top of page

Episode 278: In Conversation: Part Three - A Constructional Training Approach to Equine Agility

This is Part 3 of a three part conversation Dominique and I had in March, 2024. In part 1 we talked about puzzle solving and this led to a great real life experience using back chaining that Dominique shared with us. e between forward chaining and back chaining.

In Part 2 the spotlight was on rope handling.

This week we are changing topics yet again. Dominique wanted to talk about agility. I begin this episode with an overview of clicker training.

Clicker training has three phases. These phases don’t have clear distinct lines separating one from the other. You aren’t in phase one, and then you come to a demarcation line and you’re in phase 2. Instead they merge one into the other.

The first phase introduces the horse and the handler to clicker training. I use the six foundation lessons for this. Horse and handler learn are introduced to the use of marker signals; food as a reinforcer; loopy training; cues; chaining, and many other important concepts, principles, and teaching strategies.

In phase 2 you use the foundation lessons to help teach the universals. We’ve talked about this in many of the podcasts. The universals are those activities which horses need to understand and be comfortable with regardless of the performance goals a handler may have. It doesn’t matter if you ride English or western, or you don’t ride at all, we all need to take care of our horse’s feet. So foot care is an obvious universal. It’s easy to think of other universals, activities we want our horses to be comfortable with - such as grooming haltering, and other husbandry activities. The foundation lessons make it much easier to teach these skills.

Phase Two merges seamlessly into Phase Three. Phase Three begins to look at performance goals. What do you want to do with your horse? For some people what they want is a great relationship. Just being around their horse and taking care of him, is what they want. Using clicker training to create cooperative care is the main goal of training. Basic ordinary grooming becomes elevated to the level of performance. Medical care isn’t something the horse tolerates. He becomes a consenting partner in whatever needs to be done. The goal is deep friendship. The training transform everyday tasks into Grand Prix level performance.

In Phase Three we’re also looking at skills needed for specific performance-related goals. One person may be interested in jumping, another dressage, a third person may like reining. All three riders need to know the basics of riding walk trot canter. And there may be many overlapping skills as you begin to explore your chosen sport, but if you are interested in jumping you may want to go to someone who specializes in this sport to help you set up gymnastic grid patterns that can teach a horse how to jump well. That’s true for all the different sports.

My area of interest is balance. If someone is starting into my work with an interest in classical dressage, they will find that our interests and goals are very much aligned. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be interested in dressage to work with me.

Those first two phases are designed to prepare you for your long term training goals. By the time you have taught your horse the universals that are important to you, you will know how to teach your horse new skills. You will know how to approach your performance goals constructionally.

My role is not to direct you to a specific performance goal, but to support you as you explore a wide range of activities. Some of these may require specialized knowledge so you will need to seek out trainers who can help you with these goals. You may also discover that clicker training has already given you the teaching skills you need to succeed. That’s what this week’s conversation is about. Dominique wants to talk about agility. Let’s see how that fits into this overall view of the three phases of clicker training.


bottom of page