Horses are part of an ever growing industry, with over 600,000 horses in the UK, 1.4 million riders and 5 million people with an active interest in the equine industry*. Most people acquire a horse out of choice, so if you make this decision you should think carefully before going ahead. A horse needs lots of love and care, including regular worming, vaccinations and dental care. Owning a horse is time consuming and can be costly; not only will you will need to consider where you will keep your horse, you must also consider the ongoing costs of owning a horse which include accommodation, bedding, feed and healthcare.

In the unlikely event that your horse goes missing it is going to be very difficult for anyone to know who it belongs to, unless your horse carries some form of permanent identification. It is wise to get your horse microchipped or freezemarked, this will avoid heartache in the long run, should your horse go missing or is stolen.

Horses are herd animals, and thrive on being together with other horses. Don’t forget that your horse will need somewhere to graze, a stable for warmth in the winter time, a constant supply of water, feeding daily and regular exercise. It can cost hundreds of pounds a month to care for a horse, including accommodation, food, veterinary care and insurance; there will be other costs, including buying tack and rugs and extra livery charges when you go on holiday.

Horses can live into their thirties, over this time your horse will need lots of care and attention. Being able to provide all of this will ensure you and your horse make the most of your time together.

* Research conducted in 2004 by the Henley Centre for DEFRA and the British Horse Industry Confederation.

Clicker training

There is an increasing interest in the use of positive reinforcement techniques for training new behaviours in horses. The use of secondary reinforcers to establish a new behavioural response was originally used with performing sea mammals. One commonly used form of conditioned reinforcement is called clicker training.

What is clicker training?

Clicker training is a reward-based training technique. Using this approach, a novel sound, usually produced from a plastic clicker is classically conditioned to a reinforcer, generally a food reward. The sound is distinctive but in fact anything that is distinctive and consistent can be used as a secondary reinforcer.

Pressing the metal strip of the clicker makes a click noise that through classical conditioning becomes associated with a rewarding situation for the horse.

What are the advantages of clicker training?

The use of a conditioned reinforcer like a clicker has several advantages in animal training.

The trainer is able to reward a behaviour rapidly after its performance, thereby increasing the chance of the horse associating the reward with the appropriate desired activity.

The association allows the trainer to bridge the gap between the time at which an animal performs a response correctly and the arrival of a primary reinforcer (usually food). This allows training to be carried out from a distance and when food cannot be administered at that time, hence its use by dolphin trainers and its potential for use by horse riders.

How does clicker training work?

During the initial stages of training, the clicker sound should always be followed by a positive reinforcer such as a food reward (click followed by treat within 2-5 seconds). Simultaneous presentation of a reward and a novel secondary stimulus works less well. Similarly clicking after the food has been given does not result in a clear association being made.

The click and treat event is repeated until the horse has made the association. This usually takes only a few trials but is dependent upon the horse's motivation for the food, age, and other distractions. Most horses if they are going to make the association, will do so in a maximum of 30 repetitions. Once established the response to the click can be maintained and strengthened via variable or intermittent reinforcement, ie food does not follow after every click.

When can I use clicker training?

Clicker training can be used for training many in hand behaviours, such as teaching a horse to lead, to stand when tied up, and to move forward into a trailer/lorry.

Where can I get further information on clicker training?

Useful websites

Useful publications

  • Bartlett K (2018) Teaching Horses with Positive Reinforcement: A Guide to Achieving Success with Clicker Training. Independent Publisher. ISBN: 978-0692198537.
  • Karrasch S & Karrasch V (2012) You Can Train Your Horse to Do Anything!: On Target Training - Clicker Training and Beyond. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN: 978-1480254909.
  • Pryor K (2010) Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us about All Animals. Scribner Book Company. ISBN: 978-0743297776.