'Rules' vs 'Principles' in Horse Training (this might be eye-opening!)

When people learn to interact with horses it usually starts with riding lessons or they learn from a seasoned horse person. You’ll learn the ropes, which usually means the ‘rules’ of how things are done. Then one day, you discover that the rule doesn’t apply anymore… Why is that?

Why Rules Not Always Apply

Over the years you already might have learned some rules don’t work for you or the horses you work with. Why is that?

Why rules in horse training not always work

Because when you’re focused on the rule, you miss the principle behind the rule. That’s why it’s not working. Learn the Principle and you discover the Gold!

It’s like Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day (rule), if you teach him how to fish (principle) he’ll never be hungry.

What’s the Principle behind the Rule?

That’s what I’ve been working on the past 3 decades and that’s why I can lead others to success in horse training. I don’t work with rules, I teach clients principles. They are way more worth, because it sets them up for life!

Examples of Rules that Not Always Work

These are rules that apply to some or maybe even most horses, not to all horses!

1. Horses will work for carrots.

My horse Kyra was born in a nature reserve and foals learn to eat what moms and other herd members eat. In nature horses don’t feed on carrots because they don’t grow in their habitat! Kyra literally had to learn to eat carrots, apples and man-made treats. Foals who are born at a barn have already learned that what people feed you is edible.

So what would be a principle behind this rule? The principle is that the receiver determines the reward (read: appetitive).

Some horses like to work for carrots, others prefer grain, grass pellets or something else. As trainer you have to figure out what motivates your horse.

You know that not all horses can’t be lured out of the pasture with a carrot. The carrot is simply not appetitive enough in those cases. More principles could be at work why the horse won’t come and how to determine that, is a whole other topic.

Still people are asking on the Internet: ‘What treats are best for in clicker training?’ The answer is… it depends on the horse and the situation. Appetitives can change in value.

If clicker training doesn’t work, it’s because people don’t apply the Key principles of Learning and Motivation, they try to apply ‘rules’ ~ HippoLogic

The rule people hear is:

2. “Pressure-release will make the horse do what I want”.

Look at people that have trouble loading their horse into a trailer. They apply pressure, they apply release and still the horse is outside the trailer.

In training it’s about the timing (learning happens when the aversive stimulus is released) and also about the strength and direction of the aversive (if the trailer is more aversive than the applied pressure, the horse won’t go in) or if an appetitive stimulus outside the trailer is stronger than the applied pressure the horse won’t go in. It’s about how the learner experience the aversive stimulus.

When I started to figure out the principles at work behind every rule in horse training things changed quickly. My clients got better results and problems were solved quicker and with less struggle.

3. Heels down, hands low, back straight, chin up!

This is what I was taught in riding lessons for many, many years. It didn’t make me a good rider at all. These are rules, the principle behind it (that they never taught me in the riding school), is to sit in balance.

When I took Centered Riding lessons I learned how to sit in balance. I learned that balance starts at the position of my pelvis: tipping it slightly forward it created a hollow back, legs that went backwards, heels went up and hands that were moving very much in order to keep my balance.

When I had my pelvis slightly tipped backwards, I rode with a curved back, my legs were in chair seat (before my point of gravity) and my chin was down.

Only if I kept my pelvis in ‘neutral’ (this is where your balance starts!) I was able to keep my legs in the right position, my back straight and could move with my horse instead of being before or behind my horse’s movement.

Only when I keep my pelvis in ‘neutral’ I can move with my horse. I am balanced, my hands can become soft because I move them in the rhythm of the movement of my horse’s head instead of my own body. My legs become still (in relation to the horse flank movements) because I don’t need to squeeze them in order to keep my balance. I became confident because I felt safe! That’s when I became a good rider.

Now you can see why these rules started: heads up, back straight and so on. They want to solve the symptoms of an unbalanced rider. Unfortunately they don’t work (how many times have you heard them!?) because they don’t solve the problem (balance). The principle of riding does: where does balance in a rider start? Right, in the pelvis! And that’s why it’s called ‘centered’ riding.

Want to Learn More About the Key Principles of Positive Reinforcement?

I you want to know more about the Principles (HippoLogic’s Key Lessons), join me for a free webinar in which I explain the 4 Main Reasons People get Stuck in Clicker Training (and solutions).
Spoiler alert: I will talk about principles!

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
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Why a good start is important. 5 Tips to start clicker training your horse

If you have not yet started clicker training your horse, here is a good way to start. Start with Key Lesson (your key to success) Table Manners.

Table Manners for Horses is similar to etiquette for people: we don’t use manners naturally, they are learned behaviours. Just like we teach children to use knife and fork and sit with our feet below the table and wait our turn, we can teach our horses safe behaviours around food and treats. We also don’t walk into other peoples houses (strangers) to see what’s in the fridge, right? Our horses are not suppose to check what’s in our pockets either.

Clear criteria

In order to start clicker training well, you need to have clear criteria in your head. What do you want to reinforce and see more off? What behaviour would you like to eliminate from your relationship (biting, mugging, being pushed etc)?

Focus on what you want, is the most important in equine clicker training. That’s what you want to see more of and that why you need to be prepared to click for ~ HippoLogic

Teach Your Horse to Behave Around Food: 5 Tips for Horses

Here are the criteria I like to teach horses who are new to positive reinforcement training:

✅ The horse needs to take the food off of the hand gently and calm: lips only and no teeth. No grabbing or moving super fast towards the food as if there’s a fear to miss out. That could be dangerous.

✅ The horse must learn to wait until the food (treat) is served to the lips and don’t move towards the food (the pocket with treats or hand that’s feeding the horse).

We -people- don’t go to the kitchen in a restaurant either so see where our food is. No, we wait patiently until it’s brought to us. We don’t start eating or grabbing the bread when the waitress still holds your plate. We wait until the plate is put in front of us before we start eating calmly.

✅ Only expect a treat after the bridge (click) and not at random.

Just like not every plate the waitress carries is for you. Only after you ordered you can expert food.

✅ The horse must be relaxed and in a calm state. Ears forward or relaxed to the side. This in combination with a closed muzzle and relaxed lips makes a friendly face. His must learn to trust the treat will come.

Just like in a restaurant you are polite and friendly to the waitress, not looking angry at the waitress when she bring the food to the table. You say ‘Thank you’ and smile.

✅ Make sure your horse is not hungry. In many restaurants you get or can order some bread and butter to change your hangry-ness into a better mood. Do the same for your horse: provide hay during training or train after a meal.

Horses are different than us. They are designed to eat 16 hours a day, so they will eat after a meal. If train when your horse is hungry, you’ll create problems that can be very hard to un-train, like grabbing the food and even biting.

Make sure positive reinforcement is a real win-win: win for you and win for your horse. Treat well ~ HippoLogic

;Read more about starting clicker training here.

5 Tips for Trainers

The criteria above mean also that the trainer also needs to have a few good habits.

Clicker training is not only about training your horse. You-as trainer- need to develop good habits, too. ~ HippoLogic

  1. Click first, then take a treat. Don’t make ‘pre-loading’ a habit or your horse will only focus on where your hands are. That really reinforces mugging
  2. Always deliver the treat to the mouth, so that your horse never has to look for the treat. Teach him that he can trust you to give it to him
  3. Make the food move to the horse, not the other way around. If you encourage your horse to move towards the food you easily reinforce the undesired mugging behaviour
  4. If you drop a treat, immediately present a new one. The one on the ground can be ignored, taken away if it’s sandy or be a bonus. If you or your horse drop treats often, use bigger treats
  5. Start with medium or low value treats (grass pellets, moist hay cubes) and not with high value treats (usually the sweet ones like carrot, apple and store bought treats)

What’s your biggest take-away from this blog? Use the comment below. undefined

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
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Common Fears About Hand-Feeding Horses

Horse owners (I call them horse trainers) who use food reinforcers are frequently confronted with a lot of misunderstanding about how treats or rewards can be effectively used as reinforcers. Some people don’t realize that you can use treats to your benefit: to help you train your horse._Ifahorselovestheirjob_hippologic

Common beliefs

I asked my Facebook friends to help me out with some common believes that live in the equine world about treats in training. Thank you all for helping me. I will quote the answers:

  1. Hand-feeding creates mugging horses
  2. Hand feeding makes them bite.
  3. That it instantly makes them fat.
  4. Hand feeding horses is bad because it turns them into monsters, they get rude, pushy and bite everyone.
  5. That’s bribing and horses do X only for treats but not out of respect towards the person treating them!
  6. They get Treat Crazy, and will not be able to think or focus on what they are doing.
  7. It will make your horse aggressive pushy and mouthy.
  8. Hand-feeding makes them spoiled and they will refuse to eat out of a bucket and you will have to exchange it for a gilded bowl.
  9. It makes them nippy, aggressive, pushy, space invading.
  10. You can only hand-feed your horse twice.
  11. They’ll kill you if you forget your treat bag once upon a time in the future.
  12. It’s unnatural (as opposed to using carrot sticks and spurs and what not), since horses don’t feed one another in reward for tasks.
  13. It’s super dangerous, for when done incorrectly it turns them into raging killing machines that can never be re-educated.
  14.  Only hand-feed grain and hay but not treats because it will send the wrong message to the horse.

Let’s see how we can prevent these objections from happening.
In this blog I gave solutions for objections 1,2,4,7,9, and 13. In this blog I will debunk objection #3.

‘Using Treats In Training Makes Horses Fat’

This can happen, but it is easily preventable:

  • You can use the horse’s normal dinner feed in training. You already know they love it! Then of course at dinner time you give less if your horse is prone to become _give an appetitive HippoLogicoverweight easily.
  • Most horses like to work for simple hay cubes or timothy/alfalfa cubes
  • You can make your own sugar-free treats which horses really love (at least all horses I trained all love them)
  • You can even use handful of hay (in Winter) or grass (in Summer)

Tips

  1. Avoid high sugar treats like apples, carrots or store bought horse treats. They all contain lots of sugar.
  2. Try out other veggies or low sugar fruits like cucumber or celery
  3. Make sure the amount of reinforcers is in balance with the amount of exercise your horse gets.

If you want to learn more about using food to your benefit in training, sign up today for the next course Ultimate Horse Training Formula. One of the 8 modules will be about how to use food reinforcers best, the difference between ‘high value’ and ‘low value’ reinforcers and when to use which. You also learn how to fade out the reinforcer and keep the behaviour!

Stay tuned for my next blog. I will give solutions to objection #6 They get Treat Crazy, and will not be able to think or focus on what they are doing.

Safe the date: Thursday March 7, 2019 and join us!

Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Succes 

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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!
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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6 Things That You Might Not Know About Clicker Training (5/6)

hippologic

In this series I will be sharing 6 interesting facts I didn’t know about when I started using positive reinforcement in training animals. This is part 5. I like this one!

Some of these are common misunderstandings people have about clicker training while others are facts most equestrians don’t know at all.

The goal of this blog is to help more people understand how well positive reinforcement (R+) works in training our horses. I want every one to know that clicker training offers more great benefits besides training your goal behaviour. Positive side-effects you won’t get in negative reinforcement (R-) based training methods (traditional and natural horsemanship). I wish I had known these benefits earlier in life.

#5 Positive reinforcement has many smart training strategies that I haven’t found in other training methods

_clickertraining_secret_hippologicIn the decades that I have been using positive reinforcement training I have discovered so many smart training strategies that I haven’t heard of in other methods.

This is what I learned in the first 20 years in horses

In traditional and natural horsemanship training the aim was to create more of the desired behaviour by taking away something the horse dislikes (an aversive). Therefor, the solution I was offered ,when a horse wouldn’t obey, was to ‘ask again but increase the pressure’ (the aversive): eg more leg! If that didn’t work: a tap with the whip. Increasing the command until my horse would go. The myth I learned was: ‘He (your horse) knows what to do.’

If a horse didn’t cooperated in taking an oral de-wormer, you just tied him up so he couldn’t pull his head away. Which most of the time resulted in a bigger struggle next time. The myth I was told (and I believed) was: ‘He will soon learn that this doesn’t kill him’.

Sounds familiar?

___clickertraining_hippologicIn general the ‘solution’ was often the same (more ‘pressure’) and only aimed to short-term success (the now). Basically the go-to solution was using more coercion, often painful. Rewards must be ‘only sparingly used’ otherwise ‘I would spoil the horse’.

Positive reinforcement expands your horizon

In positive reinforcement the aim is to train the horse by reinforcing the desired behaviour with something the horse wants to receive/have (appetitive). You focus on the good things!

So, when my horse doesn’t offer the desired behaviour I immediately start asking questions. Not the “How can I make the good thing easy and the bad thing difficult?”-question (which often means “How can I -the trainer- get to my goals ASAP?), but many questions. Horse-centered questions:

  • Why does my horse not cooperate?
  • Has my reinforcer (my reward) lost it’s value?
  • Is something else more reinforcing or urgent?
  • Am I clear in what I want my horse to do?
  • How can I make it easier and more fun (!) for my horse?
  • Does my horse understands what I want (Am I lumping? Is there a context shift? Is he distracted? Bored? Anxious or in flight mode?)
  • and so on

Training strategies

Then you have those smart training strategies that really help achieving your goals and goal behaviour, like:

  • positive reinforcement: reinforcing with appetitives (something the horse really wants to have and want to make an effort for to get it)
  • 5 strategies to get your goal behaviour with R+
  • writing a shaping plan (detailed step-by-step approach of training your goal behaviour)
  • the use of a bridge/marker signal to pinpoint exactly what you want to see more of
  • the use of high and low value reinforcers to increase engagement, decrease stress levels, prevent boredom and predictability in training and so on
  • ‘jackpots’
  • chaining behaviour
  • back chaining behaviour

Training_logbook_journal_diary_hippologic2016Except for the use of rewards I never heard of any of the above strategies until I learned more about positive reinforcement. A few of these are really your Key to Success in Equine Clicker Training. If you want to learn more join the online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula where you learn all 12 Keys to Success.

It makes life so much easier that I can’t picture training horses or coaching people without these strategies.

Read the other articles in this series:

part 1 of 6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6

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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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Tips to Measure the Value of Your Reward

I mean reinforcer. Not ‘reward’. It just sounded better. 😉 There is a big difference, let’s take a look at the definitions:

Reward
noun

A thing given in recognition of one’s service, effort, or achievement.
“the holiday was a reward for 40 years’ service with the company”

Synonyms: Recompenseprizeawardhonordecorationbonuspremiumbountypresentgift,
payment;

Informal – payoffperk;
Formal – perquisite “a reward for its safe return”
Reward
verb
Make a gift of something to (someone) in recognition of their services, efforts, or achievements.
Synonyms:

Recompensepayremunerate, make something worth someone’s while;

Reinforcer

A stimulus (such as a appetitive or the removal of an aversive) that increases the probability of a desired response in operant conditioning by being applied or effected following the desired response.

The purpose of a reward is a gift (end of story), the purpose of a reinforcer is to stimulate behaviour! Big difference.

Determine a Reinforcer

_Hippologic_rewardbased training_receiver_determinesFirst you need to know that it’s the receiver (horse) that determines the reinforcer, not the trainer!

Your horse will tell you if something was reinforcing.

There are only 3 possibilities:

  1. You get more behaviour: the appetitive or aversive was indeed reinforcing
  2. You see no difference in desired response:the trainer did not give an appetitive or aversive stimulus but a neutral stimulus
  3. You get less of the desired behaviour, your reinforcer was not a reinforcer but a punishment for the learner. The behaviour decreased.

Low value or high value reinforcers

Low value reinforcers will still increase desired behaviour (they are not neutral) but they don’t over excite or over arouse your horse. Your horse stays interested in your training and keeps paying attention to you.

_treats_in_training_hippologicHigh value reinforcers can help your horse to increase his own criteria of a certain behaviour because the value of the treat excites him.

The downside is that high value reinforcers can cause over excitement and/or overarousal. You want to avoid that because it will distract the animal from the behaviour you want him to offer.

Choosing the Right Value

In general you want to use the lowest value reinforcer possible, that still get you the desired behaviour. It’s still worth it for the horse.

Low value reinforcers will help keep your horse in ‘learning mode‘ and pay attention to the behaviour, not the food.

You can alternate low value reinforcers with higher value reinforcers or you can mix them to up the value and keep it interesting.

_carrot_reward_reinforcer_horsetreat_tips for treats_horsetraining_hippologicHigh value reinforcers can be well used when your horse is nervous, in pain or if something else (a distraction) is also highly reinforcing.

A better ‘pay’ can help him decide to offer the desired behaviour despite of his emotions or other attractive motivators that going on.

It can help your horse to choose to perform better if he knows a high value reinforcer will or might come his way.

Tips to Measure the Value

When your horse grabs the treat off of your hand, bites, moves his head very fast towards the hand that offers the treat or eats the treat very fast, the reinforcer is of high value. Other signs can be over excitement or arousal and concentrating on the food instead of the cues of the trainer.

When your horse sniffs the treat first or slowly eats it, it can be an indicator of a low value reinforcer. If your horse starts to refuse the treat during training it has lost it’s value and you need to stop the training session or switch to a higher value reinforcer.
If the quality of the desired behaviour will not increase (your horse doesn’t try other behaviours/increase criteria) your reinforcers aren’t high enough value.

When your horse stays engaged in your training, keep offering new behaviours and doesn’t show frustration or overarousal/overexcitement the balance of high/low value reinforcers is perfect. That might change over time or when your clicks get too predictable.

Behaviour is not static!

What are some low and high value reinforcers for your horse? How can you tell? Please share your stories in the comments and inspire us!

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Happy Horse training!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the relationship with their horse they really, really want and I teach them how they can get the results in training they dream of in a win-win way for horse and human.
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 Ultimate Horse Training Formula.
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3 Tips for Treats in Horse Training

When you clicker train your horse you need something to reinforce (strengthen) the behaviour. After all, it is the receiver (horse) that determines the reinforcer.

Food is an excellent reinforcer for most horses, although I have come across a few who didn’t seem interested in food at all for training purposes. In that case you have to become a bit more resourceful. I will write a post about that if there is demand for that topic. Please let me know in the comments.

Tip #1 Experiment!

Don’t be afraid to try out different treats and explore what your horse likes and what he doesn’t.

When I shared the post Clicker training 101: Tips for Treats on my Facebook group Happy Herd, Equine Clicker Training Network wonderful experiences about all kind of different food rewards were given.

Some trainers use large kibbles, that are just ‘maintenance pellets’ horse feed, some use a mix of alfalfa cubes mixed with corn or one of the many commercial treats available for horses.

I like to use Timothy hay cubes and grass pellets since Kyra loves them very much. My horse is insuline resistance so I don’t want to use treats loaded with sugar of molasses. Kyra prefers natural flavours. My own home baked (sugar free) horse cookies made out of brown rice and flax seeds are her favorite.

Other choices are: cut up carrots, apples, zucchini, cucumber, grain, carob pods, sunflower seeds, grapes and other fruits and vegetables.

Tip #2 Measure the value of the reinforcer

You can make a list of all the treats you tried and how much value they seemed to have for _carrot_reward_reinforcer_horsetreat_tips for treats_horsetraining_hippologicyour horse at that moment. Did he really like the treat or did he ‘just ate them’? Did he seem to like it or did he spit them out?

The value of certain foods can change over time or depending on the circumstance. Sometimes it is depending on the season. Gras pellets can have a higher value for your horse in Winter when his diet is mainly hay, than in Summer when he grazes in a juicy pasture all day long.

So try again if your horse didn’t seem to like a certain treat. He might have changed his mind. Sometimes a horse has to ‘learn’ to eat it. When Kyra came fresh out of the nature reserve she didn’t like carrots and apples at all because her mom hadn’t taught her they were ‘safe foods’. When she saw how other horses ate it again and again she started to try them too and eventually like them. So don’t give up too easy if it is a healthy treat that you would like to use a reinforcer.

Tip #3 Vary!

Variety is the spice of life. If you change your reinforcers in training, it contributes to a certain ‘chance’ of getting a certain treat. Since the horse doesn’t know what treat he will receive, you will get him on top of his game to earn that ‘special one’.

You can also mix two different kinds of food. If you use hay cubes and it’s values fades quickly for your horse, you can mix in some high value food like a bit of grain or corn to make it more interesting without making the reward too rich in calories.

 

What about you?

I (and I am sure my readers, too) would love to hear about your choice of food reward and the reason for your choice.

Please share your valuable experience in the comments and help your fellow positive reinforcement trainers.

 HippoLogic.jpgSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect 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 reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover what else I have to offer.
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Recipe Horse Cookies

We all would like to treat our horses from time to time. Positive reinforcement trainers are always on the lookout to find a special treat for their horse which they can use in training.

Kyra is an extremely picky eater when it comes to treats and she won’t eat commercial horse treats. I was very exited when I tried this recipe and discovered that she liked these right away. For Kyra this is a high value treat, so it makes it worthwhile to make.

Healthy Cinnamon Horse Cookies
The molasses is optional. Without the molasses these are very low-sugar treats. I make them all the time without molasses. I have yet to encounter a horse that doesn’t like them! Sometimes I use turmeric instead of cinnamon.

Ingredients
1 ¾  cups uncooked (brown) rice / 6 cups cooked rice
1 cup ground stabilized flax
3 tablespoons cinnamon
½ cup flour
½ cup molasses (optional) or water

Directions
Pre-heat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit (135 degrees Celsius). Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Cook the rice and let cool down.

Mix all ingredients together. It will make a very sticky dough.

_healthy_horse_treats_hippologic_valentineWet your hands before making little balls of the dough. This is very time consuming. If you don’t have much time you can also roll the dough simply onto the 2 cookie sheets with a rolling pin. Make it half an inch thick. Pre-cut the cookies with a pizza cutter into little squares before baking.

Bake them for 60 minutes. Turn cookies and bake for another 60 minutes. They should be crisp and not squishy. Let them cool down for several hours to harden.
If baked properly and stored in freezer or fridge, they will keep for up to several weeks.

I hope there is no need to keep them stored for weeks. My horse Kyra loves these!

These healthy cinnamon horse cookies make excellent gifts, too.

Here is the video with instructions:

Here is the connaisseur who did the tasting:

HippoLogic.jpg
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect you with your inner wisdom (you know what’s right) and teach you the principles of learning and motivation, so you become confident and knowledgeable to train your horse in a safe, effective and FUN way. Win-win.
All HippoLogic’s programs are focused on building your confidence and provide you with  a step-by-step formula to train horses with 100% positive reinforcement.
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