If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. – 1 Corinthians 13:1

The Universe is nonmaterial – it is mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy. – Richard Conn Henry


Clicker training doesn’t come with a warrantee stating: “From now on you will do no harm”.

What we hold in our hand is just a toy made of plastic and metal, but what we hold in our grasp is an extremely powerful, and I mean EXTREMELY POWERFUL reality tool. We gain access to the animal’s mind.

“Now we are beginning to see that quantum mechanics might actually exclude any possibility of mind-independent reality and already does exclude any reality that resembles our usual concept of such.” – Richard Conn Henry

One may say that if mind presides matter, surely it is the Great Mind that makes reality, and our little minds have no such power. The way I see it is that our sometimes not-so-great minds are a fractal iteration of the great mind, and, on a different scale, possess the same characteristics. We may not be setting galaxies in motion, but there is no need to prove the fact that our minds have significantly altered the planet we inhabit.

We are making reality. And it is NOT a metaphor. Just a dry statement of a fact.

It is not often remembered, but true, that one of the early experiments in clicker training involved pigeons trained to guide missiles. It was never implemented by the military, who opted for the emergent electronics. The pigeons were to be put in the missile and launched to their death, which they, themselves, unknowingly assisted. The logic was that a pigeon is a disposable kind of animal.

I have always loved animals, yet in the course of my academic studies, I killed and dissected them for purposes far less urgent than national safety. Until I realized that scientific inquiry is no justification. The animals I killed were insects, most of them less than five millimeters long. Still I could not do it anymore.

So having been in the scientist’s shoes, I am not about to judge Skinner and his students for the pigeon project. They had integrity congruent with their value system. The legacy of their research is a way of training that embraces humanitarian principles.

I like to say, because this is what I have learned through experience, that once we know something, we are held accountable.

Clicker training is not good or evil. Clicker training just IS. What gives it an adjective is the trainer who uses it.

What separates behavior modification from heartless manipulation is only trainer’s integrity. What makes clicker training positive is trainer’s integrity. What safeguards the spirit of the horse is trainer’s integrity.

What we aspire to do with clicker training is not just to manipulate the horse to our advantage and congratulate ourselves for doing it “positively”, but to honestly come to  him in our unadorned self, that the horse would trust to be vulnerable in our presence. And this is a huge responsibility. The only way to honor the courage to be vulnerable on the part of the horse is having the courage to be vulnerable ourselves.

We are carriers of rational cognition on this planet, and this is why we are cast in the role which gives us unparalleled power to change our environment and circumstances. But above the differences in our brain structure, we are equal beings with horses, pine trees, and lichen-covered rocks. EQUAL. Equal.

Take a minute to FEEL it. Equal.

Somewhere, beyond the level of everyday, 3-D reality, our horses know it. Why is it that sometimes looking into the eyes of a horse makes us cry? Being sentimental? Projecting our human feelings? These may be layers of experience, but at the ground of being, it is the knowledge straight from Home: we are equal. Equal. EQUAL.

When I train, I try to remember, to never forget, behind the goals, practicalities, and common frustrations, that the sentient being next to me is my other self. Would I like to be treated the way I treat this being? Would I like to be trained the way I train him or her? To me, this is the key to alignment. If I forget, no amount of reasoning or justification can restore the balance.

Integrity, honesty, truth, none of these is set in stone, they are all moment-to-moment, ongoing aspects of our relationships with the world. Being committed to being your best self are not lofty words that allow you to pat yourself on the back; the very humble practice of this commitment requires a hard, gutwrenching courage to listen to inner unease, remorse, shame, and be willing to follow their guidance and – the hardest thing of all – change your beliefs (read – your reality).

Commitments, such as the commitment to the integrity as a trainer, are a statement of intent. Intent is not taken lightly by the universe. It sets a contingency of accountability, and I am fully aware that in any moment when I am facing a truth so uncomfortable that I would rather close my eyes to it, my only real choice is to take a deep breath, or maybe rather a stifled gulp, and step into it, regardless of how scared I am.

Knowing that I am not automatically guaranteed from doing harm keeps me on high alert. I welcome the opinions that differ from mine, that shake me out of my complacency (everyone wants to be comfortable, right?), deprive me of sleep, and hold me facing the mirror, until there is a shift in my reality. I cannot say that I love this process, but I choose it every time the reality in an unknown guise knocks on my door. Welcome in. You are my other self.

Amidst our everyday reality with its illusion of control, we are held on the palm of the Unknown. Realistically, all we can do is play our part to the best of our understanding. All people I admire share one thing in common: they are sponges for information, magnets for new knowledge. Their best understanding is an ever-growing apical meristem of their being.

So, with all of this, am I implying that being a clicker trainer is a high calling that keeps you perennially on your toes? Essentially, yes. That applies to being human in general. Clicker trainers are people who have to be aware of the tremendous power they wield. In a way, clicker training taken seriously is a spiritual discipline that includes keeping your mind well-informed and your heart ever open.


The little me and the golden mare


May 2011



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