This is one person's version of how a horse was taught to fetch using clicker
I preface it with this though: If I had to do it over again, I would save
this trick for much later in a horse's clicker training. It is complex, has
many many steps to it, and can easily frustrate horse & owner. If one
wanted to work on it while working on other things, that might work out fine.
Just give your horse a lot of time - be patient.
Also, just as some dogs won't fetch, some horses won't fetch. It's just a
trick. If they absolutely don't want to pick up an object, see if they'll
push it around with their nose, and make a cute trick with that. Play
soccer! Kickball! Hey, the Clydesdales did it...
1) Begin by having the horse target the chosen object* while holding it in
Progressively lower your hand closer to the ground so he
stretches his head down.
2) Place it on the ground in front of you and ask the horse to target it.
3) Increase the distance between you and the object as you ask him to target
Do this in small increments (inches) - don't toss it 10 feet away the
first time, or the 2nd. Build up to a distance of several feet - far enough
he has to move his feet a few steps. C/T along the way.
When your horse understands that he is to walk to a tossed object, touch it
and wait for his treat, you're ready for the next step. This is also where
the frustration sets in. Remember - Be patient! Reward every little effort.
4) Now we want some lip/mouth action on the target. It's time to wait while they figure
this out. You want to wait for some definite involvement of his mouth:
wiggling the nose, pushing the target with the nose, lipping the object. Don't click
until you get that new action. You may have to wait a while. If the horse
so much as parts his lips, I like to C/T that. He's on the right track.
5) When/if he puts it in his mouth, even for a moment, BIG JACKPOT. Bells,
whistles, hugs & kisses.
6) Now you want him to hold the object in his mouth longer. Often the horse
will start slinging his head up & down, and the object will go flying.
Remember, you want him to learn to hang on to it. The timing of the
help him to understand this. Click only while it is in his mouth, not
flung it away.
7) Once he's holding on to it, use your beckoning cue (you have one -
right?) to draw him in to you. He must bring the object with him. You need
to keep the distance small initially - one step away- and build up to
greater distances. Help him to succeed.
So now your horse is fetching!
8) Gradually increase the distance that you ask the horse to go to retrieve
the object .
9) Next: introduce different objects to retrieve.
10) Ask him to return to you at a trot.
11) Ask him to go fetch it at a trot, and return at a trot.
12) When he really has it downpat, ask him to fetch while you're mounted (NOW
we're talking useful - the next time you drop something while riding on
the trail, you won't have to get off to get it:)
If you horse "stalls out" at any step, you have several options:
A) Slow down! You may be going too fast, asking for the next step too soon.
B) Stay at the last step he was successful at for a while - let his
confidence build. When he has that phase down strong, try going to the next
C) Stop & do something else he enjoys - you may need to give this trick a
rest for a while. How long? Until later that day, the next day, next
week...he won't forget the progress he's made, but you don't want to burn
him out if he's not enjoying
C) Some horses don't seem to enjoy the mental challenge this trick
It might be time to admit that your horse is one of them. Do something
Modify the trick into something he does enjoy.
Fetching is not important.
*Pick one object they can easily pick up and stick with it. Sacrifice a
baseball cap, or use that dog toy that's rubber & shaped like a child's
The pictures below show a young Icelandic Horse filly picking up the three-sided
handle ball (which is a dog toy), rolling the ball, and picking up her "left leg"
when asked by pointing to it.