Whenever you have a Challenge with your horse, the first step is to break the problem down in smaller pieces.
Imagine your horse doesn’t lift his feet well for cleaning or trimming. How can you break down that problem for your horse?
Break it down for your horse
Your horse doesn’t know anything about your expectations!
When you break your goal down and start rewarding your horse for a slight weight shift *off* of that foot, you’re reinforcing 2 things. One is that you encourage your horse to think about what he did and how it influenced him (he got a treat). The other thing is that you strengthened the first step toward your goal.
We can have success when we try to skip the first step in the process. Even when you’re not sure that you know all steps in the training process, start by thinking about the first step.
This will also give you information about the second step and the third. Especially when your use positive reinforcement and encourage your horse all the time to think *with* you. Horses are very good at helping you train them, when you let them do it and are willing to listen.
So what would YOUR next step in training your horse be like? I would love to hear it!
PS If you want to practice your clicker training skills, join our Clicker Challenge Community! You get a new Challenge each month and you’ll develop your equine clicker training skills while having fun with your horse. Everyone can join!
We hope this never happens, but it does. Horses get into accidents, fights, and other trouble. If you’ve been long enough around horses you know that crazy stuff happens. No matter how careful you are… Equine first aid is a necessity for all horse owners.
Kyra stepped into a 2 inch (5 cm) rusty nail on Saturday. She was lame and I discovered the nail when I rinsed the mud off her leg and foot with cold water.
It wasn’t in her foot all the way, but a good 1,5 – 2 cm. Not straight upwards luckily.
When the nail was out (I just pulled it out) immediate relief from Kyra. Then I got a quick lesson in hoof wrapping from my barn manager. One of the perks at boarding out and have experienced horse people around.
Vet care training for horses
I have had “vet care training” since day 1 in my training program. Kyra came wounded to me. So she could already be hosed off, put her foot in a bucket with water and lift her legs.
You don’t want to start training these kind of things in an emergency!
When the vet came Kyra behaved so nicely. When she pushed on the wound Iused the open bar/closed bar technique and Kyra really appreciated it! She didn’t fight although it was very clear she was in much pain! She didn’t kick and let the vet do her work. Wow, that’s such a great feeling! Safety for everyone involved and the best treatment (because the horse lets the vet).
Prepare your horse before you need it! Trailer loading, rinsing off legs (up until 10 minutes), injections, training for calm behaviour and standing still for longer periods of time (up until 10 minutes) are very helpful!
Useful techniques in vet care training
Techniques you can use for vet care training:
A tiny bit of moulding/molding can help teaching your horse to stand in a bucket (rubber pan). It can be hard to free shape it so that they step into the pan themselves, especially with their hind legs.
Duration. In vet care procedures ‘duration’ is so important. In our minds 10 seconds seem very short, but we also know when we are in the dentist chair without freezing and the drill drills 10 seconds, it’s suddenly ver, very long. Since horses don’t know when we stop with unpleasant procedures it’s even more difficult for them. They really have to trust you!
Start button behaviour. Teach a behaviour so the horse can indicate: ‘I am ready.You can do what you need to do now.‘ Eg teach them to touch a target.
Stop button behaviour. Teach a behaviour so they can indicate ‘Stop the procedure.’ You can teach them to touch a different target than you use for the start button behaviour.
Open bar/closed bar. This is a great technique if the horse is not clicker trained or not prepared well enough. It also helps in quickly building duration. You ‘open the bar’ as soon as the behaviour starts. For instance putting the hoof into the bucket of water, holding up their hoofs for dressing or farrier work. When the horse pulls back, you let go of the foot (if possible!) and stop feeding: you ‘close the bar‘. You ‘open the bar‘ again and start feeding as soon as the horse offers the desired behaviour. The reinforcers must be high enough value to make it worthwhile. If you’re building duration a food reinforcer that they have to chew on long(er) is a good choice. Eating also distracts from the procedure and if they stop chewing with food in their mouth it can be an indication of increased stress or worry.
Make a good hoof wrap out of duct tape
In the next blog I will show you how I make a ‘space shoe’ out of duct tape and other items to keep her foot clean and dry in the mud. I took lots of photos and made videos of our training. Here is one of Kyra’s space boot the next day. It kept well in the mud.
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Happy Horse training! Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy
In this series I will keep you posted on the young horse I am training in order to prepare her for the next farrier visit. I will call her A. in this blog. A was scared to let people touch her legs, especially her hind legs. She kicked out whenever she felt something touching them.
I promised to keep you updated on our clicker training sessions. We had another session since my last post. Progress might seem slow, but I know from over a decade of clicker training horses that slow is the way to go.
Due to circumstances I had to improvise last time and it went well. This time I started training in her stall, without protective contact (a barrier). I started the lesson with a repetition of where we stopped successfully last time we trained. With her left front leg. I stroked her shoulder and clicked her for standing with 4 hooves on the ground.
The next step was stroking with my hand along her leg and clicking for lifting her leg. A did so well! She remembered exactly what she had to do. She would hold her leg up (by herself, without leaning on me) for a second. I made sure I clicked very soon, so it wouldn’t turn into a jambette this time.
Her other front leg went well too. I decided to try her hind legs. She is used to me stroking her hind legs while working with protected contact. But today, without the fence between us she was startled and she kicked straight out. Not to hurt me, if she wanted she could have! She is so fast. This was clearly too much for her. I was ‘lumping’ instead of splitting.
Back to splitting the behaviour again. I used my pool noodle on a stick again and clicked and reinforced heavily for ‘standing still’. I stroked her bum, hind legs and then her fetlock. Each time she stood still I clicked and reinforced. I made sure I kept her below threshold, so that I didn’t trigger the urge to move away or kick out. I studied her face for signs of tension: wrinkles around her eyes and nostrils, eyes opening further or her head going up a few millimetres. None of that.
One step further
The next step was to repeat the same sequence of touching, but using my hand instead of the pool noodle. Hand on bum: OK. Click and reinforce. Hand on hind leg: OK. Click and reinforce. Then a click and reinforce for something very easy and relaxing for her: touching her withers. Then back to her hind leg and stroking a bit lower, her gaskin and I could even touch A’s hock while she stayed relaxed!
This was a wonderful moment! These are the moments you feel successful and you want to do ‘one more thing’. That is usually my cue (the thought of that I can take it one step further) to stop. She was so relaxed and confident, it was really tempting to do a bit more that day, but I didn’t!
The reason is that when I started touching her hind legs this session she was afraid. A few minutes and a few clicks and reinforcers later she was OK. I didn’t want to ruin that for her!
It was already a successful training: lifting both of her front legs without a jambette and touching her left hind leg with my hand while she was confident and relaxed enough to stand still. Especially the staying relaxed part is really-really important!
In this series I will keep you posted about the young horse I am training in order to prepare her for the next farrier visit. I will call her A. in this blog. A. is scared to let people touch her legs, especially her hind legs. She kicks out when she feels something touching her hind legs.
In my last blog I wrote how I started her training. She is now used to the clicker. She knows that a click is an announcer of good things coming her way: appetitives (in this case treats). She understands my end of session signal that tells her that there are no more treats to be earned.
Besides a clicker and treat I use a target stick that I made from a piece of pool noodle on a stick. I chose a pool noodle because they are soft, light weight and cannot hurt the horse accidentally.
I did not start with nose targeting this time. I used the target to touch A. The aim is to teach her that touching her hind legs is safe, will lead to appetitives (something the horse likes to have, such as a treat) and that she is in control (no force or coercion) about accepting her body to be touched. For obvious safety reasons I still work with protective contact. A. is allowed to kick the pool noodle in case I go too fast and nobody will get hurt.
Introducing the Pool Noodle
I already knew A.’s favourite spots to scratch her, so I kept those in mind while training.
I introduced the pool noodle by holding it in front of her and click and treat her for looking at it. I am still working with protective contact (a barrier between her and me). She wouldn’t touch the target in the beginning.
Then I held it a bit more to the left on my side of the fence, still not too close, and clicked and reinforced A. for ‘standing still’. Then I held it a bit more to the right, near her withers and so on. Clicking and reinforcing every little step in order to give her confidence that standing still is what I want from her. Nothing else.
Little by little I could hold the target closer and closer until she could touch it. I haven’t clicked and reinforced much for touching with her nose or sniffing since my goal is not to teach her to touch the pool noodle with her nose. She wasn’t afraid of the pool noodle target by the way, just curious.
After 3 sessions of each 5 minutes I could touch her with the pool noodle on the withers, her chest/throat/mane and her bum. If she moved away, even a little weight shift, I went back to the previous steps when she was still relaxed and OK with it. I would take a step back and continue a bit slower. In positive reinforcement training you mark the desired behaviour. If A. wants to move away that is OK. I just wait until she is ready to come to me and present her body close to the fence so I could touch her with the pool noodle again.
I don’t keep the pool noodle on her body until she stops moving. That would be negative reinforcement (strengthening the behaviour (standing still) with taking away the aversive (the thing she wants to escape).
I know it took 3 sessions because I keep a training logbook. I keep track of time, how many sessions we do each day, how long the sessions are, how long the breaks are (usually 2-3 minutes), where we train (A. lives in an in/out stall and sometimes we train outside, sometimes inside) and how much progression we made and also what startled her or what body parts he becomes anxious. I also wrote down the next steps of her training.
I end every session with an end of training signal. Sometimes A. keeps standing aligned to the fence in the hope of getting scratches, sometimes she walked right back to her hay to eat.
In the next blog I will tell you more about how A.’s training is progressing.
How to teach your horse to lift his legs. so you can feel safe cleaning his feet.
Encourage your horse to do a weight shift. Reward taking off weight of his legwith a click and treat
Reinforce lifting the leg up
Support the leg, without holding onto it
Guide the leg down
Build on duration and keeping his foot up in the air
Add your cue
Fade out clicks and treats
Train the next leg
What are Husbandry Skills?
The term ‘husbandry skills’ refers to all the behaviours you want to teach an animal in order to take care of them safely. Daily husbandry skills are haltering, leading, grooming, cleaning hooves, cleaning nostrils, eyes and ears and so on. Medical procedures like drawing blood (important in zoo animals) or administering medication (injections, oral medication, ointments) are also a part of husbandry skills.
In this blog series I will share with you how I train a young horse to lift her legs for hoof care with positive reinforcement (clicker training).
At the SPCA barn I ‘m training a young horse to lift her legs for hoof care and trims.
The farrier did a good job last time, but his time was limited to do the trim due to the horse.
The mare was very scared and stressed. She is not yet properly trained to lift legs and let us clean her hoofs, let alone lift her legs long enough for a trim.
My goal is to have her much better prepared for a trim next time. I would like her to lift her legs on cue and hold her legs up herself (no leaning into the farrier). I want her to be confident and stress free during a trim.
Building a relationship and trust first
This horse, let’s call her A. is young and she is really scared to be touched, especially on her legs. I introduced myself to her with offering scratches over the fence. She is really itchy at the moment due to shedding, so scratches are a good reinforcer to her right now. The best way to start a relationship is to start giving.
In a few sessions A. figured out how to ‘call me over’ (Starter button) so I would scratch her: if she aligns herself with the fence I come over and scratch her. I started with her chest area, now A. also let me scratch her withers, under her mane, her chest and her bum.
She knows that she can walk away and I don’t (can’t) follow her. She is in control: she can tell me where I need to scratch her and for how long. She even is in control of how much pressure she likes in a certain spot by pushing more or less into my hand.
End of Session signal
I taught her the end of session signal: I show her my two empty hands and say ‘All done‘. It is interesting to see that she now immediately goes back to her hay if I give her my end of session signal. She knows the reinforcers (attention, scratches) will stop now.
I find it very important to have a way to communicate to the horse when and when not to expect reinforcers from me. It helps prevent mugging and turning your horse into a pushy horse.
Being a farrier is a high risk profession. It is not only a physically demanding job, but also the clients can be very opinionated. Or worse become defensive and kick, bite or rear. With clients I mean horses, of course. How can you help your farrier be safe working with your horse? How can you prepare your horse for a farrier treatment? My answer is of course: with positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement for the professional
The first thing reinforcing the farrier to come back is that he gets paid! I like to offer a cup of tea and some cookies too, if he is really good with my horse. But the best way to reinforce your farrier to come back and do a good job is to have your horse well trained and prepared.
Mat training is one of my key lessons in positive reinforcement training. It is a very versatile exercise and a good base for more advanced exercises.
Standing on a mat
Standing on a simple puzzle mat is a fun exercise to teach your horse. The goal is simple: the horse has to stand with his two front hooves on the mat.
Preparation for other exercises
Mat training can be a good preparation for the horse to stand more willingly on all kinds of surfaces like tarps, pedestals, plywood, trailer ramps, wooden bridges etc.
I found mat training also very useful as a preparation to teach your horse to soak his foot in a bucket of water.
Kyra is having some hoof issues that require me to soak her feet. I looked up some do-it-yourself hoof soaking solutions since I don’t own a soaking booth. One of the suggestions was a diaper soaked in water and put the hoof in a Ziplock bag reinforced with duct tape.
It was no problem for Kyra to go from standing on a mat to putting her feet in a rubber bucket. Next step was to teach Kyra to step into a bucket filled with water. I practised this a few weeks ago already, not knowing that I would soon need this behaviour.
Because Kyra already has a long positive reinforcement history of mat and bucket training, today she was not startled when i attached a soaked diaper around her hoof. She was a lot less surprised then I would be. Also stepping into a plastic bag with fluid was no problem at all.
She was totally OK with me tying the plastic bag full of water to her feet. This was totally new to her: she had never worn bell boots or leg protection before, but a plastic bag with water on her hoof was totally fine. It only took me a few clicks to get her walking around with the bag confidently.
The only downside of using the diaper was that I used a fancy one. One with silicone inside in order to keep your baby extra dry.
As soon as Kyra put her hoof with the diaper around it down, the diaper tore and all the soaked silicone came out. It was a big mess. Not something I would recommend using for equine use. Maybe the cheap diapers don’t have this feature. So make sure you check the inside of the diaper if you want to use it to soak hoofs in.
My point is that once your horse has a solid basis and a long positive reinforcement history with a certain exercise, it is not a big deal to tweak a few things and train different context shifts. In this way you train new behaviours very quickly.
Hooray for this key lesson I invested so much time in.