Horse Rookie asked me to write another article for them. This time I wrote about how you can teach your horse to lie down on cue with clicker training. You can find my article Teach Your Horse to Lie Down on Cue here.
Benefits of clicker training (positive reinforcement)
- Give your horse a choice: he is allowed to say yes or no without negative consequences
- Learn to listen to you horse. You can only reinforce the behaviour with an appetitive after he performed. If he says ‘No’ to your cue, you have a great opportunity to learn from your horse. Every time you figure out why he said ‘No’ (they are hard wired to cooperate) and act on it, you’re building on your trust.
- Get to know your horse better. You need to know what appetitives reinforces him (what does he really wants to work for), you’ll develop a keen eye for behaviour in order to pinpoint (click) the desired behaviour and your timing will be impeccable. Where you can afford and get away with sloppiness in negative reinforcement, that won’t happen in R+. You get what you reinforce and it will be soon clear what that was.
- You built trust! You give your horse a useful and clear communication tool in hands with positive reinforcement. The better communication and mutual understanding you have, the better your relationship will be!
If you want to teach your horse to lie down on cue it helps to know his habits so that you can capture that behaviour. In my webinar I teach you exactly what you need to know to teach your horse to lie down on your cue.
Here is an easy clicker training plan to train your horse to lie down without ropes or force
Clicker training is a training method that uses positive reinforcement. The ‘positive’ means -in scientific terms- an appetitive is added to strengthen the desired behaviour. An appetitive is everything the horse want and is willing to do an effort for. The click is meant to pinpoint the desired behaviour. After a few repetitions your horse will quickly associate his own behaviour with your click and that the marker is always followed by a appetitive, a treat. In order to provide clarity we will use a click of a box clicker to mark the desired behaviour, because that sound always is the same, no matter how you feel.
The sooner the reinforcer (treat) is followed or even been given during the desired behaviour the sooner your horse connects the dots. This is not always practical and that’s why we use a ‘bridge’, the click, to close the time gap between the desired behaviour and the delivery of our reinforcer (giving the treat). The click also gives you, the trainer, time to get a treat out of your pocket and give it to your horse. The better your horse is clicker trained, the longer the time gap between the desired behaviour (the behavior that you want to see repeated) and the treat can be.
Lying down without coercion can be a challenging behaviour to train because there needs to be a certain amount of trust between trainer and horse. It helps if you use high value reinforcers to train this behaviour. I use my own baked treats with cinnamon that all horses seem to value very highly!
5 Ways of Training Behaviour in Clicker Training
In positive reinforcement you can use 5 different techniques to train behaviour. These 5 methods all have their pros and cons, which I have written about in here.
- Luring (using a lure to lure the horse into a behaviour with a treat)
- Molding (also sometimes referred to as ‘manipulation’, is physically guiding or otherwise coercing a horse (or one body part) into the behaviour you want to teach)
- Targeting (touching a specified surface (e.g. a target stick) with a particular body part)
- Shaping (goal behaviour is achieved by splitting the desired behaviour into many tiny steps. Each step is trained separately (clicked and reinforced)
- Capturing (‘catching’ the end behaviour as it happens and reinforcing it with a click and treat)
What method do you choose
In order to teach your horse to lie down we can’t use luring effectively. Experienced trainers can use molding and use ropes to lift the horse’s legs in order to let them kneel and then lie down. This can be very dangerous; it takes great expertise to do it right and not fall into the pitfall of just forcing the horse to lie down by pulling a leg away so he gets down. Not friendly and it will not help in building trust!
In order to use targeting skillfully in lying down I guess you could teach a horse to target his sternum so he will bring it to the ground eventually and as target the legs separately in order to bend them in the way they usually lie down. Not practical! In my webinar I share ways how you can use Key Lesson Targeting effectively as a training tool to help in training your horse to lie down on cue.
There are two techniques left over that can be successfully used to teach your horse to lie down with clicker training: shaping and capturing.
Here is how you do it
What you’ll need:
Clicker, your horse’s favorite treats, a place where your horse is likely to lie down (soft surface like a sandy spot in the pasture or the arena)
Why teach it:
It’s a way of measuring the amount of trust you’ve built and a fun way to test your skills as horse trainer.
How to do it:
In my online trick training webinar Teach Your Horse to Lie Down I go into detail how you can use shaping and capturing successfully to teach your horse to lie down. In this blog I would like to give you practical tips, so let’s focus on capturing the behaviour.
Your horse needs to know what the ‘click’ means. Read here how you teach your horse the HippoLogic Key Lessons, you key to success in horse training.
Know your Learner!
You need to learn as much as you can about your horse’s behaviour and his habits. In the live webinar I give tips how you can learn about your horse’s habits and normal behaviour. In order to capture this behaviour you need to be prepared! Make sure you have your clicker and high value treats so that you can let your horse know right away what you want to see more of: lying down.
You can capture this behaviour when he’s about to roll. Usually after a ride or a bath (in Summer!). You need to be ready to click and treat as soon as he’s lying down. Wait until he’s on the ground so that he won’t jump up right away when he hears your bridge signal to ask you ‘Where is my treat?”
Another great opportunity is when your horse lies down to sleep. If you keep your horse at home you probably know what times of the day he lies to take naps and you can enter his stall quietly and give him lots of treats.
I knew a horse that every morning after his breakfast, he lied down for a nap. Other horse’s lie down after lunch to take a well-deserved siesta. If you know when your horse sleeps, you can be at the barn at these times to capture the behaviour.
Once you have captured this behaviour with a click and lots of treats you’ll notice he will be more and more eager to lie down when you’re around. Then it’s time to put a cue on the behaviour. You can say “Down” and point to the ground. If he lies down or rolls without your verbal cue you can give the cue quickly so he can be successfully earn a click. You want this behaviour on cue for safety reasons. More about that in the webinar.
- Start teaching lying down in Summer when it’s hot or in Winter when there is snow to roll in. Horses love to roll in the snow and this will be a perfect opportunity to click and treat him for lying down. When the ground is wet changes decrease to see your horse lie down.
- Make sure you give your horse a generous jackpot after he lied down: keep feeding him treats until he gets up. You might have time for 1 treat or multiple treats. If you keep feeding for as long as he lies down, he understands that this behaviour is heavily reinforced.
- For safety reasons: don’t sit or kneel down next to your horse. Bend over to feed treats or squad so you can stand up quickly if needed
- Squad next to him, and never right in front of your horse. When horses stand up they put their front legs up first and you don’t want to be in their way.
- Always squad down to the side where his back is, not where his legs are:
- Practice regularly in the beginning, but don’t over-train. I recommend three or four days in a row and then let it rest for two days. This will give your horse’s brain the chance to make the neural pathways that are needed (this is called latent learning). The brain is making a backup of the learned behaviour and you will most likely get better quality after a two-day break. Just like a weekend.
- Don’t over ask. If your horse lies down once, that’s it for that day.
- You can make the reward even more reinforcing if you use verbal praise to support your treats.
- Once he offers the behaviour more often when you’re around it’s time to put a verbal cue on the behaviour.
Where to Learn More
Join HippoLogic’s Trick Training Webinar Teach Your Horse to Lie Down
Join HippoLogic’s Facebook group
Join our group on Facebook where you can ask questions, interact with like-minded people and get support on your clicker journey. In the last quarter of 2019 I will do weekly LIVE videos in the Happy Herd. Don’t miss out!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the results in training they really, really want with joy and easy for both horse and human. I always aim for win-win!
Join the Clicker Training Academy if you want personal support
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Join the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy for $39 and get an additional 90-minute coaching session with me for free (value $150 CAD).