My thoughts on this are pretty raw and honest and will no doubt evolve over the coming weeks and months. Having perhaps over emphasised the possible negative effects and emotions that can result from using a food as a reward in training - especially in an undisciplined way - I need to talk about the really positive effects and emotions it can create too.
On Thursday Nikki and I also worked with Jack who has been clicker trained from the outset some four years ago when he arrived as an untouched 12 year old. He expresses sheer joy and enthusiasm when he is asked to work - he is exuberant, quick and agile. All the same this needed to be calmed down as it was also touched by frustration when he just can't work out why I can't keep up with what he is offering me. Just as we asked Theoden to slow down and really think about what he was being asked to do, we needed to do the same with Jack. This was achieved in exactly the same way, creating a chain of events and actions; calm soft face slightly turned away, verbal cue "Touch", offering the feather duster as a target and then click, treat with the treat presented forwards and away from my body.
We've all got lots of practising to do!
These foundations will be critical if clicker training with food is going to be an integral part of my training on the ground. Until now it hasn't really mattered as I have tended to use it for ridden work with Theoden and no matter how avid Jack has become his innate fear of humans means that he has never crossed the line into being over-confident or intimidating. I need to introduce more finesse, more shaping and slower processes. I need anti-mugging protocols.
The overarching aim is to ensure that the horse's emotions, highs and lows, do not cross certain parameters either as a reaction to the food or what they are being asked to do. Once again it will be all about reading their body language - ears, eyes, nose, mouth, neck, legs and feet, tail, breathing and movement.
More on emotions another time!