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Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, BSC
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Haven’t we all experienced that a horse pulled you towards some grass in order to grab a few bites? Isn’t that annoying? I think it is!
I didn’t want to be pushed around anymore by my horse every time there was some juicy patch of grass growing around. Grass is everywhere! I decided to look for a proper, force-free way to teach my horse more desired behaviour around grass.
I tried a few different approaches, before I found one that works well, gave me a solid result and is totally force-free. I would like to share it with you.
It took me a while to teach Kyra to behave ‘properly’ around grass. With ‘properly’ I mean: no more pulling me towards grass, wait until I give the ‘graze’ cue and ‘stop grazing and come along’ if I ask her to. I was tired of pulling Kyra off the grass.
I must say before you can start training this you need a bit of preparation and… lots of practice time. After all, what is more enticing than grass? Well, a click can be…
What really helps is already have a solid history of click & reinforce. Secondly a horse that walks with you properly and the key lessons ‘head lowering’, ‘patience’ and ‘targeting’ are required to make this challenge most likely to succeed.
Here is a summary of my shaping plan:
I started to reinforce lifting Kyra’s head while grazing. Why? Because this is the first step to move away from the grass. I began with leading her to grass and I would cue her to graze. Then I just waited (very, very patiently) until she lifted her head by herself. That is the moment I wanted to capture and reinforce.
I can’t stress how important it is to wait until the horse moves (his head) away himself. I tried other methods like pulling the head up/preventing the head from going down or asking Kyra to target while grazing in order to lift her head, but reinforcing her own head raise worked best.
Every time she would lift her head , I clicked and reinforced Kyra with a very high value treat. One that could compete with grass. After she ate the treat I immediately gave her the cue to ‘graze’. Here is when the key lesson ‘head lowering’ comes is really handy.
I also clicked and reinforced the ‘graze’ cue. But instead of offering a treat off of my hand, the reward was to graze as long as she wanted.
Every time she would lift her head again, I clicked, reinforced and would then give her the ‘graze’ cue.
After a certain amount of training sessions, which Kyra enjoyed very much (!), I noticed that she started to lift her head more often during grazing sessions. This is a perfect time to add a ‘lift head up’ cue. The key lesson targeting helped me a lot.
So my next clicker session looked like this:
In this way she is always reinforced for whatever I ask.
After several sessions I noticed that Kyra didn’t seem to mind lifting her head up anymore. She was eager to see what I had to offer her. The ‘diving into the grass’ behaviour was gone. She seemed so much more relaxed on grass.
I thought this would be the perfect time to raise a criterion. Now I wanted to lift her head and take one step forward before I gave the ‘graze’ cue again. I literally built this behaviour step-by-step.
The final step in this process was to teach her to wait for the ‘graze’ cue when we would walk on or approach grass.
Now I can ask Kyra to leave grass at any time. She is very willing to come with me. She never pulls me towards a patch of grass and I never have to pull her off of the grass. Win-win, for her and for me.
Kyra turned from a I-need-to-graze-now-and-store-fat-before-winter-comes-horse into a I-see-grass-so-what-horse. She knows she can trust me and is allowed to have her share… only when I say so.
Today I wanted to make a video for the FB Grass Training FB Group. Kyra didn’t want to graze, so I couldn’t show how to start walking on grass when all your horse wants to do is graze. Never thought I could be in that position: a horse that doesn’t want to graze because training is way more valuable.
Buy the HippoLogic Grass Training for Horses that leads to a well behaved horse on grass.
I sometimes jokingly call myself a ‘lazy horse owner’. Why? Because I rather spend a bit of time training my horse than deal with undesired behaviour day in and day out and get frustrated all the time.
Here is a video of me getting Kyra out of the pasture.
I prefer not to get stuck in the mud, surrounded by horses. I am, like I mentioned, a bit lazy and I don’t want to chase my horse or to walk over to ‘catch’ her if she is in the far end of the pasture. Way too much work…
Since I started clicker training horses, I discovered a huge change in their attitude towards me. I have changed from being (I am guessing here) ‘not so much fun’- to be around to ‘I rather be with my human than with my herd’ attitude. Just by switching from traditional/natural horsemanship methods to positive reinforcement.
It is not only the food rewards that make my training interesting. I think it is also the puzzles my horse must solve in order to get that click. She is not afraid to try out new behaviours, she is not afraid of being punished for displaying her ideas. On the contrary, she is encouraged to think and to figure out what it is I want from her.
So the first step in getting a horse interested in coming out of the pasture is to ‘offer’ something. Be more reinforcing than the herd and the hay or grass.
What you see in the video is actually a chain of learned behaviours. These are the steps I all trained separately.
I taught Kyra to respond to her name and come to me. I used targeting to teach her that. As you can see, I don’t need a target anymore and I even don’t need to call her. If she sees me, she wants to be with me.
I taught her to always stop before an open gate and wait for a cue. I reinforced her in the past (click & treat) for stopping and waiting until I clicked my lead rope to the halter.
The second step in this proces is to reinforce her for the opposite behaviour too: walking thru the gate on my cue.
I always teach my horses to turn around on cue, so I can close the gate safely.
After walking calmly thru the gate and turning around, Kyra has to wait for me to close the gate. I have reinforced this step many, many times.
I realize that I need to be more reinforcing than the juicy grass patch on the outside of the fence. I don’t want her to drag me to places she wants to go. I have often clicked for waiting while I closed the gate. I used a lot of high value treats, like a whole handful of pellets.
Every horse and every horse person knows the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. I have taught Kyra to wait for my cue to graze and to follow my lead if we want to get away from the grass. As you can see in this video Kyra walks over to the grass (I wasn’t paying attention), but she is also willing to leave the juicy patch when I gently ask her to follow me.
This was a difficult lesson to teach Kyra and I did a lot of trial and error in this process. How to learn from my mistakes: join HippoLogic’s online Grass Training Course.
I taught my horse to walk with me without pulling the lead rope.
Is getting your horse out of the pasture just as easy? Let me know what difficulties you have and I can help you find +R solutions.
Related post: How to bring your horse to the pasture safely