2 Common Mistakes in Clicker Training Horses

Our environment influences our behaviour! We all know that and use that fact all the time clicker training our horses. How does your environment benefit you?

We set up our horses for success all the time. We present a target (environment) to our horse, so he can touch it!

We teach our horses not to mug us when we’re training with food. The food in our pockets and our presence becomes the ‘On’ switch for Learning, for our horses.

Your horse starts to think what behaviour does lead to treats? They figure out in minutes that mugging is not the answer anymore.

After a few clicker training minutes your horse is already thinking “How can I influence my environment [the treats] with my behaviour?” . We changed the learning environment for our horses and helped him learn fast with positive reinforcement (R+).

You already know and experienced that the environment plays a huge role on the behaviour and learning process of your horse.

Yet, I still see so many of us fall back on negative reinforcement-thinking and therefore struggling hugely with using clicker training effectively. I’ll elaborate on that below.

Thinking mistake #1

This is when you get start thinking that clicker training maybe takes longer than negative reinforcement… NO!

Untrue! When you fall into this thinking mistake, it’s because you try to use positive reinforcement in a negative reinforcement environment! Or trying to use a tool in your clicker training that is designed for R-!

Have you ever consciously changed your own environment to enhance your clicker training? Clicker training can be unnecessary difficult and hard when your whole environment is set up to be successful as negative reinforcement trainer! It’s trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

How to set YOURSELF up for success

Change your environment!

How?

You’ve probably already done it in the past. When you

  • Went to a clicker clinic. You surrounded yourself with likeminded people and emerged yourself in positive reinforcement approach/thinking.

Do you remember how much you learned in just one weekend? That’s the power of your environment! It’s easy to clicker train your horse and to think of new R+ approaches when everyone else is giving you positive input and ideas! When you see other women clicker training their horses successfully, it inspires and gets your creative positive reinforcement juices flowing!

  • Watched videos about clicker training just before you went to your horse.

You’ve changed your (internal!) environment and it sparked ideas and motivated you to do the same.

  • Spoke with another clicker trainer, or a friend and you discussed your struggle. You got new insights of solving your struggle and got your momentum back.

By creating a distance (looking at your struggle, challenge or problem) from a different angle, it was possible to think of a different approach.

Sounds familiar?

What keeps you struggling in clicker training your horse

Often the answer is: Your environment!

How?

Thinking mistake #2

When you try to use positive reinforcement using negative reinforcement training tools (environment)! You set yourself up for FAILURE!

Round pen

You use a round pen to exercise your horse with positive reinforcement and you can’t get your horse moving effectively and burning calories. Why is that?

A round pen is purposefully designed to chase a horse a-round! There are no corners to escape.

Have you ever noticed that horses find the corners of the arena when you chase him around? They change direction: they want to have a choice and try to influence their environment: your behaviour!

Negative reinforcement trainers struggled with that problem, so they took out the corners! They made the pen so small they could reach the horse at any time, in any place in order to apply the aversive (pain, the threat of pain/injury) effectively. They needed to reach the horse with their whip, training stick, carrot stick, the ‘extension of their arm’, rope or whatever tool they are using to make the horse move.

A round pen is designed to chase the horse around, without an escape. It’s designed to ‘teach’ the horse that there is only one answer possible: go forward until the trainer says otherwise!

Now, when you don’t realize that and you want (expect) the same result using positive reinforcement, you’re setting yourself up for failure!

You can’t be as successful in clicker training if you’re trying to use a training tool that is designed to create success with R-! You have to think of ways to design positive reinforcement tools and use the environment to support your training method. The person who invented the reverse round pen was well on her way!

Training tools, techniques and people

Choosing the right tool for the job is detrimental for you success! The better your tools, techniques and people you surround yourself with, the better results you get!

R+ Tools & Techniques

This is a part most clicker trainers do already really well: they use targets, mats, food reinforcers and bridge signals (click).

Do you have the support you need, to think more like a positive reinforcement trainer?

Thinking Mistake #3

Thinking you can change traditional horse people to see the benefits of clicker training… Fact is: you can’t change anyone! You can only change yourself. Trying to convince R- trainers of positive reinforcement is very hard and often impossible. Stop doing it, it will drain your energy. Instead focus on finding better people to spent your time with.

Surround yourself with Positive People!

This sounds like an open door! Yet, so many people surround themselves with unsupportive people. Then they tell themselves they can’t do anything about it, and back that up with an excuse (“There are no clicker trainers or barns in my area”). Now they’re really stuck! They get very unhappy, often even desperate. I’ve seen people seriously spiral down from there. They start doubting themselves or their approach. They start to think clicker training isn’t the best way. Don’t let that happen to you!

Are your barn people supportive?

One of my clients boarded her horses in a very traditional boarding facility. Old fashioned cowboy methods, like tying up 2-year old horses in their stall for hours to ‘teach them to be tied up’- kind of ways. It was very hard for her to clicker train her horses in that environment because the ‘norm’ was to be abusive and use coercion to get things done. They were not only abusive to their horses, but also to her!

They told her that she was a bad horse owner, not a real horse person and that she was spoiling and ruining her youngster with treats and soft approaches. That it was time to put a saddle on her horse and stop being a pussy.

No wonder, it was a struggle for her to clicker train her horses. She was always worried that she would run into other people at the barn. That someone would watch her and commented. Because they did… All the time!. I was horrified to hear how they crapped on her training. It was verbally abusive! Not supportive at all.

Do you avoid clicker training when people are around?

It was extra hard on her because she already was already a bit insecure (who isn’t sometimes?). She was relatively new to being a horse owner. She’s in her forties and bought her first horse only two years ago. She’s not a person ‘who grew up with horses’. And she was also new to clicker training. Still she did such a good job clicker training her horses! Her results spoke for itself.

https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

If you have people in your environment commenting negatively on your clicker training and your approach, ask yourself how you can surround yourself with better people!

When my client became a part of my R+ community (the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy) she often expressed her mitigation of being in a supportive, uplifting and positive environment where people believed in her and her approach!

She leaped forward and developed her clicker training skills within a year. It was a joy to watch her evolve and she her improve her horses behaviours! Eventually she moved her horses to a different boarding facility.

Can you imagine how it’s like, to dread going to the barn every, single day? Can you see how this will interfere with your happiness of being a horse owner? How it will interfere with your clicker training? How this will prevent enjoying your horse and having fun training and riding? After all, we have horses to enrich our lives, right?

Change your environment, change your outcome

  • Use or design a training environment and tools that support and enhance positive reinforcement! For example use a reverse round pen (or even better the HippoLogic Reverse Rectangle) to exercise your horse
  • Change your internal environment (ideas, solutions, approaches) by watching clicker training videos and/or trainers or discuss your training with other positive reinforcement trainers before your training so that thinking like a positive reinforcement trainer becomes your habit.
  • Find a tribe that inspires you! They’ll be a daily reminder to keep going with R+!
  • Surround yourself with positive people, who support you and respect you and your R+ training! Let go of Debby Downers and Negative Nancy’s!

Join the Clicker Training Academy

Are you a compassionate horse owner who loves to learn and would like to get personal coaching in a group? Do you want to have access to online clicker training courses and a fabulous, supportive R+ community, then join our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Check out the link!

Or start with a free clicker training assessment to get taste of what it feels like to work with me. Discover your strong points and weaker points in training (if you have some) so that you know what to focus more on, in order to get the results you want. 

After your assessment you have a clear plan and know exactly what your next step will be in order to accomplish your dream behaviours with your horse. Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

Weekly online Clicker Classes and Clicker Coaching

Have you ever wished you could have weekly clicker coaching the way you can have a weekly riding lesson? I have…The more I think about it, the more enthusiastic I get!

This is what I am thinking. And I would love to hear your thoughts!

Weekly Live Clicker Coaching Sessions

Online, over Zoom. It can be a group session or there can be one person in the hot seat. Whatever people want! Another idea I have is this:

Weekly Live Classes 

About a topic of students can choose. This will be online too so it doesn’t matter where you’re located.

For example a lesson about riding with the clicker or a specific question about that. Replays will be available, so no one will miss out on a lesson!

I would love to hear what I can help you with. What would you like?

Why I think this is a great idea

When I am in Facebook groups or on fora I always see the same questions popping up. That’s why I started this blog, to help horse people that want to learn about clicker training for horses. By the way moving my blog to my website soon. More about that later.

I’ve written 343 blogs and I am thinking that it’s would be even more fun to help people in online live lessons to implement training solutions. Since most of us are home now this would be a great way to keep in touch with like-minded people.

I know from experience that knowing the theory and executing it in real life can be a challenge. So that’s what I want to include: support implementing. I am already doing this in our private Clicker Training Academy Facebook group. 

As riding instructor I saw my students every week or every other week. They improved their skills in an ongoing flow and they had amazing breakthroughs! Sometimes it was a ‘small thing’ like discovering the feeling when the inner hind leg stepped forward so they could improve the influence of their seat. Other times it was a huge milestone: going for a trail ride for the first times on their own horse, by themselves!

Being coached on a weekly bases, leads to accomplishing milestones in training.

It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small all these breakthroughs helped people move on when they plateaued in training! It’s so valuable to have an extra pair of eyes and experienced support on a weekly base available, wouldn’t you agree?

This is why I think this would be great:

➡️Learning in a group setting can expand your horizon quickly because you get so many new ideas from fellow students
➡️ Group classes are way lower price tickets than private coaching sessions. You will be surprised about the affordability: less than weekly riding lessons!
➡️Having a supportive community inspires and helps people come up with amazing new ideas.
➡️It can feel safe to learn in a group class because you can listen in without being in the spotlight. You don’t have to be on camera.

How you to sign up

I already founded the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. In the Academy I offer monthly training themes and Clicker Challenges. Now I am thinking to add weekly coaching session or classes. These classes will be offered in the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy.

I am looking for a few more founding members. Founding members help shape the Clicker Training Academy. What kind of support would you like to have?

Would you like to become one of the founding members of the HippoLogic Clicker Academy (HCTA)? If so send me an email at hippologic@gmail.com and put in the topic line ‘I am interested!’ and I will send you more information.

✅ As founding member you will be grandfathered in at a special price that will never go up for you as long as you stay member!

✅ You can help form the HCTA! The Academy is still small you get a lot of personal attention and you can help decide about the weekly topics!

Join the Clicker Training Academy

Are you a compassionate horse owner who loves to learn and would like to get personal coaching in a group? Do you want to have access to online clicker training courses and a fabulous, supportive R+ community, then join our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Check out the link!

Or start with a free clicker training assessment to get taste of what it feels like to work with me. Discover your strong points and weaker points in training (if you have some) so that you know what to focus more on, in order to get the results you want. 

After your assessment you have a clear plan and know exactly what your next step will be in order to accomplish your dream behaviours with your horse. Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

Make a hoof wrapping in 5 easy steps

When Kyra stepped into a rusty nail her foot got infected. My barn manager taught me how she wraps hoofs that need to stay dry and clean.
The hoof putty was used to pull the infection and the vet gave me poultice pads to cover the wound when the infection broke through. So that’s instead of the putty.

Step 1: removing the nail

Step 2: Prepare

I gathered everything I needed to soak the hoof, dry it and wrap it before I started. These every day items are good to have in an equine first aid kit:

  • Warm water
  • Epsom salt
  • Rubber bucket to soak
  • Paper towels to dry
  • Iodine to disinfect
  • Hoof packing + rubber glove to keep hands clean
  • Poultice pad
  • Paper from a paper feed bag
  • Small diaper
  • Vet wrap (1/2 roll)
  • Duct tape (the outdoor is very heavy duty. Not in the picture)

Step 3: Soaking

In order to clean the entry wound as good as possible I soaked her foot in Epsom salt and dried it and put iodine on it. It wasn’t enough and got infected. Lesson learned.

Step 4: Preparing the packing

The packing needs to be kneaded and warmed up to form to the hoof. I used a plastic glove for that.The paper helps keep it in it’s place.

Alternative step 4

A few days later I used a poultice pad to put on the skin where the infection had broken through. These pads are nice an d thick and covered with a plastic layer on the outside.

They are decent size and I could cut them in 3 for Kyra’s hooves. So easy! I never had seen them before (no need).

Step 5: Wrap the hoof

I learned to apply 3 layers and if you do it right (and are lucky) it stays on for 24 hours. Kyra was outside in the paddock. Some days it stayed on, some days it didn’t. The duct tape is not sturdy enough. I used Kyra’s softride boots (meant for front hoof when she had laminitis) and a few days I later bought another poultice boot to cover it up.

  • Wrap the packing with a small size diaper
  • Use vet wrap to keep the diaper in its place
  • A layer of duct tape to reinforce and keep moist out

Space shoe is ready!

Now Kyra’s space shoe is ready. Only a few more pieces of Duct tape to cover up the vet wrap.

I learned so much this week. I was grateful Kyra already is really good with soaking, holding her foot up and wrapping. Preparation for emergencies is smart! You never know when you need it. I taught Kyra to keep her foot in the bucket with clicker training. I also gave lots of reinforcers to keep her foot up.

Next day….

Next blog

I hope this was useful. Please leave a comment!

In my next blog I will talk about how you can administer larger amounts of oral medication (like antibiotics) without spilling it. I learned a nice technique to do that this week. So many learnings for me this week.

What have you learned out of emergencies at the barn? I bet you have a tip that for other horse lovers.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
 
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Things to Consider Using Treats in (Clicker) Training Horses

There is much to consider when you’re serious about positive reinforcement training and want to use treats. This is not the occasional sugar cube I am talking about.

Let’s see what’s important in clicker training your horse and choosing the right appetitive or food reward.

Value of the reinforcer can change over time

Value of reinforcers can change so I keep that in mind too. Kyra loves to work hard for hay cubes in Winter, but in Summer not so much.

In Spring and Summer I often use dandelion leaves or simply freshly plucked grass. Kyra has EMS so she won’t be full time in a pasture anymore. That’s why a handful of juicy grass will always be high value for her.

Low sugar grass pellets (simple to use and cheap to buy in bulk since it’s a ‘dinner grain’ type of feed) will do year round for Kyra.

Occasionally the value ‘wears off’ and I will mix in a few sunflower seeds or different kind of dinner pellets I get from other people, to make the reinforcer more interesting and less predictable.

Home made treats: cheap, easy and sugar free

I also bake my own treats (find the DIY home made horse treats recipe here) and it’s easy and cheap in comparison to store bought treats. You can choose the flavour, too. I usually make them with lots of cinnamon or tumeric (both anti inflammatory). All horses seem to like those flavours. People love the cinnamon ones and are fairly disappointed if I tell them no sugar is involved. 😉 The smell is soooo good!

Healthy vs Unhealthy

One thing to consider is the amount of reinforcers you use. If you would put all the treats you use in a day in a bucket, how much do you think that will be? The amount of all sessions added together.

If you use 10 reinforces per day and you choose apple pieces, that would be 2 apples or 1 if you make the pieces really small. If you use 15-20 per session and train 3 sessions a day that will add up.

So ‘healthy’ is one thing to consider. I used to feed handfuls of grass pellets in the beginning of Kyra’s training, when I was in the phase of taming her. She was born in the wild and untouched when I got her. She didn’t eat anything she didn’t know: no carrots/apples, commercial treats in the wild!. She only wanted to eat hay and grass pellets.

How much reinforcers do you use?

So I had to use lots! When I realized how much pellets I was actually using in just a 5 minute session, I was shocked. I calculated I used 1,5 to 2 scoops of pellets a day. Full scoops! I fed handfuls per click so it went really fast. Kyra was still very scared of me at the time and had hay available at all times, so I didn’t have much choice. She choose her hay from the net over hay from my hand in the first few days.

This was a lot, for a yearling, so I reduced the amount I fed after a few days by making the sessions shorter and the breaks between sessions longer so I wouldn’t overfeed her. She also had made great progress in accepting me nearby. Once I could feed smaller hands of pellets I could decrease the overall amount significantly.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
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More articles about using food reinforcers

Easy treat ideas for clicker trainers

3 Reasons to use treats in training

Clicker training 101: Tips for Treats

Is your horse mugging you?

‘Rules’ vs ‘Principles’ in Horse Training (this might be eye-opening!)

When people learn to interact with horses it usually starts with riding lessons or they learn from a seasoned horse person. You’ll learn the ropes, which usually means the ‘rules’ of how things are done. Then one day, you discover that the rule doesn’t apply anymore… Why is that?

Why Rules Not Always Apply

Over the years you already might have learned some rules don’t work for you or the horses you work with. Why is that?

Why rules in horse training not always work

Because when you’re focused on the rule, you miss the principle behind the rule. That’s why it’s not working. Learn the Principle and you discover the Gold! That’s why I teach all my clients to base their training on Key Lesson #1 for Trainers: The Principle of Learning & Motivation.

It’s like Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day (rule), if you teach him how to fish (principle) he’ll never be hungry.

What’s the Principle behind the Rule?

That’s what I’ve been working on the past 3 decades and that’s why I can lead others to success in horse training. I don’t work with rules, I teach clients principles. They are way more worth, because it sets them up for life!

Examples of Rules that Not Always Work

These are rules that apply to some or maybe even most horses, not to all horses!

1. Horses will work for carrots.

My horse Kyra was born in a nature reserve and foals learn to eat what moms and other herd members eat. In nature horses don’t feed on carrots because they don’t grow in their habitat! Kyra literally had to learn to eat carrots, apples and man-made treats. Foals who are born at a barn have already learned that what people feed you is edible.

So what would be a principle behind this rule? The principle is that the receiver determines the reward (read: appetitive).

Some horses like to work for carrots, others prefer grain, grass pellets or something else. As trainer you have to figure out what motivates your horse.

You know that not all horses can’t be lured out of the pasture with a carrot. The carrot is simply not appetitive enough in those cases. More principles could be at work why the horse won’t come and how to determine that, is a whole other topic.

Still people are asking on the Internet: ‘What treats are best for in clicker training?’ The answer is… it depends on the horse and the situation. Appetitives can change in value.

If clicker training doesn’t work, it’s because people don’t apply the Key principles of Learning and Motivation, they try to apply ‘rules’ ~ HippoLogic

The rule people hear is:

2. “Pressure-release will make the horse do what I want”.

Look at people that have trouble loading their horse into a trailer. They apply pressure, they apply release and still the horse is outside the trailer.

In training it’s about the timing (learning happens when the aversive stimulus is released) and also about the strength and direction of the aversive (if the trailer is more aversive than the applied pressure, the horse won’t go in) or if an appetitive stimulus outside the trailer is stronger than the applied pressure the horse won’t go in. It’s about how the learner experience the aversive stimulus.

When I started to figure out the principles at work behind every rule in horse training things changed quickly. My clients got better results and problems were solved quicker and with less struggle.

3. Heels down, hands low, back straight, chin up!

This is what I was taught in riding lessons for many, many years. It didn’t make me a good rider at all. These are rules, the principle behind it (that they never taught me in the riding school), is to sit in balance.

When I took Centered Riding lessons I learned how to sit in balance. I learned that balance starts at the position of my pelvis: tipping it slightly forward it created a hollow back, legs that went backwards, heels went up and hands that were moving very much in order to keep my balance.

When I had my pelvis slightly tipped backwards, I rode with a curved back, my legs were in chair seat (before my point of gravity) and my chin was down.

Only if I kept my pelvis in ‘neutral’ (this is where your balance starts!) I was able to keep my legs in the right position, my back straight and could move with my horse instead of being before or behind my horse’s movement.

Only when I keep my pelvis in ‘neutral’ I can move with my horse. I am balanced, my hands can become soft because I move them in the rhythm of the movement of my horse’s head instead of my own body. My legs become still (in relation to the horse flank movements) because I don’t need to squeeze them in order to keep my balance. I became confident because I felt safe! That’s when I became a good rider.

Now you can see why these rules started: heads up, back straight and so on. They want to solve the symptoms of an unbalanced rider. Unfortunately they don’t work (how many times have you heard them!?) because they don’t solve the problem (balance). The principle of riding does: where does balance in a rider start? Right, in the pelvis! And that’s why it’s called ‘centered’ riding.

Want to Learn More About the Key Principles of Positive Reinforcement?

I you want to know more about the Principles (HippoLogic’s Key Lessons), join me for a free webinar in which I explain the 4 Main Reasons People get Stuck in Clicker Training (and solutions).
Spoiler alert: I will talk about principles!

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
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Use Target Training for Horses two times more effectively

Find the blog you’re looking for, here: https://clickertraining.ca/how-to-use-target-training-for-horses-2-times-more-effectively/

Make sure you subscribe and follow the new blog location!

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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 make training a win-win.
Get your free 5 Step Clicker Training Plan.

 

What Impression does Your Horse make?

Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to show off the amazing goals you’ve accomplished with clicker training?

Visitors at the barn

One time a Facebook friend who was eager to learn more about clicker training visited me at the barn.

On this particular day in Winter it was cold, windy and rainy. The field was muddy and when we arrived all horses where gathered around the feeding place in the field.

As soon as Kyra heard my voice she came over to the gate and while I was haltering her, I was pondering how I could show off and what I would do in order to impress my friend.

We went to the indoor arena where Kyra and I demonstrated a few tricks at liberty.  I also kept it short because it was cold and when we brought Kyra back to the field, I asked her what she liked best.

Her answer was not at all what I expected!

 Instead of asking me about How I trained lying down or Spanish walk, she told me that she was very impressed that Kyra had came across field, all the way to the gate. My friend assumed we had at least to wade thru the ankle-deep mud in order to get Kyra or maybe even chase her a bit before I could halter her.

To me this was not something impressive. I didn’t realize that something as simple as your horse coming over to meet you could impress people and I will never forget that feeling. She was already impressed before we started! Just by Kyra showing me she was eager to interact with me and willing to go through the mud!

From that day on, I paid more attention to what impresses horse people.

Some people are surprised that, when Kyra gets loose because I am bad at tying knots, she doesn’t run away from me and I can simply walk over to get her.

Others notice that she’s not mugging me while I obviously have treats in my pocket. While I hope they are impressed by the behaviours I spent hours training, most people are impressed by the side-effects positive reinforcement training has: a confident horse and the relationship I have with Kyra.

How does your horse impress other horse people?

Next time you’re at the barn, pay attention to what others admire about your training. What remarks do they make that tells you they want what you can do? Sometimes their sentence starts with simply with the words “I wish my horse would….

  • I wish my horse would be easy to catch…
  • I wish my horse would stand still…
  • I wish my horse was more like yours…

Share with in the comments what others admire about the relationship you have with your horse or what you’ve trained they wish they could.

Read more: How to Get your Horse out of the Pasture (effortlessly)

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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 make training a win-win.
Get your free 5 Step Clicker Training Plan.

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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.

_treats_size_matters_value_matters_hippologic

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.

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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Key lesson: Mat training

In this series about the key lessons (the key to successful clicker training) I’ve already talked about five important exercises. There are two more important basic lessons for the horse: ‘patience’ and ‘mat training’.

Standing on a mat
The purpose of mat training is to teach your horse to stand on a mat with his two front hooves. It is basically targeting with hooves. If your horse learns to stand on a rubber mat, he learns to trust you and standing on new surfaces. Horses have a lot of ‘feel’ in their hooves and therefor it can be scary in the beginning to stand on a item that is soft and squishy, like a puzzle mat.

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Other behaviours
Once your horse has learned to stand on a mat on cue, you can build ‘duration’. Just like in targeting. If you train for duration in easy exercises it will be easier in the future to train duration, like in exercises under saddle. Your horse can learn to generalize. You can introduce a keep-going signal to make it more clear what you want to train.

Train opposite behaviour
Always reinforce the opposite behaviour of what you are training as well. You want don’t want teach him to stand on the mat only, but you also want him to step down on command. If you don’t do this, you will create a horse that always runs to whatever mat or similar surface he spots. And expects a treat!

After introducing a mat, you can ask your horse to mount other surfaces like a piece of plywood. Or ask your horse to walk over it. The sound of his hoof beat might scare him at first, but if you reinforce every little step (literally!) or even weight shifts he will soon gain the confidence to walk over it. This is a really good preparation for walking up ramps or entering trailers or walking over (wooden) bridges. It makes it easier to teach your horse to mount a pedestal.

Mat training also helps to make clear where you want your horse to be. If you want this to teach him to stand next to a mounting block, the mat can help indicate where you want your horse to stand.

Slow horses
If you have a horse with more whoa than go, it can help to teach him to walk from mat to mat in the arena. First at walk, then trot and finally in canter. It can make energy-saving horses really enthusiastic: it is clear that they have to go from mat to mat. So they know when to go and where they can stop. It can give them a feeling of control and makes it predictable for them. It can also help the trainer to be happy and content with little progress because the mats make the criteria and progress ‘visible’.

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Fast horses
If you have a horse that has more go than whoa you can also teach him to go from mat to mat. Place the mats close together at first until your horse knows what is expected. You can teach him to slow down, walking over a mat, but keep going. Or you can ask him to stop. Experiment!

Jumping at liberty
Mats can help send a horse over a jump by himself, without chasing him with a whip over a jump. Simply place two mats on either side of a pole and ask your horse to go to the other mat. Place the mats a bit further apart each time,then you can raise the criteria by making a low jump and built from there.

Links to other key lessons

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

Read more

Read the blog about advanced mat training and 5 Benefits of Key Lesson Mat Training

Happy Horse Training!

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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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Best Basics: House-training for Horses

When I put a picture on Facebook of Kyra pooping next to the poop bin in the indoor arena, a lot of people asked me how I potty trained my pony.

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Clicker training

Kyra was already clicker savvy, so she knows really well that after a click of my clicker, she will get a reward. The click pinpoints the behaviour. In order to get more of the wanted behaviour, the best results are obtained by rewarding the animal while (s)he is doing the wanted behaviour or within 3 seconds after the wanted behaviour.

A clicker acts as a bridge between the wanted behaviour and the moment of giving the reward. So I didn’t have to reward her within or during the wanted behaviour, I only had to ‘bridge’ (click) during the behaviour that I wanted to capture and then bring her the reward. That came in handy at liberty.

Start easy

In the beginning my criterion was really low. In my mind I divided the indoor arena in two halves: the half with the poop bin (light green rectangle) in it and the other half.

Every time she needed to poop I asked her very gently to maintain gait until she was in the “proper half” of the arena if possible. Often we didn’t reach that half. Maintaining a trot was never possible, but at least she kept walking. A few steps.

It wasn’t really about maintaining gait, but more about making the wanted behaviour easy.

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If she needed to go poop and we were in the half of the arena where the poop bin is located (green striped area), she was allowed to stand still to take her washroom break. Why? Because pooping while walking, trotting or cantering leaves a long trail of poop.

Like I said, I don’t like to waste time on poop scooping in the arena. On top of that I clicked and rewarded her with a handful of treats during pooping. She learned that pooping was rewarded sometimes, whereas other times it was not. It was up to Kyra to figure this out. And she did!

Raising my criteria

After a certain period I realized that Kyra was 100% of the time pooping in the half of the arena where the bin is located. That was a sign for me to raise my criterion.

I divided the “designated poop area” in half again (pink striped area). So now the space where I let her stand still to poop and click and reward her for pooping was about a quarter of the arena size.

After a while she discovered that the had to go poop in a certain corner of the arena. Every time I had the feeling that she “got it”, I raised the criterion and made the “allowed area” a bit smaller in my mind (dark blue striped area).

Correcting my mistake

The poop bin is located in the same corner where the shavings are stored. Kyra thought she had to poop in the shavings, which was an obvious mistake (yellow/orange area). After all, her stall is full of shavings where she poops in. So I began to watch her closely, because she usually pooped in the shavings when she was in the arena all by herself. This was a learning point and failure is the best way to success (I decided to ‘fail forward’ and adjusted my training).

Under saddle I could catch her going in the shavings one time and gently let her out of it. She only had to take one or two steps (towards the bin). Then she pooped next to the bin and not in the shavings. She had earned herself a jackpot. [read here more about -> “rewards and jackpots“<-] After a few times she learned that “in the shavings” wouldn’t get her a reward.

Goal

Now my goal is to let her poop in the bin, so I don’t have to clean up at all. Wouldn’t that be awesome? I’ll let you know when we get there.

UPDATE (Jan 2017)

Here is the sequence on this blog: I accomplished my shittiest goal ever! In which I tell you about how I taught Kyra to poop in the manure wheelbarrow. It even has a video! Go on and check it out!

What’s holding you back?

4 Main reasons people get stuck in training their horse (free training)

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

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