Do I have to?

Posted in: Clicker Training, Stories & Thoughts

Recently on one of the forum’s I frequent, the question arose as to whether or not there is an element of horses “having to” do what they are being asked when we train with the clicker. 

As I am sure you can imagine, this sparked a lot of thought in the members on the group and potentially opened a can of worms too! Why does such a short sentence as this cause such disparity and polarised views amoungst horse trainers?! Probably because the concept of ‘having to do’ something infers a threat that if it is not complied with, there will be concequences, likely of the negative variety! And of course, as clicker trainers, we are more than fully aware of exactly what the effects might be on a subject’s emotions and behaviour dependent on what those concequences are!

The whole discussion really got me thinking! It also got Jane Jackson of Bookends Farm thinking too and she wrote a blog on the topic, which is just so brilliantly written, I wanted to share it.

“Recently, the topic arose of whether or not a horse ever “has to” do what he is asked when we are Clicker Training. I think both sides of the debate have merit and it comes down to how you define “have to” as well as a lot of other things.

On the side of those who think that “have to” is not part of the Clicker Training process, I agree. One of my basic premises is that the horse has the choice of whether or not to respond to any of my cues (which differentiates a cue from a command in my opinion). If I give a cue and the horse does not respond, that is information, not defiance. It could very well be that I have not trained it well enough, or have not trained it well enough to generalize to all situations (the difference between a horse who goes wonderfully at home but things fall apart in a new situation). It could be that my cue was unclear in a given situation, or that I was not paying attention to see that the horse was distracted. If I am in the mindset that the horse “has to” respond, then I am closing the door to all that information and my training will suffer as a result- I have eliminated the possibility of feedback from my horse until, well, it’s a dire situation and the horse feels he needs to react in a very strong show of emotion to be heard.
On the other side of the question is the people who say that there are times when a horse has to respond in certain situations. Who wants to ride a horse that decides not to stop when asked? Or even lead one for that matter? It’s dangerous.”
To read the rest of Jane’s blog article, please click on the link below…

Do I have to?