I had somebody request more horse agility, and while this video isn’t exactly informative, look at this amazing chunky pony. He is probably the cutest most rotund thing I have ever seen in my life. Some fun liberty work and horse agility in here.


Things I hate:
- young horses being taught the “one-rein emergency stop”
- young horses being taught to move sideways by the rider throwing his/her weight to one side or the other
- young horses being taught to stand up straight for mounting by someone jerking the saddle to one side
- young horses ever being intentionally robbed of their balance by “trainers” who are supposed to teach them how to FIND their balance

Add to this list:
- young horses being chased in small circles they aren’t balanced enough for
- young horses being chased backwards
- young horses being chased

Read Don’t Shoot the Dog free online

I’m queuing up a bunch of quotes from Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog, which is a great easy read explaining the basics of science-based training and its applications. Each quote will include this link, which is where you can all go to read it in its entirety for free.

This is one of the books that got me started with positive training. I’ll be posting some of my favorite bits but I definitely recommend reading the entire thing. It’s a fun book and makes difficult concepts simple to understand.

onthebuckle said: hello! I think with the NH if they know their stuff properly (like someone at my yard) then it can result in the desired result, but so many people don’t do it right:( and there is a bit too much -ve reinforcement for me but she gets results:-)

My biggest problem with Natural Horsemanship is that the explanation for how the training works is all wrong. Instead of realizing that what they’re utilizing is negative reinforcement and punishment, they claim to be emulating ‘natural’ horse behavior. This means that people who don’t have some natural ability already (or ‘know their stuff’) have no way to analyze their training or improve, because the entire basis of the approach is inaccurate.

picklepaigebwah said: One of the biggest differences between the dog world and the horse world is that most dog people’s favorite part about canine sports is TRAINING for the sport, while most equestrians favorite part about equine sports is COMPETING in the sport.

I’d say this is definitely true. Or at least, the enthusiasm about training for the sport is about training yourself (the rider) to your highest ability, less about taking the horse and training them to their highest ability. The horse’s behavior is more a means to an end. This is obvious when you look at how most dog sports involve the dog off the leash, unhindered and obedient regardless, and then look at all the horses with various martingales and bits and nosebands even at very high levels.

Luring, Shaping, and Capturing

I hear a lot of people who love the idea of clicker training, have gotten a few basic behaviors, and want to go further, but aren’t sure how. For those of you in that position, I’m about to share with you the three biggest tools you need to clicker train. Each of these three methods deserves its own post and will probably get one, but here’s a brief overview:


This is probably the easiest of the three approaches. This is where you use food (or anything the horse will follow) to create movement and get behavior by luring the horse along. It’s as simple as it sounds.

Here’s a six second video to demonstrate.

Equine applications

  • Trailering (horse follows food into the trailer)
  • Backing up (hold the food in a position where the horse must step backwards to reach it - probably under and beyond the nose, towards the chest)

IMPORTANT NOTE: I do not use luring with food, I use target lures. In other words, I don’t put food in my hand and lure with that. Instead I teach the horse to target it’s nose to an object, then I use that object as a lure. Luring with food is a good way to get bit, and using a target lure more actively engages the horse’s mind. Here’s a useful article about the difference between luring with food and with a target.


Possibly the most powerful of the three. This is where you click and treat incremental changes in behavior, until you get a finished behavior. This is a fantastic way to build behavior which requires the horse to think hard and act deliberately.

Here’s a fantastic video of free shaping a boxer to bow. Watch how the dog experiments with minute changes in his movement to see what gets clicked. It takes less than a minute to get the bow.

Equine applications

  • Spanish walk (clicking the horse for lifting its leg higher and higher each time)
  • Opening mouth for inspection (click for mouth movement, for flaring of the lips, for increasing openness of the mouth)
  • Collection (clicking increased weight shifts towards the hind end)


Probably one of the funnest applications of clicker training. This is when an animal displays some random behavior, which you then ‘capture’ by clicking. An animal that understands the clicker will know to repeat the behavior, which you can then put on cue.

Here’s a quick video of capturing a border collie’s odd grunting noise.

Equine applications

  • Bow (capturing the moment when a horse sticks out its leg and shoes flies away from the ankle with its nose)
  • Smile (capturing the flehmen response)
  • Head lowering (clicking the horse when they sniff the ground)

So there’s a quick summary of all three.

I hope to make a post for each soon, so stay posted for that, and feel free to message me with any questions or confusion!

Schools of training in the horse world

I’ve been thinking lately about the different kind of reactions I get to equine clicker training, and how I really have to tailor my responses to what I assume that person’s training background is. The world of equine training is extremely diverse, and I thought it would be interesting to sum up what I see and get everyone’s input on it.

Training Aficionados

This is the category I’d place myself into. We’re trainers who are fascinated by the mechanisms of training itself, who can banter all day about the fine points of extinction or qualities of different markers. Most of us are involved in training of exotic animals or compete in upper level canine sports like obedience and agility. I don’t see many equestrians with this background, and I think most equestrian training aficionados have stumbled in from the dog world, like yours truly. It’s a tricky category to be in because most of us have very strong opinions about what constitutes ethical and effective training, but almost no foundation to stand on in the horse world, which is difficult enough to infiltrate for even your conventional horse person (in terms of the money and physical ability involved in success).

Classical/Light Pressure Trainers

This is the video that always comes to mind for me. These are trainers who place a high value on treating the horse kindly, are extremely gentle, and are fantastic at getting solid behavior through immaculate use of negative reinforcement. They often give the horse food rewards, although they don’t use a marker like the clicker (and therefore aren’t using the rewards as efficiently as they could), and they always provide the horse a generous release from pressure. I remember one video in particular, which I can’t find now, but which showed a rider rewarding her horse by dismounting and unsaddling him entirely to let him roll. I have an enormous amount of respect for these kinds of trainers. I never see their horses stressed, I see them defend their animals constantly, and I see them fighting most of the same battles I do against abusive and shoddy training.

Hippie Dippie NHers

I’d call these the people who have no real concept of how training works, but put a lot of faith in things like ‘energy’ and having a ‘connection’ with the horse. They believe wholeheartedly in treating the horse kindly and respecting its freedom and autonomy, but don’t know how to implement rewards or use negative reinforcement efficiently, leading to a lot of awkward liberty work and training that doesn’t go anywhere in particular. Training for them is bundled up in poofy mysticism which hinders their work. Their hearts are in the right places, but they don’t understand the horse or how to shape horse behavior. Plenty of them like the idea of clicker training, but lack the knowledge of a training aficionado, which prevents them getting proper behavior and can even get them into trouble.

Dominance Buffs

I almost made this the ‘cowboy bullshit’ category. These are, unfortunately, the people I work with on a regular basis. They believe in throwing a saddle on a horse and letting him buck it out. They believe that an untrained horse is inherently ‘disrespectful’ and will happily strike a horse in the face if it comes into their personal bubble. Most of them seem to believe that their horse is only truly ‘respectful’ if it’s dead in the eyes and virtually unresponsive to any stimuli. These are the most misguided and harmful trainers out there.

People Who Don’t Train

And this is probably the second largest category of horse people I’ve encountered. These are people who don’t train, they ride. Some of them are incredibly good riders, have a perfect seat and plenty of ribbons, but no idea how to shape behavior. They treat their horse at random, instead of in a training context, and usually deal with unwanted ground behaviors by checking out a Parelli DVD and poking the horse around until the problem is resolved. They also resort to gadgets, like harsher bits, nosebands, martingales, kickchains, and cribbing collars to eliminate problems, because they don’t know how to actively resolve them.

Obviously these are huge and fuzzy categories, which don’t apply to everyone and overlap at times, but they are definite trends that I see in the horse world. This is NOT meant to insult anyone or generalize in a rude way. I’d love to hear other people’s input on how you would categorize yourself and other equestrians, in terms of how you approach training, or see others approaching it, because I think it’s an important discussion to have. The horse world is odd because it combines some very different skillsets (the ability to handle a horse versus the ability to train a horse from scratch versus the ability to ride a well trained horse), which leads to interesting gaps in knowledge. Those gaps in knowledge are important to address.

I posted a while back about how I teach horses to lead and give to pressure using positive reinforcement, and recently I found a great video showing almost the exact same steps. In this video you can see:

  • how early you can start horses with the clicker and how easily you can get desired behavior in even very young animals
  • variability of rewards (started out reinforcing the foal with scratches, then moved on to hay)
  • variability in the marker sound (you don’t need a click necessarily, you can also use mouth sounds, and other markers)
  • building behaviors (targeting a hand > targeting a halter > having the halter on > etc)
  • the importance of treating position (you treat the horse away from you, preferably under their chin, to reinforce desirable head position and prevent mugging)

Anonymous said: what about a wood fence with a line electrical fencing running along it






A sturdy fence with a strand of electrical wire for insurance is a solid option. I stand by the idea that the perfect pasture would have no painful or unpleasant element, purely because we should always seek to prevent pain or discomfort in the horse whenever possible, but it is an unfortunate truth that this isn’t always possible. So I definitely understand people who feel the need for an electrical element to their fencing. 

If you’re going to use electrical fencing, using it in conjunction with solid fencing is best. Using electrical tape (as someone mentioned) as opposed to wire is also a good option because it’s highly visible.


The most common accident I have seen in my career so far has been horses rolling/playing alongside a solid fence and getting tangled. I have seen/heard of more horses severely injure themselves this way than any other way. Countless severe cuts and tendon injuries, and one very good mare I knew broke her leg this way and had to be euthanized. Once at work in Iceland, a gelding was playing and showing off next to a fence and managed to get himself suspended by his belly, three legs off the ground, one hind foot touching the ground. Because I was alone with another small woman, we had to call for help and keep the horse calm for close to 20 MINUTES before anyone could come and help us take apart the fence and save the horse. He was unharmed, amazingly, because Icelandic horses are amazing and he didn’t struggle or panic at all. Maybe it’s just coincidence that I’ve encountered so many accidents like this, but the sum of it was enough to scare me away from building fencing without at least an electric line to keep horses away from the wood planks when we built our own place. The paddocks have solid fencing with an electric line, the fields have electric tape (because I’ve known horses who got tangled up in electric wire and that was bad too), and this is the setup I feel safest with for my animals :)

Ohh yeah, similar story - my best lesson pony once tried to jump the wooden fence from one paddock to another and got hung up in it (the snow bank had piled high enough that she thought she could attempt it).  If I hadn’t been home to dismantle the fence she probably would have colicked.  Another gorgeous 3-yr-old sport horse I know did get tangled in a solid fence and had spinal damage.  They spent three days trying to get him back on his feet again before his heartbroken owner finally made the call.  Another one of my horses, Cal, challenged one of my solid fences as a yearling and got caught up in it, damaged his hind pasterns so severely that he’s permanently lame for life, so he’s basically just a pasture ornament that drains my finances (but I wont get rid of him because I know where he’ll end up).

On the other hand, Savvy went through an electric fence two years ago and sliced up one of her legs on one of the wires (I’ve since switched to 100% rope and tape for the pastures, she went through a combo rope and wire fence).  It was pretty bad, but it took less than a month to fully heal.

My Canadians will clear 4’6” solid wooden fences when they’re distressed.  They aren’t as bad as they used to be, but a wood/electric combo fence was really the only way to keep them in at the beginning.  Again, different situations, but the point remains that all fencing options have drawbacks.  

I find that with young horses, stressed horses, or horses with issues, a wood electric combo fence, with two lines - one at chest height and one suspended about 12” above the top of the fence - is a very good system (I leave my posts long for this very reason).  Once they’ve learned to back off and are content to stay put you can usually go to a solid wooden fence without issues.

Does anyone know of any scientific studies showing the rate and severity of injuries caused by different fences? All I’m finding are articles that summarize the different types paired with some anecdotes and don’t have a lot of real data. I feel like there has to have been some real research done at some point. This article is the closest I could find, it has some quotes from an expert, but that’s still not statistical data.

All the injuries I’ve seen have occurred from wire or mesh. The worst was probably a foal who got tangled up overnight and was found dead in the morning. I’ve also seen a lot of wire fences ending up on the ground, though that’s probably more a question of maintenance.

I worry about the ethics behind doing a controlled scientific study for something like this.  Putting horses in different fencing situations just to see how badly they hurt themselves?  I think anecdotal evidence - advice from people who have been in the horse world and keeping horses all their lives is probably all we’re going to get for now.

I didn’t mean an experiment, I meant more that I assume vets keep track of how and when injuries occur, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s already data collected somewhere.

sydneyinboston said: I'm suppose to be helping my BO research what footing would be best for barefooted horses, is there anything you know of or would recommend? We have playground sand currently and she is just transferring her new horse to barefoot. She is thinking about crum foot?


Hey I’m so sorry it’s taken so long to post this!  It seems to have gotten lost in the bottom of my drafts folder.  :c

Transitioning is exciting and nerve wracking.  I have two boarders that are transitioning this week, so I’m going through something similar right now.  If they’re really bad playground sand is an okay surface to start them on, after a couple of weeks you can probably try them on something a bit more challenging. 

For barefoot, the trick is to keep your horse on a surface that is just as if not more challenging than the one you plan to work them on.  The stimulation that happens to the back of the foot, specifically the digital cushion, is what’s going to grow them a stronger foot.

So while the ideal is to have a variety of different types of footing that they must go through, the one you want them standing on the most is something like pea gravel:


 This drains well and stays deep enough that they can dig their toes into it and let the frog and bars have a more supporting function.  

I’m not sure what crum foot is, but if it’s similar to this it should work.

Aside from that, I keep my own guys on a track of hard packed dirt with a high clay content, so it’s smooth and has very little give.  Then there are areas of bedrock and larger stone where I put most of my feeding stations and bury the salt/minerals like this one:

It’s hard to get a hold of decent pea gravel in my area without paying an arm and a leg for it, but I’m hoping to get a shipment to put around some of the new feeding stations that are going up this fall.

I also deliberately let my water overflow to create a mud bath for their feet.  The water table here is usually high, even in the midst of summer, so I can get away with it.  But having somewhere they can soak their feet helps them to soften them for trimming.  

r+/clicker trainer pointing out the excessive use of aversive tools and methods in horse training, the endless justification of using pain and fear to control horses, and the disturbing trend of people laughing off or admiring imagery that involves severely unhappy horses.

I am not
-anti tack
-anti riding
-anti sport
-anti pressure
but I believe that tack should be gentle, responses to riding cues should be taught using positive reinforcement, horse sports should involve minimal tack (and avoid aversive aids; whips, spurs, etc) and put horse welfare before winning, and that horses should be taught to respond to pressure as a cue instead of avoiding pressure because it is aversive.

my tags
-tagged/video = videos, often with commentary
-tagged/i+like+this = some kind of training or riding that I approve of
-tagged/ask - for previously answered questions
-tagged/gadgets - for tack which is excessive or inhumane or both
-tagged/unhappy+horse - pictures or videos of horses showing signs of stress and/or physical pain

my posts
-On luring, capturing, and shaping with the clicker
-Types of training in the horse world
-What to do instead of hitting your horse
-On disrespect
-On how to ride without using aversive stimuli, and why leg and rein pressure don't have to be aversive
-On join up
-On ethical tack
-Explaining reinforcement and punishment in a training context
-On 'freedom' as anthropomorphism and unhelpful to animal welfare
-8 ways to change behavior
-My suggestions for starting out with clicker training
-Halter training with the clicker

external links
-Georgia Bruce - Australian equine clicker trainer and bronze medalist paralympic equestrian - official website
-Georgia Bruce - official youtube channel
-Mary Hunter - Texas-based positive reinforcement based trainer who works with horses - youtube channel
-Mary Hunter - blog (updates regularly)
-Painting Horse - inactive equine clicker training blog with plenty of valuable older posts.
-Alexandra Kurland - New York-based equine clicker trainer - official website.
-SimplyPsychology - a basic explanation of operant conditioning.
-Mustang poker (fun link).
-Karen Pryor clicker training - equine clicker training articles.
-Karen Pryor's Don't Shoot the Dog, free to read online in its entirety.
-Katie Bartlett - Pennsylvania-based equine clicker trainer - information and how-to articles.
-Kikopup - Emily Larlham - California-based clicker trainer whose videos are fantastic resources - youtube channel.
-Peggy Hogan - California-based equine clicker trainer - youtube channel.

rescue organizations - donate to these guys
-Prince Fluffy Kareem

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