Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Introducing...Horse Clicker Training Levels Program

Modeled after Sue Ailsby's Training Levels for Dogs (old version), this program provides a basic framework to train a horse foundation behaviors for life and sport.

It is designed to help the trainer learn how to train a horse using the clicker, as well as train the horse. You'll find that many of the behaviors at each level reinforce each other. For example there are several behaviors that focus on increasing duration at level 3. This helps the horse to learn the concept more easily as he is getting multiple exposures to that concept through various behaviors.

It is intended to be a starting point for horses to fill in any gaps in existing training foundation skills or to provide a framework for those new to clicker training. From here, you can advance and train in any discipline that you and your horse enjoy as you will have a good partnership with your horse and will know how to train almost any behavior you dream up and your horse will be a willing partner in the process. .

I make no claims in regards to the effectiveness of this program, nor claim any liability for its use. I am putting it out there as a framework of ideas for horse clicker trainers wanting some structure for their training. Use it how you want.

I found Sue's program incredibly useful for training my own dogs (who I have and plan to compete with in a variety of dog sports), foster dogs and even visiting dogs.

The program has 4 parts:
Groundwork Part A -basic behaviors to start with
Groundwork Part B-more complex behaviors to continue training
Groundwork Part C- higher level behaviors
Saddlework Part D-transitions groundwork behaviors into the saddle (as appropriate)
Ideally, you will start training yuor horse by completing all of the behavior in Part A before moving to Part B. But more on this in the next psot.

Each part has 5 levels plus continuing education.
Level 1 is an easy behavior to get, level two will take a few more steps. Level 3 and up will take many more training sessions to achieve and need to be broken down further into smaller steps as you train. Each level are (mostly) goals in the process of training a more complex behavior by level 5.

Homework section assures that you the trainer understand the concepts you are applying & Handling section ensures the horse is getting continuous exposure to being handled. That is why they are in all parts of groundwork.

Continuing Education offers ideas of how to generalize the behavior and apply the behaviors in real life.

On the Road means that you take your horse to a less familiar place to train that level.

Following this post is a quick summary of each behavior and the goals for each level in table form. These are simply goals for each level and are part of the development of each behavior. Links will be added over time to explain how to train to each goal for that level. The beginnings of Food Zen and Targeting have already been descibed.

At the moment, I am still evaluating the basic framework to ensure the program is practical and applicable to all horses, be they young, rescued or retired.   If you have suggestions or questions, please ask.

As any any good horseman knows, start with the groundwork, spend time perfecting behaviors on the ground and you will reap huge rewards when in the saddle. There are no short cuts in training, only re-training.

If you video tape your progress as you work through this and would like to let me know of a link to your video, I'd love to add them to the blog under each behavior training description. This would be a great to have this resource for everyone to see the training process as well as see the goal for each level.

In case you are wondering why I am doing this. I am helping my sister train her horse with the clicker and the process of designing a program from one species (dogs) to another (horses) helps me to see how the principles apply across the board. As a zoologist and teacher (who uses a form of clicker training with children (called TAG Teaching), this fascinates me!

I also like to promote humane reward-based training for all animals and would like to put this program forward as a tribute to Sue Ailsby who so freely shares her knowledge and skill of both dogs and clicker training by creating the original 'Training Levels' for dogs.

Donna Hill B.Sc. B.Ed. CHI
Nanaimo, BC Canada Nov. 2010


  1. Are the levels suppose to be taught as a unit? That is, teach all of level 1, then all of level 2, and so on?

    Many horse training programs are "levels" based and I think the average horse person would make the assumption that level 1 behaviors are suppose to be taught first.

    However, there are quite a few discrepancies where a component for a level behavior is not taught until a further level.

    If the levels aren't to be taught as a unit, I think it would be helpful to highlight which behaviors are important to teach first, and which come later.


  2. Also, foot handling is a complex enough skill that it could probably be broken down into smaller levels.
    Here's a bit of info about how I usually do it:

    Here could be some possible levels
    1) let me rub my hands all over your legs
    2) Pick up front feet for 15 seconds
    3) Pick up back feet for 15 seconds
    4) pick up front feet for 5 minutes
    5) pick up back feet for 5 minutes
    6) pick up feet for stranger
    7) introduction to trimming tools /stand for farrier

    Depending on the farrier and if it's shoes or a trim, a horse needs to be able to cooperate for at least several minutes for each foot. A good farrier working with a young horse will let the horse occasionally put the foot down.

    I've only glanced at the groundwork levels, but many of the prerequisite skills horse trainers like to teach before riding are not on there.
    A few examples:
    --lateral flexions and hindquarter yields, which both turn into your one-rein stop
    --ground driving


  3. Developing this project is a process and I appreciate you bearing with me as I gain more knowledge about horses, the specific challenges of how to clicker train them and struggle with finding the best way to present the information for sonsupltion.
    I want the process to be public so we can get fabulous input from people like yourself and get the details correct right from the beginning!