Clicker-compatible mechanics, part 1: Food delivery

Kinesthetic awareness plays an important part in a basic equine clicker training skill: the mechanics of food delivery. What happens between the click and the moment the horse receives his reinforcement is an integral part of training.

Food delivery starts immediately after you click. It includes:

  • passing the clicker to the other hand, if necessary;  
  • reaching into your treat pouch or pocket and taking a treat;  
  • starting and continuing the motion of moving the treat to the horse’s mouth; this includes unfolding your arm and taking one or more steps, if necessary, towards where you want your horse’s nose to be, all at the same time;  
  • finally, presenting food to your horse on an open palm of your hand.

trainer reaching into treat pouch trainer extending her arm to feed the horse
The trainer reaches into the pouch, takes a treat, and is starting to unfold her arm. She keeps her fingers closed around the treat until her hand is under the horse's mouth.

trainer delivering treat trainer taking a step back after treat deliveryThe trainer delivers the treat on an open palm of her hand where she wants the horse's nose to be. She then steps back into her position by the horse's shoulder at the same time as folding her arm back and placing her "feeding" hand over the "rope" hand.

 

 

 

 


Regardless of how fast or slow you choose to do it, this sequence has to be in one continuous motion, without glitches, pauses, or interruptions. You can make it slow to set a more relaxed, deliberate pace to the session, but the continuity of motion has to remain intact. It assures the horse that his reinforcement is on its way. For a new learner, inconsistent or sloppy treat delivery can create a lot of anxiety and anticipation about receiving his treat, making positive reinforcement a nerve-racking experience, not what you want to create!

Does the prospect of unfolding your arm towards the horse’s nose while taking any number of steps seem to require a lot of coordination? The key to performing this smoothly is to move from your core and let the movement of your arm and legs unfold from there. As a rider, you have a keen awareness of your core already, it is just a matter of applying your rider skill to a different circumstance. If you like to visualize, think of a hydraulic force that expands out of your core and flows into your extremities, making your arm and leg on the same side unfold simultaneously. Now you have taken a step forward while extending your arm. Practice, and it becomes second nature.

When delivering a treat from the saddle, you can avoid leaning too far to the side by presenting it at your knee. Your horse will learn to find it there. For consistency, offer the treat to the inside of the bend.

delivering a treat mounted

 

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