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Posts tagged ‘basics clicker training’

Key to Success: make a Shaping Plan

In shaping the trainer splits the goal behaviour into easy achievable steps for the horse. Each step is rehearsed and reinforced until the animal fully understands what is expected. Then the criterion will be raised and the next step towards the end behaviour is trained. And so on, until you’ve trained the desired behaviour.

In this way you can train very complex behaviours and put them on cue.

Pros and cons of shaping
Shaping a behaviour can be very difficult if you don’t know how to split the behaviour into small enough steps for your horse to understand and be successful. Become a ‘splitter’ and practise dividing every behaviour into tiny steps. Everyone can learn it.

Shaping behaviour also requires good timing and a keen eye to see and bridge the subtle nuances of a behaviour. Each small change that brings the horse towards the end behaviour must be bridged and reinforced.

If the trainer doesn’t ‘guide’ his horse enough through that process, both can become confused or frustrated. They might even end up giving up.

The opposite of ‘splitting’ is lumping. If you’re a ‘lumper’, you make the steps too big or you raise your criterion too soon. Don’t be a lumper.

Making mistakes
Shaping isn’t easy or quick for inexperienced trainers. You have to be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them. A shaping plan will help you.

Shaping isn’t easy for horses that are afraid to be punished if they try new behaviours or simply aren’t used to it. But once you overcome these hurdles it can be a very quick way to train your horse new things.

It is a process
Shaping teaches the horse to use his brain and will encourage him to experiment. In other words he will ‘learn to learn’ and try out new behaviours. He has to learn to search for the right behaviour that will be bridged and reinforced. Once horses have learned how they get reinforced, they will never forget and this really speeds up their learning process. So be patient.

Shaping requires a lot of creativity of the trainer. Knowledge of the natural behaviour of horses also helps tremendously in splitting the desired behaviour into little steps and in predicting how the horse will react in training. Think out of the box in order to create ‘extra’ training steps. The more steps, the better.

Don’t forget to write the steps down your horse already masters, but are still an important part of the process. Maybe your horse already has looked at the target or approached it. Still write it down, so you can tick it off already. This gives your brain the feeling of a head start and you already feel successful immediately.

Training steps in training plan by Hippologic

Shaping plan for targeting

Be flexible
The trainer also needs to be very flexible. He needs to adjust his plan according to the horse. If the horse learns slower than expected, the trainer has to think of extra steps, changing rewards, adjust the circumstances, give the horse a break a little bit sooner and so on. Also if the horse learn quicker than expected, be prepared to skip steps in your shaping plan.

Shaping plan
The key to success in shaping is to make a plan before you start and write it down. Writing your steps down will help you:

  • to think in advance about every detail you have to be aware of
  • to get a clear picture in your head of clickable criteria
  • to give you a guideline if things go different then expected
  • to become aware of skipping steps while you are training
  • to go back to a previous step if your horse gets frustrated or confused
  • to know where to start next time you are training
  • evaluate your training more easily

Make notes in your shaping plan of the training circumstances that can be an influence on your training: are you training inside, outside, working with or without a barrier, time of day etc. Don’t forget to write down what your criteria are for going to the next step in your plan, for instance after 3 well performed actions.


Step 3: touching the target

After your training write down immediately all the things that went well and the things you have to keep in mind for next time. This will speed up the whole learning process for both you and your horse.

Making a shaping plan will also help for a next time you have to train the same behaviour with another animal. You will soon notice that different horses learn at different speeds and that a lot of circumstances can influence your training sessions. This will make you more alert next time and you can anticipate the variables that you encounter and set your horse and your training up for success.

The sky is the limit
Shaping has an endless scala of possibilities and therefor it is a very powerful technique. The only limits are the horses’ physical limitations and the trainers skills and creativity.


Using a target to get your horse out of the pasture


Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I do this by connecting you with your inner wisdom (you know what is good for your horse if you look into your heart) and sharing the principles of learning and motivation so you become confident and knowledgeable to train your horse in a safe and effective way, that’s FUN for both you and your horse. Win-Win!
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Key lesson: Horse, stay in learning mode [emotions in training]

In my last post I wrote about the importance of teaching horses safe behaviour around food and food rewards. Another key lesson that helps keep training safe and fun for all parties is managing the emotional state of mind of the horse during training. You want the horse to use his mind and stay in his learning mode.

Reinforce wanted behaviour
In positive reinforcement training we reinforce the wanted behaviour in order to get more of that behaviour. As trainers we have to pay close attention to the behaviours we are actually rewarding. In other words: you get what you reinforce.

In clicker training, as well as in every other training method, it happens that trainers are not paying attention to the horses’ state of mind during training.

Every trainer can unconsciously reinforce undesired behaviour, due to a lack of timing, lack of knowledge of behaviour or misreading body language. Common examples are horses that express (over)arousal, fear, pain or frustration during training.

If the horse is experiencing arousal, frustration, anger, pain or fear the brain can prioritize these over a state of mind in which learning can occur. The horse goes into ‘survival mode’. He gets out of his ‘thinking mode’ and he can’t learn anymore. That is why these emotions and behaviours that can go with them are undesired in training. It is the trainers responsibility to pay attention and prevent or if necessary re-train these emotions and paired behaviours as soon as possible.

It can be hard to detect the early signs of these emotions. Sometimes it is only recognized when it is already escalating in the horse. Then it is much harder to deal with it.

Two reinforcing moments
There are two moments in training which you have to pay extra close attention to the horses’ emotions because those are the most reinforcing moments.

The fist is the time of the bridge signal, the click. The click means ‘this’ is what I want you to do, it pinpoints the desired behaviour.

The second important moment is the moment you actually deliver the reward, since the reward is reinforcing the behaviour at that moment.

Imagine a horse is in a relaxed state of mind and happy and eager to learn. He pays attention to the trainer and is trying different behaviours and his behaviour soon meets the criterion of the trainer: he touches the target while he is happy and the trainer clicks.

Then the trainer isn’t able to deliver the food reward as quick as the horse expects it.  The horse becomes a bit impatient. He pins his ears, moves to the trainers hand with the treat on it and in his hurry he uses his teeth to take the food off the hand. This happens several times in a row. The trainer doesn’t pay attention or isn’t aware of this little change in the horses’ behaviour.


Can you see what emotion/behaviour is reinforced during the delivering of the treat? Can you imagine that after a few repetitions this behaviour will become a habit for the horse? He is, after all, reinforced over and over by the trainer to behave this way.

The horse can even think he has to ‘try harder’ in the way he takes the food off of the trainers hand and can change into ‘threatening the trainer for treats’.

It is better to pay attention to the horses emotions right from the start and prevent behaviours and situations that can escalate.

Make it a habit to watch a horses’ behaviour closely and change your criteria or training context as soon as you see the first signs of undesired emotions or behaviours.

Keep your training fun and safe for everybody.

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what your favourite key lesson is and why.

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

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