Husbandry skills: hoof care (part I)

The term ‘husbandry skills’ refers to all the behaviours you want to teach an animal in order to take care of them safely. Daily  husbandry skills are haltering, leading, grooming, cleaning hooves, cleaning nostrils, eyes and ears and so on. Medical procedures like drawing blood (important in zoo animals) or administering medication (injections, oral medication, ointments) are also a part of husbandry skills.

In this blog series I will share with you how I train a young horse to lift her legs for hoof care with positive reinforcement (clicker training). Continue reading

Clicker Training 101: How to introduce your Horse to the Click

In clicker training we use a ‘click’ as bridge signal to communicate to the horse that he has done something wonderful. Immediately after the click we deliver a reward to the horse. How do you start teaching what the click means?

Tools
You need a bridge signal or an unique sound, like the click of a clicker, a tongue click or a unique word. I prefer a clicker because that always sounds the same and it is very quick to deliver. The bridge signal connects the click and the time it costs to deliver the reward.

Rewards. Choose your horses favourite treats. Even if they are not very healthy, you want to choose a treat that has a high value to your horse. Something that will get their attention._treat_hippologic_clickertraining

Reward pouch/bucket. You need to stash your reward in a place where you can access them quickly but in a place out of reach of your horse. A money belt or an accessible pocket will work, or a bucket. Place the bucket on a chair so you don’t have to bend over every time you need to reach for a treat. Make sure your horse can’t reach it or start training ‘ignore the food bucket’.

Barrier. If you want set up your horse and yourself for success, start training with a barrier between you and your horse. A fence or stall door prevents the horse coming into your space to get the treats himself. You set yourself up for success if you don’t have to handle your horse or a lead rope and a clicker and the treats, all at the same time.

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Lesson 1: introducing the bridge
When you want to start clicker training you will have to introduce the click sound to the horse. You also need to teach your horse that this sound has a meaning.

You can just start with a click & reward your horse. Deliver the reward as soon as possible after the click. The quicker the reward is delivered after the click the sooner  the horse will associate the click with something positive coming. With ‘soon’ I mean within 3 seconds or even faster. It can be almost simultaneously: click&reward.

Tips

  • Make sure the food always moves towards the horse, so the horse never has to come to you to get it.
  • Make it a habit to feed with a stretched arm, so the distance between your pocket (the source of the treats) is as big as possible.
  • Deliver the treat straight to the horses mouth, so he doesn’t have to search for it. This prevents frustration and mugging.
  • Deliver the treat as fast as possible to prevent mugging and frustration.
  • Make sure the treat is a reasonable size, so the horse can easily find it and it doesn’t get lost.
  • Count your treats and always check if you still have a treat left, before you click.
  • Click first, then reach for the treat. You want your horse to (re)act on the sound of the click, not on your hand reaching for a treat.

In general it takes 30 – 50 clicks until the horse has learned that the click has a meaning and it means something positive. Most horses show interest in the click much sooner and you can already start to work on specific (easy) behaviours. The horse now wants to figure out if he can influence the click by his behaviour and that is the point where you can start clicking purposefully for a certain behaviour. Now you can give your horse a break until the next training session.

Read also 5 Tips for Starting Clicker Training.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I connect horse women with their inner wisdom and teach them the principles of learning and motivation, so they become confident and skilled to train their horse in a safe and effective way that is a lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training.
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Clicker training 101: Introducing and using cues

Positive reinforcement training is all about giving a reward to reinforce the behaviour you want more of. The key word is giving. If you have never used a bridge signal before, you start with the simple act of giving. In return you will get your horses’ attention. Then ‘training’ can begin.

Introducing a bridge signal (click)

When you introduce the clicker or another bridge signal to your horse, you start with just clicking and giving rewards. No strings attached. After 30 – 50 repetitions (often sooner) of click = reward, the horse will try to figure out what made you give the treat and if he can influence this by his behaviour. In other words: he will start trying different behaviours in order earn a treat. He is ‘asking’ you what you want from him!

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Target stick

You will notice that it is very easy to teach your horse new behaviours and within a few clicks he is offering you his new trick more and more consistently.

Let’s take targeting as an example. You want to teach your horse to touch the target stick with his nose on cue. You start with presenting the target stick (a stick with a ball attached on the end) to your horse.

Criteria

In the beginning your criteria are low: it doesn’t matter where he touches the target stick as long as he touches it. If you want to set it up for success, you make the desired behaviour  (touching the target stick near the target & touching the target itself) much easier than the less desired behaviour (touching the stick near your hand or touching your hand). So that’s why you start by working with a barrier in the beginning.

Introducing a cue

Once your horse is offering the desired behaviour consistently you can add a cue. In this example: your horse is touching the target predictably and he knows that touching the stick isn’t getting him rewards.

You might have worked with a training cue , e.g. presenting the target stick to your horse is a cue in itself. The horse might have associated specific conditions and consider them as cues we are not even aware of. Maybe you are always in the same place (stall, with a barrier) or at the same time of day when you were working with the target stick.

Temporary (training) cue

Sometimes this temporary cue (presenting the target) is not a very useful cue in other circumstances and then it its time to introduce an ‘official cue’. You don’t want your horse to touch the target stick all the time… It would be rather annoying if he puts his nose to the target whenever he sees the stick. Your horse can become very frustrated if you click offered behaviour sometimes, but would click it every time. That’s why you need a cue. The cue means ‘you can start earning rewards now’.

Changing cues: from temporary cue to final cue

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So if your horse is offering to touch the target consistently it is time to introduce an ‘official (final) cue’ e.g. the verbal cue ‘Touch’. You start by using the new cue before the ‘training (temporary) cue’.

New cue -> old cue -> behaviour.

Horses will quickly anticipate this and when he starts acting on the official cue you capture his behaviour with a click.

After some repetitions where you can click & reward after the behaviour occurred after you have given the new cue you can raise your criterion.

Be consistent

Now you only click & reinforce when you have given your final cue for the behaviour. If your horse acts on the temporary cue or offers the behaviour spontaneously you don’t reinforce it. This is the final step in training a behaviour.

You might notice, because you changed the criteria and he doesn’t get reinforced so easily, that your horse will try harder to make you click & reinforce. You might see a duration in touching the target or something else you want to reinforce.

It is important to be consequent: final cue + behaviour= click and reinforce, spontaneously offered behaviour does’t lead to a click anymore in this stage of training.

If he tries really hard and you see improvement in the behaviour take advantage and simply give your horse a chance to earn a click by offering the new cue to him. He will learn to pay more attention and figure out quickly when he can and when he can’t expect a reinforcer.

You don’t want to frustrate your horse in training. One way is to offer another behaviour that is already on cue and alternate 2 behaviours so that you give your horse a chance to be successful.

Final step of training a behaviour

The final step in the process of teaching a behaviour is to use the new cue in different circumstances. If your horse performs well in different situations, he has generalized the cue. Well done!

Context shift

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Changing context: now Leon holds the target and gives the cue Touch while I handle the clicker.

A horse learns a certain behaviour in a certain context. Therefor it’s best to start training new exercises always in the same spot, for instance the round pen where you have the advantage of working with protective contact (a barrier).

If you want to test your new cue you have to shift one or more of the conditions (the context) your horse was learning a specific behaviour in. Now you ask to touch the target without a barrier between you two, or you ask it in the outdoor arena instead of the round pen or at a different time of day and so on.

This will ask the horse to adjust and generalize and ignore certain ‘cues’ in the context and pay more attention to others, your new cue. Sometimes a horse seems to lose all his skills in a new context because the cues he had paid attention to are not there anymore. Always lower your criteria temporarily if you change the context of learning, so your horse will gets his confidence back quickly.

Join the Clicker Training Academy if you want to improve your clicker skills

What is the HippoLogic CTA? It’s an online place where you can learn to train every behaviour you have in mind with R+. We have a small, all-inclusive community in which students can thrive and develop.

  • Develop your skills faster with HippoLogic’s proven training system, the Key Lessons
  • Give your horse consistency and clarity in training to built trust
  • Super affordable
  • Enjoy the support of our positive community

Join the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy for personal advice and support in training your horse with positive reinforcement. The first 20 founding members get an additional 60-minute coaching session with me for free (value $ 97).

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Horse training for women who love their horse

 

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