Change to Positive Reinforcement

It was 1999 when I heard about clicker training for horses. I knew dolphins were trained with a whistle and fish to reward them, but that was about everything I knew.  I decided to try it out with my 21 year old pony Sholto. I learned about learning theory during my study Animal Management, but no one could tell me how to start with Sholto. So I just started…

How I started clicker training

I can’t really remember what my thoughts were at the time, but I do remember I started with some really difficult trick training exercises: touching a skippy ball, Spanish walk and _classical bow_buiging_hippologica Classical bow. The skippy ball became a ‘target’ and it was really hard to change ‘touching’ the ball into pushing the ball. That didn’t take my pleasure away, though. The Classical bow was a coincidence and I was lucky to ‘capture’ that behaviour. I can’t recall how we got to a Spanish walk.

What I learned using R+

When I started clicker training I had no idea what impact it would have on my future and my whole training approach. The most remarkable changes (in hindsight) are:

  • I learned to ‘listen to my horse‘ by studying his body language
  • I learned a lot about learning theory.
  • I love to approach behaviour now as a matter of motivation: is the horse moving away from something or moving towards something? Is something else (than the ___clickertraining_hippologictraining/trainer) more enticing? By looking at the motivation of the horse, I can now skip the whole ‘leadership’ and ‘dominance’ discussion in training.
  • I learned to think out of the box and became more creative in training. I now have so many different ways to elicit behaviour and put it on cue.
  • Shaping. I learned the power of shaping, a wonderful tool in training.
  • Timing.
  • The power of using a marker to mark (a step towards) the desired behaviour.
  • Planning and the power of keeping a journal.

I truly believe that I wouldn’t have grown so much as a horse trainer if it wasn’t for positive reinforcement. One of the best changes is that I learned to focus on what goes well instead of what went wrong! A change that bears fruit in all facets of my life!

How about you?

What are your most remarkable changes since you started using positive reinforcement for your horse? How did clicker training influenced you as trainer, horse lover or in your personal life?

Sandra Poppema

Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to

Follow my blog with Bloglovin


0 thoughts on “Change to Positive Reinforcement”

  1. I could write so much about how clicker training has and is working for us. I had a horse that was ‘taking the p#**’, one that I had to ‘show him who’s the boss’, that I had to ‘win the battle’ and to ‘give him a good crack with the whip’. I had really started to feel very inadequate, incompetent and upset that I was getting nowhere and came close to selling Billy a few times. I began to search for a different way, I just wasn’t comfortable, or capable, of teaching or learning from traditional ways. I remember someone else riding him, I could tell Billy wasn’t right with the look in his eye and the way his top lip was, I was told to ignore this. Anyway I found clicker training through Alexander Kurland & spent a while reading before I started. I was so nervous, what would people think??!! Would I be able to do it properly?!I started with touching a cone & he caught on so quickly! I have spent much time alone working through things, yes I’ve made mistakes and still do, but the resistance and the battle mentality has dissolved and transformed to something more enjoyable and fun. I now spend time with a horse that has better manners, who is eager to learn & from this I’ve spent more time thinking about what life might be like for our domestic horses. Clicker training gives them a say, its a 2 way process and I’m much more comfortable with asking, not telling. We’re on a journey, lots to work on with the riding but surprisingly, going Bitless has evolved from lots of work on the ground.this wasn’t a goal, it just shows how good things can happen. Having to think about breaking things down & learning to say yes to the small steps is better for us both. I’ve learnt to be more aware of my own body & how he reads my (sometimes unintentional!) cues, and of his body, how he might be feeling about things. There are times when I don’t get it right &I have to rethink, but we are progressing. I was soooo happy a couple of weeks ago when we got a beautiful light, balanced ridden trot-just a few steps -that I almost cried!! I’m not sure that other people appreciate how slowly we work but it’s not about them! I could write more but I’m off to the yard to spend time with him 😊 I do think that having a camera would help now so hope to sort this out. Thanks for the opportunity to say all that!

    1. That is wonderful Rhonda. Don’t worry about slow (slow but steady) and if your horse offers you a beautiful, light balanced trot it is a gift. A gift is always more beautiful than sometime that is taken or forced. All clicker trainers understand this. Have fun with your horse.

Leave a Reply to Rhonda Simmons Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published.