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Happy Horse training!
PS Make sure you subscribe to our new blog location!
Happy Horse training!
You can find this article on my website: https://clickertraining.ca/key-lesson-targeting/
I hope you subscribe to my new blog domain as well.
Happy Horse training
Sandra Poppema, BSc
Go-to person for online clicker training
Today’s two key lessons are natural behaviours and therefor easy to put on cue: head lowering and backing.
Head lowering as key lesson
Although it is not proven that lowering the head calms a horse down, it still is an indicator if the horse is relaxed or not. How? A nervous horse keeps its head up, if a horse is startled the first thing he does is lift up his head, if a horse hears a strange sound he will… yes, lift his head up to listen. Horses always lift their heads up just before they run. So in a way it is an indicator for nervous behaviour.
Teaching a horse to lower his head on cue comes in handy if you have a tall horse to halter or bridle. If a horse is scared by an object on the ground, you can ask your horse to lower his head in order to invite him to investigate the object. If a tall horse has to lower his head in order to prevent bumping it, it is handy if you have this on cue. There are so many situations in which it is handy to ask your horse to lower his head.
Head lowering can also help during medical care, like eye care or inspecting ears or during deworming. Head lowering is also a good exercise under saddle in all gaits. Head lowering can also help in teaching your horse a specific cue to graze during a trail ride or while hand grazing your horse.
Head lowering as default behaviour
Head lowering is a good behaviour to allow as ‘default behaviour’. A default behaviour is a behaviour you can teach your horse to do whenever he doesn’t know what to do or if he wants your attention. Head lowering is a safe behaviour. You can establish a default behaviour by reinforcing the behaviour with and without a cue.
Key lesson Backing
Backing is a behaviour that helps increase the safety in many ways. If you can ask your horse to back up he can’t reach you, so he can’t bite, step on your toes or push you around.
Backing is a valuable exercise in safe food handling skills: if you teach your horse to backup if you (hand) feed him, he can’t get the food out of your pocket or dive into the bucket your holding.
If you teach your horse to backup first if you open the stall door, he will wait for the bridge and reward instead of pushing you over and walking out of his stall. What about unloading your horse from a trailer? Backing is essential in some trailers.
Last but not least, backing is also a good exercise to help your horse become more athletic, in hand and under saddle.
Links to other key lessons
Thank you for reading. Let me know how what your favourite key lesson is and why.
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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!
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).
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.
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!
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