3 Reasons why Clicker Training is difficult (and what to do about it)

I am so happy that I see more and more horse lovers use positive reinforcement in horse training. They’re taking initiative to learn about this ‘other’ way of training. They are ready to let go of many (or all) aversives. They’re taking the leap to give their horses choice in training and experiencing a better bond with their horse.

3 Reasons I see often

It’s not easy to change your ways completely and go against the traditions of the masses! Woohoo, you are doing it! Congrats!

Reason #1 Going against the grain

Does being a clicker trainer feels like a struggle

So that is one reason: you have to go against what you’ve learned. You feel that you’re the only one. And maybe you are the only one at your barn, that has emerged herself into positive reinforcement training. You feel you’re being watched. Sometimes you might feel like you have to explain yourself all the time. You want to tell them that ‘This is not what it looks like’. Meaning to explain that R+ is not bribery. Also that it’s not ‘ordinary treat training’ in the traditional way, where treats are given randomly (and cause trouble). This can be an exhausting environment for a R+ trainer. It really can take away the joy of having a horse.

Finding a new tribe, that is supportive, really helps. Your new tribe helps you realize that no, you’re not being crazy! Yes, giving your horse choices is scary and will lead to tremendous benefits. Join the crazy tribe that listens to horses and bond with them!

Reason #2 Using R+ in a R- environment

Following a moving target

The second reason using positive reinforcement in training is that people try to use it in a negative reinforcement environment, using negative reinforcement developed tools and a negative reinforcement based training structure.

Lunging to get the crazy out

Let’s taking lunging for example. Traditionally it’s used as a tool to get the extra energy out of the horse. They lunge the horse before getting in the saddle.

Lunging for better posture and movement

Or they use lunging as a tool to train the horse to move in a certain way. Usually with draw reins, side reins or other tools to coerce the horse (head and neck) into a desired posture.

Lunging for stamina

The third reason that comes to mind is to lunge for stamina and let the horse trot or canter endlessly on a circle.


Pitfalls of lunging

Now, if you’re a positive reinforcement trainer and you want to exercise your horse when you can’t ride, it might be obvious to choose to lunge your horse.

How many of you have actually did this (I’m raising my hand!)? The reason you need two tools for lunging is clear: a lunge line to prevent the horse from running away and a whip to make the horse go. Lunging won’t work well without those 2 tools.

I believe that asking (or coercing) a horse, that is meant to walk, trot and canter straight lines, to move on a small circle is aversive to the horse in the first place. I believe that the same applies to us: that’s why treadmills for running are straight and not a tiny circle like a merry-go-round. Imagine how hard would that be: if we had to jog or run a 3 m circle to exercise?


Lunging for R- trainers

Lunging for R- trainers is not a problem, if the horse wants to get away from the aversive (pressure on the bridle and bit are enormous) it’s simply prevented by the lunge line. The whip (sometimes the sight of the whip or just the idea) will ‘help’ the horse go forward.

There is a reason why it’s super hard to train a horse be to lunged correctly. Go on an average horse forum to see how many people have horses that run away or change direction while moving their heads away from the trainer. The solution is simple: use a round pen. Now there are no corners to hide in or turn around and the horse can’t run away. Problem solved!

Using R+ in R- environment is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole

Using lunging as way of exercising your horse in clicker training is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. That’s why I think the reversed round pen idea is such a great step forward! Now the horse can run away, because the trainer is locked up in the circle.

Reason #3 No strategy, no system

What I loved about my Natural Horsemanship program is that it gave me a structure, a system and the clarity I needed. If your horse refused, do this, if he does what you want do that. This was so much better than the traditional horse world where almost always the answer to my question: ‘How do you train that?’ was something like ‘That’s for Advanced Riders’ or ‘Start with X before you try Y (what you really want)’.

I never got any clarity on HOW things where trained. It was all a huge, big secret only Advanced Riders or Real Horse People knew and I wasn’t let in on the secret… When I bought a NH package I got clarity, a step-by-step training program, a goal (not my goal, but a goal) and I got almost immediate results in training!

Negative reinforcement is Positive reinforcement for the Trainer, who gets the results and feels really, really good!

Sandra Poppema, HippoLogic

When I started using clicker training and experimenting in the nineties I quickly realized that I needed a system and a strategy that would help me explain things better to my clients and help them implement R+ quickly. I’ve developed a R+ training system that hundreds of clicker trainers now use and that help them get results.

Positive reinforcement training is positive reinforcement for horse AND trainer. They both get what they want or need. Isn’t that a better basis for a friendship with your horse?

Sandra Poppema, HippoLogic

Making R+ Simple: Solutions

The solutions to help you overcome these common struggles are easy:

  • Find the right tribe. One that supports your ways and cheer you on and encourages to choose the relationship over immediate results
  • Don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. Start using R+ developed training tools, setup a R+ supporting training environment and use a R+ training structure based on appetitives and choices.
  • Use a R+ focused strategy and system


Easier said than done? I can help you with that!

Clicker Training Support

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you could master clicker training in a R+ tribe? If you could think out of the R- box and use the infinite possibilities when you enter the R+ world of freedom of choices and appetitives in training? What the relationship with your horse would look like if you would have a system and a proven strategy that will help you implement positive reinforcement? With my proven strategy I help you implement your knowledge and bring it into practise. Providing clarity and predictability will help you make your horse shine in a learning environment.

In the Clicker Training Academy we deepdive into positive reinforcement training and the implementation into your daily interaction with your horse.

November 15, 2020 I offer a free training series so that you can get a taste of what it would feel like to have the support and professional feedback to improve the bond with your horse.

Register today so that I can send you the link to our Zoom calls and popup Facebook group where you can find the links to the replays and more! Click the photo to join!

Free Training series to celebrate the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy


Why wait? Hop on a free call with me if you have any questions. Some people hesitate to schedule a discovery call until they realize how much clarity they can get from just one phone call. Book your free 30 min call here.

Join my free Clicker Course ‘Click With Your Horse’

Click with Your Horse, an Introduction in Positive Reinforcement

Sandra Poppema, BSc

Sandra Poppema BSc HippoLogic Clicker training coach

I teach horse people to connect with their horse in training, so they get results and the relationship they want with their beloved horse. Make training win-win!

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