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Posts tagged ‘food’

Training your horse with rewards

We all use or have used verbal praise and a pat on the neck as reward for a horse.Was it helpful? Did we get more of the desired behaviour? In other words: was it reinforcing the behaviour we wanted?

Reward
What is a reward while training and how can we measure its value? A reward is an event that is added during or directly after a certain behaviour that reinforces that behaviour. If we don’t see any increase in the behaviour or the effort to display that behaviour it wasn’t a real reward or it was not associated with the behaviour.

Timing
In order to associate a reward with the behaviour we must give the reward during the desired behaviour or within a few seconds.

Horses that get a bucket of grain in their stall after they performed well in the arena will not associate their behaviours in the arena with the bucket of food. Therefor the horse will increase their performance next time, at least not due to the food. That is why positive reinforcement trainers use bridges.

Reinforcing the behaviour
If the reward doesn’t reinforce the behaviour, it wasn’t a reward for the horse. Most Dutch people learn to ride in a riding school and we have learned to pat (sometimes it looked more like slapping) the horse on the neck as reward. In hindsight: I have never seen any increase in the behaviour that was ‘rewarded’ this way.

During dinner time a lot of horses are kicking their doors. Why do you think that is? I think because they think that they will get food because they kick the doors. After all: they always get their food while they are kicking their doors.

I have worked at stables and even if I was only working in the weekends, it would take me about 4 weeks to teach most horses (25 out of 30) that the desired behaviour was: 4 hooves on the floor and ‘looking’ away (head in their stall so I could throw in their hay from the corridor). It took a bit of patience and consideration during feeding time, but it was rewarding for all parties. For me because I saved time and it made my work safer. Horses that are ‘looking away’ when I am feeding them grain or hay can’t snap at their food with all the dangers that come with it. A few weeks later all the horses learned the new, safer behaviour. For the horses because they got ‘jackpotted‘ every morning: grain and the second time I came: a bucket of grain.Feeding horses_hippologic

So next time you are rewarding your horse: pay attention. Is it really rewarding? And does it increase the behaviour you desire.

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

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New Uses for ‘Old’ Tools in Clicker Training, part I

When I started clicker training I thought it was a pretty simple and forward concept: ‘You bridge (click) the wanted behaviour and give the horse a treat. Make sure your timing is right. That’s all you need to know.’

Bridging and getting your timing right are both very important and it was an excellent start. I have been training horses with reward-based training since ’99 and I still learn so much every day. It helps that science is coming up with new discoveries, too. And that other trainers (horse owners as well as professionals) are sharing their experiences over the internet.

#1 Timing
Of course timing is important. In clicker training we say: ‘You get what you reinforce.’ So if the horse is displaying some unwanted behaviours, that means that the trainer has a question to think about: Did I bridge or rewarded this behaviour in any way or is this be self-rewarding behaviour? In self-rewarding behaviour the horse found a reward which motivates him to do it again.

The timing of the bridge (click) and the timing of giving the reward are both important. Those two moments are reinforcing the behaviour of the horse at that time. So, if you click for a wanted behaviour and your horse is doing an unwanted behaviour (pinning ears, snapping, pawing) at the moment you give the treat, you are still reinforcing something you might not want. It might not show directly, but it will show sooner or later.

#2 Emotions
You are not only training just the behaviour but there can also be an emotion attached (associated) to that certain behaviour. In the beginning I never paid conscious attention to Sholto’s emotions back then, while I clicker trained him. I didn’t notice unwanted or dangerous emotions (rage, fear, over-arousal). To be honest I don’t think my pony experienced those during clicker training. He seemed very engaged and eager to work with me if I was preparing to do some clicker training.

Looking back at my training sessions using Natural Horsemanship this aspect was less important. The horse was required to fulfill his task regardless of his emotional state.

In clicker training it is much more a two-way communication.  You have to be aware of your horses emotional state because it is a part of your training. When you click you click for all aspects of your horse at that time, his physical stance and his emotional state.

My current horse, Kyra (see picture), did express a lot of fear in the beginning and I started to take her emotions into account while bridging certain behaviours. I’ve learned that you can strengthen the a certain behaviour by reinforcing that behaviour.That behaviour might be very much attached to an undesired emotion. Now I pay a lot more attention to horses emotions when I bridge a behaviour and I can use this information to my advantage.

emotions_hippologic

Much more
There is much more I can tell you that I have learned over the years. I am really excited every time I discover a new use for an old tool or approach. To me my journey to the reward-based training method still is very exciting.

What was one of your eye openers on your journey?

Read here part II of New Uses for ‘Old’ Tools in Clicker Training

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

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Clicker Training 101: How to introduce your Horse to the Click

In clicker training we use a ‘click’ as bridge signal to communicate to the horse that he has done something wonderful. Immediately after the click we deliver a reward to the horse. How do you start teaching what the click means?

Tools
You need a bridge signal or an unique sound, like the click of a clicker, a tongue click or a unique word. I prefer a clicker because that always sounds the same and it is very quick to deliver. The bridge signal connects the click and the time it costs to deliver the reward.

Rewards. Choose your horses favourite treats. Even if they are not very healthy, you want to choose a treat that has a high value to your horse. Something that will get their attention._treat_hippologic_clickertraining

Reward pouch/bucket. You need to stash your reward in a place where you can access them quickly but in a place out of reach of your horse. A money belt or an accessible pocket will work, or a bucket. Place the bucket on a chair so you don’t have to bend over every time you need to reach for a treat. Make sure your horse can’t reach it or start training ‘ignore the food bucket’.

Barrier. If you want set up your horse and yourself for success, start training with a barrier between you and your horse. A fence or stall door prevents the horse coming into your space to get the treats himself. You set yourself up for success if you don’t have to handle your horse or a lead rope and a clicker and the treats, all at the same time.

_protective_barrier_clickertraining_hippologic

Lesson 1: introducing the bridge
When you want to start clicker training you will have to introduce the click sound to the horse. You also need to teach your horse that this sound has a meaning.

You can just start with a click & reward your horse. Deliver the reward as soon as possible after the click. The quicker the reward is delivered after the click the sooner  the horse will associate the click with something positive coming. With ‘soon’ I mean within 3 seconds or even faster. It can be almost simultaneously: click&reward.

Tips

  • Make sure the food always moves towards the horse, so the horse never has to come to you to get it.
  • Make it a habit to feed with a stretched arm, so the distance between your pocket (the source of the treats) is as big as possible.
  • Deliver the treat straight to the horses mouth, so he doesn’t have to search for it. This prevents frustration and mugging.
  • Deliver the treat as fast as possible to prevent mugging and frustration.
  • Make sure the treat is a reasonable size, so the horse can easily find it and it doesn’t get lost.
  • Count your treats and always check if you still have a treat left, before you click.
  • Click first, then reach for the treat. You want your horse to (re)act on the sound of the click, not on your hand reaching for a treat.

In general it takes 30 – 50 clicks until the horse has learned that the click has a meaning and it means something positive. Most horses show interest in the click much sooner and you can already start to work on specific (easy) behaviours. The horse now wants to figure out if he can influence the click by his behaviour and that is the point where you can start clicking purposefully for a certain behaviour. Now you can give your horse a break until the next training session.

Read also 5 Tips for Starting Clicker Training.

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

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Dangers of working with food (warning about Clicker Training)

I always warn people that keeping a horse can be a hazardous business. I remember the day my best friend bought a beautiful young Frisian stallion and I warned her:”Be careful. Keeping horses and taking care of them can be dangerous.”

Daily dangers

The first day her finger got stuck between the stall door. And a few days later her other finger got caught in the lead rope while she was tying her horse. Well, it was her first horse, what can I say… Horses and or being around them can be dangerous.

Clicker Challenge
Yesterday I wanted to do some clicker training sessions with Kyra. I am participating in a Clicker Challenge on Facebook. The end goal is to position the horse 1 meter in front of a pedestal made of 2 little blocks of wood or stepping stones, give your horse a cue to mount the stones, let him stand for 20 seconds, reward and then dismount backing up.

_cutting_carrot_hippologicAnyway, Kyra’s best motivator is food, so that’s the reward I use the most.

Dangers of working with food as reinforcers
I think everyone has heard about the dangers working with food as a training tool. Yesterday I got hurt for the first time!

Myths
I am not talking about the myths about using food as training tool, like ‘your horse will become pushy and will mug you‘ or ‘your horse will try to bite you in order to get the food’. We all know that this is key lesson #1 in clicker training: teaching your horse to behave around food. Here I am talking about something else. Let me explain.

Pay attention
I was preparing the treats. I wasn’t paying attention, which was my mistake, and I cut my thumb! Ouch! It was a really deep cut and I can tell you it hurt. Badly. It was bleeding and bleeding and wouldn’t stop at first. Arggg, I just had my camera set-up and was planning to video my training.

Although the pain was bad, worst of all: it is my favourite clicker thumb, my left one.  Now what? Pressing a clicker with the top of your thumb hanging loose wasn’t an option. And although it wasn’t a very nice experience, I had to laugh a little at myself. I am always telling people that there is no danger in working with food as training tool… Now I am injured. Worst of all: by myself. Please don’t laugh.

Warning
Any way, I just want to warn you all: PAY ATTENTION while cutting your apples and carrots. Or be safe and choose grain, pellets or treats you don’t have to cut. Just saying… horse training can be a hazardous business. 🙂

_danger_clicker training_hippologic

PS I did train and used my right hand to click and feed. A bit ungainly but the show training must go on. Kyra didn’t care about my injury. I think she was just thrilled that I trained her anyway. Left or right hand, a click sounds like a click.

Sandra Poppema
Are you inspired and got interested in personal coaching with me or do you want to sign up for the next  online course ‘Set Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them‘, please visit my website

BANNER _Achieve Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them

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