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Positive Horsemanship with Pricilla Tooley
A funny moment when the mare ,who had been distracted, began to connect and engage with me. (photo by Addison Blake)
Horse trainer Priscilla Tooley was unexpectedly directed on a career-changing path in positive horsemanship using clicker training by a “shut down” dressage horse and an agility dog trainer.
Tooley was inspired by Karen Pryor’s book, Don’t Shoot the Dog. In the book, Pryor explains the underlying principles of behavioral training and gives examples of how this method can be applied to virtually any situation. She tells how to shape behavior without yelling, threats, punishment, or other negative cues. The book had been introduced to her by a co-worker who trained agility dogs, and Tooley believed that the positive training method would serve horses well, too.
Tooley decided to go through the clicker training using three of her own horses. Her dressage horse had been “shut-down,” and she said it took some work to re-build his enthusiasm. Tooley’s initial clicker training education came through interaction, videos, phone calls, and on-line courses.
Tooley is expanding her expertise. “Applied behavior analysis is a niche that is not well filled in the horse world and I am working towards bridging this gap.” She is currently pursuing certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). Certification involves mentorship and over 400 case study hours. IAABC seeks to standardize the practice of animal behavior consulting and to provide evidence-based education. IAABC certifications are the most rigorous in the field, so “for instructors to obtain these qualifications is important for teaching and riding certifications,” she said.
Tooley explained her experience with these training techniques: “The use of clicker training has had a profound effect on me and the horses I’ve trained. Since I began using clicker training in 2008, my timing and feel have improved tenfold, and I’ve seen countless horses go from being shutdown to enthusiastic learners. I have come to view clicker training as a powerful tool in my toolbox. However, I think it is important to know that you cannot fix every horse with the use of clicker training alone.”
She finds that there is both curiosity and skepticism about this approach. “Most people in the clicker training community would call me a ‘combination trainer.’ This simply means that I use both positive and negative reinforcement,” she explained.
Her goal is to provide a bridge with training already in place and incorporate clicker training with what they are already doing through another method. Tooley says, “Horses are intelligent beings; this is never more evident than when you pick up a clicker.” Through her combined methods, she wants to give riders the understanding of the why and how behind all training methods.
Tooley’s riding background is in reining and she has over 20 years experience in both Western and English disciplines. She has been greatly influenced by Warwick Schiller, who, by the way, has great training videos. She learned a classical approach to riding in an internship in 2019 with McKrell and Christian Baier at Global Equestrian, aka Southern Blues Equestrian, in Collierville, Tennessee. She now works with horses at Chubby Acres Ranch in Byhalia, Mississippi, and continues to build her own community in this work.
Tooley is currently helping her friend Natasja Kraska with her young horse Navarro. Kraska is a Grand Prix dressage rider with a background in classical dressage. She is also a certified riding instructor and has trained with Anja Beran in Germany.
Kraska explains, “My horse, Navarro, was well prepared for ridden work, but I was having trouble keeping his attention. As we started our ridden work, we used clicker training and target training to get the first few steps at the walk and then the trot. Priscilla was able to help me to understand what Navarro needed and she used simple, low stress solutions that kept him happy in the process. Priscilla’s timing in all of this is impeccable! Our connection is getting stronger every day and I have really enjoyed learning more about this way of training.”
Tooley gives a caveat: “Clicker training will only work as well as the skill of the trainer using it. But if used correctly, it can clear up communication problems and enhance motivation and connection. Picking up a clicker doesn’t mean you can’t say no, and it doesn’t mean you’ll be clicking and treating for the same thing forever. It’s a skill that takes practice and dedication, and has huge rewards.”
Tooley suggests that “if you want to learn more, take a course and get some hands-on help.” She offers some additional suggested resources, such as, “Georgia Bruce, Alexandra Kurland, Mustang Maddy, Connection Training, and others to help get you started.”
Find out more about Pricilla Tooley’s training at: https://pgthorsemanship.com. There you can read about clicker training on her blog.
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