Things to Consider Using Treats in (Clicker) Training Horses

There is much to consider when you’re serious about positive reinforcement training and want to use treats. This is not the occasional sugar cube I am talking about.

Let’s see what’s important in clicker training your horse and choosing the right appetitive or food reward.

Value of the reinforcer can change over time

Value of reinforcers can change so I keep that in mind too. Kyra loves to work hard for hay cubes in Winter, but in Summer not so much.

In Spring and Summer I often use dandelion leaves or simply freshly plucked grass. Kyra has EMS so she won’t be full time in a pasture anymore. That’s why a handful of juicy grass will always be high value for her.

Low sugar grass pellets (simple to use and cheap to buy in bulk since it’s a ‘dinner grain’ type of feed) will do year round for Kyra.

Occasionally the value ‘wears off’ and I will mix in a few sunflower seeds or different kind of dinner pellets I get from other people, to make the reinforcer more interesting and less predictable.

Home made treats: cheap, easy and sugar free

I also bake my own treats (find the DIY home made horse treats recipe here) and it’s easy and cheap in comparison to store bought treats. You can choose the flavour, too. I usually make them with lots of cinnamon or tumeric (both anti inflammatory). All horses seem to like those flavours. People love the cinnamon ones and are fairly disappointed if I tell them no sugar is involved. ūüėČ The smell is soooo good!

Healthy vs Unhealthy

One thing to consider is the amount of reinforcers you use. If you would put all the treats you use in a day in a bucket, how much do you think that will be? The amount of all sessions added together.

If you use 10 reinforces per day and you choose apple pieces, that would be 2 apples or 1 if you make the pieces really small. If you use 15-20 per session and train 3 sessions a day that will add up.

So ‘healthy’ is one thing to consider. I used to feed handfuls of grass pellets in the beginning of Kyra’s training, when I was in the phase of taming her. She was born in the wild and untouched when I got her. She didn’t eat anything she didn’t know: no carrots/apples, commercial treats in the wild!. She only wanted to eat hay and grass pellets.

How much reinforcers do you use?

So I had to use lots! When I realized how much pellets I was actually using in just a 5 minute session, I was shocked. I calculated I used 1,5 to 2 scoops of pellets a day. Full scoops! I fed handfuls per click so it went really fast. Kyra was still very scared of me at the time and had hay available at all times, so I didn’t have much choice. She choose her hay from the net over hay from my hand in the first few days.

This was a lot, for a yearling, so I reduced the amount I fed after a few days by making the sessions shorter and the breaks between sessions longer so I wouldn’t overfeed her. She also had made great progress in accepting me nearby. Once I could feed smaller hands of pellets I could decrease the overall amount significantly.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
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More articles about using food reinforcers

Easy treat ideas for clicker trainers

3 Reasons to use treats in training

Clicker training 101: Tips for Treats

Is your horse mugging you?

‘Rules’ vs ‘Principles’ in Horse Training (this might be eye-opening!)

When people learn to interact with horses it usually starts with riding lessons or they learn from a seasoned horse person. You’ll learn the ropes, which usually means the ‘rules’ of how things are done. Then one day, you discover that the rule doesn’t apply anymore… Why is that?

Why Rules Not Always Apply

Over the years you already might have learned some rules don’t work for you or the horses you work with. Why is that?

Why rules in horse training not always work

Because when you’re focused on the rule, you miss the principle behind the rule. That’s why it’s not working. Learn the Principle and you discover the Gold!

It’s like Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day (rule), if you teach him how to fish (principle) he’ll never be hungry.

What’s the Principle behind the Rule?

That’s what I’ve been working on the past 3 decades and that’s why I can lead others to success in horse training. I don’t work with rules, I teach clients principles. They are way more worth, because it sets them up for life!

Examples of Rules that Not Always Work

These are rules that apply to some or maybe even most horses, not to all horses!

1. Horses will work for carrots.

My horse Kyra was born in a nature reserve and foals learn to eat what moms and other herd members eat. In nature horses don’t feed on carrots because they don’t grow in their habitat! Kyra literally had to learn to eat carrots, apples and man-made treats. Foals who are born at a barn have already learned that what people feed you is edible.

So what would be a principle behind this rule? The principle is that the receiver determines the reward (read: appetitive).

Some horses like to work for carrots, others prefer grain, grass pellets or something else. As trainer you have to figure out what motivates your horse.

You know that not all horses can’t be lured out of the pasture with a carrot. The carrot is simply not appetitive enough in those cases. More principles could be at work why the horse won’t come and how to determine that, is a whole other topic.

Still people are asking on the Internet: ‘What treats are best for in clicker training?’ The answer is… it depends on the horse and the situation. Appetitives can change in value.

If clicker training doesn’t work, it’s because people don’t apply the Key principles of Learning and Motivation, they try to apply ‘rules’ ~ HippoLogic

The rule people hear is:

2. “Pressure-release will make the horse do what I want”.

Look at people that have trouble loading their horse into a trailer. They apply pressure, they apply release and still the horse is outside the trailer.

In training it’s about the timing (learning happens when the aversive stimulus is released) and also about the strength and direction of the aversive (if the trailer is more aversive than the applied pressure, the horse won’t go in) or if an appetitive stimulus outside the trailer is stronger than the applied pressure the horse won’t go in. It’s about how the learner experience the aversive stimulus.

When I started to figure out the principles at work behind every rule in horse training things changed quickly. My clients got better results and problems were solved quicker and with less struggle.

3. Heels down, hands low, back straight, chin up!

This is what I was taught in riding lessons for many, many years. It didn’t make me a good rider at all. These are rules, the principle behind it (that they never taught me in the riding school), is to sit in balance.

When I took Centered Riding lessons I learned how to sit in balance. I learned that balance starts at the position of my pelvis: tipping it slightly forward it created a hollow back, legs that went backwards, heels went up and hands that were moving very much in order to keep my balance.

When I had my pelvis slightly tipped backwards, I rode with a curved back, my legs were in chair seat (before my point of gravity) and my chin was down.

Only if I kept my pelvis in ‘neutral’ (this is where your balance starts!) I was able to keep my legs in the right position, my back straight and could move with my horse instead of being before or behind my horse’s movement.

Only when I keep my pelvis in ‘neutral’ I can move with my horse. I am balanced, my hands can become soft because I move them in the rhythm of the movement of my horse’s head instead of my own body. My legs become still (in relation to the horse flank movements) because I don’t need to squeeze them in order to keep my balance. I became confident because I felt safe! That’s when I became a good rider.

Now you can see why these rules started: heads up, back straight and so on. They want to solve the symptoms of an unbalanced rider. Unfortunately they don’t work (how many times have you heard them!?) because they don’t solve the problem (balance). The principle of riding does: where does balance in a rider start? Right, in the pelvis! And that’s why it’s called ‘centered’ riding.

Want to Learn More About the Key Principles of Positive Reinforcement?

I you want to know more about the Principles (HippoLogic’s Key Lessons), join me for a free webinar in which I explain the 4 Main Reasons People get Stuck in Clicker Training (and solutions).
Spoiler alert: I will talk about principles!

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
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How to Teach your Horse to Lie Down

How to teach your horse to lie down

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Happy Horse training!

Sandra

6 Things That You Might Not Know About Clicker Training (5/6)

hippologic

In this series I will be sharing 6 interesting facts I didn’t know about when I started using positive reinforcement in training animals. This is part 5. I like this one!

Some of these are common misunderstandings people have about clicker training while others are facts most equestrians don’t know at all.

The goal of this blog is to help more people understand how well positive reinforcement (R+) works in training our horses. I want every one to know that clicker training offers more great benefits besides training your goal behaviour. Positive side-effects you won’t get in negative reinforcement (R-) based training methods (traditional and natural horsemanship). I wish I had known these benefits earlier in life.

#5 Positive reinforcement has many smart training strategies that I haven’t found in other training methods

_clickertraining_secret_hippologicIn the decades that I have been using positive reinforcement training I have discovered so many smart training strategies that I haven’t heard of in other methods.

This is what I learned in the first 20 years in horses

In traditional and natural horsemanship training the aim was to create more of the desired behaviour by taking away something the horse dislikes (an aversive). Therefor, the solution I was offered ,when a horse wouldn’t obey, was to ‘ask again but increase the pressure’ (the aversive): eg more leg! If that didn’t work: a tap with the whip. Increasing the command until my horse would go. The myth I learned was: ‘He (your horse) knows what to do.’

If a horse didn’t cooperated in taking an oral de-wormer, you just tied him up so he couldn’t pull his head away. Which most of the time resulted in a bigger struggle next time. The myth I was told (and I believed) was: ‘He will soon learn that this doesn’t kill him’.

Sounds familiar?

___clickertraining_hippologicIn general the ‘solution’ was often the same (more ‘pressure’) and only aimed to short-term success (the now). Basically the go-to solution was using more coercion, often painful. Rewards must be ‘only sparingly used’ otherwise ‘I would spoil the horse’.

Positive reinforcement expands your horizon

In positive reinforcement the aim is to train the horse by reinforcing the desired behaviour with something the horse wants to receive/have (appetitive). You focus on the good things!

So, when my horse doesn’t offer the desired behaviour I immediately start asking questions. Not the “How can I make the good thing easy and the bad thing difficult?”-question (which often means “How can I -the trainer- get to my goals ASAP?), but many questions. Horse-centered questions:

  • Why does my horse not cooperate?
  • Has my reinforcer (my reward) lost it’s value?
  • Is something else more reinforcing or urgent?
  • Am I clear in what I want my horse to do?
  • How can I make it easier and more fun (!) for my horse?
  • Does my horse understands what I want (Am I lumping? Is there a context shift? Is he distracted? Bored? Anxious or in flight mode?)
  • and so on

Training strategies

Then you have those smart training strategies that really help achieving your goals and goal behaviour, like:

  • positive reinforcement:¬†reinforcing with appetitives (something the horse really wants to have and want to make an effort for to get it)
  • 5 strategies to get your goal behaviour with R+
  • writing a shaping plan (detailed step-by-step approach of training your goal behaviour)
  • the use of a bridge/marker signal to pinpoint exactly what you want to see more of
  • the use of high and low value reinforcers to increase engagement, decrease stress levels, prevent boredom and predictability in training and so on
  • ‘jackpots’
  • chaining behaviour
  • back chaining behaviour

Training_logbook_journal_diary_hippologic2016Except for the use of rewards I never heard of any of the above strategies until I learned more about positive reinforcement. A few of these are really your Key to Success in Equine Clicker Training. If you want to learn more join the online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula where you learn all 12 Keys to Success.

It makes life so much easier that I can’t picture training horses or coaching people without these strategies.

Read the other articles in this series:

part 1 of 6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6

Share your l‚ô•ve for horses

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_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.

 

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‚Äôs possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

  • Where you‚Äôre now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What‚Äôs 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.

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Clicker Training 101: Your first clicker session (including a step-by-step training plan)

When you are new to the idea of clicker training your horse you might ask yourself: How do I start? What do I need? Where do I buy these things? How do I teach my horse to respond to the clicker? These and more questions are answered in this blog to help you get started. Continue reading

“There is nothing wrong with Negative Reinforcement applied properly”

Said someone once to me. I didn’t say anything, but my body screamed: ‘Yes, there is….

Although I couldn’t explain in words why I felt that way, now I do. Since it was hard to catch it in words, it is a long explanation, so please get seated.

When I talk about horse training, I like to use the scientific definitions in order to keep the language as clear¬†as possible and to avoid emotional and subjective projection. Let’s start with some definitions because this statement (“There is nothing wrong with R- applied properly”) is one that causes a lot of commotion among horse people. Continue reading

What if… your horse doesn’t like arena work?

This is a common statement in the equestrian world: ‘I don’t ride dressage because my horse doesn’t like it’ or ‘I don’t use the arena because my horse hates it’ or…¬†Who hasn’t heard this? Can you do something about it? Yes, you can!

Find the reason

First question I always ask people when they say this is:’Do¬†you¬†like to ride in the arena?’¬†When the rider says¬†‘no’ it is¬†usually because it is hard to believe your horse enjoys riding in the arena if they¬†don’t.

If the answer is ‘I know this because my horse refuses to go into the arena’ it is more likely that the horse indeed has a negative association with the arena.

What is associated with arena work?

If you don’t like to ride in the arena, you may have some negative associations with riding in the arena yourself. What happened? Did you fall off of your horse? Does it reminds you of shouting, angry instructors you have had in the past? Is it because you are ‘lumping’ (=making too big a steps and you set yourself and your horse up for failure) your building blocks in training and get frustrated or discouraged?

If the horse doesn’t want to go into the arena, what happened to him? Do you know? Do you think you can counter condition him?

Change associations

If it is about you, try to find out what it is you don’t like about the arena a_arena_work_hippologicnd why. If you were hurt due to a fall, try to take a step back in riding until you find your confidence back in the saddle. Find an instructor who is specialized in anxious¬†riders. If you don’t know where to find one, search¬†for¬†an instructor with a Centered Riding¬†or Murdoch method background. They can help you get¬†your self-confidence back.

If riding in an arena is associated with instructors who seem never satisfied with little improvements, find some one else. You pay, you choose.

Is arena work associated with some frustration, desperation or feelings of anger? Maybe you were never taught you how to split your training goals properly into small steps to set you and your horse up for success. I can help you make a training plan.

Maybe you don’t have a goal in mind and that makes arena work feel purposeless. What are¬†your dreams¬†and how can you change them into goals?

Maybe you love trail riding more because you have the feeling that you are not training your horse and you don’t have to meet anyone’s expectations on the trail. Even if trail riding or endurance is your goal, you can still think of many exercises to do to prepared your horse properly.

Change your horses associations

If your horse doesn’t want to go into the arena or is a bit reluctant to enter, work on making his associations more positive. Just enter the arena to do things he enjoys. If your horse loves to be groomed, just groom him for a couple of weeks in the arena. Or just let him in for a roll. Find out what he likes and use that to your advantage!

_tricktraining_pedestal_hippologic

You can also make the work more attractive by using appetitives (adding rewards)¬†in your training instead of using aversives¬†(unpleasant things)¬†in training. If you don’t know how¬†to start using positive reinforcement¬†start with something fun, like¬†trick training.

I think in 99% of the cases it is not about the arena, I think it is about the associations a rider or horse have with the arena. You can change the associations and make it fun (again).

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

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Reflections on +R vs -R (positive reinforcement vs negative reinforcement)

How valuable is a behaviour to you when it is associated by the horse with aversives (-R, negative reinforcement)?

Is a behaviour that is associated with something pleasurable /appetitives (+R, positive reinforcement) worth less, or more to you?

Or do you not care at all what your horse’s associations are with your ways of getting the behaviour?

In other words: do you care for the result more than the way you got the result?

The carrot (click) or the stick…

_carrot_or_stick_hippologic

Which one do you prefer?

 

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

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‘Clicker training doesn’t work for my horse’

The first thought that comes to my mind when¬†a person tells me ‘Clicker training doesn’t work for my horse’ is ‘Why not? Is he sleeping?’ Just kidding. (Klik hier voor de Nederlandse versie van dit artikel).

Listen to this blog on YouTube:

Horses can be trained either by using an aversive to reinforce behaviour (negative reinforcement, -R) or using an appetitive to reinforce behaviour (positive reinforcement,+R).

What does the statement¬†‘Clicker training doesn’t work for my horse’¬†mean, when someone says that? Does it mean that:

  • The trainer doesn’t understand the concept of +R¬†and therefor is not applying it properly?
  • The horse doesn’t respond to the marker, the clicker?
  • The horse is not interested in the reward the trainer offers?
  • The horse is not paying attention to the trainer and therefor doesn’t respond to the cues and/or clicker?
  • It only seems to works part of the time (with some behaviours)
  • The horse (sometimes) performs ‘worse’¬†during clicker training

What_if_Clicker_training_does_NOT_WORK_hippologic

#1 Trainer doesn’t understand the concept
A lot can go ‘wrong’ if the trainer isn’t conscious of what he is doing or doesn’t understand what he is doing and expects a different result. The basic terms¬†to¬†understand are:¬†positive reinforcement,¬†negative reinforcement,¬†marker¬†or¬†bridge signal,¬†timing,¬†shaping behaviour,¬†proper hand-feeding, cues, reinforcer¬†and¬†learning theory.

#2 The horse does not respond to the clicker
Can your horse hear the marker (the click)? Does he knows what your marker/bridge signal means? It usually takes 30 Р50 repetitions (marker+reinforcer, marker+reinforcer etc.) before the animal has learned that the marker is an announcement of an appetitive.

Does your¬†marker sounds the same every time?¬†A clicker always makes the same sound, therefor it ‘travels’ the same pathways in the brain. If you use a special¬†word, it can take longer for your horse to¬†generalize the marker sound, so it can take a little longer for your horse to respond and repeat the behaviour you’ve marked. If you use different markers make sure your horse has been introduced¬†properly to each of them.

The marker is not (yet) paired associated with an appetitive or the trainer has not yet figured out what the horse considers a reward, see #3.

#3 Horse is not interested in rewards
The key is that the reward must be¬†reinforcing¬†the behaviour. ‘The receiver determines the reward’. If the behaviour is not getting stronger, the reward did not reinforce the behaviour so¬†it wasn’t a real reward.

Pay attention to your horses needs and wants. A reward can also vary in value: a tuft of hay can be reinforcing in winter, but not in Spring when you keep your horse in a field full of juicy grass. It is the trainers responsibility to find out what the horse wants to work for at that moment.

#4 The horse is not paying attention
Why not? Is there something more urgent going on for the horse than the trainers cues? Can the distraction be removed or the horse taken somewhere¬†else to train? Does the horse think he‚Äôs in danger? It doesn’t matter if the trainer doesn’t see the danger, for the horse it is real. Is the horse in ‘learning mode‘? Is he relaxed and engaged enough to learn?

Does the horse responds to the marker, see #2? Are the cues clear and fully understood by the horse? Does the trainer keeps the horse involved or is he distracted himself? Is the horse frustrated or maybe has mentally shut down for one reason or the other? Are the rewards reinforcing? Is the proper behaviour reinforced? It is all about timing: you get what you reinforce.

_clickertraining_hippologic_reinforce

#5 It only seems to works part of the time
The horse is not interested in the ‘rewards’ you are offering that day, see #3. He might be¬†distracted, see #4.¬†¬†The cue is not yet established in a different context. The horse¬†doesn’t respond well because the training steps are too big, the criterion has been raised to quickly (also known as ‘lumping’). Or your rewarding schedule is too predictable, see #6.

#6¬†The horse performs ‘worse’¬†during clicker training
The rewards have lost their value or the reinforcement¬†schedule¬†is¬†too predictable for the horse and therefor the behaviour¬†becomes extinct. In other words: the click doesn’t motivate the horse anymore.

Of course this is only the tip of the iceberg for the many¬†reasons that positive reinforcement aka clicker training doesn’t work for you(r horse). Can you¬†name another reason? Please share in the comments!

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‚Äôt know where to start?

If you have answered ‚ÄėYes‚Äô 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!

HippoLogic.jpg
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‚Äôs possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

  • Where you‚Äôre now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What‚Äôs 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.

Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

‘Clickertraining werkt niet bij mijn paard’

Mijn eerste reactie als¬†iemand me vertelt ‘Clickertraining werkt niet bij mijn paard’ is ‘Waarom niet? Slaapt hij?’. Dat is natuurlijk een grapje. (Click here for the English version of this text.)

Er zijn eigenlijk maar twee manieren om paarden iets te leren. Bij de ene manier versterkt men het gedrag door iets vervelends (een ‘aversive)¬†weg te nemen¬†als het paard het juiste doet (deze methode heet negative reinforcement, -R) en bij de andere manier wordt iets prettigs (eenappetitive‘) aan het paard gegeven om het gedrag te versterken (dit heet positive reinforcement, +R).

Wat is de achterliggende¬†betekenis van de¬†bewering ‘Clickertraining werkt niet bij mijn paard’? Betekent het dat:

  • De trainer het concept van +R niet (helemaal) snapt en het daarom ook niet goed toepast?
  • Het paard niet op het brugsignaal, de¬†clicker, reageert?
  • Het paard niet ge√Įnteresseerd is in de beloningen die de trainer biedt?
  • Het paard niet op de trainer let en daarom ook niet op zijn¬†aanwijzingen en/of clicker reageert?
  • Clickertraining alleen maar soms¬†werkt?
  • Het paard soms zelfs slechter presteert als de trainer clickertraining gebruikt.

__Clicker_training_werkt_niet_hippologic

#1 Trainer snapt het concept niet
Er kan nogal wat ‘mis’ gaan als de trainer¬†zich niet bewust is van zijn invloed op het paard, of als hij niet snapt wat hij aan het doen is en daardoor een ander resultaat verwacht dan hij krijgt. De basisbegrippen¬†die een clickertrainer moet kennen¬†zijn:¬†positive reinforcement,¬†negative reinforcement,¬†brugsignaal,¬†timing,¬†shaping behaviour,¬†veilig voedselbeloningen¬†aanbieden, cues, reinforcer¬†(= versterkers)¬†en de leer theorie.

#2 Het paard reageert niet op de clicker
Kan het paard het brugsignaal (de click, tongklik of je speciale woord) horen? Kent jouw paard de betekenis van je brugsignaal? Gemiddeld duurt het 30 tot 50 herhalingen voordat een paard heeft geleerd dat het brugsignaal (click + beloning, click + beloning, click + beloning enz.) de aankondiging is van iets prettigs.

Klinkt je brugsignaal altijd hetzelfde? Een clicker maakt slechts √©√©n soort¬†geluid en daardoor ‘reist’ het¬†altijd over hetzelfde pad in de hersenen. Met andere woorden: het paard weet, dat als hij¬†dat¬†geluid hoort, altijd een beloning volgt.

Als men¬†een speciaal woord gebruikt, kan¬†het langer duren voordat dit als ‘brugsignaal’ in de paardenhersenen gegrift staat. De stem¬†wordt be√Įnvloed door vele factoren: emoties, een verkoudheid, het volume, toonhoogte.

Doordat een¬†gesproken brugsignaal altijd¬†een klein beetje anders klinkt, duurt het langer voor een¬†paard het voldoende generaliseert. Hij moet altijd eerst ‘beslissen’ of dit wel of niet het brugsignaal was. Het kan daardoor ook iets langer duren voor het paard goed reageert op het¬†brugsignaal en het aangeduide gedrag gaat herhalen.

Als men verschillende soorten brugsignalen gebruikt, moet men zich ervan verzekeren dat ze allemaal apart zijn aangeleerd.

Het kan ook zijn dat het paard het brugsignaal nog niet associeert met de beloning die erop volgt, zie #3.

#3 Het paard is niet ge√Įnteresseerd in beloningen
Het ‘geheim’ dat¬†in de beloningen schuilt, is dat het het gewenste gedrag moet versterken. ‘De ontvanger bepaalt de beloning’ wordt vaak gezegd in clickertraining. Dat houdt in dat als het paard¬†het gewenste gedrag niet opnieuw wil uitvoeren¬†nadat hij ervoor beloont was, de beloning dus niet belonend werkte.

Het is aan de trainer om te ontdekken wat het paard wil en wat zijn behoeften zijn. Een beloning kan ook veranderen in waarde. Een plukje lekker ruikend hooi kan in de winter een lekkere beloning zijn, maar niet in de lente als hij in een weiland vol sappig voorjaarsgras loopt. Het is de verantwoordelijkheid van de trainer om uit te vinden wat werkt voor dat paard op dat moment.

#4 Het paard let niet op de trainer
Waarom niet? Is er iets urgenter dan de aanwijzingen van de trainer? Kan de afleiding worden weggehaald of kan het paard beter elders getraind worden die dag? Denkt het paard dat hij in gevaar is? Het doet er niet toe of de persoon het gevaar niet ziet of denkt dat het paard zich ‘aanstelt’. Voor het paard is het echt!

Is het paard in de leermodus? Is hij ontspannen genoeg en voldoende ge√Įnteresseerd om iets nieuws te leren?

Reageert het paard goed op het brugsignaal, zie #2? Zijn de cues duidelijk en begrijpt het paard ze? Houdt de trainer het paard betrokken of is hij zelf afgeleid? Is het paard gefrustreerd of heeft hij zich mentaal afgesloten om een of andere reden? Werken de beloningen gedragsversterkend? Wordt het juiste gedrag gemarkeerd door het¬†brugsignaal? Het draait allemaal om timing: ‘You get what you reinforce’.

_clickertraining_hippologic_reinforce

#5 Clickertraining lijkt slechts in sommige gevallen te werken
Het kan zijn dat¬†het paard niet in de beloning ge√Įnteresseerd is die dag, zie bij #3. Hij kan afgeleid zijn, zie bij #4. Het kan zijn dat de cue nog¬†niet voldoende is¬†bevestigd in een andere¬†trainingsomgeving. Paarden leren in een bepaalde context en als daarin iets veranderd moet het paard opnieuw leren de cue van de trainer daaruit destilleren.

Het paard reageert niet zo goed omdat¬†de trainer zijn criteria te snel omhoog gooit. Als de trainingsstappen te groot zijn of er teveel criteria tegelijk veranderen, snapt het¬†paard het niet meer. Dit wordt ook wel ‘lumping’ genoemd in het Engels. Voorkom ‘lumping’ door een goed shaping plan te maken. Het beloningsschema is te voorspelbaar, zie bij #6.

#6 Het paard presteert slechter door clickertraining
De beloningen hebben hun waarde verloren waardoor het paard geen interesse meer heeft. Het kan ook zijn dat het beloningsschema te voorspelbaar is geworden waardoor het gedrag juist ‘uitdooft’ (niet meer vertoond wordt). Met andere woorden: de click motiveert het paard niet¬†meer.

Uiteraard is dit slechts het topje van de ijsberg van mogelijke¬†oorzaken¬†waarom ‘clickertraining / positive reinforcement niet werkt’ voor jou(w paard).

Welke oorzaken kun jij nog noemen?

Sandra Poppema
Bezoek mijn website voor persoonlijk advies of hulp bij clickertraining

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It starts with a helmet and a whip

The first two items parents have to buy for their kids who start horseback riding is 1) a helmet and 2) a whip. Why?

Helmet
I can see why parents want to buy a helmet for their kids. Falling off of a horse or pony can be dangerous. After all, horseback riding is a high risk sport. Parents want the best for their kids. They want their kids to be as safe as possible and want to protect them the best way they can. That is why they send their kids to an instructor or riding school, who can teach them about safety and riding. The second item they buy their kids is usually a whip and after a while some proper riding boots to replace the muck boots.

dreams_girl_riding_empoweredequestrians

Photo is used with permission from Empowered Equines

Whip
Why the whip*)? Isn’t it strange that you would give your kid a whip to do … what? Inflict pain to an already potential dangerous animal? Weird, if you think about it. But parents don’t think about it, they don’t know, so they just buy whatever they are told to buy. By the riding school or their kids. Which is perfectly understandable.

The kids have no experience either, all they know is that¬†everybody¬†starts with a whip right away. They want to be like everybody else. So we can’t blame them. They are just starting their wonderful adventure: connecting and riding a wonderful gentle and graceful animal, a horse or a pony.

*) or training stick in groundwork

The horse
Isn’t it strange that parents who don’t hit their kids, seems to be OK with their kids hitting an animal with a whip. An animal that is not allowed to defend himself. Picture a horse that fights back after a child had to whip it on advice of the instructor.

fedupfred_extension_arm

Cartoon is used with permission of Fed Up Fred

If you ever experienced how painful a tap with a whip or encounter with the string on a training stick is, it is unbelievable that grown-ups are OK teaching their kids to inflict that much pain on an animal.

Language
Of course it is a taboo to speak about the serious pain one inflicts by using a whip. It is always the horses fault, he ‘deserves’ it, because he ‘didn’t¬†listen’ or ‘he knows better’.

If we¬†do¬†have questions about the whip, the instructor tells us ‘it is an extension of our leg’. Or our arm, if we do groundwork. What they¬†mean¬†is: ‘If you can’t kick a horse hard enough to go forward you have to punish it and use your painful whip. That will make him go. You get immediate results’.

Of course you can’t sell it to the kids while their parents are watching, so they say: “The horse has to know that he has to listen” or “He has to know who’s boss” or “Don’t let him win”.

_Bond_between_child and horse_hippologic

Results
People do want immediate results. That’s why trainers /riders¬†stick to hitting a flight animal: it works (mostly) instantly. Immediate results give people often a feeling of control and power. Immediate results also give the impression of being an expert.

You might have to give that up if you change your ways to positive reinforcement to teach the horse what is expected of him. No immediate results, but a better¬†relationship instead. One based on trust and rewards, a relationship in which it is OK¬†to make mistakes and in which the learner is encouraged to grow. Wouldn’t that be valuable lessons for novice riders?

It is the other way around
Ask yourself: who is the one who’s learning? It is the child, right? I assume that the horses in riding schools are already taught what riding aids are and how to respond properly.

So why aren’t¬†children being taught friendly ways to make the horse move? Very often¬†the horse can’t or won’t move because the rider hasn’t learned how to move¬†with¬†the horse and the horse is getting mixed signals from its unbalanced rider. I have also seen unbalanced riders that are afraid to go faster and the horse picks up on that.

The instructor is a powerful person and tells the unbalanced, frightened rider to use the whip. So the rider does, because he is more afraid for the instructor or doing something wrong. After all, what would happen to the rider if (s)he doesn’t¬†listen ….. Horses are punished with a kick or a whip. What kind of message does that send to the kid?

Not that I was thinking of that consciously, I just felt fear for my instructor as she shouted at me to use the whip. At the same time I felt very sorry for the horse, so I often slapped my boot. That scared the horse and made it move faster. The sad thing was that I made the instructor proud, because she thought I was hitting the horse hard enough to make it move.

I was torn. I liked riding and being around horses so much, I didn’t want to give it up. So I stayed and kept on riding. I often asked myself why girls in books could ride their (rescue) horses always in a friendly way…

Carrying (and using) a whip is often played down with the phrase: The whip is just an extension of the arm.

Fear
I was very afraid of most of my riding instructors. I was there to learn how to ride. I didn’t know that they would teach me negative reinforcement methods and punishment¬†‘to make the horse listen’. In my memory there was always more attention for the horse ‘being wrong/stubborn/lazy’ than for my mistakes (my unbalanced seat) or my lack of communication tools and knowledge.

I thought horses liked to be ridden… I honestly thought that riding aids ought to be invisible and as small as possible. (I still believe that.) I thought I would learn to ride with my mind, like telepathically or at most very subtle aids.

After seven years at the riding school I quit my riding lessons. I realized that I would never get to that point of using lighter aids or learn to develop a meaningful bond with a horse. On the contrary: if you where ‘good enough’ you were rewarded by riding the more ‘advanced’ horses. The horses who needed to be ridden with spurs. Literally you had¬†to earn your spurs¬†at this riding school.

Let me tell you, by the time I was 15 years old I realized that spurs¬†were not meant as “more subtle”¬†aids. I already noticed that they made it easier for the rider to kick the horse forward. Not what I had in mind when I started my lessons.

fedupfred_kick_horse

Cartoon is used with permission of Fed Up Fred

Sad
It is just so sad and unnecessary that many young boys and girls learn to ride this way. That they are told to ‘dominate’ the horse instead of ways to show them how they could¬†cooperate¬†with the horse. That they are not told how they can motivate the horse with rewards and that they are not shown how they really can build a wonderful relationship and even a friendship with a horse.

Hippologic_horseriding_positivereinforcement

Dream
I think children need that bond with animals, especially teenage girls. My dream is of a future in which all children and adults are taught how they can¬†respect the horses’ point of view, their needs and how to motivate them in friendly ways.

It is my dream that people learn to ride on well trained horses that don’t need to be kicked or whipped to move. It is my dream that people learn to ride without fear and it is my dream to have horses that enjoy teaching people how to ride. I know there are already people who teach this. All I want to say is: keep up the good work!

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HippoLogic.jpg
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I connect 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 gift) or¬†visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training¬†and learn how to train your horse so you can ride without aversives.
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Related posts:

Attitudes to let go off… when Clicker Training Horses

Natural Horsemanship vs Clicker Training

Keeping an Open Mind is a Challenge

Recipe for a Magical Bond