We all wish we could get inside our horse’s head, to understand more fully what makes him tick. Someone who does this better than most folks is animal scientist and researcher Temple Grandin, PhD. Her autism enables her to perceive the world more the way animals do?though images, rather than through words.
Grandin has authored several bestselling books that discuss horses and other animals. I wrote about her groundbreaking volume Animals In Translation in 2007, for the Horse & Rider feature, “What Is Your Horse Thinking?”
Now I’d like to share a fascinating tidbit about motivating horses from her later book, Animals Make Us Human. Grandin reveals that she favors positive reinforcement for training horses, and particularly recommends clicker training, a form of behavior modification where the horse is conditioned to associate the sound of a clicker with receiving a treat. Then, the clicker alone can be used to instantly reinforce the behavior you want. (You “recharge” the clicker–by clicking and actually feeding a treat–only occasionally.)
Why is Grandin so keen on clickers? Because, she says, the horse comes to interpret the sound of the click to mean “something good is coming.” As a result, the click alone turns on what she calls the horse’s “seeking system.” Studies have shown that “seeking,” also called curiosity/interest/anticipation by science types, is keenly pleasurable for the horse. So he actively seeks to discover which behavior you’re wanting, so he can offer it and get another click.
“Instead of the horse getting a reward each time he produces a certain behavior,” Grandin explains, “he gets to anticipate the reward, which is even better.”
Might your horse’s urge to “seek” enable you to turn him into an eager, motivated learner? Find out by discovering more about clicker training, then giving it a try. (If nothing else, it’s fun!)
And, to learn more about the unique animal scientist behind these interesting ideas, check out the 2010 movie, Temple Grandin, starring Clare Danes.