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).
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.
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.’
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 onlyafter 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.
In one of the Facebook groups I am in, I posted a video of all the hair Kyra is shedding and I asked: ‘What is your number 1 tip in shedding season?’
Get a vacuum
Lots of people replied with ‘shop vac’. For who don’t know what that is, it’s a heavy duty wet/dry vacuum. They are fairly inexpensive (cheaper than an equine grooming vac and also bigger). You can buy a curry (brush) to attach, so you can groom and vacuum the hair off of your horse at the same time.
I bought a curry for dogs since that was the only one I could find online. It’s a bit small with 3 inch diameter but it works great!
First I thought it was a bit snobbish to vacuum my horse, yes I admit. I thought this is only for people who want to be done quickly.
I can tell from experience: I’m spending more time with Kyra. She loves the shop vac! Since I don’t have to spent time raking and cleaning up after a grooming session that’s time I now can spent connecting with Kyra. With the shop vac I spent more time grooming instead of less, because it’s fun! It’s so rewarding to get all that hair off of her.
Shop vac are awesome in grooming your horse! Cheap and they work well wet and dry. They handle lots of sand and hair!
I only needed three 5 min at liberty sessions to be sure Kyra would be good with the shopvac. This was my shaping plan in 3 steps.
I always try to incorporate 5 senses when introducing a new potentially scary object: vision (observe the scary object), then investigate the object with smell and touch (nose, teeth). They might want to taste it (licking) too. It’s all part of investigating. The sense hearing comes into play with unknown objects that make sound, like a vacuum.
1. Introducing “The Thing”
I let Kyra inspect and investigate it. Approaching, sniffing and engaging (as long as it doesn’t damage the shop vac) is all clicked and reinforced with medium to high value treats. Kyra is at liberty in the out door arena so she can determine the distance between her and the vacuum and determine her own pace of investigating and satisfying curiosity.
Then I walked around with the shop vac and I click and reinforce ‘standing still’. She’s at liberty and can move away if she wants. I make sure she stays under threshold and pay attention to her body language. I do this because later on I need to move the shop vac near her hindquarters, front and sides.
2. The sound
Repeat step 1 but now the shop vac is ON and makes noise.I click and treat generously so the sound only will be associated with good things happening.
3. The ‘Feel’ (suction)
Now the last part is to introduce Kyra to the ‘feel’ (suction) of the vac! Make sure the horse doesn’t get bad experiences. For me it was a bit scary when Kyra wanted to sniff the hose/curry. I prevented her nose to be stuck or sucked onto the tube/brush with my hand.
Beware of Static Electricity!
People also gave me a heads up about static electricity and using lots of Static Guard (a spray you can find in the laundry department of your supermarket to eliminate static). Kyra is already great with spray cans so that was not part of this shaping plan.
Click the FB icoon to watch Kyra’s video on Facebook.
The biggest fear of using treats in training and what hold most people off is the fear of The Mugging Horse. What can you do about mugging and how can you prevent it?
What is mugging
Mugging is when a horse demands a treat or attention by pushing you with his nose, trying to help himself to the treats in your pocket, kicking the stall door to get attention. Just to name a few symptoms.
What most people don’t understand is that they encourage their horse to mug and almost always reinforce it! All this happens even to people who really hate mugging horses. Why is that?
Principle behind mugging
Horses ‘mug’ because it leads to a reward! That’s it!
‘But I yell at my horse to stop if he kicks the door! I never allow this behaviour.’ Even if you run over to a horse that kicks their stall door (even to smack or shout at him), he gets what he wanted: your attention!
It’s not about what you think, it’s about what your horse thinks! If he -the learner- feels he is rewarded (you came over) he will do the smae behavioru again next time he wants you to come over.
I reinforced my horse to nicker to me if she wants me there. I like that and it’s not so destructive as kicking doors. It’s also available in the pasture, where there is no door to knock on.
Know your learner!
If you want your horse to stop mugging, put yourself in his place. Ask ‘What’s in it for the horse to behave like this? What am I giving (attention, treat, something else) that he wants from me (maybe even to lure you away from that horse)?
So what is his reinforcer? If they mug you for food, it’s the treat they get. Even if it’s denied 4 times before. That even made the mugging only stronger!!
Turn the tables
Use the reinforcer he wants for the behaviour you want! If your horse want attention, give him attention when he does something that is more desired and preferably also incompatible with the undesired behaviour (mugging).
Give door kickers attention when they stand with 4 feet on the floor. That is incompatible with door kicking. It’s hard, because your horse is silent when he behaviour well! So that is something you have to train yourself to do! And everyone else in the barn.
What not to do (biggest pitfall of people):
Ignore the horse? No!! Not giving a treat when your horse mugs is called extinction. You’re trying to let the behaviour go extinct because it has no use, it doesn’t lead to what he wants. This will only work if you and all other people will never, ever give a treat
Since that is almost impossible, this won’t work. As soon as one person gives a treat when the horse asks for a treat, you have reinforced the mugging with your variable ratio reward schedule. In other words: you made the behaviour stronger!
Punish the horse? No! Punishment is to decrease a behaviour. I understand that people want to decrease the mugging behaviour but there are main 2 issues with punishment.
The punishment needs to exceed the reinforcer by far in order to stop the undesired behaviour! The pain of the punishment must be stronger than the good feeling the pushished behaviour leads to. Eating (food) is a survival behaviour and therefor cannot be punished enough to let it go out of the behaviour repertoire. Same might be true for attention: heard animals need eat other and need to be seen by their group members. If you will smack a horse hard enough to never eat a carrot out of your hand, he will be very conflicted if he loves carrots. He will find other ways (trying to get carrots from other people).
With punishment (which is scientifically speaking purely meant to de-crease a behaviour) you won’t give your learned any information what you want him to do. So that leads us to what the solution is:
Solution for mugging horses: how to stop mugging
The best way to approach mugging in horses, whether it’s for attention or food, is to teach them what to do. Teach them desired behaviour that is incompatible with the undesired behaviour! Then reinforce the new behaviour with that what the horse really wants! A carrot? Attention?
Desired and incompatible behaviour can be standing with 4 feet on the floor
Looking away from your pocket (they can’t push you or grab food out of your pocket if their muzzle is nowhere near your pocket)
Teaching your horse to keep a distance is incompatible with mugging
Teaching your horse to keep his lips closed and muzzle relaxed is incompatible with mugging
If you start clicker training and reinforce behaviour with treats or food reinforcers be clear to your horse about your expectations. Reinforce ‘Table manners‘ right from the start. Click the link to find out more.
Fear of working with treats in training
Not starting to click with your horse is because of the fear of creating a ‘monster’ out of your horse that only will be focused on the food. That is true for maybe the first few sessions, but almost all horses learn within the first 10 minutes that it’s not about the food. It’s about the behaviour they have to perform (that leads to food).
They learn clicker training is about them, making a choice. If we are clear what we want them to choose (Table manners over mugging) they understand quickly and cooperate eagerly. After all, there is something in it for them, what they really want!
Clicker training done well turns your treat crazy horse into a well behaved, well mannered horse that is eager to work with you.
I can talk for hours about this subject! There is so to learn. Go to my website if you have a treat crazy, mugging ‘monster’ that you want to turn into an eager friend that is polite and well mannered when treats are involved.
Join HippoLogic’s Facebook group
Become a member of our Happy Herd on Facebook and get access to my Facebook LIVE’s.
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
When you change your training approach, you step outside your comfort zone. You know you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone if you feel insecure or confused. Another sign is that you get different results, hopefully BETTER ones!
What you need is to replace your confusion with clarity. How you do that, I’ll explain in this blog.
Lets see how you can recognize confusion. You might think right away: ‘I am never confused!‘ I understand how you feel and that’s a normal reaction. This is what confusion looks like:
When can I stop clicking?
Should I stop riding now I’ve started clicker training?
How do I start?
Should I click more often?
Should I always end with a jackpot?
When should I raise my criterion?
Am I using the right treats?
Can I still use my training stick?
Does my horse understand the cue?
How can I know if my horse really knows my cues?
Do I need to keep clicking for trained behaviours?
Shall I use different treats for different behaviour?
Is it a coincidence my horse did so well right away?
3 Steps to deal with confusion
Where can you get more information?
Contact me (see below) and watch the webinar about 4 Main Road Blocks almost All Clicker Trainers Hit and subscribe to my YouTube channel.
Decide what you want
Do you want to learn more about how you can teach your horse to listen to you? Feel confident? Get results? What do you need, in order to get that? Who can help you? If you don’t know someone at the top of your head, what else is possible? What about an online course or coaching?
Decide what you want and make a decision.
Decide to say ‘No’ to what doesn’t serve you, to focus on the top priorities (which can bring you back to #1: More information). The more clarity you have the sooner you accomplish what you want. It saves time and money, too. How?
If you’re being vague and say things like ‘I just want to ride better‘ you can find any instructor that will help you. But are you getting better? Depends in what…. If you say ‘I want to learn lateral gaits‘ or want to ride with positive reinforcement, you’ll notice that suddenly most coaches you ask are not qualified to fit your goals. Choosing the an instructor that help you reach your goals, saves time and money spent elsewhere. It’s a lot of fun working on what you really want!
Once you made a decision about what it is you want and need, need have to take action! Otherwise nothing will change!
When I put a picture on Facebook of Kyra pooping next to the poop bin in the indoor arena, a lot of people asked me how I potty trained my pony.
Kyra was already clicker savvy, so she knows really well that after a click of my clicker, she will get a reward. The click pinpoints the behaviour. In order to get more of the wanted behaviour, the best results are obtained by rewarding the animal while (s)he is doing the wanted behaviour or within 3 seconds after the wanted behaviour.
A clicker acts as a bridge between the wanted behaviour and the moment of giving the reward. So I didn’t have to reward her within or during the wanted behaviour, I only had to ‘bridge’ (click) during the behaviour that I wanted to capture and then bring her the reward. That came in handy at liberty.
In the beginning my criterion was really low. In my mind I divided the indoor arena in two halves: the half with the poop bin (light green rectangle) in it and the other half.
Every time she needed to poop I asked her very gently to maintain gait until she was in the “proper half” of the arena if possible. Often we didn’t reach that half. Maintaining a trot was never possible, but at least she kept walking. A few steps.
It wasn’t really about maintaining gait, but more about making the wanted behaviour easy.
If she needed to go poop and we were in the half of the arena where the poop bin is located (green striped area), she was allowed to stand still to take her washroom break. Why? Because pooping while walking, trotting or cantering leaves a long trail of poop.
Like I said, I don’t like to waste time on poop scooping in the arena. On top of that I clicked and rewarded her with a handful of treats during pooping. She learned that pooping was rewarded sometimes, whereas other times it was not. It was up to Kyra to figure this out. And she did!
Raising my criteria
After a certain period I realized that Kyra was 100% of the time pooping in the half of the arena where the bin is located. That was a sign for me to raise my criterion.
I divided the “designated poop area” in half again (pink striped area). So now the space where I let her stand still to poop and click and reward her for pooping was about a quarter of the arena size.
After a while she discovered that the had to go poop in a certain corner of the arena. Every time I had the feeling that she “got it”, I raised the criterion and made the “allowed area” a bit smaller in my mind (dark blue striped area).
Correcting my mistake
The poop bin is located in the same corner where the shavings are stored. Kyra thought she had to poop in the shavings, which was an obvious mistake (yellow/orange area). After all, her stall is full of shavings where she poops in. So I began to watch her closely, because she usually pooped in the shavings when she was in the arena all by herself. This was a learning point and failure is the best way to success (I decided to ‘fail forward’ and adjusted my training).
Under saddle I could catch her going in the shavings one time and gently let her out of it. She only had to take one or two steps (towards the bin). Then she pooped next to the bin and not in the shavings. She had earned herself a jackpot. [read here more about -> “rewards and jackpots“<-] After a few times she learned that “in the shavings” wouldn’t get her a reward.
Now my goal is to let her poop in the bin, so I don’t have to clean up at all. Wouldn’t that be awesome? I’ll let you know when we get there.
UPDATE (Jan 2017)
Here is the sequence on this blog: I accomplished my shittiest goal ever! In which I tell you about how I taught Kyra to poop in the manure wheelbarrow. It even has a video! Go on and check it out!