Your Key to Success in Equine Clicker Training (clickertraining.ca)

Posts tagged ‘desensitization’

6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training (3/6)

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 3.

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.

#3 Clicker training can improve the bond between horse and trainer

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Clicker training improves the bond with your horse

Since the horse is at liberty and not restrained while being trained he has much freedom. The horse has the freedom to walk away when he is bored or when he looses interest or concentration. The horse is also allowed to express his emotions, without repercussion. In positive reinforcement training the trainer wants to know how the horse feels. This all contributes to a good relationship with your horse. You get to know each other really well.

Positive reinforcement to desensitize your horse

Example: when you want to lead a horse past a scary object at liberty with a target it will be clear where the horse starts to get nervous. He will stand still in order to investigate or he will get tense. Since there is no room for coercion in positive reinforcement training you have to think of ways to make the horse at ease and give him confidence that the scary object is not so scary. You can ‘meet him where he is at’.

What most of us learned to do

If we have a horse on a lead lope and we encounter something that the horse finds scary what do we do? In most cases the first thing we do is to encourage the horse to walk on with a gentle pull on the rope. What is the most common reaction if the horse balks? Pull a bit harder! So on top of ‘that scary thing’, the person doesn’t calm the horse down by pulling the horse. It can even cause more stress and pulling hard on a lead rope can also hurt the horse. Not something you want to add to an already stressful situation, right?_flag_training_hippologic

Building trust

Usually if you let your horse investigate scary objects as long as he likes, his fear will decrease pretty quickly. This is not easy; giving your horse even only 15 seconds to investigate can feel like a lifetime.

If you connect a positive, wonderful association (click and treat) to something scary, your horse will learns it is OK to stand still and look at scary objects. He learns quickly that it can be rewarding  to investigate new and potentially dangerous objects.

The next step will be teaching your horse that a click and treat will follow if he passes new objects. First it’s OK looking at the the objects while passing by, later on you can click and reinforce if he ignores new objects altogether.

Since new objects are already connected with positive associations (curiosity is a good feeling, positive reinforcement) you have built trust. The horse has learned that he can trust you (you stay calm and patient and you give click & treats) and that it is OK to express his feelings and emotions. He doesn’t have to worry about your reaction in scary situations!

Read more about how can improve your bond with your horse in training: 5 Tips to Improve the Bond with Your Horse

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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Happy Horse training!

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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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How to Prevent Your Horse from Spooking

We all know this scenario. There is something new in the arena, but only the third or maybe the fourth time you ride past it, your horse spooks. “What a poseur,” you think.”He just walked past it several times!” What is going on here?

If you know it, the next question is: Do you know what to do about it?  In animal training we call it ‘trigger stacking’. That is what this blog is about.

What is Trigger Stacking?

Trigger stacking is when too many stimuli occur in a short period of time that the horse can’t coop with. In other words: tension builds up. If you can’t recognize triggers and trigger stacking your horse can go over threshold.

When your horse goes ‘over threshold’

When we talk about a threshold in animal training we talk about ‘a level at which the animal goes into another emotional state which causes a negative (undesired) reaction.’

Inside and outside your circle of influenceIf your horse goes ‘over threshold’ due to trigger stacking it means the horse can’t coop with the stimuli (the unfamiliar or new thing in the arena, the fact that he can’t investigate, that he is forced to approach it and so on) and he goes into flight (sometimes fight) response in order to release the tension.

That is why the horse doesn’t spook the first time, but only after he has to approach the scary thing several times in a short period of time without releasing the tension that the anxiety causes.

How to keep your horse under threshold

Make sure you read your horse. Get rid of the myths that prevent you from being creative. I am talking about the  “He is a poseur” or “He is out there to get me” statements. Those statements don’t help you find solutions, they keep you stuck (the “It’s the horses’ fault”- attitude).

I help my students keeping an open mind and treat everything the horse does as ‘information’. Is he getting tense going near that new flower pot in the arena? Is he hesitating to go past it? Did he slow down a bit? That is your information! That could be a trigger.

Pay attention to your horse and to everything he does. Even the ordinary things like pinning his ears when being saddled. Something like that could be the first trigger already.

If you feel your horse is tense about something, make sure you pay attention and let him know you care by letting him look and investigate. Or move away to a safer distance if that is what he needs. Don’t force him to stay and investigate. That will only increase the triggers that are already stacking.

Doesn’t that take a lot of time?

Giving your horse the opportunity to take a look at scary things, even though he has seen already hundreds of flower pots is only the first step in ‘despooking training’. The next step is reinforce walking by scary things, but before you are ready to do so, your horse needs to know he can trust you first.

You do that by giving him the time to explore on his own terms. Not giving him 3 seconds and “now you’re done” because 3 seconds seems enough to you. Let the horse explore for as long as he needs to decide it is safe. It can take up until 15 seconds (in the second video it takes 20 seconds for Kyra). Believe me that everything after counting slowly to 5 already feels like eternity!

Try it out, it will change your training and the relationship with your horse. Kyra almost never needs more than 8 seconds. Then she is done, tension is released and I know that keeps us both safe.

In this video, with the horse ball she needs 24 seconds (0:49-1:13) to decide she wants to approach me, standing near the ball. After the session in the videos she was never afraid of the ball again. Where other horses kept spooking because the ball had moved to another corner, Kyra was OK where ever the ball was of whomever was playing with it. Well worth my few minutes of training.

More ways to keep your horse under threshold

Another way to keep your horse under threshold is to do exercises that make him calm or offer exercises that release tension from his body.

Calming exercises are things that has been positively been reinforced in the past like touching a target or mat training.

In some situations  you can calm your horse by exercise so if they can ‘walk it off’, in some situations movement increases the adrenaline. Watch the video again and see what Kyra needs.

Sometimes you need to dismount in order to break that negative spiral of trigger stacking and tension building up. That is OK, because you are doing the sane thing, which is the safe thing. When you and your horse are calm you can mount again. You might only have to do this once or twice before you find other ways to deal with it under saddle.

This blog doesn’t have enough room to tell you everything I know about trigger stacking, preventing it and dealing with it. Do you want to learn more about ‘Emotions in Training’ and how to coop with them? Join HippoLogic’s online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula. In this course is a whole module about Emotions in Training. Not only equine emotions and how you can recognize them, but also human emotions, like dealing with frustration, feeling like a failure, fear and more.

Here is another blog about it.

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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.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

Smart strategy to train a halter shy horse

Let me start by telling you that there are many ‘wrong’ ways and many right ways to rehabilitate a horse that has a halter or bridle trauma. Here is my story in which I share the wrong and the right strategy.

Problem_Haltering_haltershy_horse_hippologic

This is Punky. His problem was that no one, except the owner, could halter him.

You can see how that can be a daily stress for both horse and humans in a boarding facility, right?

Solution

The wrong way is to go straight to problem solving. That is what we humans like to do, it is natural to us and it has been reinforced all our lives that this is the way to do it.

That is exactly what I did…

dealing with problem beahviour_hippologic1

I started the ‘wrong’ way, which was pretty much what most horse trainers would do.

When I was training Punky, I thought I could skip my own Key Lessons and ‘just teach the horse to be OK with a halter’.

I thought just teaching Punky to target the halter would be the one and only step to desensitize him. I envisioned that the next step could be the haltering. Easy-peasy.

It was a bit more complex than that and I learned how valuable the HippoLogic Key Lessons really are. For all trainers.

We can’t skip steps because it is the horse who determines how many steps are needed, not the trainer.

solving problem behaviour_hippologic

How Key Lessons helped me train a halster shy horse

When I started out teaching Punky to target his halter, he became really excited about all the treats he was (in his mind!) ‘suddenly’ receiving.

Key Lesson ‘Table Manners for Horses’ (safe hand-feeding)

I needed to teach him Key Lesson ‘Table Manners for Horses’ in order to keep my fingers safe and to teach him that a food reward only can be expected after the click.

Key Lesson ‘Patience’

He started to mug me more and more. Again, I had to lower my criteria about his learning curve. I realized that I should have taught him Key Lesson ‘Patience’ (move his head out of my space in order not to mug me) before I taught him anything else.

Then, when I thought I was ready to work on ‘desensitization of the halter’ I noticed that he wouldn’t even wanted to come near a halter. Every time I wanted to halter him he put his head up to prevent me from haltering him.

Key Lesson ‘Targeting’

I decided to teach him Key Lesson ‘Targeting’ (nose and ears) so I could bring the halter near his body and ask him to touch the halter with his nose.

This wasn’t enough to halter him. Now he was OK with touching the halter with his nose and even putting his nose into the nose band, but he was still putting his head up and backing up when I wanted to pull the halter over his ears.

Key Lesson ‘Head lowering’

Therefor I needed to teach Punky Key Lesson ‘Head lowering’. Asking him to lower his head on cue turned out to be super helpful in giving Punky clarity about all I wanted from him:

  • Keep your head near me
  • Put your nose in the halter
  • Lower your head
  • Target the crown piece with your ears
  • Keep your head low so I can bring the crown piece over your ears and…
  • Keep your head down until I close the snap.

Lumping a common pitfall in training

In other words: I was lumping instead of splitting the goal behaviour. A pitfall all trainers need to beware of.

_hurry slowly_festina lente_hippologic.jpg

This was a valuable experience for me. Now I start all horses I train, teaching them my Key Lessons. No matter what I think they already can do or what I ‘think I can skip’. Building a solid foundation first, speeds up training instead of slowing it down!

Here is a video of haltering Punky, training day 4:

Here is a video of day 11, after I taught all the necessary Key Lessons:

Read more

How you can turn basic exercises as ‘Table Manners’ for Horses and ‘Patience’ into tools is discussed in part I.  Read here part II where you can learn how to use Key Lessons Targeting and Mat training to train complex behaviours. Read part III to learn how you can use Key Lessons Head lowering and Backing for advanced training purposes.

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

Or 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 8 week course ‘Ultimate Horse Training Formula: Key Lessons, Your Key to Success’ that will change your life.

Teach your horse confidence

Are you tired of your horse repeatedly spooking over the same things? Are you getting impatient that he is still scared of object X while he has seen dozens of times? Do you think you and your horse’s lives would improve if you could teach him to just ‘get over’ it? Here is what you can do.

Responsive animal

First of all I would like you to realize that your horse is a responsive animal and when he is fearful he wants to survive and get away from the scary thing. He is not testing you, he is not acting as if he’s scared or pretending. He is not, he just responds to his environment and ‘acts’ accordingly to his instincts. The same instincts that kept the species alive for thousand and thousand of years. Watch the video below of Kyra and you can see she is not pretending. She wants to run away, but she also wants to explore what scared her. If she knows it is safe she doesn’t have to run away and use energy that she might need later.

Train your horse to have confidence

With positive reinforcement you can easily teach your horse to target an object with his nose, that is called targeting.

verjaardag2011 022

Targeting new objects

Once your horse knows how to target and he has experienced over and over again that he is getting something wonderful when he does, he wants to target more objects. He now knows from experience that targeting brings him good stuff: a click (the marker to pinpoint his exact behaviour that gets him the treat or another positive reinforcer) and the reinforcer itself (the treat).

Practise in different contexts

Once your horse knows and likes to target you can ask him to touch other objects too, like a plastic bag, a cone, an upside down bucket or a huge horse ball.

Click and reinforce every tiny step towards the desired behaviour. This can be literally that you have to click and reinforce every step towards the object you want him to target. Even when your horse is still 30 steps or more away from the object!_flag_training_hippologic

Tip for building confidence

When your horse wants to leave, let him! Make sure you practise this in a safe environment like an arena or his paddock, where your horse has the opportunity to run away if he needs to.

Never punish or ‘correct’ scared behaviour or force your horse to walk towards it, this just adds to his stress and he might associate you to the scary object. That is the last thing you would like to happen!

Try the 15 second rule

Most horses need a maximum of 15 seconds to examine a new, potentially dangerous object and decided that it is safe. If they think it is not safe they usually run away before the 15 seconds have passed by.

Count while your horse is exploring (looking at the object or listening to something in the distance that we don’t hear) and deciding. Once your horse has given the 15 seconds to decide what he thinks of it, the fear often metls away. For good!
Don’t be mistaken! Waiting for 15 seconds when your horse is tense feels like a really, really long time! It feels like eternity! That is why you have to count, so you know if the time is not yet up. It really helps!

I have tried this with my own horse Kyra and she usually needs 8 seconds before she trusts the unfamiliar object. Then I ask her to touch it for a click and treat. She always does! After this she is not scared anymore. I might still need to train confidence with the same object under different circumstances (time of day, maybe it sounds different when rain is hitting the object or it looks different at night or when its wet and so on) but the amount of fear has always diminished after that first positive encounter.

When your horse has done many repetitions of targeting unfamiliar objects you can also ask him to pass by and ignore the object, in order to earn a click and treat. In this way you reinforce and teach him to walk by calmly, even when he is not allowed to examine or touch the object, animal or other horse.

Curiosity

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAHorses are curious by nature and when you let him run away, he will feel safe and find the right distance that feels safe for him to inspect the object. Then he wants to come closer and see what it is. If you can encourage your horse with positive reinforcement to examine the new thing, his curiosity is triply rewarded. First of all because he satisfies his own need to know that it is safe, second because you reinforced him to be curious and third by giving him the freedom to run away to lower his stress. Instead of pushing him to move towards something scary while he is not yet ready to do so.

Kyra

Look how fearful Kyra was for a big ball and how she settled nicely after a few minutes of clicker training. She doesn’t pretend to be fearful, she is really anxious and runs for her life. Can you imagine how stressful it would have been if I had kept her on a lead rope and forced her to come closer?

 

Horse-time

Let your horse decide if something is safe. Give him as much time as he needs! This might only be 15 seconds, but it will save you many scared hours in the future! It is up to him to decide how much time he needs. If you force him to approach the scary thing ‘in order to let him see/feel/undergo it is safe’, it can take longer to get the confidence. This is called ‘flooding’ and if you ‘flood’ your horse, you might create a bigger problem instead of solving it and building confidence in him and you as his trainer.

Success tips

  • Start with familiair objects that already evoke positive emotions in your horse, like a bucket (often associated with food)
  • Start with silent objects that don’t make noises when they are moved, pushed over or blown away
  • Build his confidence in tiny steps and let your horse decides if it is safe for him or not
  • Reinforce your horse with a click (marker) and something he desires, like a piece of carrot or some pellets
  • Keep horses that are already confident near the object close by so your horse can see that it is not so scary as he thinks it is
  • Slowly introduce bigger, newer objects or moving objects.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Click and reinforce often!

Reinforce often! Let him know what you want by bringing clarity: towards to new object results in a click and treat, but moving away from it is OK too! This is how you build confidence in your horse. Let him figure it out in his own pace at his own terms!

I spend a lot of time training ‘calmness’ and ‘relaxation’ in Kyra in new and unfamiliar circumstances. It always pays off, once Kyra is confident to touch an object she is fine with it in the future. Sometimes it takes a while, before she is totally fine with it but when she does I can count on her confidence forever! That is why it saves me time in the long run and it makes me feel safe too!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra 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.
Follow me on Bloglovin
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