2 Common Mistakes in Clicker Training Horses

Our environment influences our behaviour! We all know that and use that fact all the time clicker training our horses. How does your environment benefit you?

We set up our horses for success all the time. We present a target (environment) to our horse, so he can touch it!

We teach our horses not to mug us when we’re training with food. The food in our pockets and our presence becomes the ‘On’ switch for Learning, for our horses.

Your horse starts to think what behaviour does lead to treats? They figure out in minutes that mugging is not the answer anymore.

After a few clicker training minutes your horse is already thinking “How can I influence my environment [the treats] with my behaviour?” . We changed the learning environment for our horses and helped him learn fast with positive reinforcement (R+).

You already know and experienced that the environment plays a huge role on the behaviour and learning process of your horse.

Yet, I still see so many of us fall back on negative reinforcement-thinking and therefore struggling hugely with using clicker training effectively. I’ll elaborate on that below.

Thinking mistake #1

This is when you get start thinking that clicker training maybe takes longer than negative reinforcement… NO!

Untrue! When you fall into this thinking mistake, it’s because you try to use positive reinforcement in a negative reinforcement environment! Or trying to use a tool in your clicker training that is designed for R-!

Have you ever consciously changed your own environment to enhance your clicker training? Clicker training can be unnecessary difficult and hard when your whole environment is set up to be successful as negative reinforcement trainer! It’s trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

How to set YOURSELF up for success

Change your environment!

How?

You’ve probably already done it in the past. When you

  • Went to a clicker clinic. You surrounded yourself with likeminded people and emerged yourself in positive reinforcement approach/thinking.

Do you remember how much you learned in just one weekend? That’s the power of your environment! It’s easy to clicker train your horse and to think of new R+ approaches when everyone else is giving you positive input and ideas! When you see other women clicker training their horses successfully, it inspires and gets your creative positive reinforcement juices flowing!

  • Watched videos about clicker training just before you went to your horse.

You’ve changed your (internal!) environment and it sparked ideas and motivated you to do the same.

  • Spoke with another clicker trainer, or a friend and you discussed your struggle. You got new insights of solving your struggle and got your momentum back.

By creating a distance (looking at your struggle, challenge or problem) from a different angle, it was possible to think of a different approach.

Sounds familiar?

What keeps you struggling in clicker training your horse

Often the answer is: Your environment!

How?

Thinking mistake #2

When you try to use positive reinforcement using negative reinforcement training tools (environment)! You set yourself up for FAILURE!

Round pen

You use a round pen to exercise your horse with positive reinforcement and you can’t get your horse moving effectively and burning calories. Why is that?

A round pen is purposefully designed to chase a horse a-round! There are no corners to escape.

Have you ever noticed that horses find the corners of the arena when you chase him around? They change direction: they want to have a choice and try to influence their environment: your behaviour!

Negative reinforcement trainers struggled with that problem, so they took out the corners! They made the pen so small they could reach the horse at any time, in any place in order to apply the aversive (pain, the threat of pain/injury) effectively. They needed to reach the horse with their whip, training stick, carrot stick, the ‘extension of their arm’, rope or whatever tool they are using to make the horse move.

A round pen is designed to chase the horse around, without an escape. It’s designed to ‘teach’ the horse that there is only one answer possible: go forward until the trainer says otherwise!

Now, when you don’t realize that and you want (expect) the same result using positive reinforcement, you’re setting yourself up for failure!

You can’t be as successful in clicker training if you’re trying to use a training tool that is designed to create success with R-! You have to think of ways to design positive reinforcement tools and use the environment to support your training method. The person who invented the reverse round pen was well on her way!

Training tools, techniques and people

Choosing the right tool for the job is detrimental for you success! The better your tools, techniques and people you surround yourself with, the better results you get!

R+ Tools & Techniques

This is a part most clicker trainers do already really well: they use targets, mats, food reinforcers and bridge signals (click).

Do you have the support you need, to think more like a positive reinforcement trainer?

Thinking Mistake #3

Thinking you can change traditional horse people to see the benefits of clicker training… Fact is: you can’t change anyone! You can only change yourself. Trying to convince R- trainers of positive reinforcement is very hard and often impossible. Stop doing it, it will drain your energy. Instead focus on finding better people to spent your time with.

Surround yourself with Positive People!

This sounds like an open door! Yet, so many people surround themselves with unsupportive people. Then they tell themselves they can’t do anything about it, and back that up with an excuse (“There are no clicker trainers or barns in my area”). Now they’re really stuck! They get very unhappy, often even desperate. I’ve seen people seriously spiral down from there. They start doubting themselves or their approach. They start to think clicker training isn’t the best way. Don’t let that happen to you!

Are your barn people supportive?

One of my clients boarded her horses in a very traditional boarding facility. Old fashioned cowboy methods, like tying up 2-year old horses in their stall for hours to ‘teach them to be tied up’- kind of ways. It was very hard for her to clicker train her horses in that environment because the ‘norm’ was to be abusive and use coercion to get things done. They were not only abusive to their horses, but also to her!

They told her that she was a bad horse owner, not a real horse person and that she was spoiling and ruining her youngster with treats and soft approaches. That it was time to put a saddle on her horse and stop being a pussy.

No wonder, it was a struggle for her to clicker train her horses. She was always worried that she would run into other people at the barn. That someone would watch her and commented. Because they did… All the time!. I was horrified to hear how they crapped on her training. It was verbally abusive! Not supportive at all.

Do you avoid clicker training when people are around?

It was extra hard on her because she already was already a bit insecure (who isn’t sometimes?). She was relatively new to being a horse owner. She’s in her forties and bought her first horse only two years ago. She’s not a person ‘who grew up with horses’. And she was also new to clicker training. Still she did such a good job clicker training her horses! Her results spoke for itself.

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If you have people in your environment commenting negatively on your clicker training and your approach, ask yourself how you can surround yourself with better people!

When my client became a part of my R+ community (the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy) she often expressed her mitigation of being in a supportive, uplifting and positive environment where people believed in her and her approach!

She leaped forward and developed her clicker training skills within a year. It was a joy to watch her evolve and she her improve her horses behaviours! Eventually she moved her horses to a different boarding facility.

Can you imagine how it’s like, to dread going to the barn every, single day? Can you see how this will interfere with your happiness of being a horse owner? How it will interfere with your clicker training? How this will prevent enjoying your horse and having fun training and riding? After all, we have horses to enrich our lives, right?

Change your environment, change your outcome

  • Use or design a training environment and tools that support and enhance positive reinforcement! For example use a reverse round pen (or even better the HippoLogic Reverse Rectangle) to exercise your horse
  • Change your internal environment (ideas, solutions, approaches) by watching clicker training videos and/or trainers or discuss your training with other positive reinforcement trainers before your training so that thinking like a positive reinforcement trainer becomes your habit.
  • Find a tribe that inspires you! They’ll be a daily reminder to keep going with R+!
  • Surround yourself with positive people, who support you and respect you and your R+ training! Let go of Debby Downers and Negative Nancy’s!

Join the Clicker Training Academy

Are you a compassionate horse owner who wants to build a strong friendship with their horse? Would you like to understand your horse better and help your horse to understand YOU better? Get access to many online clicker training courses and a fabulous, supportive R+ community in our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Check out the link!

Or start with a free clicker training assessment to get taste of what it feels like to work with me. Discover your strong points and weaker points in training (if you have some) so that you know what to focus more on, in order to get the results you want. 

After your assessment you have a clear plan and know exactly what your next step will be in order to accomplish your dream behaviours with your horse. Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

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5 Tips for dealing with Frustration in Horse Training

We all get frustrated in training or riding our horses. That’s a given. Horses can also get frustrated if their expectations about their training or the consequences of their actions (release of pressure or receiving a treat) are not being met.

What can you do to prevent frustration and what if you are already frustrated or your horse is, what can you do next?

What causes frustration in your horse

If expectations are not being met it can cause frustration in your horse. For instance, you’ve clicked and now he expects a treat. If you’re clumsy or slow with your food delivery while your horse is waiting he can get frustrated. If you always offer carrots and now you’ve clicked and he gets a hay cube instead he can be dissapointed which can lead to frustration (‘Why am I not getting my favourite treat, a carrot?’).

Same can happen in traditional training and riding: the horse seeks release (relief) from riding aids and body language (pressure, pulling on lead ropes, waving whips and training sticks) and doesn’t get this release of pressure when he performs correctly.

If you, as trainer, raise the criteria in your training too quickly or make the steps too big your horse can get really frustrated: normally he immediately get a click and a treat if he goes to a mat and steps on it, but now he does not! What is going on? You might think you’re working on ‘duration’ but if your horse gets frustrated in the process his learning process will slow down.

Preventing frustration in clicker training is one thing, but what can you do if your horse is already frustrated? 3 Tips.

If you go too slowly it also can cause boredom or frustration in your horse.

Poor timing of the trainer or inconsistency (lack of clarity), can cause the horse to get frustrated. You just clicked for X, now you’re clicking for something different? No, but if the timing is poor this can cause miscommunication, which can lead to frustration.

If you decide to clicker train the new horse in the barn instead of your own horse. This can cause frustration in your horse: now is is being excluded from training, choice and treats. His expectation is not being met.

All examples that can cause frustration in the horse because he can’t seem to influence the circumstances or desired outcome. I think you get the picture.

If you know better, you’ll do better

Now you know, you’ll see this happening all around you. First you’ll recognize it in other people’s horses and if your brave you’ll see it in your own horse too. That can be painful, but it’s a necessary step in order to prevent frustration in the future. Be proud that you’re ready to acknowledge it: now you can move to the next step.

How can you recognize frustration in your horse?

This is a tricky one because I haven’t found any scientific research on recognizing frustration in horses, yet we all have seem in in horses. Haven’t we?

I am willing to take the risk not being scientific and base my story on anecdotes and experience of my own observations.

Next time you observe a person training (riding) a horse look for these behaviours. They cannot taken out of the context but in order for clarity’s sake I have to. Here a signs that the horse is irritated or (getting) frustrated:

  • Tail swishing (can be as subtle as just once)
  • Pawing with one or two (alternating) front leg(s) or weight shift
  • Stomping front foot
  • Head lift (subtle) or
  • Push with the nose
  • Flick of one ear
  • Two ears flicked and closed
  • Snaking of the neck
  • Ears pinned
  • Wrinkles around the nostrils

Horses may not all use these and many are also to express other emotions and messages. Here is a picture of a horse that expects breakfast and was pawing. Instead of giving food, I made a picture to capture her expression.

How to deal with frustration

In order to prevent frustration you have to offer clarity. What to do if your horse is already frustrated?

  1. Start with congratulating yourself for noticing! Not many horse owners/trainers recognize it in their horse
  2. Stop and breathe so that you can come up with a plan to handle your horse’s frustration
  3. Change what you’re doing that is causing frustration (this is crucial) and aim to prevent frustration. If that means you have to give your horse a break or ask something you know he can and will do, ask that. This will interrupt the feelings of frustration.

Prevention

Frustration is not always preventable but you can prepare yourself and your horse in training and set both of you up for success. Clarity provides frustration in training. #animaltraining

  • Improve your timing (watch yourself on video)
  • Improve the RoR (rate of reinforcement)
  • Lower your training criteria until your horse understands what he has to so
  • Become more predictable for your horse and make a plan before you start training
  • Ask help if you can’t solve it on your own. A tiny bit of frustration in your horse can help find solutions, but too much and too often will put a strain on your relationship with your horse.

Read more about preventing frustration in training and riding.

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If you have answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of the above questions, join the Clicker Training Academy for online positive reinforcement training, personal advice and support in training your horse.

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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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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!

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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!

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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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Tips to prevent Frustration in Riding or Training Your Horse

Every rider, every horse owner and every trainer has experienced frustration at one point. I notice that some people are frustrated more than others. What to do about frustration? Take it out on your horse? Or try to prevent it (is that even possible)?

The people who I see struggling with frustration are the people who don’t have a clear plan when they are riding or training their horse. They don’t split their goal into tiny building blocks and work their way systematically through the process. They tend to move their goals (criteria) during training, so they have the feeling they never succeed. That would be the same as having ‘getting to the horizon’ as your goal: you will never succeed!

The 1 million dollar question

If you feel frustration stop whatever you’re doing and ask yourself ‘why am I feeling this right now’? These are possible answers:

  • Are you asking too much of yourself?
  • Are you asking too much of your horse?
  • Are you comparing yourself with others (who might be at a whole different point in their journey with their horse)?
  • Are you making your steps too big (‘lumping‘), are you discouraging or confusing your horse?
  • Did you make (and write) a realistic plan before you started training/riding your horse?
  • Are you positively reinforcing yourself and your horse enough to keep going?
  • Do you give yourself and your horse enough time to process the training?
  • Who is telling you that you have to accomplish ‘this’ (whatever that is) right now?
  • Did you prepare your horse enough to this situation?

Prevent frustration

First of all: stop beating yourself up! It doesn’t help you and it only make things worse. Second: don’t beat up your horse. He can’t help it, he is just a horse. You don’t want to regret taking your frustration out on him.

If you feel frustration coming up, simply stop what you’re trying to accomplish and take a few moments to pause. Take a few deep breaths and ask yourself the questions above.

In order to prevent frustration make training goals and plan every step in the process. Make a good shaping plan and if you get stuck, pause and take another look at your shaping plan to see if you are lumping (skipping steps in the process to the goal behaviour). If you don’t know how to do this: ask help!_frustration_in_training_horse_hippologic

Frustration is not necessary!

Take baby steps in your training. Celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how small! Don’t forget to write your goals and your achievements down: we have a tendency to forget or play down our own achievements! 😉 Start a training journal today!

You’re not the only one

We have all experienced frustration from time to time. If I see frustrated riders it reminds me of me a long time ago. When I was using ‘traditional training’ (which meant: there is no plan to follow) I used to be frustrated all the time!

I must say I almost never frustrated with my horse anymore and if I feel frustration coming up I know to deal with it before damaging my relationship with Kyra.

Change your focus

Changing my focus was a big help in preventing frustration. Instead of saying ‘no’ to my horse (and myself) all the time, I learned to focused on the ‘yes’.

Instead of saying ‘why are you always walking away when I want to mount, stupid horse!’ I learned to focus on the few seconds she could (and would) stand still and encourage this behaviour. Because I now reinforced my horse with treats to stand still, of course Kyra became very motivated to display that behaviour more and more! Shifting my focus from the ‘walking away’ to the ‘four hooves on the ground’ was such an eye opener!

Calling your horse names, will not give you a good feeling, even if it gives you temporary satisfaction.

Yes, it is easy to blame your horse and call him ‘stupid’ but be honest: Does it really give you a good feeling that you have a ‘stupid’ horse?

Wouldn’t you feel better about yourself if you had a ‘handsome and smart’ horse? I think that a smart horse can only be smart if the owner gives the freedom and opportunity to show how smart he really is! Don’t call yourself or your horse names. It is not encouraging or supporting for you or your horse in any way. Start feeling compassion for yourself. Be gentle: you are on a journey, learning is a process.

Last but not least

Never compare yourself or your horse with anybody else. We might be comparing our ‘worst’ with their ‘best’. They might be in a whole different stage of their journey. If they can do something you can’t, it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything right. It is just not a fair comparison. Ever.

If you want to see it from a positive view: you now know that it (whatever ‘it’ is), is possible. And… maybe they can even help you reach the same goal or point you in the right direction!

Focus on what is most important in the world: your own journey, your relationship with your horse.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners create the relationship with their horse they really, really want. I do this by connecting them 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.

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Riding after a stressful day: beneficial or not?

What do you do after a stressful day: are you going to ride or not? Enjoy my video.

 

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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Pitfalls of Positive Reinforcement

Clicker training or positive reinforcement is based on a simple concept: adding something the learner wants (an ‘appetitive’) in order to strengthen a behaviour. What can possibly go wrong with a simpel concept of noticing (a tiny step towards) the desired behaviour – mark the behaviour (‘click’) and  reinforce (strengthen) it by giving the learner something pleasurable?

Theory versus Practice

Like every training method there is the theory which assumes the trainer, the target animal (learner) and the environment are perfect and then there is reality…_clicker_hippologic_symbol

History of the Horse

Not all horses are blank slates. It is very rare to come across a horse that hasn’t been handled by humans  before he’s trained by an experienced positive reinforcement trainer.

In other words, almost every horse already has a history with humans and he has already made lots of associations with situations, humans, things et cetera. Both good and bad.

Solution

If the horse has negative associations with certain cues, tack or situations the trainer has to counter condition (make them ‘neutral’ or ‘positive’) them first.

Frustration

In positive reinforcement an appetitive is added to strengthen a behaviour. When the horse doesn’t understand what he has to do in order to earn the treat or if the horse is too excited by the high value treat, he can become frustrated.Emotions_in_training_hippologic2015

If the trainer is not noticing little signs of frustration in the horse and doesn’t respond adequately the learned behaviour can regress or the horses loses interest in the exercise. If the frustration builds up the horse can even become aggressive.

Solutions

Make sure your horse understands when he can and when he can’t expect food rewards. Implement a ‘start session’-signal and an ‘end of session’-signal.

Lumping criteria (making your steps too big) or raising criteria too quickly can cause frustration. Split the goal behaviour into enough steps that you can reward.

If the treats are too distracting and causing frustration, use low(er) value treats and make sure the horse is not hungry during training. Provide a full hay net during training.

Over-aroused

Some horses are very excited once they discover that (high value) treats or other very desirable rewards can be earned in training. Due to their excitement they can get aroused or even over-aroused. If not properly addressed the physical signs (like dropping the penis or erection) can be reinforced (unconsciously) in training.

Solutions

Prevention works best but in order to prevent this you have to have a keen eye for body language and behaviour. (Over)arousal can be caused by frustration, see above.

In order to counter condition and/or prevent reinforcing physical signs of arousal, start marking and reinforcing before the arousal happens. In other words: split the behaviour, increase the rate of reinforcement and counter condition the behaviour.

__hippologic_beautiful_thing_about_learningPreventing pitfalls

Like in any other training method there are many mistakes a trainer can make. I think that is inherent to learning a skill.

Find an experienced teacher to guide you around the pitfalls. There are enough things to learn without falling into them.

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website

 

 

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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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 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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Key Lesson: Table Manners for Horses [safe hand-feeding]

One of the key lessons I like to promote as a really good foundation to start with and to keep working on, is safe behaviour around food, ‘table manners for horses’ so to say.

Why is this one of the key lessons?
If you are working with horses you always want to be as safe as possible. You certainly don’t want to create problems, which can easily happen if you train with food as a reinforcer without having clear ‘rules’. Rules are alle about expectations:

  • When can your horse expect a treat: only after a click
  • When can’t he expect treats: no click, no glory, no treat
  • How he can earn clicks that lead to treats: paying attention to the cue and answer the question right

Your Key to Success in using food as reinforcer is to teach your horse safe hand-feeding or Key Lesson Table Manners.

Ground rules in clicker training


People who, in the horses’ eyes, reward randomly with food will have horses that are always expecting the unexpected: a random treat. That leads to impatient horses: they want it now! 

Therefor you have to start making clear your horse has to know he has to do something in order to get a reward. He also has to know what it is he did, that made him earn the treat. He has to learn to pay attention to your marker (the click). No click, no (food) reward.

What to do if your horse is mugging you? Using a marker makes it easier for your horse to understand that ‘mugging’ is never reinforced. There is no click, so no food will come his way.

Mugging is annoying for the handler and can trigger frustration in the horse. Especially if he sometimes gets rewarded for this behaviour (with attention, a pet or even food) while other sometimes he gets punished for it or ignored. It is this various ‘reward’schedule that strengthen this undesired behaviour even more. How to handle this?

You want to reinforce the opposite behaviour of mugging. A behaviour that is incompatible with pushing your arm or sniffing your pockets. This will make your training sessions more safe.

Table-Manners for Horses

  • Teach your horse to move his head (read: mouth) away from you, your pocket with food or your ‘money belt’ full of goodies.
  • Teach your horse to keep his lips closed
  • Teach him to gently take the treat off of your hands
  • Teach him an ‘End-of-Session’ signal that means: no more clicks, no more treats

Table manners around dinner time
If you want your horse to behave around feeding time, you have to communicate clearly what behaviour you expect from him:

  • standing with four feet on the floor while the food cart is coming
  • back up when the stall door is opened or when the hay is delivered and so on.

Use a marker signal to pinpoint the wanted behaviours. Read more here.

Polite behaviour
With ‘polite’ behaviour I mean safe behaviour. The horse must wait ‘politely’ until the food is delivered to his lips, after the marker. He shouldn’t move towards the treat, he has to learn that the treat will come to him. The horse must (learn to) take the treat carefully off of my hand and only use his lips and no teeth.

When I click and when I deliver the food, I pay close attention to the horses state of mind. Those two moments (click and the delivery of the treat) are the reinforcing moments, and I do want to reinforce safe behaviour, so I pay attention to the horses state of mind.

_keylessonsafehandfeeding1

Trainer
Present the food in a safe way to the horse and ‘prove’ to your horse that you are trustworthy. You will always deliver a food reward after a click and you will deliver it (bring it to his mouth so he won’t have to ‘search’ for it). If you drop it on the ground,simply give another one.

People who are easily scared by a horse that moves towards the treat in their hand and proceed to drop the food, need to work on their food presenting skills. You want the horse to trust you on where the food is presented (to their mouth) and that it will arrive. Be consistent and reliable in the way you present treats.

Before you click, always check if you still have at least one more treat to offer. It doesn’t have to be food, but if you’re working with food, make sure you have something left in your pocket to give.

_keylessonsafehandfeeding3

The value of the reward, the size and the chewiness can all influence (un)desired behaviours around food. If the size of the treat is too small, it can easily fall on the floor and get lost, if it is too big it can be hard to eat quickly. Is the reward a high value treat, the horse get frustrated if it’s not delivered quickly enough. If the horse has to chew very long it can distract him from the training.

There are many aspects to take into consideration when you reinforce your horse with food. Please don’t let this long list scare you away from working with food rewards.

Food is such a powerful reinforcer that once your horse understands how you want him to behave around food and treats in training, you can have a lot of fun with it!

Links to other key lessons

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below. Or post your comment/question, I read them all! Or simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

Do you struggle with a horse that mugs you for treats or attention?

Do you wish your horse would behave better but you want can use some help?
Maybe your horse:

  • Paws for attention when he’s at the grooming place
  • Kicks his stall doors
  • Always is ‘in your pocket’ (and most often you wish he wasn’t like that)
  • Becomes pushy (or nibbles) when you have treats in your pockets
  • His mugging behaviours are holding you back from clicker training awesome, amazing or useful and safe behaviors

If you would like to learn where in your training you can improve so that you would get the results you want in clicker training, grap this opportunity to get a free Clicker Training Assessment!

After your assessment you know exactly what to improve and how you can avoid the pitfalls that keeps you stuck. You’ll know your next step and you’ll walk away with valuable insights about your training style.

More blogs about Mugging and how to re-train it

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 in training in order to enhance the bond between horses and humans!

Join my mailing list to get more positive reinforcement training: HippoLogic’s website.

Reach your goals quicker

Have you ever had the feeling that you weren’t accomplishing your goals, or weren’t improving as quickly as you would have hoped? I have.

When I was starting riding lessons, my mom thought that it would be like driving a car. That it would take about twenty to thirty lessons to tackle riding. She wished! That wasn’t the case at all. I was eight years old and I didn’t care how many lessons it would take, I was riding. My main goal was “to be around horses” and riding meant “sitting on a horse”. At the age of eight I just “wished” that one day I became that rider. The talented dressage rider, that is.

After 7 years weekly riding lessons at the riding school I quit. I was disillusioned. I still “wasn’t a good rider” even though I didn’t really know what being a “good rider” precisely meant. But I didn’t realize what was going on, I just thought the riding school wasn’t that good.

I became frustrated because I didn’t have a clear goal. I could get a horse to walk, trot, canter, halt, make a turn and get over a small jump. I had vague goals about leg yielding in trot and canter pirouettes but I never thought to communicate it to my instructor or parents.

Now I know that when I become frustrated I have to take a good long look at my goals. Are they S.M.A.R.T.?SMART goals Hippologic

I ask myself question like:

  • Did I make a training plan and write down all the steps to get to my goal?
  • Were my steps small enough to succeed?
  • Did I need help in the process and didn’t ask?
  • Did I record my successes?

Sometimes there is no reason to be frustrated. All it takes is some time to look back and see where I came from and realize that I already came a long way. I would just forget to celebrate my success along the way.

Sometimes I let myself be distracted from my goals and would asking myself “why are you not making progress?” while in fact I wasn’t even working on them. Why?, I ask myself. Sometimes the answer is just because I didn’t know where to start or I didn’t know if I could succeed.

Think about your next goal, write it down and make it happen. Then keep a record in order to celebrate your success.

Read more about creating TRAINING GOALS [<-click this]

Read more about starting a TRAINING JOURNAL [<- click this]

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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