#1 Tip to solve Confusion in Clicker Training

Is clicker training confusing for you

What do you need to do if you’re clicker training your horse and while you’re training you notice that everything seems to happen at the same time. You have no idea if what you’re doing is right. You panic inside. Or you notice that your horse gets confused in training. It happens a lot!

What is the best remedy for Confusion in Clicker Training? Here are some tips to solve and prevent confusion.

What causes Confusion

No matter if we’re talking about confusion in the trainer or the horse, let’s see why it happens. What causes confusion?

Confusion happens when a lot of things are going on at the same time. You’re asking your horse too many new things in one session. For instance, you have been practicing Key Lesson Mat training a few times. You’ve also been working on Key Lesson Targeting. Today you decide to train and combine the two. On top of that, you’re also in a different environment (context shift). Maybe you’re training him in his stall and before you trained him in the paddock. You just forgot about this.

Or, this time you’re with your horse in the same space, while in the past you’ve been training with protective contact. That confused your horse, because now he can reach your pocket or treat pouch. That’s where his attention goes. He’s mugging you and doesn’t pay attention to what you want. It turns out that you need to spent a bit more time on Key Lesson Table manners. and fading out the barrier between you.

Maybe you’ve just changed where you keep your food reinforcers,. Today you keep them in a treat pouch, while before you could find them in your right pocket. You miss the flow because you reach into your empty pocket after each click. This disturbs the flow in your training. You’re focused on find your treats instead of on your horse…

In short; you’ve changed too many things in your training. Confusion is (a common) result.

What happens if a Horse (or Trainer) gets Confused in Training?

When you get confused because you changed too many things at the same time, so you don’t know what to focus on.

Is your horse confused in clicker training?

You can get upset or even frustrated, because you don’t get the results you were expected. You can start doubting your skills as trainer. Or maybe you’ll start blaming your horse, because ‘he knows what I want…’. Is that really true, though? When you’re expectations are too high, disappointment is inevitable.

When the horse gets confused, he can get frustrated. His expectations are also not being met. Maybe he’s falling back on old (undesired) behaviors, like mugging, that were positively reinforced in the past. Years of giving a treat when he’s nudging pockets, is what he’s falling back onto now he’s confused by too many things.

He simply doesn’t know what to focus on. What is his cue in this new environment? He’s confused because he doesn’t get clicks. He wanted (expected) a treat and it’s not happening…
When that happens, your horse get even gets frustrated. Horses have different coping mechanisms to deal with frustration. Some horses pull back and tune out when training is overwhelming, others focus on the treats and how to get them. They might even turn to biting or kicking if their frustration turns into anger or rage.

How to Prevent Confusion


Confusion is a very uncomfortable feeling! When you’re confused you can think straight! The best remedy to prevent confusion in clicker training is to get Clarity. Clarity is one of the 3 pillars, the HippoLogic Clicker Training method is based on.

When you have clarity, you know exactly what to do. Having clarity also means that you recognize confusion. That you know when to change your approach in training if you don’t get what you’ve expected.

3 Tips to get Clarity in Clicker Training quickly

  • Make a plan before you start. Most ideal is writing a Shaping Plan (one of the 6 Keys to Success for Trainers in the HippoLogic Clicker Training method). If you don’t want to sit down and write down all the steps in the process of training the behavior you want, keep it simple. Make a Plan answering at least these 3 questions: 1) – What will you train (behavior), 2) Where will you train it (environment) and 3) What is your set up: How will you get the behavior (entice the horse to display it).
  • Focus on training ONE THING per session. If your horse is new to clicker training, teach only 1 new behavior per session. Then give your horse a break. When you start another short training session, you can focus on another behavior. When your horse is experienced in clicker training you can focus on the combination of two previous trained behaviors. This will leads to ONE new behavior. For instance your horse knows hip target and walk, in one session you repeat the hip target, the next session is about the behavior walking with you in that specific way (you walk backwards) and in the next session you combine behavior 1 (hip target) with (walking) and you create travers in hand.
  • Have a Plan B. What will you do when you or your horse get confused. What is your Plan B? My advice when that happens is to give your horse a break to reset his emotions. Leave him with some food. Now you have time for a break and reset your emotions. A few slow breaths will calm you down. This is a great way to get back into thinking mode (this is another Key to Success for Trainers in my method: paying attention to Equine and Human Emotions).

Do you have enough Clarity in clicker training?

Do you sometimes struggle in clicker training, feel like a failure or just don’t know where to start? When you encounter confusion or a lack of clarity in your training, don’t keep struggling! Ask support. I’m here to help you. You can contact me per email (hippologic@gmail.com) or book a free connection call with me to see where you’re at and what you need to get where you want to be.

Happy Horse training!

Sandra Poppema, BSc

Sandra Poppema BSc founder of HippoLogic

Teaching horse people to connect with their horse in training so they get the relationship and the results they want.

2 thoughts on “#1 Tip to solve Confusion in Clicker Training”

  1. Love how you’ve listed three simple questions to ask yourself Sandra, makes it really clear snd not overwhelming if just staring out.

    1. Thankyou for your feedback, Tracy. I hope it will make people think and that they know they are not alone in the R+ horse training journey. So many horse people face similar issues and we learn something new every day (at least, that’s my personal motto ;-))

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