The Origins of Excellence

No one attends ClickerExpo to learn to be a mediocre trainer. We come because we are curious, because we love to learn, because we want a deeper connection with our animals.

We don’t want to be just good trainers. We want to be GREAT trainers. The question is, how do we improve our skills? If someone keeps practicing clicking the clicker, will that get the person to his/her goals? In his book Perfect Practice, Doug Lemov makes a great statement: "Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent." Think of some of the things you do every day, such as brushing your teeth. You have done this multiple times every day, all your life, and how good are you at it really? Do your teeth-brushing skills continue to improve? Doing something over and over again does not guarantee that you’ll get better. In fact, what it guarantees is that your mistakes will become more deeply entrenched.

Reach into your pocket ahead of the click, and that habit pattern will become locked in and harder to break. You can practice every day with your horse, your dog, your guinea pig, but if you are practicing skills that have errors built into them, the errors are what you will make permanent.

So, what is the solution? Where does excellence come from? Is it simply a gift the lucky few are born with, or is it something that can be nurtured and developed? If so, how? Those are the questions we’ll be exploring in this Session as we look at some of the new findings in neuroscience that provide powerful metaphors for changing habit patterns. These metaphors lead to practice techniques that develop excellence. We’ll be looking at techniques that don’t just make skills permanent. They make them better. The good news is the techniques aren’t just for the lucky few. They are for everyone.

Alexandra Kurland

Alexandra Kurland is a graduate of Cornell University where she specialized in animal behavior. She began teaching in the early 1980s. Her area of particular interest is the development of a horse’s balance: physical and emotional. Helping horses stay sound throughout a long lifetime is the goal. The result are beautiful horses that feel like heaven to ride.

In 1998, Alexandra launched the rapidly growing field of clicker training for horses with the publication of her first book, Clicker Training for Your Horse. She teaches clicker training geared to any horse need or sport—including developing a gentle and companionable riding horse, halter-training foals, training advanced performance horses, and reforming difficult and unmanageable horses. Alexandra travels widely, presenting clicker training seminars in the US, the UK, and Europe.

Alexandra has written The Click That Teaches: A Step–By–Step Guide in Pictures and has also produced The Click That Teaches DVD lesson series and an online course. People outside the horse community may know her best through her weekly Equiosity podcast.