Tex the pony and I have been working on getting really, really good at backing up. This is one skill we’ve really been focusing on for the past several clicker training sessions. Backing up is good for Tex for two reasons. (Actually, there are probably a lot more reasons!)
1. Tex is quickly becoming a bit of a pushy pony. Teaching him a solid back up cue is a proactive way to work on space management. Backing shows him that he gets more treats when he moves out of my space, rather than when he’s in my pockets.
2. Backing up is helping Tex learn to take treats more politely. Tex loves his treats. He’s developed a habit of lunging forward to get the treat when he hears the click. Not good! Rather than stop using treats, I can use the treats to get him to rock back a step to get his treat, rather than eagerly lean forward.
We’ve worked for 5-10 minutes on backing for the past three sessions. He’s doing great, I just have to point a finger toward his chest and he’ll start backing up. If I walk with him, he’s more than willing to move ten steps back.
So, when I went to catch him yesterday, he showed me that his lessons are really sinking in! When I entered the pasture, he came straight up to me, like he always does. Usually he waltzes right up to me, gently sniffs my body and pockets, and then lines himself up so that he can get plenty of scratches.
Today, he leaned forward to sniff me, then caught himself. He took a handful of steps back, until he was a good four or five feet away from me. Then he cocked an ear at me and stood there with a bit of a goofy grin on his face. He took one step forward, but then immediately backed up another step.
Smart pony! He definitely got a laugh out of me, as well as a big handful of treats. There’s hope yet for this pushy little pony! Many people shy away from clicker training because they are afraid it will make their horse pushy or rude. However, clicker training is a positive way to teach our horses to have great manners.