Turn every training and every ride in the best possible experience for human and horse! Win-Win!

Posts tagged ‘clickertraining’

‘When can I stop using food?’ in Clicker Training

This is a question equine clicker trainers get asked often and is a really fascinating question for me as positive reinforcement horse trainer.

I get that it’s a concern for people who are interested in clicker training and those who are exploring the pros and cons. It seems like a hassle, right?

Why is this such an intriguing question?

If you know the principles of training you’ll understand. Let me explain. Basically there are only two ways you can motivate a horse in training.

  1. Strengthen (reinforce) a behaviour by taking away an aversive. An aversive is something the horse wants to avoid or get away from.
  2. Strengthen (reinforce) a behaviour by giving an appetitive. An appetitive is something the horse wants to receive, something he likes.

So if someone ask me ‘When can I stop using food in training?’ it sounds like the person wants to know ‘When can I stop reinforcing behaviour?’ or ‘When can I stop offering appetitives in training?’

I have never heard someone ask a riding instructor ‘When can I stop using my whip?’ or an employer that wants to know when he can stop paying his newly hired employees.

reinforcement_hippologic

It is a legit question

However, I do understand where this question is coming from. It comes from a fear of never, ever doing something with your horse without having a treat in your pocket. I get that, but a reinforcer isn’t a bribe that you have to use every time and also have to keep increasing.

Here is what happens if you start using positive reinforcement:

  • Your horse will learn that he can influence the training by his own actions (the right behaviour leads to a click, which leads to an appetitive)
  • Your horse will gain the confidence to try out new behaviours because that increases his chances of getting what he likes (food). He is having fun discovering what leads to a treat and what doesn’t.
  • He will like the engagement with his person, because there is a ‘puzzle’ involved and there is no punishment for ‘wrong answers’. All answers are ‘Good’ or, worst case scenario, ‘Not Reinforced’.
  • In the beginning it will be about the food, yes, but if the trainer uses a marker (the click) to mark the desired behaviour in a consistent way, the horse will shift his attention from the reinforcer, the food, to the click (the marker) and therefor will be focused more on this behaviour instead of the food.
  • As soon as the marker signal (the click) becomes a reliable predictor of the appetitive, the click becomes as valuable as the food. Now the click has become secondary reinforcer. Something the horse has learned to value. First it meant nothing, now it means ‘an appetitive is coming’.

Reinforcement never stops

In positive reinforcement as well as in negative reinforcement training (traditional training and natural horsemanship methods) reinforcement never stops.

If the reinforcement stops the behaviour will go extinct (die out), unless it is ‘self _carrot_or_stick_hippologicrewarding behaviour’, behaviour that reinforces itself without external interference. 

All behaviour must be reinforced 
in order to stay in the horses 
'repertoire'.

Riders will never stop using leg aids (pressure-release) and if the horse fades out his response, he will get a reminder (the rider will use reinforcement) to ‘hurry up and respond quicker’ by the use of a stronger leg aid, the tap of the whip or the use of spurs.

Does a (well trained) horse need to be in pain every time you ride him? No, he will learn to anticipate on a light cue, that now is a reliable predictor of an aversive. It’s this principle that ‘keeps the horse in line’. The horse had learned how to avoid it.

What about positive reinforcement training? Do I have to keep using food forever?

Yes and No.

Please explain!

_cutting_carrot_hippologicYes, you will have to reinforce a learned (trained) behaviour once in a while after it is established. This will prevent extinction. This means you will have to remind your horse that there is ‘still a chance of getting something good’ (food) once in a while for good performance.

No, it doesn’t have to be food!

Once you get more experience as trainer you can use other reinforcers too that aren’t food. You can even reward behaviour with behaviour.

Yes, you will carry food almost every training, but it is not what you think. Once you have discovered how much fun it is (for you and your horse) to clicker train him and how easy you get new behaviours you can’t stop teaching him more and more.

Food is a powerful primary reinforcer and comes in handy when teaching new behaviours. That is why clicker trainers almost always carry food: they are busy training new behaviours!

No, you don’t have to reinforce well known behaviour every time with food.

HippoLogic mei '09

It can take a long time before positively reinforced behaviour goes extinct. Your horse will learn that you equal fun and he is willing to do so much more for you even when you don’t carry  food. Once your marker becomes valuable, you can replace food with other reinforcers, like scratches or other behaviours.

What about you?

What is your answer to the question ‘When can I stop using food in training?’ Please share it in the comments.

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons below. Or post a comment, I read them all!  Thanks a lot!

 HippoLogic.jpg
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 reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover what else I have to offer.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin
Advertisements

3 Tips for Treats in Horse Training

When you clicker train your horse you need something to reinforce (strengthen) the behaviour. After all, it is the receiver (horse) that determines the reinforcer.

Food is an excellent reinforcer for most horses, although I have come across a few who didn’t seem interested in food at all for training purposes. In that case you have to become a bit more resourceful. I will write a post about that if there is demand for that topic. Please let me know in the comments.

Tip #1 Experiment!

Don’t be afraid to try out different treats and explore what your horse likes and what he doesn’t.

When I shared the post Clicker training 101: Tips for Treats on my Facebook group Happy Herd, Equine Clicker Training Network wonderful experiences about all kind of different food rewards were given.

Some trainers use large kibbles, that are just ‘maintenance pellets’ horse feed, some use a mix of alfalfa cubes mixed with corn or one of the many commercial treats available for horses.

I like to use Timothy hay cubes and grass pellets since Kyra loves them very much. My horse is insuline resistance so I don’t want to use treats loaded with sugar of molasses. Kyra prefers natural flavours. My own home baked (sugar free) horse cookies made out of brown rice and flax seeds are her favorite.

Other choices are: cut up carrots, apples, zucchini, cucumber, grain, carob pods, sunflower seeds, grapes and other fruits and vegetables.

Tip #2 Measure the value of the reinforcer

You can make a list of all the treats you tried and how much value they seemed to have for _carrot_reward_reinforcer_horsetreat_tips for treats_horsetraining_hippologicyour horse at that moment. Did he really like the treat or did he ‘just ate them’? Did he seem to like it or did he spit them out?

The value of certain foods can change over time or depending on the circumstance. Sometimes it is depending on the season. Gras pellets can have a higher value for your horse in Winter when his diet is mainly hay, than in Summer when he grazes in a juicy pasture all day long.

So try again if your horse didn’t seem to like a certain treat. He might have changed his mind. Sometimes a horse has to ‘learn’ to eat it. When Kyra came fresh out of the nature reserve she didn’t like carrots and apples at all because her mom hadn’t taught her they were ‘safe foods’. When she saw how other horses ate it again and again she started to try them too and eventually like them. So don’t give up too easy if it is a healthy treat that you would like to use a reinforcer.

Tip #3 Vary!

Variety is the spice of life. If you change your reinforcers in training, it contributes to a certain ‘chance’ of getting a certain treat. Since the horse doesn’t know what treat he will receive, you will get him on top of his game to earn that ‘special one’.

You can also mix two different kinds of food. If you use hay cubes and it’s values fades quickly for your horse, you can mix in some high value food like a bit of grain or corn to make it more interesting without making the reward too rich in calories.

 

What about you?

I (and I am sure my readers, too) would love to hear about your choice of food reward and the reason for your choice.

Please share your valuable experience in the comments and help your fellow positive reinforcement trainers.

 HippoLogic.jpgSandra 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 reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover what else I have to offer.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

 

Have you done a Clicker Challenge with your horse?

_HippoLogicClickerChallenge
Here is an emoticon hint for you, if you are curious what you will learn this month:
😍<–…<–…<–…<–…🐎
How would that make you feel?
Register today.  Click here for more info and sign up. Join us, it will be two weeks of fun with your horse!

One of the first Clicker Challenges I participated in myself turned out to be very useful and even saved me money on my vet bill a year later! That is what it’s all about: learning fundamentals in a fun and challenging way.

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

Husbandry skills: hoof care (part IV)

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. (more…)

Preparing your Horse for the Farrier with Clicker Training

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.Kyra one month after arrival

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.

(more…)

What’s your horse’s best behaviour?

Today I posted this question on my Facebook page and the answers were pretty diverse and also surprising. When I thought about this question myself I thought back to when I got Kyra.

Kyra’s story

Kyra was 11 months old and was separated from her mom and her whole family herd three weeks earlier. Kyra was born in a nature reserve. (more…)

Unconventional Training Solutions

Clicker training is brain training. I simply have to break out of the box of conventional ideas to come up with solutions that are ethical (pain free and force free) and horse friendly (easy to understand and rewarding for the horse). This is not always a simple task with these self-imposed regulations.

Challenge

Sometimes it is a real challenge to come up with solutions for difficulties I encounter in einsteinmy own training with Kyra. If I work for a client it’s really easy, because I am the outsider. To come up with creative training solutions for my own situation is much more challenging. That is why I like to have a mentor too.

If my mentor is not available, I have to focus on what I want and how I want this instead of ‘how I know I can solve this’. Because ‘I know how to solve this’ with coercion, negative reinforcement, punishment and other methods I am not willing to use anymore.

Training goal

Kyra is up for a new step in her training on the long reins. I want her to canter on the long reins. That means she has to learn to collect herself, otherwise I can’t keep up with her.

I started her on a circle in canter because she was too fast. On a circle I didn’t have to run. I created a problem by staying on the circle too long. She didn’t want to follow the rail on the long side of the arena, because she thought she had to stay in a circle.

Couldn’t you just use the outside rein?

_langeteugel-hippologic2012I didn’t want to pull on the outside rein. Her head moves up and down a lot in canter so the reins are already moving and causing too much ‘noise’ to be subtle with the rein aids. I don’t want to pull (force) her with the reins since I think the reins should stay a subtle aid.

Pulling on the outside reins causes her body to bend the wrong way (outside ‘Stellung’) which is a hard problem to solve later.

Why didn’t you use the whip to prevent her coming off the track?

I don’t use a whip. This would only work if she is used to yielding for the whip and/or is afraid of the whip. Using a tool that is developed to cause pain, discomfort or help motivate (in a negative reinforcement way) a horse move is not what I want. I think it can be too enticing to use it for what it is made for in a moment of frustration.
I don’t want to teach Kyra what she is NOT supposed to do (she is ‘not supposed to come off track’), I want her to teach what I want her to do: stay on the track. It is a different way of thinking. Focusing on what you want to teach instead of what you want to prevent.

How did you solve it if you don’t use rein aids or a whip?

Thank you for asking! I had to figure out a way to communicate to Kyra what it is I was looking for: staying on the track in canter.

Step 1

First I laid some poles next to the track parallel to the wall on the long side of the arena. She just stepped over them to make her circle. So I split the goal into smaller steps: I practised cantering at liberty and under saddle along the poles. That made it easier for her to understand that she was suppose to follow the track. It wasn’t fool proof and she was still confused on the long rein.

Step 2

Then I used some cones which she knows how to target. I made it really easy and asked her to touch the cone then canter a few strides to the next cone and asked her to touch that other cone. She understood quickly and so I made the distance between the cones bigger. The poles were still parallel to the track but she didn’t want to jump over them now that she was focused on the cones.

Step 3

Now we made really quick progress: she started to canter on the long side of the track. In 3 training sessions of 5-10 minutes I could take some of the poles away and start cantering on the other side of the arena on the long side.

Step 4

The next step was to fade out the cones and the two poles at the beginning and end of the long sides of the tracks. The cones were not important anymore because now I could click and reinforce for cantering on the track.

Step 5

Now I started to canter on the other side of the arena as well and it was no problem for her to understand to stay on the track.

Step 6

The next step is to change reins and practise everything she now learned in the left lead canter to the right lead canter.

Step 7

Now we are working on speed in canter. She is still a bit too fast and she has to learn to collect more so I can walk along her side instead of jogging. We already worked on this in session 4 and 5.

In this way I taught Kyra to stay on track and canter more slowly in only 7 sessions of 5-10 minutes. No frustration (only a bit of a brainteaser for me), no force, pain or threatening. I really like to come up with training solutions like this so I don’t have to damage the bond of trust I have been building so carefully.

What are some of the force free and R+ solutions you came up with in your training?

Please share this post if it was helpful. It might help other equestrians to think out of the box.

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online my online course Set Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them click here for more info

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

 

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: