Empowering Equestrians to Train their own horse with 100% Force Free & Horse Friendly methods

Posts tagged ‘aversive’

Debunking Myths: The Whip is an Extension of My Arm

There are so many myths in the horse world it is hard to choose where to start debunking them. Since I have seen several advertisements on Facebook with videos of horses at liberty and instructors talking about ‘freedom’, ‘connection’, ‘positive training’ or ‘friendship’ while carrying a whip directing a horse with a swishing tail and a lot of tension in its body, I will start with the whip (it-is-an-extension-of-my-arm) myth.

The Whip is only an Extension of My Arm

Equestrians say this and often they add ‘… but I don’t use it to abuse my horse‘ or ‘I only use it to get his attention‘ or ‘It is a useful tool in the right hands‘.

Unfortunately the horse just sees a whip. Or a stick. And your horse has made an association with this tool based on his experience. I think I can generalize here and say most horses have aversive associations with whips and training sticks.

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You can call it ‘carrot’ stick, but to the horse who knows perfectly what a carrot looks like, tastes like and smells like, your carrot stick is just a stick. With a string. And it is (or has been) used to touch the horse, not only in a good, friendly way (to give scratches) but also more than once in an aversive way.

That is what negative reinforcement training is: taking away an aversive in order to strengthen a behaviour. The whip or stick is meant to and used to apply aversives with.

Aversive: something an animal actively wants to avoid or escape from

Who hasn’t seen wonderful clinicians that work at liberty with one or more horses. Their horses seem to do everything he wants. They have that magical bond and offer to teach this to you too! But they are carrying a whip or a training stick. Sometimes it is really thin or white. It is designed to be almost invisible to human eyes. But horses watch those tools, those ‘extensions of arms’ closely. You can see that it is that tool that gives the cues what to do, or else…

A whip is (has been) used in the past to apply aversives with. Yes, I mean inflicting pain or discomfort (I mean pain). By waving your whip or ‘just carrying’ it, your horse will anticipate this behaviour because of his learning curve, the association with the whip is based on his experience in the past. Whips can hurt.

Ní Dhuinn Imagery

Image by Ní Dhuinn Imagery

This is exactly why clinicians who work at liberty carry one or two whips in their hands while working at liberty with their horses. It is not magic and it is certainly not positive reinforcement: the horse can tell what is coming next if he does not follow the clinicians orders… There is no magic in at liberty work in natural horsemanship! It is science and it is based on negative reinforcement training.

You are being fooled by the music in the videos, your eyes are distracted by what your ears hear. The music is purposely chosen to trigger wonderful emotions in you and is meant to distract your eyes from what they see: a horse that displays tension in the muscles, swishing its tail, stressed expression in their eyes. or horses that vent their tension on the horse next to them.

Then there is often a voice-over or words to read in the video (also meant to distract your eyes from what the horses’ body language is telling). We all want that magical connection with our horses so badly that we want to see ‘the magic’, we want to believe what they are saying. We all want to hear that we too, can achieve this. We believe the ‘leadership’ and ‘friendship’ myths that they are selling us.

Then, after we bought the program, we refuse to see what it really is: negative reinforcement training. No place for the horse to have a say in their training whatsoever.

We humans are heavily positively reinforced by the Oh’s and Ah’s and admiration from our friends at the barn, so we carry on with it. It also gives us a powerful feeling that a horse -an animal 8-10 times our own size- obeys us. And on top of that, who wants to admit that they are forcing their horse to work at ‘liberty’? ‘No, no It Is An Extension Of My Arm’, I explained to every one when I changed my whip for a training stick. ‘I am just being a good leader’ and ‘I am mimicking the behaviour of the alpha horse or lead mare’ and so on. I believed it myself! The more someone asked critical questions the more I repeated the marketing nonsense I bought into myself. I couldn’t be further from the truth.

Ní Dhuinn Imagery

Image by Ní Dhuinn Imagery

But my heart…. my heart couldn’t be fooled by the smart marketing one-liners. It was that little voice in my heart that kept telling me ‘This is not friendship, this looks more like a dictatorship to me. It is not magic when the horse walks without tack, he really knows that if he runs away from you and your whip/stick that you will react with, more pressure, more running around than ever.’The horse just chooses the smart choice: self-preservation. Being near the human simply means getting rid of the pressure.

Sorry, I am distracted and getting carried away, let’s get back to the whip myth.

I am not saying you are using it to apply aversives with, but in our world I don’t know any horse that has seen a whip but never has had an aversive encounter with it. None. Not even my own horse.  And it is that what I am referring to: every horse in this world will encounter a whip as an aversive tool sooner or later in his life.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

A whip is simply designed to be used as an aversive tool! It is designed to inflict a lot of pain without causing a visible injury. Every equestrian who ever accidentally (or on purpose) has been whipped by herself or someone else knows what I am talking about: it hurts!

What equestrian has never been so frustrated that they used their whip to motivate their horse into the desired behaviour? What equestrian has never used a whip to flick the horse with in case of emergency or to get out of a very dangerous situation? Horses remember those things, even years later!

When you don’t carry a whip around you feel suddenly less powerful and maybe even very vulnerable. I know this is how I felt when I decided to work without a whip or a training stick. Have you tried it? It makes you think about other ways, more creative and hopefully more friendly ways to ask your requests to your horse, your friend.

The reason that a horse responds to a whip ‘as extension of your arm’ is because it has been used as an aversive in the past. And it is still carrying this value. If it hasn’t, your horse wouldn’t respond as well to it.

The riders who claim to ‘only hold it-but don’t use it’ why are you carrying it?

Why is nobody using a peacock or ostrich feather as 
'extension of their arm' in training or riding?

People who claim they ‘don’t use the whip’ are still signalling a threat to the horse ‘behave or else…’ Why else would they carry such a useless device? Isn’t that distracting and interfering with the hand-rein-connection?

_whip-as-extension-of-arm-myth_hippologic

Does it make sense to you? Does it make sense to the horse?

If you need a tool to act only as an extension of your arm why not use something that is not designed to dispense aversives? Something that makes it even impossible to inflict pain, something long and soft like a peacock or ostrich feather? I tell you why: the feather does not have the same power as a whip or stick. As soon as your horse finds out that it is useless to dispense aversives with it will lose ‘its purpose as an extension of your arm’.

It is the same with some dressage horses who will quickly learn that their rider won’t use their whip as soon as they are riding within the small white dressage ring fences. They become instantly dull to the leg aids because they know there will not be a ‘follow up’ with the whip. The rider is negatively punished by the use of the whip because it can cost points. The horse has learned that he is ‘safe from the whip’ in the dressage ring. Until that one day the rider gets so frustrated and decides to use the whip ‘really good’ to show the horse who’s boss in the ring….

Most people complain if they have to start carrying a whip or clicker in their hand during riding or training. Why not get rid of it if you don’t use it…

Or, admit the advantage of your whip. Not to me, to yourself. And to your horse (although your horse already knows why you really carry it). Be honest!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
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[Riding lessons] Why do kids start with a whip?

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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).

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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 reinforcementmarker or bridge signaltimingshaping behaviourproper 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 – 50 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’s 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!

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

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‘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 geïnteresseerd 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 reinforcementbrugsignaaltimingshaping behaviourveilig 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 één 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 beïnvloed 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 geïnteresseerd 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 geïnteresseerd 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 geïnteresseerd 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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