Empowering Equestrians to Train their own horse with 100% Force Free & Horse Friendly methods

Posts tagged ‘horse listener’

The horse that changed my life

Which horse changed your life? Was it a challenging horse? I bet he wasn’t cooperative all the time, was he? The horses that changed my life were ‘stubborn’, ‘difficult’, ‘dangerous’ or ‘challenging’. Some horses had ‘character’ according to the salesperson, which usually meant that they are not very cooperative.

‘Stubborn’, ‘difficult’ or ‘dangerous’

ChicaSholtoBoy_HippoLogic.jpgWhat does a horse have to do to earn a label like that?  In most cases the horse desperately tries to communicate something to humans: pain, fear, discomfort. Horses want to please and cooperate. Since they are herd animals, it is in their nature to do so. If they are very uncooperative or dangerous the horse generally is in pain or he is very, very confused.

Message

Horses that don’t ‘follow the rules’ have a special message. Are you listening? tell me about the most extraordinary horse you ever met. What did he do that was so special?

 

Sandra Poppema
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website and book a free intake consult!

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Change to Positive Reinforcement

It was 1999 when I heard about clicker training for horses. I knew dolphins were trained with a whistle and fish to reward them, but that was about everything I knew.  I decided to try it out with my 21 year old pony Sholto. I learned about learning theory during my study Animal Management, but no one could tell me how to start with Sholto. So I just started…

How I started clicker training

I can’t really remember what my thoughts were at the time, but I do remember I started with some really difficult trick training exercises: touching a skippy ball, Spanish walk and _classical bow_buiging_hippologica Classical bow. The skippy ball became a ‘target’ and it was really hard to change ‘touching’ the ball into pushing the ball. That didn’t take my pleasure away, though. The Classical bow was a coincidence and I was lucky to ‘capture’ that behaviour. I can’t recall how we got to a Spanish walk.

What I learned using R+

When I started clicker training I had no idea what impact it would have on my future and my whole training approach. The most remarkable changes (in hindsight) are:

  • I learned to ‘listen to my horse‘ by studying his body language
  • I learned a lot about learning theory.
  • I love to approach behaviour now as a matter of motivation: is the horse moving away from something or moving towards something? Is something else (than the ___clickertraining_hippologictraining/trainer) more enticing? By looking at the motivation of the horse, I can now skip the whole ‘leadership’ and ‘dominance’ discussion in training.
  • I learned to think out of the box and became more creative in training. I now have so many different ways to elicit behaviour and put it on cue.
  • Shaping. I learned the power of shaping, a wonderful tool in training.
  • Timing.
  • The power of using a marker to mark (a step towards) the desired behaviour.
  • Planning and the power of keeping a journal.

I truly believe that I wouldn’t have grown so much as a horse trainer if it wasn’t for positive reinforcement. One of the best changes is that I learned to focus on what goes well instead of what went wrong! A change that bears fruit in all facets of my life!

How about you?

What are your most remarkable changes since you started using positive reinforcement for your horse? How did clicker training influenced you as trainer, horse lover or in your personal life?

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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The clicker, for me a symbol of …

WP has a Photo Challenge with the theme ‘symbol‘.

For me the clicker became an important symbol. It represents force-free horse training, friendship, fun and a life time of learning. Let me explain.

_clicker_hippologic_symbol 

 

Force-free training

The clicker represents positive reinforcement: training behaviour by adding an appetitive to the horse in order to reinforce behaviour. There is no force or coercion in positive reinforcement training.

Friendship

When I started to use positive reinforcement I had to learn about what my horse likes and dislikes.

Positive reinforcement is a way to give my horse a choice in training and therefor it gives her a voice. For me friendship is not only listening to my horse but also acting on the information she is giving me. Friendship means that I sometimes have to change my approach if my horse doesn’t like it, can’t (physically) do it or won’t do what I ask for whatever reason. For me, the clicker symbolizes this.

Fun

Learning new skills, exploring new ways has always been fun to me. The clicker represents also the fun the horse displays when he figures out what the training question is. The eagerness my horse shows in working with me: always coming to the gate in the pasture as soon as she sees me and the soft loving nicker to greet me.

Life long learning

Switching from traditional and natural horsemanship methods to positive reinforcement forced me to develop new skills so I could communicate clearly what I want from my horse.

I had to learn to listen better to my horse and I had to develop my observational skills in order to pinpoint (click) the desired behaviour. I had to figure out what motivates my horse in order to reinforce the behaviour I am teaching her. I studied the learning theory and learning curve of animals intensively. Something I probably wouldn’t have done tothis degree if force was still my go-to method in training and riding horses.

The road to positive reinforcement has been (and still is) an exciting journey for me. I am still fascinated every day by how learning actually  works in horses and how we humans can influence it. It is a life long journey with fabulous views!

What represents a clicker for you?

Sandra Poppema

For tailored advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult!

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Reflections on +R vs -R (positive reinforcement vs negative reinforcement)

How valuable is a behaviour to you when it is associated by the horse with aversives (-R, negative reinforcement)?

Is a behaviour that is associated with something pleasurable /appetitives (+R, positive reinforcement) worth less, or more to you?

Or do you not care at all what your horse’s associations are with your ways of getting the behaviour?

In other words: do you care for the result more than the way you got the result?

The carrot (click) or the stick…

_carrot_or_stick_hippologic

Which one do you prefer?

 

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book your personal consult!

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Less is more

It sounds contradictory: how can less be more? In horse training it often is true. We try too hard. Three examples of less is more.

Don’t over ask
We expect too much of our horses. We don’t realize during training that a learning process consist out of many, many baby steps, which shapes a behaviour. Work on one criteria at a time. Only after the horse masters a set of different criteria is it time to combine them.

If we are ‘lumpers’ instead of ‘splitters’ we ask too much. Less is more: work on one criterion at a time. Get faster to the end behaviour, by skipping the frustration part which will set the horse back a few steps.

Example: if you want to teach a very mouthy horse to target, you can work a few sessions on just the criterion ‘keeping lips together’ or ‘relaxed muzzle’ and other sessions on ‘looking at target’, ‘moving nose towards target’ and ‘touching target’. After the horse masters these criteria separately can you combine them to ‘touching the target with a relaxed muzzle’.

Teach one criterion per session. In this way you can click and reward your horse more often and training will feel more successful and is more fun. For both of you! Less is more: teach less criteria at once.

Adjust criteria to circumstances
People don’t realize that horses do not easily generalize behaviour or cues as humans do. In other words, we don’t take into account that our horse is learning in a specific context. That’s why we don’t lower our criteria and expectations if we ask the same behaviour in another context. We are skipping steps in the learning process and don’t set our horses up for success.

Example: you have taught your horse to touch a target stick. You’ve always practised in the pasture. Now your friend is visiting and you want to show your horses’ progress.

Today it is rainy and instead of working in the pasture as usual, you decide to work in the barn. If you are asking your horse to touch the target, he might not perform as well as in the context where the behaviour was taught (pasture).

If you aren’t anticipating this context shift and you don’t lower your criteria momentarily, you might be disappointed about your horse’s performance. Less is more: lower criteria if context changes.

Keep cues as light as possible
People don’t realize that if they make their cues or riding aids ‘clearer’ (read: stronger or: bigger) if the horse doesn’t respond well, they are not the same anymore as the light cues the horse is used to.

Horse riding is not like tennis: if the ball isn’t going over the net, smack it harder. Figure out what the reason is the horse isn’t responding to your cue (read How to… listen to Horses). Adjust to the situation and work on the source of the problem rather than working on the symptoms (obeying your cues). If you’ve solved that, you can keep your cues and riding aids light.

Less is more: stay with light cues and the chance the horse responds correctly increases.

_Lessismore_hippologic

In what circumstances are you thinking: ‘Less is more’?

Sandra Poppema

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How to … Listen to Horses

Have you ever had the experience that you followed your horses’ lead and you found out something unexpected?

A story
One day my clients horse was very obstructive. He wouldn’t let her mount, he kept walking away and when she finally managed -with a lot of patience- to sit down, he bucked. That was a bit out of character, so I asked her to dismount. The moment she did, her stallion immediately acted much nicer.

I asked her a lot of questions: did she know why he was suddenly bolting? Could he be sore from the day before? Did something change in the herd? Could one of the mares be in heat? And so on. Alle the answers were ‘No’. We decided to check his saddle. In the meanwhile I asked if she had done something out of the ordinary. She said: I saddled him in the outdoor arena. I put my saddle on the (wooden) fence. We checked his saddle and we found a huge splinter/piece of wood in his saddle pad that was bothering him. We got rid of the splinter, saddled the stallion and all problems where gone instantly.

We want friendship, partnership and to be a team with our horse. We always want the horse to listen to us. But shouldn’t we listen as often to our horse as the horse listens to us in a friendship? We are a team, right? Is your partner or team member allowed to vote or have a voice?

_hippologic_talking to the horse

First sign your horse wants to talk to you
‘Disobedient’. If your horse needs to tell you an important message, he always will act differently. That is his only way to communicate he needs to tell you something important. I put the word disobedient between quotation marks because I don’t believe in disobedient horses. I do believe they have good reasons not to please us, if they do. ‘Listening’ to your horse isn’t listening. It is observing your horse. He is not ‘telling’ you his message, he communicates it through body language and actions. Remember that.

How to ‘listen’
OK, I actually mean ‘How to observe, so you can get the message‘. First, let go of your own agenda! What!? Yes!

Think about what you want from your horse when he is ‘not listening’ and he is trying ‘to speak to you’, then let your agenda go for a moment. You are not ‘losing’ anything when you give up your goal in that moment. You can only win. The horse wins. It will be a win-win situation. That will strengthen the team spirit.

Focus on what your horse needs in that moment. Open your mind. Focus on what you know about horses natural behaviours and needs. He needs safety, clarity, health, his herd and so on. What do you see: Does he wants to flee, does he freeze, what does he wants to do if you let him? What clues is he giving you?

Give your horse responsibility
Let your horse ‘talk’ to you by giving him a bit more freedom to see where he is leading you. What does his strange behaviour tell you? Can you think of a reason? Focus on his needs. If he is bucking, check the saddle, the saddle pad, the girth, his back and so on. Does he refuse to go into the arena? Where does he want to go?

Figure it out
Try to think of reasons why he doesn’t want to do what you want him to do. Especially when he normally doesn’t act this way. What has changed since the last time you asked this specific thing you want him to do? Did you change something? Did you do something you normally wouldn’t do? Do you think this is related? Can you check that?

Accept ‘not knowing’
Sometimes you don’t know the answer(s). So you can ask your horse again to follow your lead. If he still doesn’t want to please you, follow your gut. Not your ego. Your ego can’t stand that you don’t know the answer to the questions ‘What is wrong, my dear?’, so it will urge you to make decisions that makes ‘you look right’ (make the horse obedient).

Breathe, check in with your gut feeling. Just take a moment or two if you need to. Accept that you might not know the answer, sometimes you will never know. You only will know you did the right thing by listening to your horse and changed your plans or goal for that day. Sometimes you’re lucky and Captain Hind Sight makes it clear to you. Then you will be very pleased that you listened to your horse, not to other people.

Examples
I have hundreds of examples of listening to horses messages. What are your horses’ stories? I’d love to hear them.

Related posts
What to do if your horse doesn’t listen? (A question about Clicker training)
How to build a relationship with our horse
Recipe for a Magical Bond
Keeping an open mind is a challenge

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult today!

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