Ben Hart chats with Helen about the Equine Clicker Conference

Helen Chats With Ben Hart

This week In preparation for the Equine Clicker Conference I’ve been having a chat with Ben Hart to find out more on what he will be bringing to the conference!

Ben, as a published clicker trainer you are one of the key speakers at the Conference. Your book “The Art and Science of Clicker Training for Horses” was published in 2008. What changes in horse training in the UK have you noticed since then, if any?
Wow doesn’t time fly, 4 years, OK about time I finished another book really!! I think that the thing that has changed is the numbers of people involved. Back in 2008, clicker training was “around”; people were aware. What has changed is the number of people who are looking for different answers to their equine relationship. Everything that was about in 2008 still is, but people have a greater awareness of different methods. More people have chosen their paths to follow different trainers and subsequently discovered that methods don’t hold all the answers and so have sought different solutions such as CT.

CT has become more popular, and this conference is very timely as we need to look at where CT is going and the future for positive reinforcement as a training method. I spent 10 years learning about the science behind positive reinforcement, working with and teaching CT, before I felt I knew enough to attempt to write a book about it. I’m passionate about the use of positive reinforcement so I do worry, that without more awareness, CT can be mis-sold as a magic bullet or cure all and when people try it and think it doesn’t work for them, they abandon it as a training method which is a great loss for their equines.

So what is it that you feel their equines are missing out on, when they abandon or even never begin CT?
I think people are missing out on the opportunity to see how fast equines can learn if the training method that is used can provide information about what is required in a very accurate way. People often say to me “the problem with clicker training is that your timing has to be so good”. My reply is that this is the benefit of CT and that your timing should be that good with all types of training.

With CT horses have the chance to learn to problem solve and offer behaviour. Obviously, the clicker is only a tool and, just like any method or piece of equipment, is only as good as the hands that hold it, which is why it is important to get a good understanding of the principles of positive reinforcement before you begin training. We don’t need to click everything forever so, as we fade out the clicker, then we learn about schedules of reinforcement, and when the clicker and food are removed from training, we are still left with a thinking horse that is very capable of learning to learn.

The other thing I think people miss out on when they abandon CT is the opportunity to learn about behaviour; how their horse thinks; and to improve their own timing and ability to shape behaviour. In CT the horse is in effect in front of you offering behaviour so that you can then select the bits of behaviour you want. To do this well you need to understand shaping behaviour and have the courage to trust the horse.

So you see, through the use of clicker training, both horse and trainer can have the opportunity to learn, grow and develop their skills, and who would want to miss out on that opportunity?

Well I certainly wouldn’t want to miss out on that! I’d also hate to miss out on your talk at the Conference on “Equine Specific Clicker Training – why dogs and equines need a different approach”. Do you think we could possibly have a sneak preview and hear a little about it now?
Well, I don’t know about a sneak preview, as my ideas and beliefs are set out in my book,  but I can say I will be looking at why I think the different behaviour in dogs and horses has caused me to develop clicker training to what I believe fits the needs of equine learning. In fact I hope to show that clicker training is positive reinforcement training and as such can be done in different ways to meet the needs of the learner as long as the science is understood. After all, as we all know, a clicker is just a marker tool we choose to use to improve our use of positive reinforcement, not a training method in itself.

We will look at some of the problems I have with one click one reward training which led me to develop Equine Specific Clicker Training; the use of variable schedules of reinforcement to create patient and calm horses; how to teach that mugging doesn’t work;  how to fade out the clicker and get rid of it completely; and what got me to start training this way.

Maybe a couple of video clips, perhaps a practical to see if what I say is right, questions of course and to have fun, we don’t want the topic of training to be too dry and scientific, hence the art and science of clicker training. 

I really enjoyed interviewing Ben and  I’m certainly looking forward to hearing more from him at the Equine Clicker Conference in September. Maybe I’ll get a chance to ask him a few more questions there and compare his approach with the other highly skilled clicker trainers. He is one of the eight great trainers speaking at the Conference and I am in the process of interviewing them all, so watch out for more interviews coming up.

If you are yet to purchase your conference tickets you can click here as a few tickets are still available

More Blogs on the Conference, Helen interviewed the other speakers too!


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