Advantages of an ‘End of Training’-signal in Clicker Training

Most horses get super excited when they get introduced to positive reinforcement (clicker) training. They literally won’t stop. They are always ‘on‘ and in training mode. This can be very exhausting for the owner (and for the horse too).

Green horses

When horses are new to clicker training they get appetitives for things they do (the desired behaviour). Therefor it’s understandable that they will try go get a treat by offering the desired behaviour. They are training you.

If you don’t give them what they want and expect, it can cause confusion in your horse and even frustration. He doesn’t understand that just a minute ago he lift his leg and he got a click and treat and now he lifts his leg and gets ignored or maybe even shouted at! ‘What’s going on?’ the horse wonders.

You horse doesn’t understand that training for Spanish walk is wanted and desired in the arena, but when you walk in front of him at the grooming place it’s undesired. What? It’s the same behaviour!? Why doesn’t he get the same response?

What’s clear to us, might not be clear for our animals. Try to see it from his perspective.

Clarity

Here are some things that give clarity:

  • Use a clear End-of-Session-signal. This indicates: ‘No more clicks can be earned from now on.’ Stick to it! Be consistent!
  • Using a unique end of session signal for a break or indicate the end of the training session gives the horse the security that he won’t miss out and he can relax.
  • You can use an end of session signal in between training sessions too, so your horse can mentally take a break and relax a few minutes.
  • Some horses even need a start-session-signal at first. Some horses think that if you’re in sight, a training session is starting. This can be confusing for your horse. A start session-signal can be calling your horse’s name or simply say: ‘Pay attention.’

Safety

Clarity also increases safety. If your horse exactly knows when a lesson is in session, he will learn quickly that offering behaviours is a desired action and they will be reinforced.

He also learns that offering his latest trick or behaviour after your end of session-signal will never leads to clicks.

‘High risk’ behaviours

If your horse knows this, and they learn quickly when behaviour will be reinforced (in a session) and when it won’t (outside training hours), you can safely train more ‘high risk’ behaviours.

A ‘high risk’ behaviour is a behaviour that can be dangerous if it’s performed unexpectedly. If you train Spanish walk and your horse will offer that front leg up in the air when you’re standing in front of him to lead him, chances are that you’ll be hit by his flying leg.

Same goes for training lying down: you don’t want that behaviour offered spontaneously when you’re riding! Right?


If horses know the end-of-training signal, they know his vending machine is closed, no matter how many quarters (behaviours) are thrown into it. It’s empty. It won’t work. They will safe these behaviours for training sessions.

Of course it’s best to put behaviours on cue as soon as possible, for clarity and safety reasons. However, tn the learning process there will always be a short period when a trained behaviour is not yet confirmed and on cue. An end-of-session signal will help keep you and your horse safe.

Here is how much clarity it gives

In this video you see I end our training by giving Kyra an end of session signal. Putting my empty hands up and say ‘All gone!‘ indicates ‘You’re free to do what you want to do. You won’t miss out on clicks and treats.’ I knew she wanted to roll so badly but she wasn’t doing it because a training session was going on.


Bring a horse to the pasture safely

Here is another example that will help increase safety.

In the past I’ve had bad experiences with traditionally trained horses that run off immediately when released in the field. Sometimes you don’t even get a chance to take off the halter safely. Other horses even kick and bolt in order to get their freedom. Very dangerous!

To prevent such behaviours I give a treat after I release horses in the pasture. In the beginning they get a treat before taking the halter off and after taking it off. Later in training I give a treat only after I take the halter off and get out of the pasture. Instead of running off they will linger in the hope for a treat. Then I fade out the treat.

In this video Kyra didn’t want to leave me, so I gave my end-of-training-signal. That’s when she realized that she wasn’t missing out on reinforcers (food or attention).

It’s clear how powerful that end-of-training signal is. My horse that almost nevers runs in the pasture.

Any thoughts or questions about using or introducing an end-of-session-signal? #justask

Happy Horse training!

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc
I help horse owners create the relationship with their horse they’ve always dreamt of and get the results in training they really, really want.

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Imagine your horse in 2020. How to start today

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Setting goals makes my life at the barn interesting. It keeps me on track. My goals are my guideline, not a straight-jacket.

Volle bos manenWithout my training goals I would be lost. I write my goals down and then I think about the things I ‘need’ in order to accomplish them. Do I need special equipment? Do I have enough knowledge? Do I need to create a special environment: ‘traffic’ if I want my horse to get used to cars, motors, tractors and so on? Does this sound a little vague? Let me give you an example. When Kyra came into my life, she was a feral filly and almost one year old.

Today Kyra is 6 years old. She is bombproof (flag, tarps, balloons etc), we did a few trail rides and I taught her to jump- instead of stumble- over cavaletti. She can walk, trot, canter, leg yield,  shoulder in, haunches in, leg yield in hand, in hand, on long reins and under saddle.

She accepts toddlers and unknown and even inexperienced riders on her back. She also has a few tricks up her sleeve like pick up and fetch objects, shake ‘No’, laying down, back crunch, kiss, standing on a pedestal, groundtying, smiling in two different ways and  more.

How did I accomplish this?

I started to find out what my ultimate horse dream looked like and then I made a 10 year plan. So my plan says that when Kyra will be 11 years old she will be experienced in Classical Dressage, she will be an excellent demonstration/show horse/trail horse/lesson horse (on her way to become a School Master) and she will be fully bomb proof and know a lot of trick training tricks. She will be still very sensitive, willing to learn, healthy, happy and physically well prepared for her ‘job’.

Kyra became a reliable and toddler proof horse

Next step was to divide my 10 year plan into a 5 year plan, 1 year plan and 12 monthly goals. I divided every monthly goal into a lot of building blocks. In this way I see each step of our progress. The first monthly goal was ‘simply’ taming her. I didn’t know how long this would take or if I could do it at all. So I made my building blocks very small, like looking at me was already worth a reward.

Within about 3 weeks I could halter Kyra, touch her all over, lift her feet and clean them and lead her over the premises. I kept a training diary, that’s how I know how long it took. I think I wouldn’t accomplish all these without a my planning and preparation. Don’t forget to keep a training journal, see this post [click here].

Sandra Poppema

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