Achieving my equestrian dreams, using horse friendly training methods. Sharing my experience with you

Recently I have received the same question from several people. Why do you need a clicker when you could just use your voice as a bridging signal? What are the advantages of a clicker?

Why a bridging signal is needed
If you want to reinforce certain behaviour one has to reward the horse at the moment the behaviour is still going on or within a few seconds the behaviour has stopped in order for the animal to associate the behaviour with the reward he is receiving. It is almost impossible to give the horse his reward during the behaviour, which is why positive reinforcement trainers use a bridge signal.

_hondenclicker

Bridge 
A bridge or bridging signal is a specific signal for the horse that connects the moment the reward is given to the behaviour he was doing. Most clicker trainers use a special device named a clicker as bridge. The clicker makes a click sound.

When the horse has learned that a click is always followed by a reward, the horse starts to pay really good attention to the behaviour he was displaying at the time of the click. He is smart and he wants to train you to give him more clicks. This makes the bridge signal a powerful tool in horse training: it is a simple but clear way of communicating what you want.

Animals like it when they have the feeling they can control the environment (you and the reinforcer).

Advantage of a clicker
_secret_horsetraining_hippologicA clicker always makes the same sound and therefor it ‘travels’ the same path in the brain. The horse understands quickly what the sounds means. A click is not influenced by emotions of the human voice. It doesn’t matter who presses the clicker, it still sounds the same. So other people can ride and train your horse without confusing the horse about the bridge signal. The click of a clicker can be delivered instantly. Timing is everything. The more accurate your bridge is, the easier the horse learns what you want to reward him for.

Other bridges
As long as the bridge signal  is a specific sound it can be used. I taught my horse to respond to different bridges. I use the high pitched and long stretched word “Good” as bridge and Kyra also knows that my tongue click is a bridge.

Advantages of other bridges
The main advantages of a verbal bridge and a tongue click are obvious. The first is that you always have it with you. No matter where you go you can always use your bridging signal.

The second is being able to keep your hands free. Using a clicker always requires a hand to click with. In some situations being able to use both hands can have be a huge advantage.

Disadvantages of a vocal bridge
A vocal bridge always has a little delay, because before you can speak you have to inhale fist. Your voice also can differ according to circumstances: a cold may effect your voice, but also your emotions. When I am excited or annoyed the pitch can change, for us it means the same thing because we know the meaning of the letter of a word. A horse knows the meaning of the sounds of a word. Because your voice sounds only “generally” the same every time, it makes a different, wider pathway in the brain. This sound means: a reward is coming. And this one too. And this one means the same thing. The horse needs to decide every time he hears your voice: was this a bridge or not? Therefor it can take a little longer for the horse to become “clicker savvy” with a voice bridge.

When I introduced the word ‘Good’ I still lived in The Netherlands. They generally don’t speak English to horses, so it was a safe word to use. It was a unique sound. I was the only one who used it and my horse was never trained by someone else. The difficultly with the word “Good” in Canada is that other people use it as praise (reward) instead as bridge signal. That means it might not always be followed by a reward. This can confuse the horse.

Another reason to teach your horse the click of a clicker as the bridge: other people can train or ride your horse and communicate clearly. The click sounds the same every time.

Related post: Introduce your horse to the click

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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One of the most fun tricks I ever taught Kyra is to pick up items. It is very versatile too because once your horse can pick up stuff, you can teach them to hand it over.

Kyra can now pick up and hand over a flower, her food bowl, my clicker, a dog toy, a whip and anything else she can grab with her teeth._trick_training_play_fetch_hippologic

How to start

I started with something really easy to pick up for Kyra: a piece of cloth. In the beginning Kyra didn’t know what to do with it, so I knotted a carrot in it. That stimulated her interest.

I clicked and reinforced for small steps like touching and sniffing the cloth, then examining it with her lips and after a while she tried to grab it with her teeth. Yeey: jackpot! This took a lot of sessions to be honest.

Putting a cue on the behaviour

Once she knew this new trick she wanted to grab everything off of the floor. That is the reason I started with an item that was easy to distinguish: the cloth. I didn’t want her to grab my brushes or other day-to-day items.

Once she learned what to do with the cloth I added a cue to it, the verbal command ‘pick up’ with me pointing to the object I want her to pick up. After Kyra learned the cue I started teaching her to pick up other items. I bought a dog rope toy that is safe and easy to grab.

Shaping the behaviour

Later on I practised with her empty food bowl, my gloves in winter, her halter, the lead rope and so on. It turned out that it is a very versatile exercise. Then I raised my criteria and I threw the item a step away. Now I only clicked and reinforced after picking up the item that was one step away.

The next criterion was to move towards me one step with the item in her mouth. Then I taught her to hold the item until I could grab it. In this way she learned to put it in my hand instead of dropping it in front of me.

Play fetch with your horse

Now Kyra can fetch an item that I have thrown several meters away and bring it back to me. One day I asked her to pick up her toy while sitting on her back. She did it!  I use a treeless saddle, so I have to use a mounting block to get in the saddle.Wow, now I don’t have to dismount anymore whenever I drop something from the saddle. Bonus!

This week I stumbled upon a lovely video of a horse that picked up three rubber rings and put them on a cone. I don’t have rubber rings, but I asked Kyra to put her toy in a bucket. That was fun too.

Here are the videos of Kyra’s tricks.

Video 1: Kyra playing fetch from the saddle

 

Video 2: Kyra giving me flowers (that would be a nice trick to perform one day)

Video 3: Kyra putting her toy in a bucket

 

Video 4: Kyra handing over her food bowl after eating

 

If you like the videos go to YouTube and subscribe to my channel. I will upload more clicker training videos.

Sandra Poppema

Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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Which horse changed your life? Was it a challenging horse? I bet he wasn’t cooperative all the time, was he? The horses that changed my life were ‘stubborn’, ‘difficult’, ‘dangerous’ or ‘challenging’. Some horses had ‘character’ according to the salesperson, which usually meant that they are not very cooperative.

‘Stubborn’, ‘difficult’ or ‘dangerous’

ChicaSholtoBoy_HippoLogic.jpgWhat does a horse have to do to earn a label like that?  In most cases the horse desperately tries to communicate something to humans: pain, fear, discomfort. Horses want to please and cooperate. Since they are herd animals, it is in their nature to do so. If they are very uncooperative or dangerous the horse generally is in pain or he is very, very confused.

Message

Horses that don’t ‘follow the rules’ have a special message. Are you listening? tell me about the most extraordinary horse you ever met. What did he do that was so special?

 

Sandra Poppema
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website and book a free intake consult!

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Get out of your normal routine and do something new and exciting with your horse this weekend. Here are some tips and tricks you can do.

One day tricks

If your horse is already clicker savvy and knows basic behaviours like leading, standing still, targeting, follow a target, mat training and backing it is very easy to teach one of these simple tricks.

Clicker trained horses are very eager to learn new things because in their experience there is a lot of good things (clicks and treats) involved. It is fun for your horse! Want to start clicker training? Start here.

_horse_hug_hippologic_click_with_your_horseHorse hug

Basic behaviours: standing still while handler stands next to shoulder and targeting.

Teach your horse to follow the target that you keep behind your back, click and reinforce for every inch his head moves in the right direction behind your head. Last step is to fade out the target. More detailed instructions can be found in this book Horse Trick Training

 

_mat_training_hippologicStanding on a pedestal

Most horses like to be a bit taller and think this is a fun exercise once they have learned it. Mat training is a good basic skill to start with.

Set your horse up for success and click and reinforce for every small step like approaching the pedestal, then investigating it and touching it with a hoof, et cetera. Raise your criteria slowly.

Before you know it your horse wants to stand on the pedestal. Therefor it is equally important to teach him to backup and dismount it. Don’t forget to reinforce that, too.

General tips

  • Keep the sessions short (5 minutes) and repeat over the weekend.
  • Give your horse a short break in between the sessions.
  • Make pictures or a video on Sunday to record your success. Please share your pictures with me on Facebook.

More fun things to do

  • Explore your surroundings and take your horse for a hand walk or hand grazing session. Read here how you can teach your horse to leave the grass voluntarily.
  • Ask a friend to go with you. Do a photo session with your horse during the sunset.
  • Hide a treat under a cone and teach your horse to find it.

_cone_hippologic

Have fun with your horse! If you have fun tips & tricks to share, please write them in the comment section. I am looking forward to hearing about your fun time with your horse.

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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I am reading a very interesting book. It is called Before Happiness and is written by Shawn Achor. You can look it up if you want. In this book you can find ways to improve your succes rate. The thing I like most is that I have already been using a lot of these strategies in my lessons and in my own horse training and riding._safe hand feeding_hippologic.jpg

Success strategies

One of the success strategies is creating mini goals, so you can feel good about accomplishing steps towards a bigger goal. In positive reinforcement we call that a shaping plan or it can refer to your training plan. In the shaping plan you write down the stepping stones towards a goal behaviour. Your training plan contains your ultimate goal, ten year plan, five year plan or (just a ) one year plan.

A good shaping plan creates clarity for the horse (the desired behaviour) and he can also feel successful after each click and reinforcer. It is like saying ‘yes’, ‘yes’ to your horse, so he knows he is on the right track.

Giving yourself a head start

One of the brilliant strategies in the book is giving yourself a head start. I used to skip this part, because it felt like ‘cheating’. Studies have proven that giving yourself a head start doesn’t feel like cheating for your brain. Instead it gives your brain the feeling that you are already half way there.

In horse training you can do the same thing. In a shaping or training plan you write down your goals and you divide them into smaller goals.

What I used to do is start writing down the first step I have to accomplish or teach my horse. I never thought of giving myself a head start by writing down a few steps that are necessary in the process but  that I already have accomplished.

Targeting

For me, a shaping plan to teach a green (non-clicker trained) horse would look like this:

Training steps in training plan by Hippologic

Now I would give myself a head start and write down:

Steps:

  • Safe hand-feeding (check!)
  • Trust in handler and not scared by introduction of a new object (check!)
  • Standing still behind a barrier and paying attention to handler (check!)

This would be my head start. The fourth step would be ‘looking at target’ et cetera. In this way the trainer can already feel successful because s/he can tick off the first three mini goals.

Try it and I would love to hear how this works out for you.

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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Sometimes a horse shows undesired emotions during training, like biting, mugging, signs of frustration or even aggression. What can you do to change it? My mentor always told me it is foolish to keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results. How do you break this circle?

 

Change the setup

Take a break and rethink your approach. Go back to the point where the behaviour (emotion) was still desirable. Do do know what has changed? Change it back and see what happens.

Maybe you have to change the setup of your training entirely so you won’t trigger the undesired emotion/behaviour(s). In this way you can first ‘work around it’ until there is a more desired emotion or behaviour associated with the behaviour.

Find the cause of the undesired emotion

If you change your training approach you might find the cause of the frustration, boredom or other undesired emotion/behaviour in your horse.

When I encountered a lot of frustration in a horse I used this approach. I didn’t realize what had changed at first.

_low-value-treats-vs-high-value-treats_hippologic

Change one variable at a time

At first I experimented with a different target, a different area to train, hand feeding instead of feeding her from a  bucket and so on. I talked it over with someone who watched the whole session and we figured out it might be the high value food I was using as a reinforcer.

The mare got so excited by the very  yummie treats, she couldn’t wait (anymore) until the target was presented to earn a click and reinforcer. Because she ‘couldn’t wait’, she started to display all her impatience by pacing up en down the fence, tossing her head and pinning her ears. She soon got so frustrated she couldn’t pay attention to what behaviour lead to presenting the target (ears forward, standing still, head at medium height or below) and a click. She went back to her ‘old ways’ to get what she wanted: displaying her unhappiness. This worked for her in the past and she just went back to her default behaviour, as we all do from time to time.

It was only when I changed the food reward to a lesser value food that we immediately saw a huge difference in her behaviour. Apparently the food I was using was really high value for her, so she literally couldn’t wait for another opportunity to earn more clicks and more high value treats. That’s what caused her frustration.

As soon as I offered her much lower value treats, she went back to thinking mode and she was open to learning again.

_treats_in_training_hippologic

I never met a horse that showed me so clearly that a high value treat can cause so much frustration.

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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Reflections

This weeks WordPress Photo Challenge is called Mirror and is all about reflections.

_Mirror_horse_hippologic

Expressions and quotes

The horse is your mirror,
It will never flatter you,
It reflects your temperament,
It also reflects your mood swings.
To be angry with your horse,
Is to be angry with yourself.

If you are fearful, a horse will back off. If you are calm and confident, it will come forward. For those who are often flattered or feared, the horse can be a welcome mirror of the best in human nature. ~ Clare Balding

The horse is a mirror to your soul. Sometimes you might not like what you see. Sometimes you will.  ~ Buck Brannaman

I call horses ‘divine mirrors’ – they reflect back the emotions you put in. If you put in love and respect and kindness and curiosity, the horse will return that. ~ Allan Hamilton

Show me your horse and I will tell you who you are. ~ English proverb

Your horse is your mirror.

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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