move her hindquarters back into position several times.

But within probably 10 minutes...

I was able to get on and get off over and over again without her moving so much as a foot. She didn't even have the outside hind leg tentatively held in a "I might need this so I'm going to get it ready" kind of way. 

I could see and feel her brain puzzling out how to make the click-treat occur, and she was genuinely enjoying it. I probably got on and off 10+ times and she never moved a muscle, which is a stunning amount of progress. She stood at the mounting block relaxed as long as I asked her to by the end of the session, no matter where I was on the ground or if I was on her.

I am so excited to see what else we can do with this. Just like with Hank, it feels like I built a language bridge with her that I can use to do lots of other things now.


  1. Cool! And so fun that she was engaged and actively seeking the answer!

    1. Definitely, working with this kind of horse on clicker training is a lot more fun than doing it with Connor, lol. Connor was like "I don't see why we need all these extra steps, just give me the cookie."

    2. Sounds like most geldings I know, if I'm being honest LOL :-D

  2. It's so great that you get to work with a new horse while Connor is learning more at school. Seems like you've done so much with her in such a short time and are doing a great job of figuring her out.

  3. Bet you a nickel that next time she drags you to the mounting block and refuses to leave... :D

  4. I have done this with Katai and continued to feed her a treat after I get on and she stands quietly every time. I switched it from some anxiety on her part to happy interested, and curious brain and she stands like a rock for the peppermint.

  5. That is so cool! I bet Prince and Q might be good for clicker training, Hero might decide it's too much work.

  6. Aaahhh, what a sharp girl she is!

  7. Clever girl. She catches on quickly. I need to try this with my two. They are less than ideal at the mounting block.