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Posts tagged ‘back chaining’

How to… train for a dressage test with clicker training

Dressage riders who use positive reinforcement have asked me: ‘I can’t click and reward my horse during a dressage test. So how can I practice a test and still use clicker training?’

Or they say: ‘I don’t want my horse to stop in the middle of the test because he expects a treat’ or ‘He stops because he is used to a click and treat every few minutes’ or ‘If I don’t click and treat often he stops and gives up trying’.

One possible solution to prevent this is to use ‘back chaining’.

Rider

The rider has to memorize the test. If you are a visual learner you can use a dressage-test-white-board.DIY_dressage_test_board_by_hippologic_2015

If you are a practical learner you can memorize the test by walking it yourself. Make a little arena on your lawn or in your living room with letters you’ve printed out and walk the test several times until you know it by heart.

 Chaining

Once you know what to do you want to practice with your horse. The expression ‘chaining’ in positive reinforcement training refers to splitting the behaviour into smaller steps and train every step separately. Each step is one link of the chain.

After you practiced each link separately, you can start pairing two links together before clicking and reinforcing. If that goes well add another link of the chain before that. This is how you make a behaviour ‘chain’.

Back chaining

In ‘back  chaining’ you also start training every exercise (link of the behaviour chain) separately. It doesn’t matter in what order. Once the horse knows all the separate steps you can start ‘back chaining’. Start to reinforce the last exercise in your chain of exercises.

Almost every dressage test ends with ‘A: Down center line, X: Halt, salute, leave the arena in free walk’.

In back chaining you start with this last exercise (free walk and exit the arena). Train the free walk consciously: click and reinforce right after leaving the arena. You can’t click and reinforce during the test, so you have to do it after the test.

Then you add one exercise before the last one (X: Halt, salute) leave the arena in free walk, click and reinforce these two links. Then add a third link before ‘X: Halt, salute’ and so on.

The power of back chaining is that your horse will anticipate and he will learn what to expect. The last part of your chain becomes very predictable and easy because it is always the same. It only becomes longer because the trainer adds exercises ahead.

In this way your horse doesn’t expect a treat during the test, but he will know at the end will be a tasty reward waiting.

The chain can also become a reward in itself: you have reinforced the last link so many times it has a really positive and strong association with something pleasurable in the horses’ brain.

_vlechtjes_knotjes_braids_hippologic

Possible pitfalls

If you are too predictable in your use of your bridge signal and or too predictable in the rewards you offer and the reward schedule you are using, back chaining, can backfire on you. You get the opposite result of what you want: a horse that performs worse instead of doing the best he can.

Keep in mind that you need to vary your reward schedule and your reinforcers in order to keep your horse motivated. Don’t be afraid to experiment with back chaining.

As always: start small, reward big.

Dressuur-amazone Annemarie Sanders-Keyzer tijdens de Olympische Spelen in Seoul 1988

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.

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

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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