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How training horses can change your life!

How Horse Training turned me into a Pollyanna

Before I started my positive reinforcement journey I used to be bit of a Negative Nancy. I could always find something to criticize. I was most critical about my own accomplishments. I couldn’t feel satisfied about anything I did, especially when it involved riding. The only positive thing about my negative attitude was that I had a really keen eye for details. This made me a really good editor.

Negative Nancy

I really and truly believed that if I criticized myself it would help me become a better rider, horse owner, friend and so on. Sometimes I wondered why I wasn’t yet a better rider… but I could always think of something that wasn’t yet good enough to classify myself as ‘good rider’.

negativenancy2I  didn’t understand that I made it impossible for myself to be satisfied, proud and happy about my achievements when I was only criticizing myself… I didn’t understand that what I was focusing on (my faults, mistakes and failures) grew. I couldn’t see that I was pushing myself forward on a downward spiral which was not at all uplifting or supporting.

This slowly changed when I started clicker training my first pony. In positive reinforcement training you want to reinforce a (tiny step towards the) desired behaviour in order to get more of that behaviour. In other words you have to be focused on the things that go right.

Focus on what you want to grow

When you need to be ready for every ‘clickworthy‘ (positively reinforcing) moment, you start to focus on all behaviours that go well and are improving. It took a long time before this life changing attitude seeped into other parts of my life, but when it did it changed my life for ever.

First I changed my language. I was lucky that I had a riding instructor that studied a lot and one of her favorite subjects at that time was neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). NLP describes the fundamental dynamics between mind (neuro) and language (linguistic) and how their interplay affects our body and behavior (programming) (source).

The words you use tell a lot about how you think: I can’t…, I never could…, I always…, my horse always…, my horse never…, I will never be able to… and so on. Those were phrases I used a lot. Elma helped me change my wording and my attitude towards my own riding skills. Thanks Elma!

Challenge

Every time I was using a negative phrase or statement about myself I was encouraged to phrase it differently. It became a wonderful and challenging game. I decided to use it in my training journal as well.

Up until then I always (well, almost always… ) focused on my faults (I wasn’t a good enough rider), my mistakes in training (too short, too long, not good enough and so on) and I often summarized my training as a failure. It was no fun to read back and I didn’t learn from it!

Shift from self-criticism to self-motivation

Things changed when I started to keep track of my accomplishments in clicker training. I wrote down what my criteria were and how I changed them over time. I was focused on what went right, improvements and our progress. I also learned to rephrase my common negative statements. I still  focused on what I could improve, but I phrased it in a a way that was encouraging.selfcritism cycle vs self motivation cycle Hippologic

See, how I just said ‘was focused on what I could improve’ instead of ‘I was focused on my faults‘. Faults became ‘learning points’, failure became ‘experience’ and so on.

How did positive reinforcement horse training change your life?

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.

 

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Preparing your Horse for the Farrier with Clicker Training

Being a farrier  is a high risk profession. It is not only a physically demanding job, but also the clients can be very opinionated. Or worse become defensive and kick, bite or rear. With clients I mean horses, of course. How can you help your farrier be safe working with your horse?  How can you prepare your horse for a farrier treatment? My answer is of course: with positive reinforcement.Kyra one month after arrival

Positive reinforcement for the professional

The first thing reinforcing the farrier to come back is that he gets paid! I like to offer a cup of tea and some cookies too, if he is really good with my horse. But the best way to reinforce your farrier to come back and do a good job is to have your horse well trained and prepared.

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I accomplished my ‘shittiest’ goal ever!

Yes, this will be a very shitty topic. Sorry about that. The topic is… house-training my horse. In May 2015 I started house-training Kyra. I am a lazy horse owner, so I taught her some tricks to make my life easier.

You can house-train your horse too: http://clickertraining.ca

Thinking ahead

I always, always reinforce Kyra with a treat if she poops or pees when she sees me. If I call her in the pasture and she doesn’t come to me, it usually means that she wants to relief herself first.

_house_training_horses_hippologicThe beauty of clicker training is that I can use the bridge signal, the click (‘this is the behaviour I want to see more of, and your reward is on the way’) from a distance and then walk toward her of simply wait until she reaches me so I can give her a treat.

I also give a treat when she poops or pees in her stall before I take her out.

Time saving habit

I never have to clean up after her on in the hallway where I groom her. Kyra never has to poop or pee on the cement floor. That is also the reason why she almost never poops or pees under saddle, she already went. Win-win-win.

Other shitty goals

As you can read here, I taught Kyra to only use a specific area in the arena to poop in. The beauty of it is that she can clearly communicates when she has to ‘go’. She simply walks over to that corner and I wait until she has done her business.

She has learned to poop right next to the manure bucket, even when I am not around! This is due to the clicker training. She simply made a positive association with pooping in that corner.

This means I never have to walk around the arena looking for poop after a ride. I used to walk twice with the bedding fork between the manure and the bucket. It’s a good thing I don’t have to do this anymore, because I used to forget this. I used to think ‘I’ll do this later when I’ve brought Kyra back to the pasture,’ . Only to forget about it. Now scooping her poop takes me less than a minute.

Goal achieved? No…

No. Not yet… I would like her to poop in the manure bucket or wheelbarrow. Like I said: I am very lazy so this will save me another minute. Yay!

I must say I had to wait over a year for the opportunity to click Kyra while she was pooping and I had the opportunity to place the bucket or wheelbarrow right behind her in order to catch it.

I accomplished my shitty goal!

This week was my lucky week: I  captured the behaviour twice! Shitty mission accomplished! I even have this on video, believe it or not!

Kyra has now been positively reinforced twice to aim for the manure bucket/wheelbarrow. I hope I can ‘catch’ it again. With the wheelbarrow that is.

This was my shittiest goal ever accomplished! 

Sorry for the dirty story. If you’re not blessed with a visual mind, here is the video.

Visit my HippoLogic YouTube channel

Next time a more decent blog.

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in personal coaching or do you want to sign up for the next  online course ‘Set Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them’, please visit my website

Click with Your Horse: http://clickertraining.ca

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Unconventional Training Solutions

Clicker training is brain training. I simply have to break out of the box of conventional ideas to come up with solutions that are ethical (pain free and force free) and horse friendly (easy to understand and rewarding for the horse). This is not always a simple task with these self-imposed regulations.

Challenge

Sometimes it is a real challenge to come up with solutions for difficulties I encounter in einsteinmy own training with Kyra. If I work for a client it’s really easy, because I am the outsider. To come up with creative training solutions for my own situation is much more challenging. That is why I like to have a mentor too.

If my mentor is not available, I have to focus on what I want and how I want this instead of ‘how I know I can solve this’. Because ‘I know how to solve this’ with coercion, negative reinforcement, punishment and other methods I am not willing to use anymore.

Training goal

Kyra is up for a new step in her training on the long reins. I want her to canter on the long reins. That means she has to learn to collect herself, otherwise I can’t keep up with her.

I started her on a circle in canter because she was too fast. On a circle I didn’t have to run. I created a problem by staying on the circle too long. She didn’t want to follow the rail on the long side of the arena, because she thought she had to stay in a circle.

Couldn’t you just use the outside rein?

_langeteugel-hippologic2012I didn’t want to pull on the outside rein. Her head moves up and down a lot in canter so the reins are already moving and causing too much ‘noise’ to be subtle with the rein aids. I don’t want to pull (force) her with the reins since I think the reins should stay a subtle aid.

Pulling on the outside reins causes her body to bend the wrong way (outside ‘Stellung’) which is a hard problem to solve later.

Why didn’t you use the whip to prevent her coming off the track?

I don’t use a whip. This would only work if she is used to yielding for the whip and/or is afraid of the whip. Using a tool that is developed to cause pain, discomfort or help motivate (in a negative reinforcement way) a horse move is not what I want. I think it can be too enticing to use it for what it is made for in a moment of frustration.
I don’t want to teach Kyra what she is NOT supposed to do (she is ‘not supposed to come off track’), I want her to teach what I want her to do: stay on the track. It is a different way of thinking. Focusing on what you want to teach instead of what you want to prevent.

How did you solve it if you don’t use rein aids or a whip?

Thank you for asking! I had to figure out a way to communicate to Kyra what it is I was looking for: staying on the track in canter.

Step 1

First I laid some poles next to the track parallel to the wall on the long side of the arena. She just stepped over them to make her circle. So I split the goal into smaller steps: I practised cantering at liberty and under saddle along the poles. That made it easier for her to understand that she was suppose to follow the track. It wasn’t fool proof and she was still confused on the long rein.

Step 2

Then I used some cones which she knows how to target. I made it really easy and asked her to touch the cone then canter a few strides to the next cone and asked her to touch that other cone. She understood quickly and so I made the distance between the cones bigger. The poles were still parallel to the track but she didn’t want to jump over them now that she was focused on the cones.

Step 3

Now we made really quick progress: she started to canter on the long side of the track. In 3 training sessions of 5-10 minutes I could take some of the poles away and start cantering on the other side of the arena on the long side.

Step 4

The next step was to fade out the cones and the two poles at the beginning and end of the long sides of the tracks. The cones were not important anymore because now I could click and reinforce for cantering on the track.

Step 5

Now I started to canter on the other side of the arena as well and it was no problem for her to understand to stay on the track.

Step 6

The next step is to change reins and practise everything she now learned in the left lead canter to the right lead canter.

Step 7

Now we are working on speed in canter. She is still a bit too fast and she has to learn to collect more so I can walk along her side instead of jogging. We already worked on this in session 4 and 5.

In this way I taught Kyra to stay on track and canter more slowly in only 7 sessions of 5-10 minutes. No frustration (only a bit of a brainteaser for me), no force, pain or threatening. I really like to come up with training solutions like this so I don’t have to damage the bond of trust I have been building so carefully.

What are some of the force free and R+ solutions you came up with in your training?

Please share this post if it was helpful. It might help other equestrians to think out of the box.

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online my online course Set Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them click here for more info

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How to change emotions in your horse during training

 

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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Teach your horse to accept oral medication (deworming)

_dewormingcanbe_Years ago deworming meant stress for me and my first pony. Sholto was not really hard to deworm, but I had to be cautious. He could move his head down in a split second and sometimes that meant that I pinched the syringe in his palate. Or, I emptied the syringe while he was moving his head sideways and all the dewormer paste squirted in the air because the syringe was sticking out of his mouth on the other end.

When I started using clicker training my mind was focused on teaching Sholto tricks. It never crossed my mind to use clicker training to teach my horse things like ‘happily accepting a deworming treatment’.

For the World Equine Clicker Games 2013 I made this  video about easy deworming with my current horse Kyra.

Targeting the syringe
Kyra had already mastered the key lesson ‘targeting’. So she knows that touching an object on my cue is rewarded. I started using a cleaned old dewormer syringe as a target.

Session 1: touch the syringe. Some horses have very negative associations with dewormers and for those horses ‘looking at the syringe’ could be the first step.

Desensitize the corner of the mouth
Session 2: In order to empty a dewormer in a horses mouth, you have to empty it at the back of their tongue. The easiest way to enter their mouth is in the corner, where they have no teeth. The horse must accept the syringe touching the corner of his mouth.

Accept the syringe
When Kyra accepted the syringe against a corner of her mouth, it was time to take the third step in this training process. Putting the syringe in her mouth. I use the verbal cue ‘open’.

I always let Kyra come to the syringe to test if she doesn’t think the syringe is an aversive.

Accepting a substance
Step 5 is getting the horse to swallow the paste. Often the paste is a surprise to the horse, so you can train your horse to be ready for it.

I tested first if Kyra would like applesauce. She wasn’t crazy for it, but she ate it. Good enough for session 4: accepting a substance out of the syringe.

I use a cue word to warn Kyra ‘something is coming’. I don’t want to surprise her with something with a bad taste.

The real thing
The sixth step of this process was the real dewormer. Because a lot of rewards were involved in this training, Kyra doesn’t have negative associations with the deworming syriche. The syringe is now associated with good things (clicks and rewards).

I never expected that it would become this easy. Now I can deworm Kyra without a halter and without any stress.

Every time before I deworm Kyra I start with a short reminder session with a few clicks and rewards.

Of course you can also try to put the dewormer paste in a sandwich and just feed it to your horse. I’ve seen that working with some horses, too.

Here is my One minute deworming video:

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

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

5 Benefits of Trick Training in daily life

Today I had a really hard time to sit down and write a blog because my horse Kyra is on my mind. Last week she was diagnosed with EMS (Equine Metabolic Syndrome): obesity, laminates (foundering) and insuline resistance are three very important components of this syndrome as well as Cushing’s. _Kyra_hippologic

Change of life style

Kyra needs a different life style for now: no grass, a restricted intake of calories, as little sugar as possible (only soaked or low sugar hay and no apples, carrots or other sugary treats) and more exercise (which is hard since she is very sore on her front hooves).

How trick training helped

Sometimes previous training benefits you in situations you never could have expected. So can trick training. Many tricks may seem useless when you train them, however they can benefit you in surprising ways. Here are some examples.

When the vet came I wanted him to take X-rays of Kyra’s front feet to see if there was any rotation of the pedal bone. She needed to stand on wooden blocks with her front feet to take the pictures.

1) Clicker Challenge and 2) Mat Training

Kyra knows how to stand on different kinds of pedestalsmats, tarps and last year we participated in an online  ‘Clicker Challenge’. She had to stand for 5 seconds on two small wooden blocks. Exactly the same blocks the vet brought. How amazing is that!? In hindsight this was the perfect preparation for taking the X-rays.

I joked to the vet and asked if I could get a discount since Kyra behaved really well and safe. First he said ‘no’ but then he told me I actually just saved $ 50 on the bill because Kyra didn’t need sedation to make her stand on the blocks.

3) Trick training: financial benefits

When I wrote a cheque he did give me an additional discount (Thank you!). So our trick training paid off! Not to mention the stress we avoided because we didn’t have to make her do something she was afraid of. I didn’t need to stress about it, too. So, this was a triple bonus.

4) Muzzle and 5) boots

The vet also recommended a grazing muzzle so she can be in the pasture with her herd. I really have a hard time putting horses in a solitary paddock. The stress she has in there worries me. Stress has a negative impact on the immune system and wouldn’t benefit the healing of her laminates (which is an inflammation of the lammellae in the hoof).

Targeting helped me get the muzzle on in no time. Kyra didn’t seemed to mind the muzzle to try it. She doesn’t realize yet that she is rewarded by getting it on, but will miss out on the grass later in the pasture. I feel like I tricked her, but it is the best I can do if I want to get her healthy as soon as possible.

A few weeks ago I had started training Kyra to accept a soaking boot. This related well to the need to have Kyra use soft ride boots now to protect her feet and I didn’t need to start training this behaviour from scratch. It saved us a lot of time and stress when it was needed most. Having trained Kyra in all the basics and having experimented with different tricks has prepared her for a lot of different situations.

Practising for the Clicker Challenge in January 2015:

Here the video in which the behaviour of the Clicker Challenge is established and how Kyra did with the vet.

Ignoring grass

Now I hand walk Kyra daily to give her the exercise she needs. I have a really good barn friend who loaned me some horse boots that really give Kyra some relief. Thanks to the many hours of training her to ignore grass, I don’t have problems walking the street with the very juicy banks of grass.

How did trick training help you in a situation you had never thought it could be useful? Please share your story and help inspire others to enjoy trick training (more about trick training).

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.

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