Is Your Horse Mugging You?

What is ‘mugging’, you say? Mugging is all behaviour your horse uses to get your attention (negative or positive) and/or all he does to get treats or his food faster

Other common names for ‘mugging’

There are many ways your horse can get your attention. When it’s in an undesired way we -horse people in general- call it:

  • ‘Mugging’
  • ‘Begging’
  • ‘Attention seeking’
  • ‘Impatience’
  • ‘Dominance’
  • ‘Aggression’
  • ‘Food aggression’
  • Disrespectful’
  • ‘Naughty’
  • ‘Treat crazy’
  • ‘Give-me-treats-behaviour’ or
  • ‘Jackassery’ behaviour.

Symptoms of mugging behaviour

What does the behaviour look like? It can be different for each individual horse. Here are the most common ways horses use to get attention (in good and bad ways). They use these because it pays or paid off in the past. It’s learned behaviour with a function for the horse.

  • Pawing
  • Pushing me with his head
  • Nudges me with his nose
  • Sniffs my pockets or hands
  • Moves his head up and down
  • Bites
  • Tries to untie himself (at the grooming area)
  • Vocal (nicker, whinney)
  • Kicks his stall door
  • Grooming
  • Bucks
  • Strikes
  • Weaves and shakes head
  • Rears and swings his hind end towards you

What to do about it?

Some people call it ‘cute’ until it becomes annoying. I think many horse people learned to ignore the problem because they don’t have a way to deal with it. They tried punishing or re-training but didn’t succeed and gave up. And people are taught to deal with it in the wrong way, ineffective ways that is. When I started out riding they warned me not to use treats. That it would be ‘bribing the horse’ and turn him into a treat crazy horse. They told me to ignore it (why that doesn’t work, I will teach in my mini course if I decide to create one) or punish it. Punishment will seldom work if you love your horse (I will address that in the course too).

Best way to handle it is to teach a replacement behaviour. One that is safe, cute and clear.

I can use your help

I am currently doing market research to see if horse people would be interested in an online course to stop your horse from mugging you. If you have a ‘mugger’ or don’t have a mugging horse I would love to hear from you.
Would you be willing to answer these 10 questions and help me? <- Click here to go to the questionnaire. Thank you in advance.

How I address mugging

I teach all my clients (equines and humans) Key Lesson ‘Table Manners for Horses’. I call it Key Lessons because these principles are the key to success in positive reinforcement horse training.

Key Lesson Table Manners

I choose ‘Table Manners’ because like human etiquette it’s something we have to learn! If you put a table full of veggies, soup, rice, cookies, dessert and candy in a room and let some toddlers go, it’s highly unlikely that they will all sit on a chair, wait until the food is served to their plates and use their cutlery to eat. No they will just follow their natural behaviour, which is go to the most attractive food (or edible) on the table, grab it with their little (unwashed) hands and start enjoying! Just like children we have to teach our horses what ‘we’ consider ‘desired behaviour’. Or what about this cat… naughty or not taught well?

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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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6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training (2/6)

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 2. Read also part 1 and part 3.

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.

# 2: Clicker training will make you more resourceful

When using pressure-release in training and the horse doesn’t cooperate, the go-to strategy is to increase pressure until the horse does what you want. This is actually the only strategy I they taught me, when I was learning traditional and later on natural horsemanship training.

light-bulb-1926533_640When you decide to use less pressure-release in training and focus more on positive reinforcement, you give your horse a voice and a choice in training. Therefor you have to learn to listen what your horse is communicating to you if things don’t go as planned.

If you know the reason your horse does not follow your cue, you need to come up with a way to address his feelings or concerns first. It helps if you have knowledge about (natural) horse behaviour and natural needs horses have.

What if my horse doesn’t want to do what I want?

Depending to the cause of saying ‘No’ you can come up with another way, a new strategy to make it easier for your horse to say ‘Yes’ (without making something else more difficult!).

Possible causes of not cooperating are:

  • fear
  • something else is more reinforcing
  • something else is more urgent (e.g danger, internal processes like hunger, pain)
  • your horse doesn’t understand what he has to do
  • and so on.

Become resourceful

You have to come up with strategies that will be:

  1. Addressing the reason your horse said ‘No’ so he gets into learning mode again.
  2. Easier to understand (splitting behaviour and making a shaping plan)
  3. Worthwhile for your horse to participate (it’s the receiver that determines the reward, not the trainer!). You don’t want him to ‘zone out’ (and go into learned helplessness)
  4. Interesting and fun for your horse, so he will stay engaged

So you have to become very creative! That is the fun part of training animals!

When you allow your horse to say ‘no’ in training, you have to accept that ‘no’. Treat the ‘no’ for what it is: valuable feedback from your horse. It is ‘just information’. Information you can use to benefit you and your horse!

You have to find out why: What is causing your horse to say ‘No’?

If you figure that out, you listened to your horse. This helps you come up with a strategy to entice him to say ‘yes’, without forcing him.

clickertraining.ca

This skill -to think out of the box -is a very useful skill in all other situations in life. Get creative!

Read his body language

It can be as easy as recognizing that he is just tired. Simply ending the training session will give you more of the desired behaviour next time.

If it is mental fatigue, you can focus on a well known and established behaviour that take no thinking effort. And so on.

Tell me your story

Share your story (use the comment section at the bottom) about one time you had to come up with an alternative strategy. What did you do differently than you would have done traditionally?

we_listen_hippoloic_weclickWhat was the situation and what do you think caused your horses to say ‘No’ ? What solution did you come up with and what was the result? Do you think it benefited your relationship with your horse?

Stay tuned

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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