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

Posts tagged ‘fear’

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!

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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 drop the crop

We all like to hold on to our beliefs and our familiair training aids. I know I do, even when I already know I never will use it. Here are some ways to drop your crop.

‘Safety’

Holding on to your riding crop (carrot stick, training stick or lunge whip) gives us a feeling of safety and empowerment. We need our crop, just in case…

But what if you don’t have a crop anymore. What would happen? Would you die? Yes, it can feel that way, but you (probably) won’t. (more…)

Setting your horse up for success: splitting behaviour

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make in horse training is that they don’t set their horse (or themselves) up for success. Once you know some basics about horse training, setting it up for succes becomes easier. A common mistake is not visualizing what the goal is and planning how to communicate it to your horse.

_splitting-and-lumping-HippoLogic

Splitting behaviour

If you have a goal in mind to teach your horse, the first step to set yourself up for success is making a shaping plan. In your shaping plan you describe your goal, your starting point and how you are going to divide the goal into baby steps in order to built this new behaviour.

Split your goal behaviour into enough baby steps and train every step separately until it is mastered before you raise a criterion. In this way you train (shape) your goal behaviour in a systematic way. Each baby step is in fact a building block of the desired behaviour. So far the theory.

Splitting behaviour is not easy and this is a continues aspect to work on. Even me, after more than 16 years of experience with positive reinforcement training, I catch myself lumping behaviour. Why? Because every horse, every behaviour and every situation  is different.

You can’t possibly know beforehand what your horse is capable off, physically or mentally. You only know that until you reach a  boundary. Also the training circumstances have a great influence on the learning capability of humans and horses. Teaching your horse something new in stormy weather is probably not setting yourself up for success.

Lumping behaviour

The most common mistake is that the steps trainers make are too big for the horse. This is called lumping. The horse doesn’t understand what is expected from him. When you lump, you simply have raised (too many) criteria, too soon.

How to recognize lumping

It is quit easy to recognize if you know what to look for. You know it is time to adjust your criteria or tweak the setting of your training if your horse shows signs of:

  • fear
  • frustration
  • disinterest
  • distraction
  • anger
  • shutting down

Your horse can get disinterested in you and your training because he thinks he will never  earn a treat and simply gives up. Or he can get frustrated: ‘Why don’t I get that treat now, when I did this just a minute ago I got it.’

Trainer

This also goes for the trainer. If you feel frustrated, anxious, despair, anger or other undesired emotions, just stop for a moment. Take a break and take  few deep breaths. Get yourself into thinking mode again. Then figure out a way to split the training into more steps and start over.

Lowering your criteria is not the same as ‘failing’, on the contrary: lowering your criteria in order to follow your horses (or your own) learning curve is setting your horse up for success. A side effect is that you will succeed quicker, too

Mastering splitting

I don’t think it is realistic to expect we’ll never lump behaviour anymore. It is part of the learning experience: split behaviour enough until you notice a bump in the road. This is when you know you’re lumping. Then you split the ‘lump’ and go on until you encounter the next bump. That is ‘learning’ and it is fun.

Every time you notice that you’re lumping it is a sign that you have experience. Why? Otherwise you wouldn’t notice it and might try to solve the problem with a bit more tack, a whip or other ways to make the horse do what you desire. That is what most people do, I see this happening in the most experienced clinicians too.

Here is a video in which you can see what splitting and lumping can look like:

[Readers who get my blog via their email won’t see the video embedded. Sorry about this. If you want to see it, follow this link to my blog https://hippologic.wordpress.com]

Science of learning

I am grateful I have learned a bit about horse behaviour/body language, learning theory, learning processes and how to motivate a learner (human and horse). I don’t need to force my goals onto my horse anymore now that I have these tool of knowledge and experience.

If my training is not getting me the results I wanted or expected I take a break and regroup. Sometimes my break lasts for a few day or even a week. It doesn’t matter. My horse doesn’t win, if I stop training just because I don’t know what to do at that moment. I am always aiming for a win-win.

Force is never the (right) answer in my opinion. I treasure the bond with my horse too much for that.

Related articles

Setting your horse up for success: Context shift

Setting your horse up for Succes: Short sessions

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I connect 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 course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training.
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Let’s talk about a taboo in Trailer Loading Problems

Trailer loading can be a huge issue for horse people. Why? There are 2 components in trailer loading that play a major role: the horse and the handler.

The horse plays a big role. If he is fearful to go into that little box on wheels, it makes us nervous. Who wants to stand in a small box on wheels, next to 1000 pounds of unpredictable and unwilling animal that is trying to escape instead of willingly walking in?

Fear
trailer_training_hippologicFear plays a major role in most trailer loading issues. In this blog I am not talking about the fear in horses. I think they can be trained away the easiest. I am talking about the fear of the handler leading the horse into the trailer.

Handler
I know I had trailer loading issues myself. People always thought I was joking when I said:”I have trailer loading issues” or “I have trailer fear”. Most people didn’t take the “I” in my sentence literally, but I really mean it that way.

Here are a few of my biggest worries I had about trailer loading:
– What if my horse gets injured in the trailer, during loading or during the drive.
– What if the trailer or car gets a flat tire on the highway?
– What if I get injured while loading a nervous horse into a very small space? Especially when I was pregnant this was a big fear.
– What will people think of me if I can’t load my horse?
– What will people think if they have to wait for me while I am loading? I don’t want to be a burden, they probably hate waiting, they might think I am doing it wrong, etc.
– What should I say if people want to ‘help’ me load my horse and want to use pressure or force my horse?
– What will they think of me when I decline their help? I don’t want to offend them by saying “Thanks, but no thanks”.
– What if Kyra falls down in the trailer or gets stuck again? It has happened before…
– What if she panics and runs onto a busy street?

There are other factors that can play a roll as well like impatience or stress in the handler. It can be that you’re only worried or afraid when loading your own horse. I have loaded other peoples horses smoothly when the cause was the handler.

With other peoples horses I didn’t have the fears I named above. Part of it was when the horse was in the trailer, it didn’t feel like my responsibility anymore. And I was never in a hurry because I was helping people out that were desperate and ready to take (wait) the time it took to load the horse.

Solutions
Back to my own situation. The moment I realized part of the problem was me, I was stunned. Was I part of the problem? Really? _trailer loading_hippologic

Have you ever noticed that what you are focusing on grows? My fears stayed intact because I was repeating them over and over in my mind. It is like a fire and as you keep feeding it, it grows and takes on a life of its own. Instead of being relieved that Kyra got out of the trailer perfectly fine and without any injury whatsoever, I kept telling myself that I was afraid of her being injured and developing a trailer issue.

As soon as I realized this, I started focusing on what went well and on all the improvements I had already achieved. Small improvements like every second ‘building duration standing in the trailer’, ‘standing more relaxed in the trailer’ as well as the big improvements ‘pulling me towards an open trailers to get in’ and ‘she didn’t poop out of stress’.

Training journal
Writing down my successes and filming the process helped incredibly. If you are familiar with clicker training, you already know this.

I also realized that we are in a process. It takes time and every time I could build on the foundations of trailer loading I was building on the solid behaviour I am longing for: a confident horse that loads easily and enjoys the ride.

Relationship 
I don’t get nervous anymore if people are watching or waiting while I load Kyra. I realize that the relationship I have with my horse and my horses feelings are worth much more than what I think other people are thinking. After all, I don’t know what they are thinking… I refuse to stress my horse by pressuring her, because of my (irrational) thoughts. I don’t want to force her anymore. Ever.

Circumstances
What also helped to reduce my fears, is to make the trailer and the ride as comfortable as possible. In this way I can relax better while traveling with my horse. Like a light, roomy trailer, an anti-slip floor, shavings and a hay net so Kyra can nibble away, a experienced driver who drives defensively and so on.

_trailer loading_hippologic
Enjoy the ride!
I hope you never have to deal with issues like this and when you do, I hope you overcome them too. Life is so much more enjoyable now. Taking my horse to places gives me so much joy and satisfaction, without stress and my fears. I really enjoy loading Kyra into a trailer now to go places. Oh, and Kyra does too, she literally pulls me towards a trailer if the ramp is down. Like she want to say: “Let me in. Take me with you. Let’s go!”

We are still working on a self loading horse. I am sure we can tick that off of our list of goals in 2015.

Sandra Poppema

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