How to teach your horse to lie down on cue

Horse Rookie asked me to write another article for them. This time I wrote about how you can teach your horse to lie down on cue with clicker training. You can find my article Teach Your Horse to Lie Down on Cue here.

Benefits of clicker training (positive reinforcement)

You:

  1. Give your horse a choice: he is allowed to say yes or no without negative consequences
  2. Listen to your horse clickertraining.ca

    Listen to what your horse communicates

    Learn to listen to you horse. You can only reinforce the behaviour with an appetitive after he performed.  If he says ‘No’ to your cue, you have a great opportunity to learn from your horse. Every time you figure out why he said ‘No’ (they are hard wired to cooperate) and act on it, you’re building on your trust.
  3. Get to know your horse better. You need to know what appetitives reinforces him (what does he really wants to work for), you’ll develop a keen eye for behaviour in order to pinpoint (click) the desired behaviour and your timing will be impeccable. Where you can afford and get away with sloppiness in negative reinforcement, that won’t happen in R+. You get what you reinforce and it will be soon clear what that was.
  4. You built trust! You give your horse a useful and clear communication tool in hands with positive reinforcement. The better communication and mutual understanding you have, the better your relationship will be!

If you want to teach your horse to lie down on cue it helps to know his habits so that you can capture that behaviour. In my webinar I teach you exactly what you need to know to teach your horse to lie down on your cue.

Plan your webinar date.

Here is an easy clicker training plan to train your horse to lie down without ropes or force

Clicker training is a training method that uses positive reinforcement. The ‘positive’ means -in scientific terms- an appetitive is added to strengthen the desired behaviour. An appetitive is everything the horse want and is willing to do an effort for. The click is meant to pinpoint the desired behaviour. After a few repetitions your horse will quickly associate his own behaviour with your click and that the marker is always followed by a appetitive, a treat. In order to provide clarity we will use a click of a box clicker to mark the desired behaviour, because that sound always is the same, no matter how you feel.

Timing

Timing is everything in clicker training horsesThe sooner the reinforcer (treat) is followed or even been given during the desired behaviour the sooner your horse connects the dots. This is not always practical and that’s why we use a ‘bridge’, the click, to close the time gap between the desired behaviour and the delivery of our reinforcer (giving the treat). The click also gives you, the trainer, time to get a treat out of your pocket and give it to your horse. The better your horse is clicker trained, the longer the time gap between the desired behaviour (the behavior that you want to see repeated) and the treat can be.

Trust

HippoLogic_trick training_clicker training _online coachingLying down without coercion can be a challenging behaviour to train because there needs to be a certain amount of trust between trainer and horse. It helps if you use high value reinforcers to train this behaviour. I use my own baked treats with cinnamon that all horses seem to value very highly!

 

5 Ways of Training Behaviour in Clicker Training

 In positive reinforcement you can use 5 different techniques to train behaviour. These 5 methods all have their pros and cons, which I have written about in here.

  1. Luring (using a lure to lure the horse into a behaviour with a treat)
  2. Molding (also sometimes referred to as ‘manipulation’, is physically guiding or otherwise coercing a horse (or one body part) into the behaviour you want to teach)
  3. Targeting (touching a specified surface (e.g. a target stick) with a particular body part)
  4. Shaping (goal behaviour is achieved by splitting the desired behaviour into many tiny steps. Each step is trained separately (clicked and reinforced)
  5. Capturing (‘catching’ the end behaviour as it happens and reinforcing it with a click and treat)

What method do you choose

In order to teach your horse to lie down we can’t use luring effectively. Experienced trainers can use molding and use ropes to lift the horse’s legs in order to let them kneel and then lie down. This can be very dangerous; it takes great expertise to do it right and not fall into the pitfall of just forcing the horse to lie down by pulling a leg away so he gets down. Not friendly and it will not help in building trust!

In order to use targeting skillfully in lying down I guess you could teach a horse to target his sternum so he will bring it to the ground eventually and as target the legs separately in order to bend them in the way they usually lie down. Not practical! In my webinar I share ways how you can use Key Lesson Targeting effectively as a training tool to help in training your horse to lie down on cue.

There are two techniques left over that can be successfully used to teach your horse to lie down with clicker training: shaping and capturing.

Here is how you do it

What you’ll need:

_treats_size_matters_value_matters_hippologicClicker, your horse’s favorite treats, a place where your horse is likely to lie down (soft surface like a sandy spot in the pasture or the arena)

 Why teach it:

It’s a way of measuring the amount of trust you’ve built and a fun way to test your skills as horse trainer.

How to do it:

 In my online trick training webinar Teach Your Horse to Lie Down I go into detail how you can use shaping and capturing successfully to teach your horse to lie down. In this blog I would like to give you practical tips, so let’s focus on capturing the behaviour.

Prerequisites:

Your horse needs to know what the ‘click’ means. Read here how you teach your horse the HippoLogic Key Lessons, you key to success in horse training.

Know your Learner!

hippologic train horse to lie down clickertrainingYou need to learn as much as you can about your horse’s behaviour and his habits. In the live webinar I give tips how you can learn about your horse’s habits and normal behaviour. In order to capture this behaviour you need to be prepared! Make sure you have your clicker and high value treats so that you can let your horse know right away what you want to see more of: lying down.

You can capture this behaviour when he’s about to roll. Usually after a ride or a bath (in Summer!). You need to be ready to click and treat as soon as he’s lying down. Wait until he’s on the ground so that he won’t jump up right away when he hears your bridge signal to ask you ‘Where is my treat?”

Another great opportunity is when your horse lies down to sleep. If you keep your horse at home you probably know what times of the day he lies to take naps and you can enter his stall quietly and give him lots of treats.

I knew a horse that every morning after his breakfast, he lied down for a nap. Other horse’s lie down after lunch to take a well-deserved siesta. If you know when your horse sleeps, you can be at the barn at these times to capture the behaviour.

Once you have captured this behaviour with a click and lots of treats you’ll notice he will be more and more eager to lie down when you’re around. Then it’s time to put a cue on the behaviour. You can say “Down” and point to the ground. If he lies down or rolls without your verbal cue you can give the cue quickly so he can be successfully earn a click. You want this behaviour on cue for safety reasons. More about that in the webinar.

Success tips

  • Start teaching lying down in Summer when it’s hot or in Winter when there is snow to roll in. Horses love to roll in the snow and this will be a perfect opportunity to click and treat him for lying down. When the ground is wet changes decrease to see your horse lie down.
  • Make sure you give your horse a generous jackpot after he lied down: keep feeding him treats until he gets up. You might have time for 1 treat or multiple treats. If you keep feeding for as long as he lies down, he understands that this behaviour is heavily reinforced.
  • For safety reasons: don’t sit or kneel down next to your horse. Bend over to feed treats or squad so you can stand up quickly if needed
  • Squad next to him, and never right in front of your horse. When horses stand up they put their front legs up first and you don’t want to be in their way.
  • Always squad down to the side where his back is, not where his legs are:

3 steps to ly down_horse_clickertraining_hippologic.jpg

 

  • Practice regularly in the beginning, but don’t over-train. I recommend three or four days in a row and then let it rest for two days. This will give your horse’s brain the chance to make the neural pathways that are needed (this is called latent learning). The brain is making a backup of the learned behaviour and you will most likely get better quality after a two-day break. Just like a weekend.
  • Don’t over ask. If your horse lies down once, that’s it for that day.
  • You can make the reward even more reinforcing if you use verbal praise to support your treats.
  • Once he offers the behaviour more often when you’re around it’s time to put a verbal cue on the behaviour.

Where to Learn More

Join HippoLogic’s Trick Training Webinar Teach Your Horse to Lie Down

webinar_horse training_clickertraining_hippologic_tricktraining.jpg

Join HippoLogic’s Facebook group

Join our group on Facebook where you can ask questions, interact with like-minded people and get support on your clicker journey. In the last quarter of 2019 I will do weekly LIVE videos in the Happy Herd. Don’t miss out!

 

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!
Get a free 5 Step Clicker Training Plan.

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Join the Clicker Training Academy if you want personal support

What is the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy? It’s an online place where you can learn to train every behaviour you have in mind with R+. We have a small, all-inclusive community in which students can thrive and develop.

  • Professional, personal positive reinforcement advice on your training videos
  • Super affordable
  • Student levels are novice to very advanced clicker trainers

Join the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy for $39 and get an additional 90-minute coaching session with me for free (value $150 CAD).

Emotions in Horse Training

Emotions are an important part of being with your horse. You have a horse because that makes you happy or that is how you’ve envisioned it, right?

In reality your horse does make your heart sing, and it can be difficult at the same time have a horse:

  • You enjoy your horse if he’s happy and healthy
  • You love watching your horse in the pasture
  • It’s great to ride your horse
  • You feel proud of what you’ve accomplished with him or together
  • You love the relationship you built with your horse

There are also other emotions:

  • You want your horse to behave in a certain way and if he doesn’t live up to that expectation you might feel anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment
  • You worry about his well being if he’s sick or that he might become sick or injured
  • You worry about the way you (can) keep your horse and if you’re doing the right thing to move him (or not)
  • You worry about being accepted by other horse people
  • You worry about not getting respected due to the way you train, keep, ride your horse
  • You feel overwhelmed as (new) horse owner: so many ways to keep your horse, so many kinds of hay, pellets, bedding, training, trainers, opinions of everyone else and so on

Equine emotions and feelings

Then your horse has and expresses emotions and feelings, too.

  • Fear in your horse
  • Play
  • Happiness
  • Depression and unhappiness (hard to see and accept as owner!)
  • Horses that are in pain

Pay attention

How do you handle those, the emotions and feelings of your horse? Do you recognize all of them or only some of them? Most of us never learned to pay attention to them.

When I expressed fear in riding lessons, I was quickly shut down. ‘Get over it’, ‘Just do it’ (jump over the jump, canter whatever I feared) and ‘Don’t be a wimp’, are things I was often told. I learned to suppress or at least shut up about my fears, frustrations and other negative feelings. What about you?

  • How do you handle fear in your horse?
  • Frustration: in your self and in your horse?
  • Fear of failure?
  • How can you turn this into a positive thing and grow?

That’s what this month theme is in the Clicker Training Academy. “Emotions in training’ is one of the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in horse training. If you can recognize, accept and deal with them, you’ll be a better trainer. I would love to share a few of the insights here, too.

Frustration

Frustration is an easy one to prevent and to handle. Do you have a way to recognize this quickly (it all starts with awareness) and handle it?

What do you do when your horse is frustrated?
What do you do when you are frustrated in training?

These are questions that traditional training never answered but positive reinforcement comes with the solution almost instantly.

What do you do in order to prevent frustration in your horse when you load the clicker/bridge? You break it down and you encourage your horse to keep trying to find the answer by reinforcing him.
What is the jargon for it? This is called thin slicing or making a shaping plan What is that called in normal language? Take baby steps.

This is also true to prevent frustration in yourself. If you have a clear goal for today’s training and thought of what would be reasonable then you can think of the baby steps you can take to set you and your horse up for success.

A Shaping plan consist of enough small steps for your horse to be successful in your training
Break up your clickertraining so every step leads to success

My pitfall used to be that I had no clear goal (only a vague one) and then instead of feeling content if I (almost) reached my goal, I raised the bar! This is one way to create a feeling of failure and cause frustration, I can tell you!

It was only when I started to set a (small) goal and made a clear plan, that I really got results. I started to feel good about myself and my accomplishments. This is what I want for all my clients too. I see so much frustration and fear in horse owners. Yes, fear! This is a taboo, too: to feel afraid of your own horse. Even if it is sometimes or just briefly. It’s not accepted as equestrian. Well, I have strategies for those, too and I will be happy to share them with you.

Do you need strategies?

Let me know if you need strategies to handle fear in your horse or yourself, frustration, anxiety and other emotions that keep you from doing what you want to do or want your relationship with your horse to look like. You can ask for a strategy in the comment section or contact me directly. I am here to support you.

Join our Community

  • Are you looking for professional positive reinforcement support?
  • Do you need an affordable program?
  • Do you want personal guidance and advice on your clicker training journey?
  • Do you want to turn your equestrian dreams into reality, but you don’t know where to start?

If you have answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of the above questions look into one of the online programs HippoLogic has to offer.

Join the Clicker Training Academy for online positive reinforcement training tips, personal advice and support in training your horse.

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!

Get your FREE 5 Step Clicker Training Plan on HippoLogic’s website.

Take action and start for free

Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse
Key to Success in Horse Training
Your Key to Success

Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

Simply check the best time for you in my online calendar and click to reserve your free call today.

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5 Tips to Improve the Bond with Your Horse

There are many things you can do to improve the relationship with your horse. Even if you already have a great relationship you can still implement these.

1. Listen to Your Horse

Listen to your horse clickertraining.ca

Listen to what your horse communicates

Stop labeling your horse and start describing his behaviour. If you use labels you give away your power to listen. If you have a ‘stubborn’ horse, or a ‘lazy’ one or even a ‘smart cookie’ it feels if you don’t have any influence on his behaviour. Nothing is further from the truth. Study horse behaviour and spent time watching your horse.

2. Act to what your horse communicates

If your horse doesn’t want to come near a new object or doesn’t want to jump over a jump, he is telling you something about his emotions about the object. In order to improve your bond you don’t only have to listen what he has to say, you have to let him know you care. The way you do this is to make him comfortable and increase his courage and confidence about what you want him to do.

3. Break up your training in small steps

A Shaping plan consist of enough small steps for your horse to be successful in your training

Break up your clickertraining so every step leads to success

Your horse has no idea what you have planned for him today and in the future. If you are teaching him something new, make sure you set him up for success and break it down in small steps. Positively reinforce him for every effort he makes, even though it might not look like the end result yet. This is called splitting behaviour in animal training. I teach my students to set and plan their goals so they become very successful.

Milestones in horse training are always based on small steps.

4. Make training, riding and taking care of him fun

Strengthen everything you want your horse to do for  you with something he likes too. Don’t think only about you want if you value the bond with your horse. The more positive reinforcement you use (the more you give), the more you get back from your horse. All people I know that started using clicker training notice very quickly how much your horse suddenly pays attention to what you do if you use a bit of clicker training.

5. Keep track of your Training

One of my pet peeves is to keep track of your training. This helps you to see how far you’ve come and how much you’ve already improved. This goes for your training as well as your relationship. My horse Kyra was wild when I got her (feral, I mean!). She didn’t want to have anything to do with me or people in general. Now she seeks out human contact and is the barn favorite. How great is her live now because of that!

clickertraining is fun

Clickertraining makes safe horses if you do it well

When you keep track (and there are many ways to do this!) you can put where you are now in perspective. We are all very tempted to only look at all things we haven’t achieved yet and that can lead to feeling like a failure. I am a fan of comparing yourself only with yourself, not with someone else. You might compare your worst with someone else’s best. That is not setting yourself up for a proud feeling!

Join our Community!

  • Are you looking for professional positive reinforcement advice?
  • Do you want an affordable program?
  • Do you want to turn your equestrian dreams into reality, but you don’t know where to start?

If you have answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of the above questions look into one of the online programs HippoLogic has to offer.

Join our community for online positive reinforcement training tips, personal advice and support in training your horse.

Shape the community

If you’re interested to become a member of the HippoLogic tribe, please tell me what you want in this short questionnaire. Thanks a lot!

HippoLogic.jpg
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!
Sign up for my newsletter (it comes with a gift) here: HippoLogic’s website.

Take action. Start for free!

Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

Simply check the best time for you in my online calendar and click to reserve your free call today.

Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

You’re not too old and it’s not too late for your Equestrian Dream to come true

“You’re not too old and it’s not too late.

~ Lori Deschene (Tiny Buddha)

bareback riding, fun

You’re never too old! (Source: Pixabay stock photo)

This week I rode my born-in-the-wild mare Kyra for the first time tack less: no bridle, no saddle and not even a neck rope! It was very exciting and so much fun.

Watch the video

Fulfilling my childhood dream

I felt completely confident and safe riding without a bridle and saddle because Kyra is a clicker trained horse. I know her very well and our relationship is build on trust which feels really safe.

While I was doing it, I realized that this was one of my childhood dreams! I made a list of all the things I ever wanted to do as equestrian. Lots of things I have fulfilled now and that feels really good! I encourage you to do the same!

Fear

In my childhood and teenage years I did many cool and dangerous, risky things with horses. ‘Nothing would happen to me’ and it turned out to be true!

tack free riding bridleless bareback

Tack free riding was one of my childhood dreams!

The older I get, the more I know. Therefor I also know more of what can go wrong. That makes me plan more, prepare better and take less risks. This takes out a bit of the care-free spontaneous actions in riding.

This week I decided to have a bit of both: spontaneous and prepared action.

The spontaneous, carefree action was to do ride tack free despite my fear. The feeling of “not having something in my hands” makes me feel uncomfortable and out of my comfort zone. That is the only thing, not the tack free riding, it is really the “empty hands”.

Proper preparation

The preparation part lies in the fact I used clicker training for many years for everything: from starting Kyra under saddle to riding her. We have a really good relationship.

I know I have the best and most trustworthy ’emergency break’ you can imagine in a horse. I have a click. I never used it to stop her, but I know she will stop as soon as she hears it. So that feels very safe.

Two tack free rides in one week!

First time I did have something in my hands: a target stick to help communicate where I wanted to go and a clicker, so that felt comfortable.

The second ride this week I didn’t bring any of those two training aids. I decided to rely on my seat, tongue click and previous preparation to ride her around the arena.

It went so well, above all expectations! That is also when I realized it is the “empty hand-feeling” that feels uncomfortable to me.

Celebrate!

I made a video (Watch the video) because I always want to anchor my achievements deeply in my body and brain. I am a big fan of teaching my students to celebrate their successes.

Making a picture or video of a mile stone is a great way to celebrate and remember. It’s easy and normal to forget your achievements and focus on what we still can’t do or still want to learn. Now I have a two questions for you:

What is your childhood dream?

How do you celebrate your successes in order to remind yourself about your achievements?

Please share

If you think this is a blog that can inspire a friend to fulfill their equestrian dream, please share it on your social media. You can use the share buttons below.

I also love to hear your dream and if you achieved it or still want to achieve it! I read all comments and all dreams!
Don’t want to comment? Simply hit the like button so I know you read my blog. I would appreciate it. Thank you!

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.
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PS In November, December and January the online course Ultimate Equestrian Dream Formula, turn your dreams into reality

Clicker Training 101: Your first clicker session (including a step-by-step training plan)

When you are new to the idea of clicker training your horse you might ask yourself: How do I start? What do I need? Where do I buy these things? How do I teach my horse to respond to the clicker? These and more questions are answered in this blog to help you get started. Continue reading

5 Benefits of using a Shaping Plan in Horse Training

In positive reinforcement training we need our horse to think about what we want and to make a conscious decision to do it.

We don’t push, pull, force or threaten our horse in the right direction and release the pressure, force or take away the threat when he performs the desired behaviour. No, we have to create an environment in which he can use his brain, so that he can choose to do what we want.

In order to learn, your horse needs to be in thinking mode.

This self-imposed challenge to ask the horse to use his brain, demands proper preparation from the trainer:

  1. We need to think about we want in advance, in order to
  2. Set our horses up for Success.

How do you Set your Horse up for Success?

You only have a marker (to mark the behaviour), a reinforcer (to strengthen the behaviour) and your brain to make it happen.

Shaping plan_hippologicYou have to guide your horse with your clicks from where he is to where you want him to be, the desired behaviour. In order to do that successfully you need a plan. This is called a ‘shaping plan’. You need to shape the behaviour step by step.

Shaping Plan

A shaping plan is your written approach to train a specific behaviour.

It describes every little step (criterion) in the process to train the desired behaviour. This process is called ‘splitting’ behaviour.

When you split the behaviour in small enough steps, it is easy for your horse to understand what you want (and what he will be reinforced for).

It gives in detail an objective description of the desired behaviour, your goal behaviour. A good shaping plan also contains a description of the circumstances of the training: where you train, the date, the name of the horse, the trainer, what reinforcers will be used and how many good tries will lead to the next criterion.

With a good shaping plan you can guide your horse with clicks to the desired behaviour.

If you split the behaviour in small enough steps, you create enough stepping stones to go from A to B to C to D (Desired behaviour).

If you don’t have enough steps, you get stuck. That is called ‘lumping’ behaviour and your horse can’t make the jump from behaviour A to C. He gets stuck and doesn’t understand anymore where you want him to go.

If you go back to your shaping plan you can see that B is missing. It is easy to come up with an extra stepping stone if you already have a direction of where you want to go.

Purpose of a Shaping Plan

  1. You know what your criterion for a click is
  2. You know after how many successful tries you go to the next criterion
  3. You know what the next criterion is (for what behaviour you will click and reinforce)
  4. You know what reinforcers you are going to use and which ones you’ve used in the past
  5. You know when to give your horse a break.

Training without a shaping plan

What happens if you don’t make a shaping plan? You set yourself up for failure and frustration.shaping lumping hippologic

  • Without a plan of approach it is much harder to recognize if you are making progress.
  • Without a written plan you easily forget what your starting point was and you might not celebrate your successes enough
  • You will miss ‘click-worthy’ moments because you haven’t set parameters what is click worthy and what is not.
  • It is harder to raise your criteria
  • It is also harder to be flexible in your training and adjust as soon as frustration in you of your horse occurs. You don’t have an alternative ready and it is harder to go back to the step where your horse still was successful. As you get more experienced in writing shaping plans, you will notice that you become way more creative in finding solutions to challenges that occur in training.

5 Benefits of a Shaping Plan

  1. If you get stuck you get yourself unstuck way faster because it is easier to see where you need to add an extra step, need to change your reinforcer and/or go back to where your horse was still successful.
  2. The more you practise the more experience you get in splitting behaviour. You will ‘lump’ less and prevent frustration and other undesired emotions and feelings in training
  3. Once you’ve written a good shaping plan you can re-create your training successes with other horses. Even years later, just because you’ve written it down.
  4. It is easier to be flexible in training and come up with an alternative step if you get stuck because you’ve given your training approach already so much thought.
  5. A good plan will speed up your training.

One of the Key Lesson I teach is how to write and use a shaping plan. Shaping plans are your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement training.

Read this blog too: Key to Success is Making a Shaping Plan

Help us get the word out!

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below this post. Please share your thoughts and questions about the use of a shaping plan in the comments, I read them all!

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_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners create the relationship with their horse they really, really want and teach them how to get results in training.  
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula.
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Why are NH and traditional horse training methods still popular? This is why

You would think that if one knows better, they will do better. Right? I think it is a bit more complicated than that. Here is why.

Natural horsemanship (NH) and traditional horse training are based on negative reinforcement. Negatieve reinforcement is strengthening behaviour by taking away an aversive (= something unpleasant). Pressure-release is an example of negative reinforcement. The pressure (aversive) is taken away to increase or strengthen a behaviour.

__hippologic_beautiful_thing_about_learningClicker training is based on positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is strengthening behaviour by adding an appetitive (=something the horse wants). After the marker signal (the click) the horse receives a treat.

Learning through negative reinforcement (R-)

If you sit on a pin what makes you stand up? The pain? Or the release of pain? Would you sit down on a pin next time if you see one lying on a chair? Or would you have learned to avoid it and check your chair before you sit down? This is how an aversive works: you learn to avoid or escape.

Learning through positive reinforcement (R+)

_moneyIf you find money on the street, you will be checking the streets or wherever you found the money the first time more often for money, until it wears out.

Positive reinforcement is strengthening behaviour by adding an appetitive, something pleasurable. In animal training we make use of a bridge signal, to ‘bridge’ the time gap between the desired behaviour and the appetitive. This is also called a marker signal, to ‘mark’ (click) the desired behaviour.

Downsides of using positive reinforcement

The difficulty with the use of positive reinforcement in training is that you have to let go of all traditional ways you’ve learned to train horses in the past. If the horse doesn’t perform the desired behaviour, more pressure is applied or even coercion until the horse does what he has to do.

When a trainer uses positive reinforcement, he has to stop and think when a horse doesn’t perform the desired behaviour. He can’t simply ‘click louder’ or ‘give a bigger reward’ before the desired behaviour has happened. R+ is not bribing. Bribing doesn’t give long lasting results.

A trainer has to investigate why the horse doesn’t do the exercise he was cued for: Is it physical? Can the horse perform the exercise? Is it a psychological reason? Is he fearful, does he have a negative association, is another behaviour more reinforcing, is he performing self reinforcing behaviour and so on.

Investigate the motivation of the horse

In other words; a positive reinforcement trainer is always investigating the horse’s motivation. Is it internal (eg hunger) or external (something outside the horse). He wants to understand the reason the horse isn’t cooperating, so he can solve it.

This takes takes skills: you have to have knowledge of the natural behaviour of the horse, his natural needs (how his body works) and recognize his physiological state (interpret body language). On top of that you have to have patience and know how you can motivate a horse with appetitives (things a horse wants to have and is prepared to work for).

Skills

Training a horse with positive reinforcement takes more skills than training a horse with negative reinforcement. If a horse doesn’t respond with the desired behaviour, the first reaction of the trainer is to apply more pressure, make the signal aversive in order to motivate the horse to move.

If you have been told over and over again to apply ‘more leg’ or ‘a light tap of the whip’ you have not learned to think about the reason the horse is not motivated. You just do as you’re told and that is what you keep doing.

Only if you run into real problems with the horse you are ‘forced’ to think about another solution.

Why are people are still using negative reinforcement?

1. The most obvious reason is that riders in general still are not taught about positive reinforcement. The horse world is still very set and traditional.

2. Another reason is that negative reinforcement used on the horse, is positive reinforcement for the handler/trainer.

Let me explain. Every time a rider applies an aversive leg aid (one that is trained traditionally with pressure-release until the horse reacts in the desired way) and the horse responds with the desired behaviour, the rider is reinforced positively.

negative reinforcement horse is positive reinforcement rider

Photo: Nelda Bogado

The word ‘desired’ behaviour already tells you. It is the outcome the trainer/rider/handler wants. So every time a trainer applies pressure-release and the horse responds positively it is the trainer that feels rewarded and reinforced by the outcome of his action.

It is only when the trainer has to apply so much pressure that it becomes uncomfortable for him/herself that people start to question negative reinforcement. That is the moment training is not positively reinforced by what the horse does, that is the moment people start to search for ‘other ways’.

Hopefully they find positive reinforcement and discover that developing a relationship with a horse and training him can go hand in hand. Training can be a win-win situation!

Positive reinforcement for the horse is also positive reinforcement for the trainer: the trainer gets the desired behaviour from the horse and (s)he gets to feed the horse. Feeding an animal from our hand is something we all love to do!

_Rplus is Rplus_hippologic

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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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