Part 15 – Clicker Training – My Horse Won’t Respect Me!

Okay – the feature photo is a bit of fun! I was re-enacting the famous Jurassic Park pose. Is this respect? The horses had learnt to stand on their mats by way of being reinforced – I just added the hand pose!

If you go to Google and put in ‘how do I get my horse to respect me’ or ‘how do I be a leader for my horse’ etc. you will get many different results! It’s a very common question! There are obviously many people out there who are feeling inadequate with their horse – and we’ve all been in that situation!

Now I looked up the meaning of respect – here it is – a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

And here is the meaning of leader – the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.

Wow! That’s a lot to live up to!

So if we want our horse to respect us, we want them to admire us. And we are told that we earn this respect by being a good leader. And being a leader means giving ”commands”.

Now, would you admire me if I commanded you to do something? Just think of everyday communication rather than a dangerous situation or high pressure job – because that’s what it’s about with your horse. I think you would cringe. “Oh, here’s Miss Bossy Boots again!” You would soon find excuses not to be with me!

So how do the humans know when the horse is respecting them? Good question. Is it when the horse becomes quiet? Is it because they back away from them? What is it?

I just want to put a note in here. I think this is the second time I’ve used someone else’s clip from YouTube in this series. I don’t normally do this because I try to focus on what you can do with clicker training. I wanted to show one of the many videos about leadership. There are lots of nice words – but just look at the video with the sound off if it helps. This is one of many!

There is a lot of ‘word salad’ about all sorts of things. All I see is a horse that has learnt if they come closer will get hit on the nose. At about 15.10 she prepares to walk forward. The horse is naturally hesitant because it doesn’t know if it will be hit again. She was going to give him three opportunities to work it out before she came on stronger. It’s hard for me to watch. To me there is no compassion – there is arrogance on the part of the human.

Word salad with negative reinforcement and a confused horse.

This site is called Tao of Horsemanship and has over 24,000 subscribers. I didn’t single it out – but it’s a great example of whether the words match the actions.

Here is a video of Ducati doing his backing. Which horse would you rather be?

Ducati’s favourite move!

So – let’s get back to the title. From what I have read and observed there is pressure in the horse world to get your horse to respect you – in other words – to obey you. That’s what I can see from researching this.

There is a fear that if we clicker train – our horses will not respect us – they will be all over us for treats – we will spoil them.

If we go through a process to train our horses with positive reinforcement, they will learn that behaviours such as standing on a mat will be reinforced with food – therefore they will do it again – and gradually stay for longer!

This may look respectful – but respect has no meaning for horses – it is a human term.. It needs to be removed from the horse training language. We are reinforcing behaviours that will allow both ourselves and the horse to be safe in each other’s world.

The mindset of a clicker trainer is very different to other horse training. We focus on the behaviour we want – and reinforce it. When there is a problem we take our time to work out how we can resolve it. ‘Respect’ and ‘leadership’ are not in the clicker training dictionary!

We can relax and enjoy instead!

I will leave you with this video – probably timely as it is so close to Christmas! The horses are standing still because they have been reinforced – not because they are respecting me or see me as a leader! But exercises like this build safety when I have four horses in this area. It creates calmness – and everyone’s a winner!

‘Respectful’ horses standing in their spots!

Until next time!



5 thoughts on “Part 15 – Clicker Training – My Horse Won’t Respect Me!

  1. Brilliant post and really like how you’ve highlighted the mismatch that is often seen between words and actions. When we stop thinking about respect and start to establish more of a two way communication, the whole relationship changes.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Afraid so, but nice to know there is a community out there who seek to do better. I’ve just started on my journey with clicker training so really enjoying your posts!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Wonderful post! Thank you so much! I am so glad I have found this method of learning as it makes just such an incredible difference. I would like to get your opinion on something please. It is something I have observed in my horse and also see it in others, yours included. I know part of the answer, but I need a little more. In the top picture – all the horses’ ears are back and in your video as you approach the middle horse the ears go back. I know that this happens at a certain point in training when they still feel a little overwhelmed (over threshold) with what they are learning and then of course there are other things like we are in their space or another horse is in their space, or it was literally just a moment. Do you have feedback on this other than what I listed? Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your comments Ann! In the feature photo their ears are just moving around – listening. I think this is where we need to distinguish by ears moving naturally as a response to the environment and ears that are back because they are feeling threatened. I would say they wondered what on earth I was doing when I took up that pose!! In the video, once again, their ears are moving all the time – now perhaps Magnum was worried with Saadi standing so close. It was new to have Saadi in that position – but on the whole in that situation I wouldn’t look at the ear position alone as a sign of over threshold. I look at how they take the treats – whether they start to get grabby – also if there is tension in the neck. Alexandra Kurland has a foundation lesson on happy faces and ears forward. It’s worth exploring. In the other video you will see Ducati backing. I’m careful that I don’t ask him to go further there as I know it’s uncomfortable for him backing towards the two in the stable. In summary I’d say we have to always be observant – we need to always take into account what we are asking – and whether the environment we are training in will set the horse up for success. For me, the ear position – and what type of ears they are – eg. listening to sounds etc….. or feeling threatened ears – is one part of the equation! I now know each horse’s over threshold signs – and they are all different! So I think it’s a matter of forever monitoring and then thin slicing the training if you have asked for too much. Great observations Ann!

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