Empowering Equestrians to Train their own horse with 100% Force Free & Horse Friendly methods

Posts tagged ‘dangerous horse’

The horse that changed my life

Which horse changed your life? Was it a challenging horse? I bet he wasn’t cooperative all the time, was he? The horses that changed my life were ‘stubborn’, ‘difficult’, ‘dangerous’ or ‘challenging’. Some horses had ‘character’ according to the salesperson, which usually meant that they are not very cooperative.

‘Stubborn’, ‘difficult’ or ‘dangerous’

ChicaSholtoBoy_HippoLogic.jpgWhat does a horse have to do to earn a label like that?  In most cases the horse desperately tries to communicate something to humans: pain, fear, discomfort. Horses want to please and cooperate. Since they are herd animals, it is in their nature to do so. If they are very uncooperative or dangerous the horse generally is in pain or he is very, very confused.

Message

Horses that don’t ‘follow the rules’ have a special message. Are you listening? tell me about the most extraordinary horse you ever met. What did he do that was so special?

 

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

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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).

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

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————————————————————————–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!

 

 

What if your horse bites you?

What if your horse has a tendency to bite you? How can you solve this behaviour?

The first question that has to be answered is: ‘Why does a horse bite people?’ If you want to solve a problem behaviour start with finding the cause and work from there.

Possible causes

There are many reasons horses bite people. In some cases it is just play or asking attention. Stallions and geldings can play for hours the ‘I bite you, try to get me back’-game. The reaction to the behaviour is usually also the reinforcer. In my experience stallions don’t care about pain during this game, so punishment will have very slim chances to stop this behaviour.

_playful_biting_HippoLogic

Horses can also bite because they feel a need to defend themselves and all the other body language that they displayed to warn you, has been ignored. The horse is not ‘whispering’ anymore but now he is ‘shouting’ in order to express himself. If horses are consequently punished for giving warning signs, they might decide one day to skip the warning signals and start attacking right away.

A horse can also start biting because he is in pain, for example a poorly fitting saddle or bridle. The horse starts to bite in reaction to the saddle during saddling, cinching or a mounting rider.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAMaybe the horse is not biting but nibbling and that is mistaken for biting. Horses nibble out of curiosity, they nibble during mutual grooming or because they like to take objects into their mouths due to teething or being playful.

Biting also can become learned behaviour if the cause of the behaviour is long gone, but they still gain something by it. Horses that are stabled in a very busy environment and are being touched by people all the time without liking it can start biting out of agitation in order for people to let them alone. They can still bite people even if they have moved out of that situation, just because it became a habit.

Mugging behaviour can also turn into biting behaviour if it has been reinforced or if the horse gets frustrated because he doesn’t understand when to expect a food reward and when not to expect it. Some people stop feeding treats altogether, but I would suggest instead of avoiding the problem, solve it.

Sometimes we simply don’t know the cause but we still want to find a solution.

Solutions

The best solutions are tailored to the cause. If a horse is playful, it won’t help if we buy another saddle for him. If the horse is in pain, solve the pain and make adjustments to prevent more pain.

It isn’t always easy to know or make an educated guess about the cause of the problem. Ask for a professional opinion of a horse behaviour specialist or ethologist to help you find solutions that are tailored to the cause and not just solved by punishing or avoiding the behaviour all together.

Biting can be a very dangerous behaviour. Always take (an attempt) to bite you seriously, even if it is play. It still can be dangerous. I personally know three people who lost a (part of their) finger, two due to their own horse.

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

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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.

Sandra Poppema
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