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).

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below. Or just hit the like button if you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect horse women with their inner wisdom and teach them the principles of learning and motivation, so they become confident and skilled to train their horse in a safe and effective way that is a lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover what else I have to offer.

How Mat Training Paid Off

Mat training is one of my key lessons in positive reinforcement training. It is a very versatile exercise and a good base for more advanced exercises.

Standing on a mat

Standing on a simple puzzle mat is a fun exercise to teach your horse. The goal is simple: the horse has to stand with his two front hooves on the mat.
_key_lesson_standing_on_a_mat_hippologic

Preparation for other exercises

_Keylessonmatwork2Mat training can be a good preparation for the horse to stand more willingly on all kinds of surfaces like tarps, pedestals, plywood, trailer ramps, wooden bridges etc.

I found mat training also very useful as a preparation to teach your horse to soak his foot in a bucket of water.

Hoof care

Kyra is having some hoof issues that require me to soak her feet. I looked up some do-it-yourself hoof soaking solutions since I don’t own a soaking booth. One of the suggestions was a diaper soaked in water and put the hoof in a Ziplock bag reinforced with duct tape.

It was no problem for Kyra to go from standing on a mat to putting her feet in a rubber bucket. Next step was to teach Kyra to step into a bucket filled with water. I practised this a few weeks ago already, not knowing that I would soon need this behaviour.

Because Kyra already has a long positive reinforcement history of mat and bucket training, today she was not startled when i attached a soaked diaper around her hoof. She was a lot less surprised then I would be. Also stepping into a plastic bag with fluid was no problem at all.

She was totally OK with me tying the plastic bag full of water to her feet. This was totally new to her: she had never worn bell boots or leg protection before, but a plastic bag with water on her hoof was totally fine. It only took me a few clicks to get her walking around with the bag confidently.

_Hoof_soaking_booth_DIY_HippoLogic

The only downside of using the diaper was that I used a fancy one. One with silicone inside in order to keep your baby extra dry.

As soon as Kyra put her hoof with the diaper around it down, the diaper tore and all the soaked silicone came out. It was a big mess. Not something I would recommend using for equine use. Maybe the cheap diapers don’t have this feature. So make sure you check the inside of the diaper if you want to use it to soak hoofs in.

My point is that once your horse has a solid basis and a long positive reinforcement history with a certain exercise, it is not a big deal to tweak a few things and train different context shifts. In this way you train new behaviours very quickly.

Hooray for this key lesson I invested so much time in.

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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Clicker Training: How to start with a horse that is traditionally trained?

How do you start positive reinforcement training with a horse that is already trained with negative reinforcement (traditional or natural horsemanship training)?

Start with a ‘clean slate’

I would suggest start with some exercises that are totally new to the horse. Choose exercises (and cues) the horse doesn’t know yet.

You should make sure it is a new exercise so the horse doesn’t have any negative or aversive association with it. Start introducing the marker (‘click’) or bridge signal and pair it with an appetitive (something the horse really appreciates, like a nice treat).

A good place to start are the key lessons. Most likely traditional and natural horsemanship schooled horses havenever done any targeting or mat training.

Work on these new exercises until your horse understands positive reinforcement and he feels safe enough to try out new behaviours or go explore new objects.

How to re-train a horse with positive reinforcement?

___clickertraining_hippologicOnce your horse understands he has a choice to cooperate or not, you can run into the problem that he says ‘no’ to your training ideas. That is not uncommon. They regain the power over their own body and training. They just love to say ‘no’ without being afraid of reprimands.

Often this is just a phase and the best thing you can do is listen to your horse and acknowledge his say. Use your creativity and find other ways to enjoy his company or find other exercises he does like.

Don’t mix -R and +R in one exercise

In order to keep it clear what your horse can expect from you, you should not mix negative (-R) and positive reinforcement (+R) in one and the same exercise.

If you use accumulating pressure to reinforce certain behaviour and than add an appetitive (treat) you can ‘poison’ your cue. The horse can’t be sure what to expect: more pressure or a treat. The appetitive is not really the reinforcer, taking away the aversive is (that came first). You want to avoid that your horse refuses treats after a while.

Once you decide  you want to change a part of your training to positive reinforcement you will realize that you have to countercondition the exercise.

Counterconditioning

There are many things you might want to re-train with positive reinforcement. For instance if your horse doesn’t want to trailer load (anymore) you might need to do some ‘counterconditioning’.

Definition:  Counterconditioning is a type of therapy based on the principles of classical conditioning that attempts to replace bad or unpleasant emotional responses to a stimulus with more pleasant, adaptive responses.

It can be a challenge, depending on the horses feelings about the exercise, to countercondition a behaviour. It depends on the horses (general) trust in humans, his history and the expertise of the trainer. It can be done. It is like’therapy’ for horses: they have to learn to overcome their fears and anxieties and learn to trust something positive is going to happen if they see a trailer.

Ethics

I think you can almost countercondition everything. The pitfall however is that the horse is sometimes not only expressing his fear. If you countercondition a horses agressive behaviour when he is cinched: are you working on counterconditioning a learned response to the girth or are you (unconsciously) shutting his voice when he is expressing pain? Something to take into account when you retrain horses.

What is or was your biggest challenge in re-training a horse with clicker training?

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

 

Most powerful reward schedule: Variable ratio

In a  variable ratio schedule a desired behaviour (once it is established and put on cue) will be reinforced randomly. There is no way the horse can predict when he can expect a reward, so this will keep him motivated to perform well.

Benefits of a variable reinforcement schedule

With a variable ratio schedule it will take a very long time before a behaviour will become extinct. Extinction means that the behaviour will no longer be displayed in a certain situation. There is 0% chance of a reward so therefor the behaviour has become ‘useless’ in that situation.

A variable ratio schedule is the most powerful reward schedule. Your horse figures ‘This could be the time my behaviour gets rewarded, so let’s try this again’. No reward? ‘Maybe this time I will get a reward… Let’s give it a bit more effort… Yes! It worked’.__rewards_hippologic

A variable reward schedule is also the reason why most horses keep displaying undesired behaviours. I explain this further in this post.

Extinction burst

If a behaviour is never rewarded (intrinsically or extrinsically) it will go extinct. Just before a behaviour goes extinct there is usually an ‘extinction burst’.

Often when an in the past rewarded behaviour doesn’t result in a reward the animal shows a sudden and temporary increase in the behaviour followed by the eventual decline and extinction of the behaviour targeted for elimination. Novel behaviour, or emotional responses or aggressive behaviour, may also occur (Miltenberger, R. (2012). Behaviour modification, principles and procedures. (5th ed., pp. 87-99). Wadsworth Publishing Company.)

Extinction_Graph

Extinction, extinction burst and spontaneous recovery graph from study.com

The same principle occurs in a consciously applied variable reward schedule. Just before the horse loses interest in displaying the behaviour he will show a little ‘extinction burst’ as a last attempt to influence the reinforcement (reward). This is the improved behaviour a trainer is looking for and wants to mark and reward.

Withhold the click

If the horse already has a strong positive reinforcement history with a certain behaviour or with positive reinforcement training in general, it can react differently to a withdrawn click than when he is in the beginning of the learning stage of an exercise.

A well used withdrawal of the click will induce an improvement of behaviour (extinction burst). It also can help the horse figure out quicker which behaviour is rewarded and which isn’t. In this way you can give more information about what you want.

Instead of the trainer acting like a ‘vending machine’: put money (behaviour) in and expect a reward (treat comes out), the trainer now behaves more like a ‘gambling machine’ with a fair chance to win.

_reward_schedules_hippologic

The horse may become ‘superstitious’ and tries to figure out if there was a difference with the behaviour that was similar and didn’t get rewarded and the one that did. Just like superstitious people who are suddenly paying attention to the colour of their socks in order to influence their chances of winning, the animal will also pay more attention to the details of the behaviour in order to influences the chances of a click and reward.

Pitfalls of withholding a click too long

Withholding a click can also trigger impatience, frustration or confusion in the horse. So  use this technique with caution. You don’t want to discourage your horse. A little bit of frustration is no big deal, as long as the horse stays in learning mode.

Sometimes a bit of frustration can actually benefit the learning process. It is the trainers responsibility to walk this line. If the horse gets frustrated or shuts down, turn back to a continuous reward schedule for a while and make your training steps smaller and lower your criteria.

When you start teaching a new behaviour it is really important to click every improvement and use a continuous reward schedule. The next step in training should be only rewarding the behaviour when you have cued it. Once the cue is established, switch to a variable reward schedule.

Fading out the rewards

So once your horse has learned a specific behaviour you can reward less and less and still get the behaviour. This is called fading out the click.

Continuous reward schedules are very easy to use (reward 100%) because you don’t have to think about it. What about a variable reward schedule, are you using this in your training?

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

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How to teach your horse anything

Whenever an idea forms about what I want to teach my horse Kyra I set it as a goal. I then start writing a training plan and make a shaping plan to achieve this goal.

Goal setting

My goal in this example is teaching Kyra to stand still, next to a mounting block, until I mounted and give the cue to walk.

Shaping plan

After I set my goal I make a shaping plan. I think about all the possible steps I have to teach Kyra to achieve my final behaviour: standing parallel to the mounting block so mounting is safe and easy for me. I have to teach her to stand still when I’m mounting, put my feet into the stirrups, taken the reins and I am ready to ask her to walk.

I write all these steps down. I don’t even have to bring it to the barn. Just writing it down makes me focused.

A few of the building blocks of this goal are:

  • making her comfortable near the mounting block
  • teaching whoa
  • mat training
  • hip targeting (to be able to align her to the mounting block)
  • aligning with the mounting block without stress
  • waiting until I have mounted
  • and walking on queue

_mountainblock_hippologic

Context learning

Horses learn in a certain context. I use this into my advantage when I am teaching Kyra something new. I practise as much as possible in the same circumstance (context).

If I have a portable mounting block I always put it in the same place in the arena to practise. I will only put it in another place if she has already mastered lining up in the first spot.

I lower my criteria a bit when I change something in the context she learned the behaviour. In this way I always set Kyra up for success and I always have a good feeling too!

Set it up for success

I always take into account my horses emotions when I teach her something new. I recently saw a video in which the trainer put the mounting block next to the track in order to mount. Unfortunately this was the place where her horse was the most nervous (‘trapped in between the fence and the mounting block.) She made her training much more difficult than it needed to be.

For Kyra the most comfortable spot in the arena was in the middle where she has the most space and couldn’t hurt herself. Secondly I noticed that facing the door was more comfortable for her than facing the opposite side of the arena. I guess she likes to know where the exit is… After all it is an enclosed area and horses are flight animals.

Practising

Then I started to practise the steps in my shaping plan. I usually go up one criterion if Kyra masters it three times in a row.

Latent learning

After a few days of practise I give Kyra a break or I train something completely different. Often something she has already mastered. After giving her a ‘weekend’ off she performs much better. This latent learning is very valuable to me. It saves time!

Rinse and repeat

After a short break I lower my criteria a bit and start with some repetition to give her the confidence that she knows what is expected. After that I can move on very quickly.

Context shift

After Kyra has mastered the basics of the new behaviour, I change one thing in the context. I put the mounting block somewhere else in the arena. Not too far away from where she was used to.

Generalize

After a few times of putting the mounting block in different spots in the arena, I noticed that Kyra generalized the mounting block. Time for a real change: a different kind of mounting block.

I started practising with benches in the park, fences, rocks etc. Now Kyra is used to all kinds of mounting blocks and she is very safe to mount.

This is the general ‘recipe’ I use in teaching my horse new behaviours. You don’t have to use positive reinforcement training to use this in your training.

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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!
Sign up for my newsletter (it comes with a gift) here: HippoLogic’s website.

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  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
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‘Grass Training’: Teach Your Horse to Ignore Grass

Haven’t we all experienced that a horse pulled you towards some grass in order to grab a few bites? Isn’t that annoying? I think it is! grass training Hippologic clicker training horses

I didn’t want to be pushed around anymore by my horse every time there was some juicy patch of grass growing around. Grass is everywhere! I decided to look for a proper, force-free way to teach my horse more desired behaviour around grass.

I tried a few different approaches, before I found one that works well, gave me a solid result and is totally force-free. I would like to share it with you.

Define ‘proper behaviour around grass’

_teach your horse to ignore grass_hippologic_grazing_mannersIt took me a while to teach Kyra to behave ‘properly’ around grass. With ‘properly’ I mean: no more pulling me towards grass, wait until I give the ‘graze’ cue and ‘stop grazing and come along’ if I ask her to. I was tired of pulling Kyra off the grass.

Preparation

I must say before you can start training this you need a bit of preparation and… lots of practice time. After all, what is more enticing than grass? Well, a click can be…

What really helps is already have a solid history of click & reinforce. Secondly a horse that walks with you properly and the key lessons ‘head lowering’, ‘patience’ and ‘targeting’ are required to make this challenge most likely to succeed.

Shaping plan

Here is a summary of my shaping plan:

How I trained it

I started to reinforce lifting Kyra’s head while grazing. Why? Because this is the first step to move away from the grass. I began with leading her to grass and I would cue her to graze. Then I just waited (very, very patiently) until she lifted her head by herself. That is the moment I wanted to capture and reinforce.Enjoy trail rides again after grass training

I can’t stress how important it is to wait until the horse moves (his head) away himself. I tried other methods like pulling the head up/preventing the head from going down or asking Kyra to target while grazing in order to lift her head, but reinforcing her own head raise worked best.

High value treats

Every time she would lift her head , I clicked and reinforced Kyra with a very high value treat. One that could compete with grass. After she ate the treat I immediately gave her the cue to ‘graze’. Here is when the key lesson ‘head lowering’ comes is really handy.

I also clicked and reinforced the ‘graze’ cue. But instead of offering a treat off of my hand, the reward was to graze as long as she wanted.

Every time she would lift her head again, I clicked, reinforced and would then give her the ‘graze’ cue.

Next step

After a certain amount of training sessions, which Kyra enjoyed very much (!), I noticed that she started to lift her head more often during grazing sessions. This is a perfect time to add a ‘lift head up’ cue. The key lesson targeting helped me a lot.

So my next clicker session looked like this:

  • walk to the grass
  • give the cue ‘graze’
  • wait until Kyra lifts her head
  • click and reinforce
  • give her the cue ‘graze’
  • let her graze until I thought she was likely to lift her head up again, ask ‘touch’ target stick
  • click and reinforce
  • cue ‘graze’
  • et cetera.

In this way she is always reinforced for whatever I ask.

Raising the criterion

After several sessions I noticed that Kyra didn’t seem to mind lifting her head up anymore. She was eager to see what I had to offer her. The ‘diving into the grass’ behaviour was gone. She seemed so much more relaxed on grass.

I thought this would be the perfect time to raise a criterion. Now I wanted to lift her head and take one step forward before I gave the ‘graze’ cue again. I literally built this behaviour step-by-step.

The final step in this process was to teach her to wait for the ‘graze’ cue when we would walk on or approach grass.

Result

Now I can ask Kyra to leave grass at any time. She is very willing to come with me. She never pulls me towards a patch of grass and I never have to pull her off of the grass. Win-win, for her and for me.

Kyra turned from a I-need-to-graze-now-and-store-fat-before-winter-comes-horse into a I-see-grass-so-what-horse. She knows she can trust me and is allowed to have her share… only when I say so.

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Today I wanted to make a video for the FB Grass Training FB Group. Kyra didn’t want to graze, so I couldn’t show how to start walking on grass when all your horse wants to do is graze. Never thought I could be in that position: a horse that doesn’t want to graze because training is way more valuable.

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
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!
Sign up for my newsletter (it comes with a gift) here: HippoLogic’s website.
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Bridges, powerful tools in horse training

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

Advantage of a clicker
A 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.

_clickers

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
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult today!

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How to change ‘bad behaviour’ in horses quickly

There is one very effective way to change all horses that are stubborn, dominant, don’t listen, know what to do, but refuse to obey, know their job but don’t do it, are a wuss or are playing us.

Circle of influence

One solution
What? One solution for so many bad behaviours? Yes!

It is simple too. Change your attitude about the horse.

How would that work? Well, if you label your horse as ‘dominant’ or ‘stubborn’ it sounds like it isn’t your fault, but it also sounds like you can’t influence it. But you can. You can influence his behaviour! It’s called ‘training’.

You can only change things that are in your circle of influence. You can start changing your thoughts. If you change your thoughts in a way that can help you help the horse, suddenly there is no ‘stubborn’ horse anymore. If you can see that he is not stubborn, you can ask yourself questions like:

Why did he do that?
Was he afraid?
What is his motivation? Is he getting away form something or does he want to go somewhere?
What emotions did the horse displayed?
How can I prepare my horse better next time?

You have to take responsibility, which can be scary. The flip side is in this way you empower yourself! You are looking for things you can influence. Isn’t that great? In this way you train the horse, if he is successful, the trainer was too. Unfortunately it is not really accepted to brag about your success as horse trainer, but don’t let that ruin your pride.

One of the things that I like in reward-based training, is that you have to take the horses’ perspective into account. His emotions, his behaviour and his motivation are very important. It is never the horses’ fault anymore and you never have dominant or stubborn horses.

circle of influence

Join our Community!

  • Are you looking for professional positive reinforcement advice?
  • Do you want an affordable program?
  • Do you want to turn your equestrian dreams into reality, but you don’t know where to start?

If you have answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of the above questions look into one of the online programs HippoLogic has to offer.

Join our community for online positive reinforcement training tips, personal advice and support in training your horse.

Shape the community

If you’re interested to become a member of the HippoLogic tribe, please tell me what you want in this short questionnaire. Thanks a lot!

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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!
Sign up for my newsletter (it comes with a gift) here: HippoLogic’s website.

Take action. Start for free!

Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

Simply check the best time for you in my online calendar and click to reserve your free call today.

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New Uses for ‘Old’ Tools in Clicker Training, part III

In part 1 of this trilogy I talked about how my vision and use of ‘timing’ and taking emotions into consideration changed the way I train. In part 2 I mentioned how I changed the  way I use rewards now. There is another tool I now use completely different. It is my training journal. Before my reward-based training journey began I already wrote about my training.

Diary
It started like a diary: I wrote down the things I did with my pony that day and I wrote down (preventive) medical treatments like deworming, hoof trims and so on. I still have those journals, and it is nice to reread them. Unfortunately it doesn’t give me any useful information, years later.

Training journal
Now I write my plans for the future, the training plans and I about how the training went in my training journal.

Training journalIf I reread those entries, I can see what my ambitions were, how I approached them and what I achieved. If I read back in my training plan I know which steps I took to achieve my end behaviour and in my journal I can read all about my learning points and what went well. I also have an idea now how long it took me to teach the behaviour. It is also a great reminder what I already have accomplished together with my horse. One really quickly tends to forget about these things and it is temping to only focus on what you ‘still have to accomplish’.

One of the things I did the first year was to make pictures of all my achieved goals and put them in a lovely photo album. Every month one or two goals or milestones. It is a nice reminder of all we have done.
Writing it down
Writing makes things clear. I noticed that if I write my goals down, it is already easier to achieve them. By writing them down, they become clear in your subconscious.

If I have a list of goals in my tack locker which I can see every day, it is much easier to make choices about what to train. Even if I change my original plan for the day, I will most likely choose something that is a stepping stone to another behaviour I want to work on in the future.

Do you write your plans down? Do you think it is helpful? Is it hard for you? If you don’t know where to start, find yourself an accountability partner.

Read more
4 Easy Ways to Start a Training Journal

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult today!

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New uses for ‘Old’ Tools in Clicker Training , part II

When I started clicker training I had no clue that there was a whole science behind the use of rewards. I only knew about one primary reward: treats.

I didn’t know anything about ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ rewards, how to use high and low value rewards to my advantage. Neither did I know about ‘chaining’ behaviours, I learned all these things in the following years.

High and low value rewards
When I started clicker training I didn’t realize that a horse can consider some rewards as ‘high value’ rewards, and other as ‘low value’ rewards. I never thought that I could use this knowledge to my advantage and to help the horse perform better or make training less stressful.

I didn’t realize some rewards can lose their value and how to use this knowledge in my training. Of course I noticed when my pony became less eager to work for his treats after some training. Then I just stopped the training session and gave him a break. I was not consious enough about this fact to use it in my training approach. Now I am aware, I use high value rewards or low value rewards depending on the circumstances.

Variable rewards_key_lesson_standing_on_mat_hippologic
I also vary my treats depending on the difficulty level of the behaviour I am training, or depending on the context. In situations where there is more distraction I might use very high value treats (for Kyra that is apple) rather than lower value rewards (non-food) in order to keep my horses attention focused on me.

If Kyra is in a more relaxed state, she values the ear scratches (see picture) more than grain. I experiment with the different value treats during one training session. You can use different treats with different values to build in a certain unpredictability for the horse, in order to stimulate his efforts.

With horses who get overly excited by certain treats I start with lower value treats, horses who have to overcome something really scary or aversive, get really high value treats or rewards. Sometimes I give bigger rewards, sometimes I give smaller amounts. I know how I can really ‘stretch’ the reward moment by throwing in lots of verbal praise and feeding multiple hands full of treats (jackpotting).

Secondary rewards
I now also know know that I can use secondary rewards, like standing on a mat or verbal praise. A secondary reward is something the horse has ‘learned to like’ because there is an appetite association attached to it.

Behaviour chains
If you chain a series of behaviours, certain behaviours can become a reward, too. You can also use ‘back chaining’. Then you start teaching the last behaviour in the chain first: behaviour #3. Next step is to teach behaviour #2 and then you chain them together: #2, #3. Behaviour #3 is clicked and rewarded in the chain.

Then you teach another behaviour( #1) and back chain it, so you have chained #1, #2, #3. The horse has already a solid reward history built with behaviour #3 and he will anticipate on what is coming after #1 and #2. By asking the chain, the reward for the horse will lie in performing behaviour #3, which you may or may not reward with a click and reward once the horse knows the chain.

Looking back
So when I started clicker training I thought it was a simple concept: click and treat for the desired behaviours. I understood that really complex behaviours would be better taught in small steps. That was basically what I thought was clicker training.

__hippologic_beautiful_thing_about_learningThe more I learned about reward-based horse training, the more I realize there is so much more to learn. After 15 plus years of experimenting and reading and learning I still enjoy the puzzles my horse gives me that I really want to solve with positive reinforcement only. I just love it!

What are the things you have learned over the years that really stunned you?

Read here part I of New Uses for ‘Old Tools’ in Clicker Training

Read here part III.

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below. Or post your comment, I read them all!

Or simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect horse women with their inner wisdom and teach them the principles of learning and motivation, so they become confident and skilled to train their horse in a safe and effective way that is a lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online 8 week course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training.
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New Uses for ‘Old’ Tools in Clicker Training, part I

When I started clicker training I thought it was a pretty simple and forward concept: ‘You bridge (click) the wanted behaviour and give the horse a treat. Make sure your timing is right. That’s all you need to know.’

Bridging and getting your timing right are both very important and it was an excellent start. I have been training horses with reward-based training since ’99 and I still learn so much every day. It helps that science is coming up with new discoveries, too. And that other trainers (horse owners as well as professionals) are sharing their experiences over the internet.

#1 Timing
Of course timing is important. In clicker training we say: ‘You get what you reinforce.’ So if the horse is displaying some unwanted behaviours, that means that the trainer has a question to think about: Did I bridge or rewarded this behaviour in any way or is this be self-rewarding behaviour? In self-rewarding behaviour the horse found a reward which motivates him to do it again.

The timing of the bridge (click) and the timing of giving the reward are both important. Those two moments are reinforcing the behaviour of the horse at that time. So, if you click for a wanted behaviour and your horse is doing an unwanted behaviour (pinning ears, snapping, pawing) at the moment you give the treat, you are still reinforcing something you might not want. It might not show directly, but it will show sooner or later.

#2 Emotions
You are not only training just the behaviour but there can also be an emotion attached (associated) to that certain behaviour. In the beginning I never paid conscious attention to Sholto’s emotions back then, while I clicker trained him. I didn’t notice unwanted or dangerous emotions (rage, fear, over-arousal). To be honest I don’t think my pony experienced those during clicker training. He seemed very engaged and eager to work with me if I was preparing to do some clicker training.

Looking back at my training sessions using Natural Horsemanship this aspect was less important. The horse was required to fulfill his task regardless of his emotional state.

In clicker training it is much more a two-way communication.  You have to be aware of your horses emotional state because it is a part of your training. When you click you click for all aspects of your horse at that time, his physical stance and his emotional state.

My current horse, Kyra (see picture), did express a lot of fear in the beginning and I started to take her emotions into account while bridging certain behaviours. I’ve learned that you can strengthen the a certain behaviour by reinforcing that behaviour.That behaviour might be very much attached to an undesired emotion. Now I pay a lot more attention to horses emotions when I bridge a behaviour and I can use this information to my advantage.

emotions_hippologic

Much more
There is much more I can tell you that I have learned over the years. I am really excited every time I discover a new use for an old tool or approach. To me my journey to the reward-based training method still is very exciting.

What was one of your eye openers on your journey?

Read here part II of New Uses for ‘Old’ Tools in Clicker Training

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult today!

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How to … Keep-going

What is a keep-going signal (KGS), why do you need it and how can you teach it?

What is it?
_keep going signal_hippologicA keep-going signal is used to tell your horse that he is doing the right thing and that he should keep doing it in order to earn a click and reward.

Purpose
A keep-going signal can be very useful in building duration of an behaviour. Not all horses ‘need’ a KGS. Sometimes withholding a click will work, too. Just experiment with it.

A KGS can also be used as encouragement and signal that the horse has to keep doing what he is doing.

A KGS can help prevent frustration. Some horses will get frustrated if they don’t get a click soon enough and will give up. If they hear a keep-going signal, they will know that the click will follow.

A keep-going signal also helps you get more behaviour per click. So basically you click & reward less often. Which can make the clicks even more desirable for the horse, since he doesn’t get them as often anymore.

Working on stamina in trotHow do you train it
Horses are smart and they quickly learn to anticipate cues. They will learn that after a keep-going signal, that has no meaning yet, the click & reward follows.

Choose a word that you would otherwise not use in either training or speaking to your horse. Choose a word that can be extended easily.

Introduce the keep-going signal in a behaviour that already has a duration of a few seconds, so you have time enough to introduce it. Slowly you extend the time between the keep-going signal and the click:

Cue behaviour + keep-going + click & reward (repeat several times)
Cue behaviour + keep-going + 1 second + click & reward (repeat several times)

Cue behaviour + 1 second + keep-going+ 2 seconds + click & reward (repeat several times)

And so on. Make sure your horse doesn’t get too frustrated by the removal of the click. Later on you can also extend the time before using the keep-going signal.

Cue behaviour + 1 second + keep-going+ 1 second + click & reward (repeat several times)

With a keep-going signal you can help prevent the horse from getting frustrated, since you can indicate what he has to do to earn his reward.

Related post: Reward-based training is…

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicWould you like to hear more about a keep-going signal or do you have a question about clicker training your horse? Click here to connect and I will be more than happy to help another horse-human relationship blossom.

 
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How to turn “Standing on a mat” into a reward for your horse

Mat training is one of the Key Lessons, the basics for success in clicker training. In the beginning the goal of mat training is to teach your horse to “stand on the mat”. Then you click and reward. Simple. But, do you know you can also use “standing on the mat” as a reinforcer for another behaviour?

_key_lesson_standing_on_a_mat_hippologic

Make standing on the mat rewarding
You start with building a lot of positive associations with the mat. You start using primary reinforcers to reward your horse for standing on the mat, like treats. Don’t forget to bridge and reward for stepping off of the mat.

After a while the mat is supercharged with pleasurable associations. Every time the horse goes to the mat or stepped on the mat a click and reward had come his way._key_lesson_standing_on_mat_hippologic

The mat as reinforcer
Once the mat is very attractive, you can start using it as a secondary reinforcer. You will notice when the mat is supercharged: your horse will be drawn to the mat as a mosquito to a lamp.

Start asking a very simple exercise to perform on the mat, for instance ‘head lowering’, then you click and reward. In this way you create a chain of behaviours. This one consists of three links: stepping on the mat, standing on the mat (duration) plus head lowering. You can variate the rewards you offer your horse.

If the mat is used as a reward, you click and let your horse step on the mat. The click and going to the mat both act as ‘end of exercise’. Your horse can also enjoy a little break on the mat, which can be rewarding in itself. Don’t forget to still use a primary reinforcer most of the time.

If you want to create reliable behaviours you still have to reinforce the secondary reinforcer (mat) with primary reinforcers, like treats. Don’t phase out the primary reinforcers one hundred percent.

Practical use
You can put a few mats in the arena while riding. You can use the mats as reward. You can practise a certain exercise riding from mat to mat. If you are working on canter you can canter from mat to mat. The mat indicates the start and the end of an exercise and can help both rider and horse. Or you can lay down the mats only a few meters apart and work on lateral movements where you ride from mat to mat.

Because the mats are supercharged, you should click and reward for ignoring the mat while passing by, walking, trotting and cantering over the mat. Your horse has to learn that only if you ask to stand on a mat, he will get rewarded.

I have used mats to teach Kyra to jump at liberty. I started off easy with one mat before a pole on the ground and another mat just after the pole and I sent her or walked with her from mat to mat. This is why it is important to reward right from the start for stepping off of the mat. Each session I either increased the distance between the mats or I heightened the jump a bit. Now I can send Kyra around the arena with 2 jumps all by herself. She really seems to like it a lot.

Sandra Poppema

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Summer time: Training plan for crossing water

Here are just a few ideas to teach your horse to cross water. After all: Summer starts this weekend and if you love trail riding or Horse Agility you might come across water.

Goal
_water_hippologic_april2011How you start depends on how your horse feels about water, his experience with previous water crossings (previous owners might have tried it) and his character. Start making a training plan. This plan is a guideline of ideas, it is not a manual.

For example, my goal is “crossing water”. I can narrow my goal down by being a bit more specific:

– crossing water under saddle
– crossing water at liberty, or
– crossing water in hand.

Be specific
What kind of “water” do I want my horse to cross? A puddle in the arena or on a trail? A river? A water obstacle in a horse agility course? A lake? Or do I want my horse to enter the sea?

Think about preparations
What skills does my horse needs to have to make it easier? In this example it would help if my horse is not afraid of water and is already comfortable getting his feet wet. If that is not the case then the first training step can be teaching your horse to stand in a bucket of cold water with one foot.

Once he is comfortable with getting his feet wet you can practice hosing his legs off. Open your mind and try to see “all water” as potential training opportunities. Once your horse knows stepping in a puddle can earn him a reward, his ideas about water can change completely.

Raising criteria
If you start with the criterion ‘Horse puts his left foot in a bucket of water without hesitation’ you can raise it after he has done it three times. Then you can train his other foot.

_soaking feet in water bucket_horse training_hippologicStart at the beginning again with the other hoof because this hoof is a context shift for him. Maybe he is more comfortable because he knows the drill now, maybe this is such a context shift that in his mind it is something completely new. The horse will tell you and over time you will become more and more accurate in predicting his reactions. Your training journal helps you to keep track of changes in your horse.

Training journal
It is so much fun to keep a journal when you train behaviours that are completely new to your horse. You get used to his new skills easily, but if you have a photo album with pictures of each victory you accomplished together you have a wonderful reminder of your journey with your horse.

Have fun in the water!

Sandra Poppema

10 Tools that changed my Training Approach (IV)

What is so powerful about clicker training? What tools are used and how can they change your training approach?

_targetstick_hippologic

In this series I am talking about 10 of my favourite tools for training horses and how they changed my training approach to a much more horse friendly way of training. You can read about Training tools # 1 – 3 here, Training tool # 4 here and Tool #5 here.

# 6 Target stick
A target stick is an enormously versatile tool to communicate with a horse. Targeting means that you teach your horse to touch an object (the target) with a body part (nose) on command.

When I started targeting I didn’t have a clue regarding the possibilities I could use the target stick for. I just thought it was a fun game with my horse. I started teaching my first pony to touch a bright pink skippy ball. Then I taught him to nose the  ball. I think that was about it.

Now I consider the target stick a very valuable tool. Read more about how to use targeting in your training in this post Best Basics: take targeting to the next level.

If your horse can target different kinds of targets with his nose you can teach him to target other body parts. I always thought that would be very difficult: you can ask a horse to move towards you, instead of away from you. Pushing a prey animal away is not so hippologic key lesson targetinghard, if he doesn’t go apply more pressure. But how to react if he doesn’t want to come toward you? You can’t ‘make’ him, or can you? Yes, you can with clicker training!

Once a horse is clicker savvy he will always be very eager to find out what you want from him. In order to let the horse come towards the target you have to set him up for success. Sometimes it simply means that you will hold the target only half a centimetre from his body so the chance that he will bump into it accidentally is huge.

# 7 Treats
Treats are not ‘just’ treats to the horse. Treats have a certain ‘value’ to the horse and also to the trainer. In clicker training trainers often speak of ‘high value’ food rewards and ‘low value’ food rewards. There are also certain advantages about the size of the treats you are using in training. How can you use this knowledge to your advantage and turn ‘treats’ into ‘tools’?

High value treats
High value treats can be treats that the horse doesn’t get often but he really likes, for instance sugar cubes. If you use high value treats sparsely the value doesn’t wear of. High value treats don’t have to be healthy because you won’t use them often.

Most people really like birthday cakes, I do. I thought I could eat them every day. Until I worked in a bakery which sold all kinds of super tasty cakes and pies. Since I could have free cake every Saturday my taste for cake changed and I don’t value them as much as I did before.

_healthy_horse_treats_hippologic_valentine

Super yummie treats can be used to teach your horse difficult tasks, for instance where the horse has to overcome a big fear. Trailer loading can be very scary for some horses and if the reward is something the horse really values he will try harder to overcome his fear and conquer the first step towards the trailer. If you ask a difficult task and the horse gets a treat he doesn’t really like, he might decide that it is not worth it.

Low value treats
In other cases you want to use low valued treats on purpose. When a horse is learning food manners it can be a good idea to start with low valued treats. You don’t want to get him too excited. Especially when he has to learn to take the treat carefully with only his lips off of your hand. With high valued treats the horse might become anxious to loose the treat and he might behave too enthusiastically so he would grab the treat instead of staying calm and taking it gently.

Examples of low value treats can be his diner grain or pellets.

Large treats
It can be safer to start off with larger sized treats on purpose, for instance to teach a horse food manners. A big treat is easier to see and_cutting_carrot_hippologic to take off of your hand gently. The chances of getting bitten while feeding a large treat, like a whole carrot with greens is much smaller.

Small treats
Small treats can be handy for the trainer but they can also be very useful if you want to increase your rate of reinforcement (RoR). Smaller treats are eaten and swallowed faster so the training is not  interrupted by chewing and eating the reward.

If a horse mugs you but he can take treats very politely off of your hands you can increase the rate of reinforcement by clicking and feeding treats faster. You can click the horse for ‘not mugging’-behaviours like: looking away, keeping his nose away from your pocket, keeping his head and neck straight forward if the trainer is standing next to his head. Clicking for the right behaviour while the horse is still eating will prevent the ‘mugging’ behaviour which often will be displayed after he is finished eating.

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below. Or post your comment, I read them all!

Or simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect horse women with their inner wisdom and teach them the principles of learning and motivation, so they become confident and skilled to train their horse in a safe and effective way that is a lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online 8 week course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

Training ideas for Trail riding

_trailride1Today my barn friend took me and Kyra to the forest for a trail ride, here in BC, Canada. All went well and I realized that it took me many tiny training steps to turn my 11 months old feral filly into this reliable non spooking trail horse I have today.

Basics
I had to tame Kyra first, since she was born in a nature reserve and was not imprinted on humans and things like stalls, paddocks, all the sounds in a barn and so on. Then I had to teach her some basic skills like haltering and leading. When she was about two years old I started very slowly on her education on the long reins. When she was four years old I started her under saddle. By then she already knew the basic commands walk, trot, canter, halt and she could make left and right turns.

Despooking
Kyra and I did a lot of despooking exercises over the years. In The Netherlands we had different challenges than here in Canada. Here is a list of challenges I specifically clicker trained her on:

  • walking through water
  • puddles on the street and on trails
  • pedestrian crossings and other markings on the road
  • shadows
  • overpasses
  • approaching plastic bags
  • flags & balloons
  • fireworks
  • all kinds of heavy farm equipment
  • cars & motorcycles
  • bike bells
  • cyclists with children and flags
  • cyclists on road bikes, which bike very fast and can sneak up on you because they almost make no sound. They often ‘travel’ in packs which can be very scary to horses
  • strollers & shopping carts
  • children on inline skates & skateboarders
  • road signs
  • rail road crossings
  • manholes
  • weird appliances for fresh water in the forest
  • people walking their dogs off leash

Useful trail skills
In horse agility training we practised a lot of useful things too. One of the things you encounter on trails can be a “squeeze”. A squeeze is a very narrow space. Horses usually don’t like to go through narrow spaces because it can be an ambush for predators. If horses are not used to going through narrow spaces they tend

Ready to go for a ride

Ready to go for a ride

to race through them to make the time they are vulnerable as short as possible. This can be dangerous if the horse doesn’t take into account that your legs make him wider.

On our trail ride we encountered several squeezes: gates that enclose the road with big boulders next to it to prevent cars from passing. Sometimes there was also a road sign next to it. That can be dangerous if your horse spooks and it hits you right in the face.

Getting your horse used to fly spray is also very useful in the woods here.

Trailer loading
We take the trailer to get to the forest, so in our case trailer loading is also a part of trail riding for us.

Here is the video of the trail ride:

Sandra Poppema

Best Basics: take targeting to the next level

DIY Target stick

Target stick, made out of a floater, glued to a bamboo stick covered in duct tape to prevent splinters

Of the seven key lessons in clicker training  ‘targeting’ is my favourite at the moment. I love targeting so much because it is inexpressibly versatile and I am excited because I just discovered new possibilities of this game myself.

What is targeting
In targeting you ask you horse to touch a target with a body part. You start this game simple and the goal is for your horse to touch a target stick with his nose. Once your horse knows the target meant to be touched with his nose, you can start experimenting. Hold the target a bit lower, higher, more to the left or to the right. If the horse is following the target all the time you can put a verbal cue to this new behaviour, like ‘touch’. Then you can hold it a bit closer to its chest in order to teach him to back up.

Moving targets
Once a horse knows to touch a target with his nose and it is under command you can take this game to the next level. Try asking your horse to 1_chasetargetfollow a moving target. Start easy with just a tiny step forward and build on that. Of course every step in the process is clicked and rewarded.

When your horse follows a target in walk, you can ask him to follow it in trot and even canter. If you don’t like lunging or driving your horse around in the round pen, you can use the target stick to get your horse moving. You can use the target stick to teach your horse to come to you in the pasture or entering a trailer.

It is totally the opposite of traditional methods where you use pressure to teach, so this can be difficult at start. You have to be willing to keep an open mind and keep thinking out of the traditional training box. That can be a challenge in itself.

Stationary targets
You can also teach you horse to target a stationary target. A stationary target doesn’t move and is attached to a wall in his stall, the trailer or at a gate in the pasture. You can train ‘duration’ and see if you can teach your horse to keep his nose  against the target for 2 seconds, then 3, 4 up to several minutes. A stationary target can be used to teach ground tying.

Stationary targets can contribute to safety around horses. If the target is attached on a fence in the pasture a few meters away from the gate you can use it to send a horse to touch it and stay, so you can get another horse safely out of the pasture without being crowded by horses who all want to work with you. You can put hay safely in the pasture without being surrounded with agitated, hungry horses and so on.

These are just a few training suggestions for touching a target with the nose. There are an infinite number of uses you can think of the use of a target.

Target other body parts
You can also teach your horse to touch other body parts. I’ve taught Kyra to touch the target stick with her knee in order to teach her the polka and Spanish walk.

I recently worked on the ‘hip target’ where Kyra has to step towards the target with her hind quarters in order to touch the target stick with her hip bone. This comes in very handy when she is not aligned to the mounting block. Now I can simply ask “hip” and hold my hand in position so she steps towards the mounting block with her hind quarters._Hip_target_hippologic

Teach your horse to target his shoulders. Imagine what complex movements you can create if you can move your horse’s hips and shoulder at liberty. I’ve seen people use it to teach their horses dressage exercises like travers, shoulder in and half-pass.

Kyra also knows how to target her hoof sole to the target stick, which helps with hoof care. She knows how to target the corner of her mouth to the dewormer syringe and targeting the halter makes haltering a piece of cake. My friend taught her horse to open his mouth in order to take the bit and bridle him.

Like I said: the possibilities are endless. How do you use targeting in training?

Sandra Poppema
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Deworm your Horse in 6 Easy Steps

_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 a 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:

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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!
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