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!

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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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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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8 Important Life Lessons I learned from Positive Reinforcement Horse Training

When I was a little girl learned quickly that I couldn’t boss around certain horses. I also learned that I liked it much better when I didn’t have to.

A few decades ago I learned about positive reinforcement (+R)  training and now, 17 years later I can truly say +R has become more of a lifestyle than just a training method for me.

One of the best reviews I received from a student is: You are always very supportive Sandra and make this feel like a safe place (the Facebook support group) to ask questions. Funny, but I’ve met a lot of R+ trainers who a very encouraging and positive with their horses but extremely critical of their human trainers. Sandra you walk and talk R+ in all areas – with horses and people.”

Here 8 of the most valuable lessons and my biggest ‘clicks’ (eye openers) positive reinforcement horse training taught me:

  1. The receiver determines the reinforcer, not the trainer, not teacher nor the parent. Once I learned to think from my horses’ point of view and what his motivation is, it became clear on why he did or didn’t want to do it. Same goes for humans.
  2. Envisioning my goals before I start, makes it easy to keep on track and go back on track once I get sidetracked. Not only my equestrian goals, but all my goals!
  3. Writing down my goals made it easier to find the right teachers. Studies prove that writing your goals down will make you see more opportunities because it puts your unconscious to work.
  4. Writing down my goals helped me into dividing them into achievable (baby) steps. Whenever I feel stuck, whether that is in life or in horse training I ask myself if I am ‘lumping’ (making the steps too big) and I usually do. Once I make my steps smaller I can be successful again. This one was a biggy!
  5. Different reinforcers have different values and values can change depending on the circumstances. It makes sense that once the receiver can predict when and what the reinforcer is, he can determine if he does or doesn’t want to do the behaviour.
  6. I learned to think out of the box, because I didn’t have ready-made solutions for a lot of challenges I ran into. It is an amazing helpful life skill! I love it!
  7. I changed my focus to what goes well and improves, rather than the things that doesn’t yet go the way I envisioned. I turned from a Negative Nancy into a Positive Polly
  8. When I started to focus on my method of training, instead of only focusing on the results of my training, three interesting things happened: 1) there was now something valuable in it for the horse which made it a huge win-win, 2) the results came much quicker, easier and were way more reliable and 3) the overall relationship with my horse improved tremendously! Wow! Win-win-win!

What are the most valuable life lessons you learned in training? Please share yours in the comments.

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
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The safest way to bring a dangerous horse to the pasture

When I was young and learned to ride in the local riding school, we sometimes were allowed to bring the ponies to the pasture. This came with a simple warning: ‘Always turn your horse to the gate before you take the halter off, so they don’t kick you.’

I still use that advice and teach it to others but there is more to learn about safety. Some horses run off, kick or bolt when released. How to handle those horses?

Horses that run off, kick and bolt

Some horses like to run off immediately and kick or bolt in the process. If you stand ‘in his way’, there is a chance that you get hurt. I’ve seen people deal with this problem by taking the halter off and shooing them away with it! I think the idea is to get them as quickly as possible out of their personal space.

I don’t think shooing away a horse that already has a tendency for bolting and running away will make a horse behave more safely.

On the contrary, it will add to his stress and he might anticipate the next time by shooing you away from his personal space. That is the last thing you want him to do, right?

Solution

There is a simple way to prevent horses from running off when you take the halter or lead rope off. You have to teach them that:

  • They won’t get chased or shooed away by you, and there is no need for them to run off or defend themselves
  • It’s safe and fun to stay a little longer with you
  • They can leave in a calm way, there is no need to rush

Incompatible behaviour

When a horse displays undesired behaviour, in this case dangerous behaviour, the simple solution is to teach them incompatible behaviour and reinforce that behaviour more.

An incompatible behaviour is a behaviour that simply cannot be displayed while doing another behaviour.

Step 1: What is the undesired behaviour?

  • Running off immediately with the chance of you getting hurt in the process
  • Turning around quickly and bolting when leaving
  • Keeping their head up and/or walking backwards so you can’t take the halter or lead rope off safely

Step 2: What is the cause?

Knowing what causes these behaviours is a huge step towards preventing them.

It can be learned behaviour: the horse has learned that the person will shoo him away and he anticipates by trying to get away before that happens. This creates a dangerous vicious circle that is hard to break when you don’t realize what drives the behaviour.

It can be a lack of education. I always teach my horses to turn around every time we go through a gate. One day I was leading a young stallion pony out of the arena. I didn’t realize that he had not yet learned to turn after walking through a gate. I wasn’t prepared that he simply walked straight out the gate, directly towards the barn.  I expected him to turn around or at least wait for me, but he didn’t, because no one had taught him that. I tripped and was dragged on my belly in the mud for several meters. When he finally stopped to see what made walking so hard, I could get up quickly and reinforce him for stopping. It was not the smartest idea to hold on, and I was lucky he didn’t panic.

It can be fear: the horse is afraid of the other horses or one horse in particular that approaches him. If he feels trapped because he is still on a lead rope that can cause him to panic and flee.

It can be impatience: maybe the horse is super excited to go to the pasture to have a good run. He simply can’t wait to stretch his legs.

Step 3: Work on the cause

If the horse hasn’t learned to stay with you until you cue him to wonder off, you can teach him to wait. If he hasn’t learned to turn around, teach him that this will be reinforced and that it’s worthwhile for him. Simply offer him a treat before you take the halter off and one after. He will learn to wait for his treat before he leaves. Better even is to use a bridge signal (a click) before you give the treat to mark the desired behaviour.

If he is fearful for the other horses, you have to find a way to distract or prevent the other horses from coming too close and crowd you.

If your horse is super excited you have to keep him calm and keep his excitement low so he won’t run off and take you with him in the process. You can train this easily with positive reinforcement training.

Step 4: Teach an incompatible behaviour 

In order to prevent undesirable and dangerous behaviours you can work on an incompatible behaviour and reinforce that more. Punishment the way we apply it, is usually not very effective. Teaching and reinforcing an incompatible behaviour is and will give you quick results, too!

What is an ‘incompatible behaviour’? A behaviour that cannot be displayed at the same time as the undesired behaviour. It takes a bit of thinking out of the box to master this skill, but it will bring you so much clarity once you can!

Incompatible behaviours: a horse can’t run off or kick when he is standing still (focus on reinforcing ‘4 hooves on the ground’), a horse can’t lift his head if he keeps his head low, a horse can’t bite with his mouth closed or when his head is turned away from you. He can’t be excited and calm at the same time! Teach him to be calm and focused on you.

Summary

Teach you horse to stay with you until you give him the cue that he can leave now. I do this by simply creating the expectation that there is something in it for the horse. I use high value reinforcers: super yummy treats or if a horse loves scratches and attention more, I will use those.

I start by reinforcing incompatible behaviours and work on the cause of the dangerous behaviours. I reinforce turning around after entering the pasture, standing still, keeping head low and after I take the halter off. Then I get out of the pasture before I give a clear signal that the horse can’t expect any more treats, my ‘end-of-training-signal’.

Then I fade out the treats slowly. I never totally quit forever with the treats because I want to keep us safe. A treat can also be just a bit of grass that you plucked just outside the fence, where the grass always is greener….

Related posts:

How to bring your horse to the pasture safely

How to get your horse out of the pasture effortlessly

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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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How to change emotions in your horse during training

 

Sometimes a horse shows undesired emotions during training, like biting, mugging, signs of frustration or even aggression. What can you do to change it? My mentor always told me it is foolish to keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results. How do you break this circle?

 

Change the setup

Take a break and rethink your approach. Go back to the point where the behaviour (emotion) was still desirable. Do do know what has changed? Change it back and see what happens.

Maybe you have to change the setup of your training entirely so you won’t trigger the undesired emotion/behaviour(s). In this way you can first ‘work around it’ until there is a more desired emotion or behaviour associated with the behaviour.

Find the cause of the undesired emotion

If you change your training approach you might find the cause of the frustration, boredom or other undesired emotion/behaviour in your horse.

When I encountered a lot of frustration in a horse I used this approach. I didn’t realize what had changed at first.

_low-value-treats-vs-high-value-treats_hippologic

Change one variable at a time

At first I experimented with a different target, a different area to train, hand feeding instead of feeding her from a  bucket and so on. I talked it over with someone who watched the whole session and we figured out it might be the high value food I was using as a reinforcer.

The mare got so excited by the very  yummie treats, she couldn’t wait (anymore) until the target was presented to earn a click and reinforcer. Because she ‘couldn’t wait’, she started to display all her impatience by pacing up en down the fence, tossing her head and pinning her ears. She soon got so frustrated she couldn’t pay attention to what behaviour lead to presenting the target (ears forward, standing still, head at medium height or below) and a click. She went back to her ‘old ways’ to get what she wanted: displaying her unhappiness. This worked for her in the past and she just went back to her default behaviour, as we all do from time to time.

It was only when I changed the food reward to a lesser value food that we immediately saw a huge difference in her behaviour. Apparently the food I was using was really high value for her, so she literally couldn’t wait for another opportunity to earn more clicks and more high value treats. That’s what caused her frustration.

As soon as I offered her much lower value treats, she went back to thinking mode and she was open to learning again.

_treats_in_training_hippologic

I never met a horse that showed me so clearly that a high value treat can cause so much frustration.

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

 

 

Clicker training 101: Tips for Treats

The most important thing about the treats I use is that it has to have enough value to my horse to reinforce the desired behaviour. After all it is the receiver that determines the reward, not the trainer: want the behaviour, my horse wants the treat. Let’s make it a win-win.

Treats can differ in ‘value’ for the horse, depending on circumstances. Not only the value matters when you use treats in training. There is more to consider when you choose treats for training.

Size matters

When you introduce the click or another bridge signal to your horse a small treat that can be eaten quickly is a good choice. If the horse isn’t very interested in the treat, try a higher value treat.

If your horse has trouble ‘finding’ the treat on your hand and or gets nervous about missing out, try a bigger size treat. One that he can see easily see and take off your hand.

The trainer can carry more treats if they are smaller. More treats means less refills. This can be handy on a long trail ride or during training sessions where the trainer doesn’t want to leave the horse (vet treatment, farrier).

A food reward shouldn’t take long to eat. If the horse has to chew too long it distracts from training.

If the treats are very small, like pellets, it can take a while before the horse eats everything. The last few pellets might be too small to eat safely. Consider just dropping them on the ground.

_treats_size_matters_value_matters_hippologic

 

Value matters

There are low value treats and high value treats. It is always the horse who determines if something is high or low value to him. Low value treats can be normal dinner grain or hay cubes, high value treats are special treats that are extra tasty, like carrots.

Work with treats that are as low value as possible, but still reinforces the desired behaviour.

Use high value treats for special occasions. For example if the horse has to do something difficult, painful (like a vet treatment) or scary.

High value treats also make excellent jackpots.

If your horse gets greedy or displays dangerous or undesired behaviour like biting or mugging, try lower value treats.

Calories matter

For horses that are overweight, have a tendency to get overweight or founder easily low calorie treats are a healthy choice.

Deduct the amount of calories offered during training from your horses normal feeds.

Vitamin pellets are often a healthy choice, check the label. Most ones have a decent size, they are non sticky and are low in sugar and calories.

_considering_treats_training_hippologic

Practical things matter

Not all trainers like  to have sticky treats like apple pieces or sugar covered cereal in their pocket.

My horse Kyra likes soaked beetpulp, but I don’t like to carry it around. Sometimes I bring it to the arena in a plastic container which I put on the ground. Not very practical during riding, but perfect as jackpot in groundwork or during trick training.

Some treats, like sour apples, can increase the  amount of saliva in your horse’s mouth or can cause foaming saliva. Which can become messy. It can also increase behaviour like licking your hands. If you don’t like that, try avoid these treats.

If you bridge and reinforce a lot, cost can become an issue. Commercial horse treats are very expensive per treat in comparison to home made treats, dinner grain or hay cubes.

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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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