Teaching horses with positive reinforcement (A book review)

Earlier this month, I purchased a paperback copy of Katherine Bartlett’s new book, “Teaching Horses with Positive Reinforcement.”

A picture of the book "Teaching horses with positive reinforcement" by Katherine BartlettThe book arrived in my mailbox at the end of last week, and I’ve enjoyed browsing through it over the past several days.

Many of you may already be familiar with Katherine (Katie) Bartlett. Her main website, equineclickertraining.com is a great resource for information about clicker training horses and other equines. In addition, Katie shares wonderful conference notes both on her website and on her blog.

I “met” Katie online nearly a decade ago through a Yahoo group. At the time, I was trying to figure out whether clicker training would work for some problems I was having with a friend’s horse. Not only is Katie a talented animal trainer, she is also an excellent writer. As I explored the world of horse clicker training, I found Katie’s clearly-written explanations so very helpful.

Now, fast forward to about a year ago. Katie told me that she was writing a book. Originally, she had wanted to publish a collection of some of her more popular articles. During the editing process, however, her initial idea gradually morphed into a full-length book that covers all the ins-and-outs of getting started with clicker training a horse.

I was privileged to get to review some of the chapters of the book while it was still undergoing revisions. So, it was really fun to get to see and hold the final printed copy of the book!

What’s in the book?

This book, of course, is about how to clicker train your horse. However, it also introduces readers to the underlying science that makes positive reinforcement training work.

The book discusses the basic science that underlies clicker training at a level that is not found in most introductory books. These chapters of the book will help new clicker trainers understand why experienced clicker trainers often recommend doing things in certain ways.

Then, in the second half of the book, Katie gets into the nitty-gritty of how to teach a handful of basic behaviors to your horse. Katie’s attention to detail means that beginners will be able to be successful when they do go out to the barn and give clicker training a try with their horse.

For example, the chapter on teaching a horse to touch a target is about forty pages! It includes instructions for several different types of targeting, including touching a handheld target, touching a stationary target, following a target, and going to a target. In addition, the chapter has a checklist of skills for the human, lots of troubleshooting tips, instructions for adding a cue for touching the target, advice for building duration, and ideas for practical applications for targeting.

The bulk of the “how-to” part of the book covers five core behaviors. This may not seem like a lot. However, each behavior is covered with an exceptional level of depth. Because of this, the book gives readers a strong foundation in the basics of clicker training. After working through the book, readers should have the skills to use clicker training to teach behaviors and address problems that are not directly addressed in the book.

Who is the book for?

This book would be an excellent guide for horse owners who are new to clicker training. In addition, I think it would also be a great resource for dog trainers (or other animal trainers) who would like to try clicker training with a horse.

The science of positive reinforcement, of course, works the same with horses, dogs, and other animals. However, there are certain things to consider related to safety, food delivery, which behaviors to teach first, etc. which are really important when working with a 1,000 lb. animal that may not be as important with a dog or cat. The book does a great job addressing these points.

Finally, this book could be a useful resource for individuals who have tried clicker training with their horse, but who have given up because they got frustrated or the horse got frustrated. This is because this book is filled with a level of detail much greater than what is often found in introductory how-to books.

Where can you buy the book?

Teaching Horses with Positive Reinforcement, by Katherine Bartlett, is available from Amazon as both an ebook and as a paperback book.

If you have a friend or family member who is interested in learning more about training horses using clicker training and positive reinforcement, it would be a great gift for the holidays!

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