One of the first things a horse learns when they arrive on the farm for training is a bridge signal. This simple tool becomes a powerful horse training accelerator.
A bridge signal is the foundation of clicker training. In a nutshell, the horse learns to associate an external cue, in this case a “cluck” with my tongue, with getting a treat. Most horses, of course, figure out what we want when they hear “good boy!” or get a rub. Adding a treat is not a bribe, it is essentially an increase in salary–who would not perform better for a bigger paycheck?
The bridge signal allows time to lapse between the desired behavior and the reward. Any good horse trainer knows horses have a very short window of time in which they associate a reaction to their behavior. That is why any reward or correction must be immediate, or else the meaning is lost. The horse’s behavior is marked as a “yes” without the need for instant affirmation. This is just a quickie explanation. For a more detailed explanation, including ways to feed treats safely, please puruse our clicker training articles.
Facing twice-daily epsom salt soaks, I was grateful for the time I had invested teaching Gideon the clicker training bridge signal. The pony was still nervous about having his hooves handled. Clicker training was going to my secret weapon to hasten his healing. As an added benefit, Gideon would learn to love having his hooves handled. His newfound confidence would spill over into other areas of our human-horse relationship and his ongoing natural training.