Prevent Your Horse from Becoming ‘Treat Crazy’ With this Simple Solution

I like to call all horse people who use treats as reinforcers in training (to get behaviour) horse trainers. They are deliberately influencing their horses’ behaviour. I love that!

When they talk about using treats in training often lots of objections are raised. In this series I give solutions for these common objections and beliefs.

Common beliefs

I asked my Facebook friends to help me out with some common believes that live in the equine world about treats in training. Thank you all for helping me. I will quote the answers:

  1. Hand-feeding creates mugging horses
  2. Hand feeding makes them bite.
  3. That it instantly makes them fat.
  4. Hand feeding horses is bad because it turns them into monsters, they get rude, pushy and bite everyone.
  5. That’s bribing and horses do X only for treats but not out of respect towards the person treating them!
  6. They get Treat Crazy, and will not be able to think or focus on what they are doing.
  7. It will make your horse aggressive pushy and mouthy.
  8. Hand-feeding makes them spoiled and they will refuse to eat out of a bucket and you will have to exchange it for a gilded bowl.
  9. It makes them nippy, aggressive, pushy, space invading.
  10. You can only hand-feed your horse twice.
  11. They’ll kill you if you forget your treat bag once upon a time in the future.
  12. It’s unnatural (as opposed to using carrot sticks and spurs and what not), since horses don’t feed one another in reward for tasks.
  13. It’s super dangerous, for when done incorrectly it turns them into raging killing machines that can never be re-educated.
  14.  Only hand-feed grain and hay but not treats because it will send the wrong message to the horse.

solutions for treat crazy mugging horse with clicker trainingLet’s see how we can prevent these objections from happening.
In this blog I gave solutions for objections 1, 2, 4, 7, 9 and 13. In my this blog I tackled objection #3.

Today I will share with you how I handle ‘Treat Crazy Horses’. I love that expression! I think it’s expressing exactly how eager that horse is! You can use that into your advantage in training!

Solutions for Horses that became ‘Treat Crazy’

How to deal with a horse that is treat crazy is really simple in fact. It is often not only the high value of the treat that causes frustration in the horse, it’s also the lack of clarity that makes horses behave this way. Part of the solution is to change to lower value reinforcers.

If you can give your treat crazy horse clarity when to expect a treat and when he can’t, he will become way calmer around food and food reinforcers. That is the other part of the solution: clarity.

clickertraining.ca

The way you teach him is by using a ‘bridge signal’ or ‘marker signal’ in your training. You can use a specific word you never use for something else or a specific sound like a click from a box clicker.

 

Stop feeding (from your horses’ perspective) ‘random treats’. 

When you start using a marker signal, that marks the exact behaviour your horse got the reward for, the reward will turn into a reinforcer. It will strengthen the clicked behaviour. This is how positive reinforcement trainers use treats to train behaviours.

Horses are smart and they figure out quickly to ‘get you to click and reinforce’ them! When they start to offer the new behaviour consistently it is time for your next step in training. Teaching your horse to pay attention to the click is only the first step. In the Ultimate Horse Training Formula I explain how you start green horses with clicker training and how to avoid pitfalls.

This is how you can turn a Treat Crazy horse into a horse that loves your training!

training with treats_clarity_hippologic clickertraining

If you want give your horse even more clarity start using a start session-signal and most importantly: an end session-signal. That is a simple way to teach your horse now your lesson starts and you can expect to earn treats. With your end of session/end of training-signal you tell your horse ‘Sorry, no more treats to be earned. Lesson is over.

The third piece of advice is to teach your horse the HippoLogic Key Lesson Table Manners for Horses (safe hand-feeding) with clicker training. This is the Key to Your Success to train with food reinforcers. This and more is covered in the complete home-study program Ultimate Horse Training Formula.

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.

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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!

_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’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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3 Reasons to Use Treats in Training

Treats, or food reinforcers, can be used in training very effectively. Three good reasons to use them are:

  • key lesson Table Manners_hippologic_safe handfeedingTrain wanted behaviour quickly
  • Animals are very motivated to earn their click and rewards. Therefor you can fade out the reinforcer and still get the behaviour. That is called a variable reward schedule. It’s very powerful!
  • It makes training very enjoyable for the horse and he will make positive associations with you and your training. A positive bond with your horse depends on the negative encounters being outweighed by the positive ones. Using positive reinforcement in training will give your bond a great boost.

Use Treats in Training Effectively

Timing is everything in clicker training horsesFeeding treats as a reward won’t necessarily get you the desired outcome. You have to use treats as reinforcer. To strengthen behaviour, not just to reward behaviour.

Be clear

Most important way to turn your reward into a reinforcer is to be clear why the horse got the treat.

You can communicate this effectively with the use of a marker signal, to mark the wanted behaviour. This is the best kept secret in horse training! This is very important: to use a marker signal!

COMMON FEARS ABOUT HAND-FEEDING HORSES

People who use food reinforcers are frequently confronted with a lot of misunderstanding about how “treats” or “rewards” can be effectively used as reinforcers. I asked my Facebook friends to help me out with some common believes that live in the equine world about treats in training. Thank you all for helping me. I will quote the answers:

  1. Hand-feeding creates mugging horses
  2. Hand feeding makes them bite.
  3. That it instantly makes them fat.
  4. Hand feeding horses is bad because it turns them into monsters, they get rude, pushy and bite everyone.
  5. That’s bribing and horses do X only for treats but not out of respect towards the person treating them!
  6. They get Treat Crazy, and will not be able to think or focus on what they are doing.
  7. It will make your horse aggressive pushy and mouthy.
  8. Hand-feeding makes them spoiled and they will refuse to eat out of a bucket and you will have to exchange it for a gilded bowl.
  9. It makes them nippy, aggressive, pushy, space invading.
  10. You can only hand-feed your horse twice.
  11. They’ll kill you if you forget your treat bag once upon a time in the future.
  12. It’s unnatural (as opposed to using carrot sticks and spurs and what not), since horses don’t feed one another in reward for tasks.
  13. It’s super dangerous, for when done incorrectly it turns them into raging killing machines that can never be re-educated.
  14.  Only hand-feed grain and hay but not treats because it will send the wrong message to the horse.

Let’s see how we can prevent these objections from happening.

Objection: Hand-feeding creates mugging, biting, space invading, dangerous horses

I will merge objections 1, 2 , 4, 7, 9 and 13. They all refer to the fear that the good relationship with your horse will end because of giving him treats.

There is a big difference between giving treats randomly and using treats as reinforcer to train behaviour.

Randomly dispensed treats can indeed cause frustration and confusion in the horse because it’s not clear why he got the treat.

When treats are (in the eyes of the horse!) randomly given, he will look for a way to increase the likelihood of getting treats. That is the principle used in positive reinforcement training.

If treats are given when mugging, biting, pushing, nippy, aggressive or space-invading behaviour just happened, that behaviour was reinforced!

Solution:

Be clear to your horse when to expect a treat and when not to expect a treat in training. You can give your horse clarity by using a bridge or marker signal.

With a marker signal (click) you now can easily train the opposite or an incompatible behaviour. It’s already clear he wants the treat, so now you use the treat to get desired and safe behaviour. I call that your Key to Success. This Key Lesson is called Table Manners for Horses. Your horse can’t bite you with a closed and relaxed muzzle, he can’t invade your space if he stands at a distance and he won’t mug you if he know to move his head away from your pocket with treats.

You can even give the horse more clarity by using a start-training-signal and an end-training-signal. Only during training treats can be earned. Be consequent!

 

Timing. Pay attention to when you give your horse treats. You get what you reinforce. So if your horse just sniffed your pocket and you think: ‘Hey lovely horse, you are right. I do have an apple in my pocket. What a smart horse, here you go.’ You just reinforced ‘sniffing your pocket’ and increased the likelihood of your horse mug you/invade your space again. Again: your marker (click) is a valuable tool to communicate.

Other objections of using treats in training

I will discuss the other 7 fears of using treats in another blog, so stay tuned. You can get my blog in your mailbox by signing up in the menu bar on the right.

If you want to use treats in training safe and effectively sign up for my course Ultimate Horse Training Formula. In this online course you will learn how to use positive reinforcement to train your horse, you will learn to avoid the most common pitfalls in horse training (in R+ as well as in traditional methods), you will learn to avoid and solve frustration of horse and human in training and get the results you’re aiming for.

 

_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 HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

PS Did you know HippoLogic has an accountability program?

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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

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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.

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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!

_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’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.

Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

4 Tips to improve your Horse Training Skills

Many horse owners and riders, me included, started out one point in time using reinforcers to train our horses. It doesn’t matter if we used positive reinforcement/clicker training for trick training or more ‘serious’ behaviours like standing for the vet and farrier or in the saddle. Not every one is successful in teaching their horse new behaviours or improve the quality of existing behaviours with positive reinforcement. How to become more efficient when using R+ is what this blog is about.

Use a bridge signal

_hondenclickerThe use of a click to bridge the time gap between the desired behaviour and the delivery of the reinforcer is tip number one when you use reinforcers in training. The horse has to know what made him earn the treat. The bridge signal is also called ‘marker’ or marker signal’ to indicate that that signal marks the desired behaviour.

Set a goal

If you know what your goal in training is, write it down and describe it as detailed as possible. When you to it right, you’ve made a great start for your shaping plan. Important is to focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. It sounds like an open door, but how many of us have yelled in despair to our horse: “I wish you didn’t always walk away when groomed.” or “I wish you stopped stepping on my toes” or “I wish you weren’t so nervous around fly spray“.

This is focusing on what you don’t want. What you focus on, you create more of!

What do you want instead? “I want my horse to stand still while being groomed”,”I want my horse to stand next to me.” and “I want my horse to be relaxed when I apply fly spray”.

Here is a video of Kyra and my results of fly spray training:
https://youtu.be/gHwXTo4uuIM

PS If you want to train your horse to accept fly spray, join this month HippoLogic Clicker Challenge. Two weeks of focus, support and training tips.

Details matter

Describe your goal into as much details as you can think of.

__hippologic_grazing_horseExample: I want my horse to stand still and stay relaxed when I apply fly spray. I want my horse to be comfortable with all kinds of spray cans and their content, all kinds of sounds, smells and feels. I want my horse to be OK wherever we are, when I use a spray can or spray bottle on his body, neck, legs and tail. I want my horse to be OK with being sprayed when he is at liberty. I want my horse to be confident to walk away if he doesn’t like it or had enough.

If you go into so many details you already can see how you can approach your “spray can training“. You can use different kind of bottles later on in training: start with a plant sprayer with water before you start using aerosol cans that make a hissing sound and from which the content often is very cold. Next step is training in different places (stall, pasture) and so on.

Shaping plan

Once you have your goal set, you are ready to make a shaping plan. That’s your step-by-step approach of your training. Divide your goal into lots of smaller steps. Make each step so tiny it describes a click worthy moment.

The first step can be ‘Horse approaches spray can’, the next step can be ‘Horse targets spray can’.

Repeat each step until you see the horse is confident enough before you ask a bit more. Your horse might even increase his own criteria by skipping one of more of the steps in your plan. Don’t forget to click and reinforce when that happens!

Track your progress

Last but not least is to keep track of your process and also your progress. If you don’t make progress write down what you changed in your setup so you will remember next time you train a horse.

Keeping track is such a valuable habit. You never have to invent the wheel again! Keeping a training journal or logbook will also help you become more creative in finding new angles to training challenges.

Writing down your process will also provide you with valuable information of all the things you did well in training! Always keep it positive! That what makes a training journal a good read!

Do you set goals, write them down, make shaping plans and keep a training journal? Or do you think this is difficult?
What is your approach that helped you become more successful? Share your training tips in the comments!

Share this article

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from or if you want to share this on your social media, please use one of the share buttons  below. I also love to hear your view on this subject, so please add a comment. I read them all!

If you don’t know what to say simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

Happy Horse training!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get results in training they really, really want. Getting results with ease and lots of fun for both horse and human is important to me. Win-win!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
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Tips to Train your Horse to behave Safe around Treats

The expression “Training with treats” is often immediate cause for a lively discussion between people who do and people who don’t use food reinforcers. Want to watch the video? Scroll to the bottom of this blog!

Reasons to Train with Treats

There are many reasons to train with treats. I only will state 3 here.

  1. Food is an amazing reinforcer! Horses want to work for it and sometimes they don’t even want to stop working (which can be listed with the cons).
  2. Keeps your hands free. You don’t need to hold the treat until you need it, like you do with a whip.
  3. Horses will raise the criteria for a behaviour by themselves in order to earn a treat.

Reasons NOT to Train with Treats

_mugging_hippologicHere are the 3 reasons I heard the most.

I will debunk them in the next paragraph.

  1. Horses get pushy or will start to bite you.
  2. Horses will start mugging you when you carry treats around.
  3. He will only work for the treat, not for you.

Debunking the myths

1. & 2. True, horses can turn into biters or will behave like you’re a vending machine if treats are ‘randomly’ (from the horse’s perspective!) offered during training.

Therefor you need to establish some rules. They are really simple to understand and every horse I worked with learned them within a few minutes:

Rule #1 All treats are announced by a marker signal (usually the click sound from a box clicker). No click, no treat.

Rule #2 The fastest way to treats is to move away from them. Simply teach the horse an incompatible behaviour with the undesired behaviour.

Biting and mugging are not possible if the horse is not in range. Teach him to move his head away from your body and/or the food source (your pocket). This sounds so easy, but pay attention to what most people do: they give the horse attention for the undesired behaviour and therefor reinforcing it. It is the receiver (horse) that determines if something is a reward or a punishment. If the behaviour gets stronger, it was reinforced.

___clickertraining_hippologic

Rule #3 Treats must be taken with lips only. Teeth are not allowed to take (or grab) the treat.

Reason #3 ‘He will only work for the treat, not for you’. Weird enough people are not saying this when you work with aversives: “If you work with a whip he will only do it because you carry a whip or wearing spurs.”

By implementing rule #1 the horse learns to pay attention to the marker, the click and not the food. The food is not a lure, it is a reinforcer.

When you start to train a horse that is not used to paying attention to a marker signal he will pay a lot of attention to the food. True, in the very beginning (only the first few sessions) it is about the food. Once the 3 basic rules are implemented, the attention shifts from the food to the click, the challenge and or the interaction with the trainer.

Yes, the food reinforcer will still play an important rule in future training. Only not in the same exercise all the time. You will fade out the click & reinforcer.

Clicks and reinforcers will still be used to train new behaviours. We always want to improve and develop, don’t we? That is why food will always be a part of (positive reinforcement) training.

Even when we don’t carry food around the horse still wants to perform eagerly the tasks we cue him for. We made a positive association in the brain using food in the learning process.

Have you ever heard someone asking ‘When can I fade out the whip, the bit or my spurs?’

Tips to Teach Your Horse to behave Safe around Treats

  • Teach your horse the food always moves to the horse, never the other way around
  • The quickest way for your horse to earn a treat is to move away from it
  • Teach your horse to wait patiently until the food is delivered to his mouth, by offering the food (especially in the beginning) ASAP after the click
  • No click, no treat
  • Only lips are allowed to take the treat. Use (temporarily) bigger size treats if your horse uses his teeth to grab the treat and click&treat faster.

 

_give an appetitive HippoLogic

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If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below. I’ also would love to read your comments, I read them all!

If you don’t know what to say 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 gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online courses that will change your life.

10 Tips to Train Your Horse Faster

When I started ‘training’ my free lease pony I had no idea what my plan was. Well, that is not entirely true… I thought I had a plan.

When he was born my plan was: “To start him under saddle when he was 4 years old”. That’s it. I was 12 years old. I had no idea how to do it, but I thought I knew. After all, I had read all the books in the library about horse training.

Here are 10 tips that I wished I knew back then to set myself up for success, to give myself confidence and motivate me in times of frustration. It would have made my life and that one of the pony (!) so much better.

OK, here we go.

Tip #10 Set a goal

Training_logbook_journal_diary_hippologic2016Set a goal and make a plan (see tip #8). Simply start writing in your training journal what you want to teach your horse. Eg ‘standing still at the mounting block’. Writing it down is very important.

Tip #9

Focus on what you want, instead on what you don’t want. I hear lots of riders say things like: ‘My horse can’t stand still’.

What do you visualize when you read this? You probably see a horse that walks away or doesn’t stand still. Focus on what you want to happen and phrase it that way: ‘I want my horse to stay with 4 hooves on the ground while I mount’. Now visualize it. Is this what you want?

Tip #8

Be specific. The more specific you are the better your chances of success. You know what to look for, so you also know when you are successful.

In the example above I can be more specific: ‘I want to teach my horse to align with the mounting block and stay with 4 hooves on the ground while I mount. My horse is calm and relaxed when I sit in the saddle and he waits patiently for my cue to walk on.’ What do you see when you visualize this?

If you are specific you will know exactly what your training criteria (and you have your training plan) are: 4 hooves on the ground, aligning to the mounting block, standing relaxed while being mounted, wait for a cue to walk on.

Tip #7

Find yourself an accountability partner. Someone supportive of your goals and who is not afraid to ask how you’re doing with your goals. If you want a really good accountability partner look for someone who knows more than you do about the subject and can help you specify your goals and help write down your training plan. Find someone who doesn’t judge.

Tip #6

Next step is to plan your training sessions. A plan without action is nothing but a wish._A dream without a plan is just a wish_Hippologic_equestrian goal setting.jpg You have to know when you want to work on it. Weekly lessons or a monthly meeting with your partner are a great way to make yourself accountable.

Use your calendar to plan what you will work on each day. For example training your horse to align along the mounting block on Monday, Tuesday and Friday. By the end of the month you know how much time you spent on training a specific behaviour.

Tip #5

Keep your training sessions for new behaviours short and sweet. If you train a new behaviour you only have to work on it for a few minutes. I train max 5 minutes per session when I train a new behaviour. Then I give a break or I ask behaviours that are already understood very well and are easy to perform for my horse, before I go back to train another 5 minutes on the new behaviour.

timing is everything_hippologic

Tip #4

Know when to stop. Stop when it’s (still) going well. This is very difficult, but I now know when the best time to stop is. I learned to recognize that little voice in my head that whispered ‘One more time’, ‘This was fun! Let’s do it again. (And again. And again)’ or

‘Let’s see if my horse really understands it or if it was a coincidence that he did it’. This is a good time to stop or focus on something else.

If you keep going, the behaviour will decrease and you can get frustrated. That is not the best time to stop practising, but you have to.

Tip #3

Manage frustration and other negative feelings. If you went on and on until the behaviour gets worse and/or you and your horse get frustrated: please stop. It is better to stop when you feel a little frustrated than keep going. That will never make it better. Forgive yourself, make a note in your training logbook and thank yourself for becoming aware. Awareness is the first step in improving.

Tip #2

Celebrate! Share your success with your accountability partner. Celebrate it with yourself and do something you will remember for this special moment. Take a picture or video of the new trained behaviour or share your story on your social media. Hooray! Be proud! Be happy!

Tip #1

_positive_reinforcement_clicker_training_hippologicUse a bridge signal in combination with something the horse wants. Positive reinforcement is the one thing that made all my training so much easier, quicker and more fun too! A bridge signal (or marker) is such a great communication tool. It provides clarity for yourself and for your horse and makes everything you want to train so much easier and with less frustration.

I wish I would have learned all this in the riding school I learned to ride, or from all the (five) books the library owned when I was a girl!

It would have saved me hours and hours of frustration and prevented me from many dangerous situations. I would be much more confident and saved me a lot of frustration. Me and my pony would have had more fun and a better relationship earlier on.

If you think you can help someone with these tips, please share them with the buttons below and help improve horse-human relationships! Thank you.

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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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  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
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Power of a Bridge Signal 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. This makes the bridge signal a powerful tool in horse training: it is a simple but clear way of communicating what you want.

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

Advantage of a clicker
_secret_horsetraining_hippologicA 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.

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
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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Myth Monday: ‘With Clicker Training the Horse only does it for the Treats (not for you)’

The statement that a horse only works for ‘the treat’ and ‘not for you’ is one that I have heard many times. In fact this is one of the most common arguments used by people who use negative reinforcement to train their horses.

 What motivates the horse: you or the food

I also prefer to think in terms of ‘motivation’ when I talk about horse training and horse behaviour: is the horse motivated to move away from something or avoid something (negative reinforcement, R-) or is he motivated by desire and wants to ‘move towards _carrot_or_stick_hippologicsomething he wants’ (positive reinforcement, R+)?

When people say ‘the horse only does it for the food’ are they afraid  of not being
‘respected by the horse’ for who they are? What is respect anyway? I don’t believe a horse respects a human the way people respect people. Most ‘respectful behaviours’ horses display in the human-horse relationship are either based on fear or simply on learned behaviours, see this post about respect.

If someone states: ‘The horse only does it for the food’, you could say the same thing for negative reinforcement: ‘He only does it to avoid something unpleasant’.

This is still not an explanation that the horse follows commands just ‘for the person’.

‘For the trainer’

I wonder how you could tell for sure that your horse is doing something ‘just for you’ and not for his own benefit (too)? That is  very altruistic. Isn’t that a very cocky assumption that your horse does everything you ask, just for you and not for himself? I agree it is very tempting to tell ourselves our horse loves us so much he would do anything just for us, but it is not realistic.

Here is a video from my horse and how she reacts when I call her [for my lovely email subscribers please click in the email to go to the post to see the video]:

Is it really altruism?

Altruism is if a horse does something only to benefit another being (increasing it’s reproductive succes) and he doesn’t increases his own fitness. Example: You want to take your horse out of the pasture for a ride. If he comes to you and leaves his horsey companions without hesitation. Is it really for you as a person (and nothing else) or is there something else (too) at the root of this behaviour?

Curiosity

Maybe he is just curious and wants to check you out (that could explain the approach, but not the part where he leaves his heard and comes with you, hence the halter).

I think the more important part is the learning process that had taken place. Either the horse was positively or negatively reinforced in the past to come with you.

Positive reinforcement

If R+ is his motivation to come to and with you: he was motivated in the past by the scratches, food, attention or something else that is desirable for him. You paired pleasant experiences with coming to you and following you out of the pasture. The horse doesn’t do it for you (only).

Negative reinforcement

If he was negatively reinforced to come with you he is motivated by the aversive that was taken away to teach him to approach and follow you. For instance chasing the horse around in the pasture until he lets him catch you. After a few times the horse has learned to ‘give up’ running away from you and let you catch him. He paired stopping an unpleasant experience (being chased) with getting haltered. The horse doesn’t do it for you.

The beauty of R+

When you introduce positive reinforcement to a horse, he understands quickly that (in most cases) food is involved. Because we don’t randomly ‘throw’ treats to them, but only provide treats after the marker or bridge signal, the horse quickly learns to pay attention to the click and not to the hand reaching for a treat.

The reinforcer in positive reinforcement doesn’t have to be food, it can be anything pleasant the horse wants to work for.

There is more to clicker training than just the food reward. The marker can also become very reinforcing, training in itself (solving ‘puzzles’ when teaching new behaviours or endorfines released by physical activity or ‘the possibility of hearing a click’) can become reinforcing and also other behaviours can become reinforcers for behaviours.

So the horse doesn’t have to work for us (clicker trainers), because we know that he will pair us with positive things in training. We don’t mind that he wants to work for a decent salary paid in clicks and reinforcers. We understand this.

Safe the date: Thursday March 7, 2019

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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 HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
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Myth Monday: ‘Treats in training and Respect don’t go well together’

Who hasn’t heard the statement that ‘if you train with treats (like in positive reinforcement), your horse doesn’t respect you, he will do it only for the food and not for you’. This is an interesting myth to debunk because there is so much to it.

‘Training with treats’

Not everyone who ‘trains with treats’ is using a marker or bridge signal (a click) or understands the importance of the timing of the food delivery.

The click indicates two things: it pinpoints the exact desired behaviour and it announces an appetitive.

If a trainer is not using a bridge/marker signal when rewarding the horse with food it can lead to confusion (Why did I get this? Was it random? Can I influence it?) and even frustration in the horse  (Why is there no food today? I expect food now). This can cause the horse to become very focused on the food, instead of the marker and the desired behaviour to display. This can cause all kinds of undesired or even dangerous behaviours.

_Myth_Monday_using_treats_no_respect_HippoLogic

When a horse doesn’t understand that he must pay attention to the marker and the associated behaviour in order to increase the likelihood of a click, he can display behaviours that he thinks influences the appearance of a food reward. Often that’s behaviour that occurred during or just happened a few seconds before the food was offered: sniffing the pockets of the trainer, stepping towards the handler (the food) or other -in our eyes- undesired or ‘disrespectful’ behaviour. This is caused by miscommunication or lack of knowledge or experience of the trainer and not ‘just a result of working with food rewards’.

What is ‘respect’?

This leads us to the next question: what is respect and can a horse display respect to another species? Or is what we call ‘respectful’ behaviour just something else?

Simple Definition of respect

  • a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc.

  • a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way

  • a particular way of thinking about or looking at something

I think we should scrap the word ‘respect’ out of our vocabulary when we talk about the horse-human relationship. We, humans, can still respect the horse, but we have no way of knowing if ‘the horse feels admiration’ for us when he looks at us.

Respectful behaviour

What behaviours do we expect when we are talking about the horse must’ respect’ us? We  all know we can’t force respect, but why do so many trainers behave like they can?

Here are some ‘respectful’ behaviours:

  • the horse doesn’t step into our personal cirkel, unless invited
  • the horse respectfully follows all our cues
  • takes treats carefully/respectful from our hands (doesn’t grab the food)
  • waits ‘politely’ until the food is offered (doesn’t mug us)
  • stands when mounted or groomed
  • et cetera

I think these behaviours can all be  taught and are often more the result of training or a learning process in the horse than ‘a feeling or understanding [from the horse] that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way’.

If the horse is not behaving ‘respectful’ that is also the result of the learning curve in the horse. He simply has learned that stepping into your ‘personal circle’ or sniffing your pockets results in something he values (a scratching pole, getting attention, a pet or a treat).

The horse only works for the food, not for you

In the next episode of Myth Monday I will debunk the part of the myth that in clicker training it is only the food that motivates the horse. Stay tuned!

What myths about clicker training/ positive reinforcement have you heard?

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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Change to Positive Reinforcement

It was 1999 when I heard about clicker training for horses. I knew dolphins were trained with a whistle and fish to reward them, but that was about everything I knew.  I decided to try it out with my 21 year old pony Sholto. I learned about learning theory during my study Animal Management, but no one could tell me how to start with Sholto. So I just started…

How I started clicker training

I can’t really remember what my thoughts were at the time, but I do remember I started with some really difficult trick training exercises: touching a skippy ball, Spanish walk and _classical bow_buiging_hippologica Classical bow. The skippy ball became a ‘target’ and it was really hard to change ‘touching’ the ball into pushing the ball. That didn’t take my pleasure away, though. The Classical bow was a coincidence and I was lucky to ‘capture’ that behaviour. I can’t recall how we got to a Spanish walk.

What I learned using R+

When I started clicker training I had no idea what impact it would have on my future and my whole training approach. The most remarkable changes (in hindsight) are:

  • I learned to ‘listen to my horse‘ by studying his body language
  • I learned a lot about learning theory.
  • I love to approach behaviour now as a matter of motivation: is the horse moving away from something or moving towards something? Is something else (than the ___clickertraining_hippologictraining/trainer) more enticing? By looking at the motivation of the horse, I can now skip the whole ‘leadership’ and ‘dominance’ discussion in training.
  • I learned to think out of the box and became more creative in training. I now have so many different ways to elicit behaviour and put it on cue.
  • Shaping. I learned the power of shaping, a wonderful tool in training.
  • Timing.
  • The power of using a marker to mark (a step towards) the desired behaviour.
  • Planning and the power of keeping a journal.

I truly believe that I wouldn’t have grown so much as a horse trainer if it wasn’t for positive reinforcement. One of the best changes is that I learned to focus on what goes well instead of what went wrong! A change that bears fruit in all facets of my life!

How about you?

What are your most remarkable changes since you started using positive reinforcement for your horse? How did clicker training influenced you as trainer, horse lover or in your personal life?

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

 

Myth Monday: Training with Food rewards causes pushy Horses

All positive reinforcement trainers have heard people say: ‘Training horses with food rewards makes them pushy’. Some people even state ‘dangerous‘ instead of pushy. Maybe you have said it yourself before you started using positive reinforcement (+R) to train your horse.

You get what you reinforce

In +R training you use a reward that reinforces the behaviour you want to train. The trainer uses a marker signal to mark the desired behaviour in order to communicate to the horse which behaviour he wants to see more of. Key is the marker signal.

What is mugging?

Mugging or other undesired behaviour around food or treats is just learned behaviour. If you understand how learning works, you see that mugging is caused (reinforced) by the trainer. Even if it wasn’t a professional trainer, but just a mom who wanted to give her daughters pony a carrot just because …. If the pony was sniffing her pocket or maybe just gave mom a little push with his nose and mom thinks: ‘Oh I forgot I had a treat in my pocket. Here you are, sweet pony. You are so smart.’_mugging_hippologic

If someone has rewarded a horse for sniffing his pockets, this behaviour was encouraged. Therefor the horse will repeat this behaviour. It leaded to a reward. The same goes for a horse that is pushing you around in order to get to the food. If he gets rewarded for pushing you around, you have ‘trained’ him to do so. Even if it was unconscious, for the horse it was not. He was the one that paid attention (Read more in my post What to do if your horse is mugging you.)

Teaching ‘polite behaviour’ around food

The same way you can encourage (read: train) a horse to mug or behave pushy, you can encourage him to behave ‘politely’ around food and treats. I put polite between quotation marks because it is not per definition an equine behaviour. It is a trained behaviour. Polite behaviour is one of my key lessons (the keys to success in +R training).

Just like children have to learn not to speak with food in their mouth and other polite behaviours, so must horses learn what behaviours we want to see and consider polite (and save). It’s the trainers task to spent time on these.

Mugging is a trainers’ fault

Since mugging is a learned behaviour one can re-train it by reinforcing the opposite behaviour more and ignoring the mugging. Horses are smart and they will learn quickly what behaviours will lead to rewards and what behaviours will not.

If the trainer understands the learning theory and the equine mind, mugging is easily prevented or changed.

Train desired behaviour instead

Just think about what the opposite behaviours of mugging look like and start reinforcing those.

  • The horse looks straight forward or slightly away when you reach into your pocket, instead of moving his nose towards your pocket.
  • The horse backs up a step when you are about to hand-feed him, instead of coming towards you to get the food.
  • The horse takes the treat gently off of your hand and uses his lips only,  instead of taking it with his teeth.
  • The horse stays out of your personal space instead of pushing you with his nose.
  • And so on.

So, when people state that using food rewards causes mugging, pushy, dangerous or other unwanted behaviour in horses I know they just don’t understand how learning occurs. That’s OK. They can learn, we just have to reinforce the desired behaviour (or thoughts).

Related post The Dangers of working with Food (rewards).

 —————————————————————-

Therese Keels commented on Facebook : “It does cause pushy horses! They push you to think faster, use your imagination more. They push you to observe more closely, to pay attention and be present. They push us to be kinder, more considerate and understanding. They push us to be better at being us. Take that kind of pushy any day. :-)”

Thank you, Therese for this wonderful comment! Love it!

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  • Do you want to turn your equestrian dreams into reality, but you don’t know where to start?

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

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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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My favourite motto is… Make haste slowly…

Is the translation of a Latin saying. A saying with a long history starting with the Romans. Festina lente, maybe you’ve heard of it.

To me this has proven a very valuable oxymoron  and it is one of my favourite personal mantras in horse training. If you take the time it takes, than it takes less time.

So many times I wanted a result right away, but couldn’t get it. These are perfect moments to remind myself: make haste slowly. To take the time to step back and rethink my strategy. Reminding myself to make haste slowly has helped me in so many ways.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Prevent frustration

If you consider your training goals first and make a plan before you start training your horse, it helps prevent pitfalls that lead to frustration. Don’t only focus on the goal, the result but also take into consideration the way that leads to your goal.

Don’t forget: you are part of a team

In horse training/riding it is not only about your results. You have to take your equine partner into consideration.

When I just started Kyra under the saddle I wanted to canter. My (classical) dressage trainer said: ‘Just wait, she will offer canter when she’s ready’. But… I wanted it ‘now’. ‘Kyra was already 6 weeks under saddle,’ was my argument. ‘If professional trainers could teach a horse to walk, trot and canter within 6 weeks after starting a horse under saddle, why couldn’t I do it?’

I took my trainers advise and didn’t push it. One day Kyra indeed offered canter under saddle. Since I use a bridge signal and rewards, I could clearly communicate to Kyra that this was what I wanted. I gave her a jackpot (a really, really reinforcing reward). From that day on ‘canter’ was part of our repertoire. I was glad I waited until Kyra was ready and I was glad I listened to the advise of my wise trainer. But it was hard…. I wanted quick results so badly.

Now I know from my own experience that Festina lente is one of the best mantras one can have when educating a horse. Learning can’t be rushed. I think Kyra’s canter wouldn’t have been so balanced if I had rushed her. I probably would have damaged our relationship by asking her something to do which she couldn’t do at the time. Something that’s very clear in hindsight.

I think ‘set yourself and your horse up for success’ goes hand in hand with Festina lente. What are your favourite mantras in horse training?

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

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The clicker, for me a symbol of …

WP has a Photo Challenge with the theme ‘symbol‘.

For me the clicker became an important symbol. It represents force-free horse training, friendship, fun and a life time of learning. Let me explain.

_clicker_hippologic_symbol 

 

Force-free training

The clicker represents positive reinforcement: training behaviour by adding an appetitive to the horse in order to reinforce behaviour. There is no force or coercion in positive reinforcement training.

Friendship

When I started to use positive reinforcement I had to learn about what my horse likes and dislikes.

Positive reinforcement is a way to give my horse a choice in training and therefor it gives her a voice. For me friendship is not only listening to my horse but also acting on the information she is giving me. Friendship means that I sometimes have to change my approach if my horse doesn’t like it, can’t (physically) do it or won’t do what I ask for whatever reason. For me, the clicker symbolizes this.

Fun

Learning new skills, exploring new ways has always been fun to me. The clicker represents also the fun the horse displays when he figures out what the training question is. The eagerness my horse shows in working with me: always coming to the gate in the pasture as soon as she sees me and the soft loving nicker to greet me.

Life long learning

Switching from traditional and natural horsemanship methods to positive reinforcement forced me to develop new skills so I could communicate clearly what I want from my horse.

I had to learn to listen better to my horse and I had to develop my observational skills in order to pinpoint (click) the desired behaviour. I had to figure out what motivates my horse in order to reinforce the behaviour I am teaching her. I studied the learning theory and learning curve of animals intensively. Something I probably wouldn’t have done tothis degree if force was still my go-to method in training and riding horses.

The road to positive reinforcement has been (and still is) an exciting journey for me. I am still fascinated every day by how learning actually  works in horses and how we humans can influence it. It is a life long journey with fabulous views!

What represents a clicker for you?

Sandra Poppema

For tailored 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
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Clicker training 101: Tips for Treats

The most important thing about the treats I use is that it has to have enough value to my horse to reinforce the desired behaviour. After all it is the receiver that determines the reward, not the trainer: want the behaviour, my horse wants the treat. Let’s make it a win-win.

Treats can differ in ‘value’ for the horse, depending on circumstances. Not only the value matters when you use treats in training. There is more to consider when you choose treats for training.

Size matters

When you introduce the click or another bridge signal to your horse a small treat that can be eaten quickly is a good choice. If the horse isn’t very interested in the treat, try a higher value treat.

If your horse has trouble ‘finding’ the treat on your hand and or gets nervous about missing out, try a bigger size treat. One that he can see easily see and take off your hand.

The trainer can carry more treats if they are smaller. More treats means less refills. This can be handy on a long trail ride or during training sessions where the trainer doesn’t want to leave the horse (vet treatment, farrier).

A food reward shouldn’t take long to eat. If the horse has to chew too long it distracts from training.

If the treats are very small, like pellets, it can take a while before the horse eats everything. The last few pellets might be too small to eat safely. Consider just dropping them on the ground.

_treats_size_matters_value_matters_hippologic

 

Value matters

There are low value treats and high value treats. It is always the horse who determines if something is high or low value to him. Low value treats can be normal dinner grain or hay cubes, high value treats are special treats that are extra tasty, like carrots.

Work with treats that are as low value as possible, but still reinforces the desired behaviour.

Use high value treats for special occasions. For example if the horse has to do something difficult, painful (like a vet treatment) or scary.

High value treats also make excellent jackpots.

If your horse gets greedy or displays dangerous or undesired behaviour like biting or mugging, try lower value treats.

Calories matter

For horses that are overweight, have a tendency to get overweight or founder easily low calorie treats are a healthy choice.

Deduct the amount of calories offered during training from your horses normal feeds.

Vitamin pellets are often a healthy choice, check the label. Most ones have a decent size, they are non sticky and are low in sugar and calories.

_considering_treats_training_hippologic

Practical things matter

Not all trainers like  to have sticky treats like apple pieces or sugar covered cereal in their pocket.

My horse Kyra likes soaked beetpulp, but I don’t like to carry it around. Sometimes I bring it to the arena in a plastic container which I put on the ground. Not very practical during riding, but perfect as jackpot in groundwork or during trick training.

Some treats, like sour apples, can increase the  amount of saliva in your horse’s mouth or can cause foaming saliva. Which can become messy. It can also increase behaviour like licking your hands. If you don’t like that, try avoid these treats.

If you bridge and reinforce a lot, cost can become an issue. Commercial horse treats are very expensive per treat in comparison to home made treats, dinner grain or hay cubes.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect you with your inner wisdom (you know what’s right) and teach you the principles of learning and motivation, so you become confident and knowledgeable to train your horse in a safe, effective and FUN way. Win-win.
All HippoLogic’s programs are focused on building your confidence and provide you with  a step-by-step formula to train horses with 100% positive reinforcement.
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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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Three Best Kept Secrets in Horse Training

I think what makes certain horse trainers more successful than others is ‘communication’. To me the result of training is not the most important part. The most important component of horse training is the way the trainer got that result with the horse. In other words: the training method and the way it is communicated weighs more than the actual result, the behaviour.

#1 Listening to the horse

_hippologic_orenThe more I learn about body language and natural behaviour of horses, the more clearly I see if the horse is stressed, anxious, troubled, in pain or skeptical about the things the rider or trainer asks him to do. That takes the joy out of watching horses perform without willingness and eagerness to work with their handler. That is the reason I avoid the main acts on horse events. I would rather talk to passionate horse owners who think the horse matters too or are looking for ways to find out if what they do is as enjoyable for the horse as it is for them.

#2 Bridge signal

When I started clicker training I didn’t realize that I had a powerful communication tool in _clickertraining_secret_hippologicmy hand. The more positive reinforcement training I do, the more I realize that my bridge signal (the marker) functions as a very precise tool, like a scalpel. I can change the tiniest details in a behaviour to my desire. It communicates so clearly what it is I want from my horse, it is amazing that more people are not use it.

The bridge signal is the most important communication tool in working with rewards. The bridge signal marks exactly the behaviour the horse earned the reward for. Click: this is what I want. How more clear can you get?

#3 Reinforcers

The third very important pillar of training is the category of reinforcers a trainer uses.

If it is negative reinforcement, the horse learns basically through avoidance. The wanted behaviour is reinforced by avoiding an unpleasant stimulus. Negative reinforcement (-R) is sometimes referred to as avoidance learning. For example yielding for pressure. Even when the unpleasant stimulus changed to a very light cue or just a body movement of the trainer, the brain will still associate the cue with the way the behaviour was triggered, the aversive. This is the reason negative reinforcement works so well: one can fade out the aversive but it still works because of the association in the brain.

If the learning happens because the horse is getting something he wants, something pleasant that is added to reinforce the behaviour (positive reinforcement),  he will try to earn another reward.

_Reward_reinforcer_hippologic

The association the trainer builds in the horse’s brain is a pleasant one. The horse will actively seek out behaviours that got him rewarded in the past. The trainer stimulates the intelligence and the creativity of the horse with rewards. These horses are offering new behaviours all the time. Something you will not see in seasoned -R trained horses.

This is the eagerness and the joy one can spot in a +R trained horse.

Spread the word

I see so many talented and knowledgeable clinicians, horse trainers and riding instructors out there, who could be even more successful if they would only use bridge signals in their training and lessons. The bridge signal marks the wanted behaviour in the horse, but it also clearly shows to the rider/handler what the instructor means.

I wish more people understood the importance of a bridge signal paired with a pleasant stimulus (reward). Of course it’s intertwined with understanding what the horse communicates back to you and the reinforcers that make it worthwhile for the horse.

I think the bridge signal is the best kept secret in horse training and I think it is time to reveal this powerful tool to every horse lover, rider, trainer and instructor.

Share this blog if you agree.

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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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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

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  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
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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.

Timing
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.

Step-by-step
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.

_zw_touchtarget

Step 3: touching the target

Evaluation
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.

Experience
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.

_collage_targetstick

Using a target to get your horse out of the pasture

Read more: 5 Benefits of Making a Shaping Plan

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
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!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website.

 

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Key lesson: targeting

In my previous post I talked about the key lessons safe behaviour around food ,  equine emotions during training, head lowering & backing.

Another key lesson I want to encourage all clicker trainers to teach their horse is ‘targeting’.

Targeting
In targeting you ask your 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 on a

_targetstick_

Target stick

stick with his nose.

Once your horse knows the target is meant to be touched with his nose (not lips or teeth), you can start experimenting. Hold the target a bit lower, higher, more to the left or to the right. If the horse is touching the target a solid amount of time you can put a verbal cue to this new behaviour, like ‘touch’.

Versatile
Targeting is a very versatile exercise and therefor a really good tool to have in your training ‘tool box’. Once your horse can target his nose to the target stick, you can shift the context: practice in other surroundings, use different objects, teach your horse to target with different body parts, et cetera.

Basics
Targeting is an excellent way of starting positive reinforcement training with any horse. If you use a target on a stick you can create a distance between you and the horse. Therefor it can also be used to train (potentially) dangerous horses. With a target on a stick you can train your horse to move away from you, you don’t have to bend through your knees or stretch to ask your horse to touch low and high targets.

I  suggest working with ‘protective contact’, a barrier, when you start, especially with potentially dangerous horses.  Then the horse can’t enter your personal space while you are still getting used to the mechanical moves of presenting the target, bridge, take the target out of the horses’ reach and present a treat.

Teaching other behaviours
Once your horse knows how to target and you’ve put it on cue, you can use it to train other behaviours. If you hold the target stick a bit closer to the horses’ chest you can elicit a weight shift which can be shaped into backing up. Also the opposite can be achieved and targeting can be used to teach a horse to follow you or being lead. You can teach a horse to lower his head.

verjaardag2011 022

Kyra targeting helium balloons during de-spooking training

If your horse can target different object with different body parts the uses are endless: medical (targeting the mouth for oral medication, eyes to your hand in order to treat infections, ears etc), dressage exercises, de-spooking, hooves for trimming and so on.

Read here my post Targeting for advanced uses.

Links to other key lessons

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

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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!
Get your FREE 5 Step Clicker Training Plan on 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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