2 Common Mistakes in Clicker Training Horses

Our environment influences our behaviour! We all know that and use that fact all the time clicker training our horses. How does your environment benefit you?

We set up our horses for success all the time. We present a target (environment) to our horse, so he can touch it!

We teach our horses not to mug us when we’re training with food. The food in our pockets and our presence becomes the ‘On’ switch for Learning, for our horses.

Your horse starts to think what behaviour does lead to treats? They figure out in minutes that mugging is not the answer anymore.

After a few clicker training minutes your horse is already thinking “How can I influence my environment [the treats] with my behaviour?” . We changed the learning environment for our horses and helped him learn fast with positive reinforcement (R+).

You already know and experienced that the environment plays a huge role on the behaviour and learning process of your horse.

Yet, I still see so many of us fall back on negative reinforcement-thinking and therefore struggling hugely with using clicker training effectively. I’ll elaborate on that below.

Thinking mistake #1

This is when you get start thinking that clicker training maybe takes longer than negative reinforcement… NO!

Untrue! When you fall into this thinking mistake, it’s because you try to use positive reinforcement in a negative reinforcement environment! Or trying to use a tool in your clicker training that is designed for R-!

Have you ever consciously changed your own environment to enhance your clicker training? Clicker training can be unnecessary difficult and hard when your whole environment is set up to be successful as negative reinforcement trainer! It’s trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

How to set YOURSELF up for success

Change your environment!

How?

You’ve probably already done it in the past. When you

  • Went to a clicker clinic. You surrounded yourself with likeminded people and emerged yourself in positive reinforcement approach/thinking.

Do you remember how much you learned in just one weekend? That’s the power of your environment! It’s easy to clicker train your horse and to think of new R+ approaches when everyone else is giving you positive input and ideas! When you see other women clicker training their horses successfully, it inspires and gets your creative positive reinforcement juices flowing!

  • Watched videos about clicker training just before you went to your horse.

You’ve changed your (internal!) environment and it sparked ideas and motivated you to do the same.

  • Spoke with another clicker trainer, or a friend and you discussed your struggle. You got new insights of solving your struggle and got your momentum back.

By creating a distance (looking at your struggle, challenge or problem) from a different angle, it was possible to think of a different approach.

Sounds familiar?

What keeps you struggling in clicker training your horse

Often the answer is: Your environment!

How?

Thinking mistake #2

When you try to use positive reinforcement using negative reinforcement training tools (environment)! You set yourself up for FAILURE!

Round pen

You use a round pen to exercise your horse with positive reinforcement and you can’t get your horse moving effectively and burning calories. Why is that?

A round pen is purposefully designed to chase a horse a-round! There are no corners to escape.

Have you ever noticed that horses find the corners of the arena when you chase him around? They change direction: they want to have a choice and try to influence their environment: your behaviour!

Negative reinforcement trainers struggled with that problem, so they took out the corners! They made the pen so small they could reach the horse at any time, in any place in order to apply the aversive (pain, the threat of pain/injury) effectively. They needed to reach the horse with their whip, training stick, carrot stick, the ‘extension of their arm’, rope or whatever tool they are using to make the horse move.

A round pen is designed to chase the horse around, without an escape. It’s designed to ‘teach’ the horse that there is only one answer possible: go forward until the trainer says otherwise!

Now, when you don’t realize that and you want (expect) the same result using positive reinforcement, you’re setting yourself up for failure!

You can’t be as successful in clicker training if you’re trying to use a training tool that is designed to create success with R-! You have to think of ways to design positive reinforcement tools and use the environment to support your training method. The person who invented the reverse round pen was well on her way!

Training tools, techniques and people

Choosing the right tool for the job is detrimental for you success! The better your tools, techniques and people you surround yourself with, the better results you get!

R+ Tools & Techniques

This is a part most clicker trainers do already really well: they use targets, mats, food reinforcers and bridge signals (click).

Do you have the support you need, to think more like a positive reinforcement trainer?

Thinking Mistake #3

Thinking you can change traditional horse people to see the benefits of clicker training… Fact is: you can’t change anyone! You can only change yourself. Trying to convince R- trainers of positive reinforcement is very hard and often impossible. Stop doing it, it will drain your energy. Instead focus on finding better people to spent your time with.

Surround yourself with Positive People!

This sounds like an open door! Yet, so many people surround themselves with unsupportive people. Then they tell themselves they can’t do anything about it, and back that up with an excuse (“There are no clicker trainers or barns in my area”). Now they’re really stuck! They get very unhappy, often even desperate. I’ve seen people seriously spiral down from there. They start doubting themselves or their approach. They start to think clicker training isn’t the best way. Don’t let that happen to you!

Are your barn people supportive?

One of my clients boarded her horses in a very traditional boarding facility. Old fashioned cowboy methods, like tying up 2-year old horses in their stall for hours to ‘teach them to be tied up’- kind of ways. It was very hard for her to clicker train her horses in that environment because the ‘norm’ was to be abusive and use coercion to get things done. They were not only abusive to their horses, but also to her!

They told her that she was a bad horse owner, not a real horse person and that she was spoiling and ruining her youngster with treats and soft approaches. That it was time to put a saddle on her horse and stop being a pussy.

No wonder, it was a struggle for her to clicker train her horses. She was always worried that she would run into other people at the barn. That someone would watch her and commented. Because they did… All the time!. I was horrified to hear how they crapped on her training. It was verbally abusive! Not supportive at all.

Do you avoid clicker training when people are around?

It was extra hard on her because she already was already a bit insecure (who isn’t sometimes?). She was relatively new to being a horse owner. She’s in her forties and bought her first horse only two years ago. She’s not a person ‘who grew up with horses’. And she was also new to clicker training. Still she did such a good job clicker training her horses! Her results spoke for itself.

https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

If you have people in your environment commenting negatively on your clicker training and your approach, ask yourself how you can surround yourself with better people!

When my client became a part of my R+ community (the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy) she often expressed her mitigation of being in a supportive, uplifting and positive environment where people believed in her and her approach!

She leaped forward and developed her clicker training skills within a year. It was a joy to watch her evolve and she her improve her horses behaviours! Eventually she moved her horses to a different boarding facility.

Can you imagine how it’s like, to dread going to the barn every, single day? Can you see how this will interfere with your happiness of being a horse owner? How it will interfere with your clicker training? How this will prevent enjoying your horse and having fun training and riding? After all, we have horses to enrich our lives, right?

Change your environment, change your outcome

  • Use or design a training environment and tools that support and enhance positive reinforcement! For example use a reverse round pen (or even better the HippoLogic Reverse Rectangle) to exercise your horse
  • Change your internal environment (ideas, solutions, approaches) by watching clicker training videos and/or trainers or discuss your training with other positive reinforcement trainers before your training so that thinking like a positive reinforcement trainer becomes your habit.
  • Find a tribe that inspires you! They’ll be a daily reminder to keep going with R+!
  • Surround yourself with positive people, who support you and respect you and your R+ training! Let go of Debby Downers and Negative Nancy’s!

Are you a compassionate horse owner who wants to build a strong friendship with your horse? Would you like to understand your horse better and help your horse to understand YOU better? Get access to many online clicker training courses and a fabulous, supportive R+ community in our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Check out the link!

Not sure? Start with a free clicker training assessment to get taste of what it feels like to work with me. Discover your strong points and weaker points in training (if you have some) so that you know what to focus more on, in order to get the results you want. 

After your assessment you have a clear plan and know exactly what your next step will be in order to accomplish your dream behaviours with your horse. Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

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Here’s How You Can Let Your Horse Do What You Want

If you’re frustrated by your horse because he doesn’t do what you want, you might ask yourself questions like:

  • Why isn’t he listening to me?Frustration_in_training_horse_hippologic.JPG
  • Why does he always have to be such a brad?
  • How come he listens to [fill inthe blank/your instructor] and not to me?

Or you catch yourself saying things like:

  • He’s been always like this…
  • He can’t stop grazing, that’s the way he is…
  • I wish he stopped doing that…

Your asking the wrong questions and making the wrong statements!

If you catch yourself in this mindset (and that takes practise!!) turn it around! What all above statements have in common are they are focusing your mind on the wrong things. They are all focussed on what you don’t want. Start focusing on what you do want!

Change your mindset, change your outcome

How can you change this? Let’s take a look to those questions and change them, so that your mind will work for you, not against you. Have you noticed that your mind will fill in the answers?

What answer do you get if you ask yourself ‘Why isn’t he listening to me?’ 

What happens if you would ask yourself instead: ‘What can I change to make my horse more successful?’ Does that feel different? How does it make you feel?

How about this one: ‘Why does he always have to be such a brad?’

Stop using the words ‘always’ and ‘never’ from now on. Change this one into: ‘What happened today that influenced his behaviour? What can I do differently? What does my horse need (to know, or have) in order to do X?’ Do you feel space to change here?

How come he listens to [fill inthe blank/your instructor] and not to me? Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, focus on what the other person does have (or do) that makes her successful. Then do the same thing, get the same knowledge or experience.

Homework: try this out and let me know what you’ve discovered. What are you telling yourself? Could you think of different questions? How did that make you feel?

Fixed mindset vs Growth mindset

A fixed mindset is when you believe that you (or your horse) can’t change. ‘People never change’. A growth mindset on the other hand is one that believes that you can change. ‘Practise makes perfect‘. Here are some suggestions to change the other statements:

  • He’s been always like this… -> I can teach train him to do something else, what would be step 1? Who can I ask for help?
  • He can’t stop grazing, that’s the way he is… ->What reinforcement is the grass? How can I give him something else he wants?
  • I wish he stopped doing X…. ->How can I reinforce the opposite behaviour of X more so that he behaves more desirely? Is there a way to prevent X? Can I redirect his behaviour so it will be more desirable?

 

YouYou are NOT a tree

What kind of mindset do you have?

If you have a fixed mindset you can still choose to change! If you choose not to, I can’t help you. No one can. Your life will be hard and often miserable. You’ll always be a victim because you can’t change your life and it’s ‘not your fault’. I don’t think people with fixed mindset will make it to here in this blog.

hand-1915350_640If you have a growth mindset: hooray! You will be able to change you mind and make your life easier and enjoy your horse more. If you need help with implementing this into your daily interaction with your horse, your training of in riding let me know. I’m here for you.

Do you believe you can or can’t ask your horse to stop grazing on cue?

stop grazing_hippologic clickertraining academy grass training leading on grass2In order to test your mindset and experience this in practise I offer a free training. I picked a common problem, something even experienced horse people like myself encounter: a horse that wants to graze when you’re leading him or won’t stop if you let him have one bite. Sound familiar? Or you just want to join my free training to see what I’m like, how I coach and to learn new skills? Sign up here: Free Grass Training Transformation.

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Join our group on Facebook where you can ask questions, interact with like-minded people and get support on your clicker journey. In the last quarter of 2019 I will do weekly LIVE videos in the Happy Herd. Don’t miss out!

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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