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Posts tagged ‘motivation’

Myth Monday: ‘With Clicker Training the Horse only does it for the Treats (not for you)’

The statement that a horse only works for ‘the treat’ and ‘not for you’ is one that I have heard many times. In fact this is one of the most common arguments used by people who use negative reinforcement to train their horses.

 What motivates the horse: you or the food

I also prefer to think in terms of ‘motivation’ when I talk about horse training and horse behaviour: is the horse motivated to move away from something or avoid something (negative reinforcement, R-) or is he motivated by desire and wants to ‘move towards _carrot_or_stick_hippologicsomething he wants’ (positive reinforcement, R+)?

When people say ‘the horse only does it for the food’ are they afraid  of not being
‘respected by the horse’ for who they are? What is respect anyway? I don’t believe a horse respects a human the way people respect people. Most ‘respectful behaviours’ horses display in the human-horse relationship are either based on fear or simply on learned behaviours, see this post about respect.

If someone states: ‘The horse only does it for the food’, you could say the same thing for negative reinforcement: ‘He only does it to avoid something unpleasant’.

This is still not an explanation that the horse follows commands just ‘for the person’.

‘For the trainer’

I wonder how you could tell for sure that your horse is doing something ‘just for you’ and not for his own benefit (too)? That is  very altruistic. Isn’t that a very cocky assumption that your horse does everything you ask, just for you and not for himself? I agree it is very tempting to tell ourselves our horse loves us so much he would do anything just for us, but it is not realistic.

Here is a video from my horse and how she reacts when I call her [for my lovely email subscribers please click in the email to go to the post to see the video]:

Is it really altruism?

Altruism is if a horse does something only to benefit another being (increasing it’s reproductive succes) and he doesn’t increases his own fitness. Example: You want to take your horse out of the pasture for a ride. If he comes to you and leaves his horsey companions without hesitation. Is it really for you as a person (and nothing else) or is there something else (too) at the root of this behaviour?

Curiosity

Maybe he is just curious and wants to check you out (that could explain the approach, but not the part where he leaves his heard and comes with you, hence the halter).

I think the more important part is the learning process that had taken place. Either the horse was positively or negatively reinforced in the past to come with you.

Positive reinforcement

If R+ is his motivation to come to and with you: he was motivated in the past by the scratches, food, attention or something else that is desirable for him. You paired pleasant experiences with coming to you and following you out of the pasture. The horse doesn’t do it for you (only).

Negative reinforcement

If he was negatively reinforced to come with you he is motivated by the aversive that was taken away to teach him to approach and follow you. For instance chasing the horse around in the pasture until he lets him catch you. After a few times the horse has learned to ‘give up’ running away from you and let you catch him. He paired stopping an unpleasant experience (being chased) with getting haltered. The horse doesn’t do it for you.

The beauty of R+

When you introduce positive reinforcement to a horse, he understands quickly that (in most cases) food is involved. Because we don’t randomly ‘throw’ treats to them, but only provide treats after the marker or bridge signal, the horse quickly learns to pay attention to the click and not to the hand reaching for a treat.

The reinforcer in positive reinforcement doesn’t have to be food, it can be anything pleasant the horse wants to work for.

There is more to clicker training than just the food reward. The marker can also become very reinforcing, training in itself (solving ‘puzzles’ when teaching new behaviours or endorfines released by physical activity or ‘the possibility of hearing a click’) can become reinforcing and also other behaviours can become reinforcers for behaviours.

So the horse doesn’t have to work for us (clicker trainers), because we know that he will pair us with positive things in training. We don’t mind that he wants to work for a decent salary paid in clicks and reinforcers. We understand this.

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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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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Most powerful reward schedule: Variable ratio

In a  variable ratio schedule a desired behaviour (once it is established and put on cue) will be reinforced randomly. There is no way the horse can predict when he can expect a reward, so this will keep him motivated to perform well.

Benefits of a variable reinforcement schedule

With a variable ratio schedule it will take a very long time before a behaviour will become extinct. Extinction means that the behaviour will no longer be displayed in a certain situation. There is 0% chance of a reward so therefor the behaviour has become ‘useless’ in that situation.

A variable ratio schedule is the most powerful reward schedule. Your horse figures ‘This could be the time my behaviour gets rewarded, so let’s try this again’. No reward? ‘Maybe this time I will get a reward… Let’s give it a bit more effort… Yes! It worked’.__rewards_hippologic

A variable reward schedule is also the reason why most horses keep displaying undesired behaviours. I explain this further in this post.

Extinction burst

If a behaviour is never rewarded (intrinsically or extrinsically) it will go extinct. Just before a behaviour goes extinct there is usually an ‘extinction burst’.

Often when an in the past rewarded behaviour doesn’t result in a reward the animal shows a sudden and temporary increase in the behaviour followed by the eventual decline and extinction of the behaviour targeted for elimination. Novel behaviour, or emotional responses or aggressive behaviour, may also occur (Miltenberger, R. (2012). Behaviour modification, principles and procedures. (5th ed., pp. 87-99). Wadsworth Publishing Company.)

Extinction_Graph

Extinction, extinction burst and spontaneous recovery graph from study.com

The same principle occurs in a consciously applied variable reward schedule. Just before the horse loses interest in displaying the behaviour he will show a little ‘extinction burst’ as a last attempt to influence the reinforcement (reward). This is the improved behaviour a trainer is looking for and wants to mark and reward.

Withhold the click

If the horse already has a strong positive reinforcement history with a certain behaviour or with positive reinforcement training in general, it can react differently to a withdrawn click than when he is in the beginning of the learning stage of an exercise.

A well used withdrawal of the click will induce an improvement of behaviour (extinction burst). It also can help the horse figure out quicker which behaviour is rewarded and which isn’t. In this way you can give more information about what you want.

Instead of the trainer acting like a ‘vending machine’: put money (behaviour) in and expect a reward (treat comes out), the trainer now behaves more like a ‘gambling machine’ with a fair chance to win.

_reward_schedules_hippologic

The horse may become ‘superstitious’ and tries to figure out if there was a difference with the behaviour that was similar and didn’t get rewarded and the one that did. Just like superstitious people who are suddenly paying attention to the colour of their socks in order to influence their chances of winning, the animal will also pay more attention to the details of the behaviour in order to influences the chances of a click and reward.

Pitfalls of withholding a click too long

Withholding a click can also trigger impatience, frustration or confusion in the horse. So  use this technique with caution. You don’t want to discourage your horse. A little bit of frustration is no big deal, as long as the horse stays in learning mode.

Sometimes a bit of frustration can actually benefit the learning process. It is the trainers responsibility to walk this line. If the horse gets frustrated or shuts down, turn back to a continuous reward schedule for a while and make your training steps smaller and lower your criteria.

When you start teaching a new behaviour it is really important to click every improvement and use a continuous reward schedule. The next step in training should be only rewarding the behaviour when you have cued it. Once the cue is established, switch to a variable reward schedule.

Fading out the rewards

So once your horse has learned a specific behaviour you can reward less and less and still get the behaviour. This is called fading out the click.

Continuous reward schedules are very easy to use (reward 100%) because you don’t have to think about it. What about a variable reward schedule, are you using this in your training?

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

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Key lessons for Trainers

Earlier this year I wrote about the key lessons (your keys to success) for horses. Not only the horse needs to be set up for success, but also the trainer. These three key lessons are for trainers. They will help you reach your goals quicker and enjoy the journey more: a training plan, a shaping plan and a training diary.

Training plan
If you know what it is you want to achieve, it is easy to distill a step-by-step plan from your goal. The difficulty is to determine: what are your goals and how important are they?

Goals
Ask yourself: is my goal really my own goal or is it more or less influenced by others? It is harder to achieve a goal if you lack intrinsic motivation . You can’t always influence the extrinsic motivators so if they disappear what’s left?

If your motivation is to get compliments or approval from your fellow equestrians and nobody notices it, it can be a real disappointment. It will be much harder keep going. Or maybe you are working on something your instructor wants you to do and you don’t see the value in this particular exercise.

If you’ve been teaching your horse something because you like it and you enjoy the process of teaching it, you will feel the satisfaction of your accomplished goal much longer. Therefor you will be looking forward to working on your next goal.

_dream_goals_ HippoLogic

Intrinsic or extrinsic motivation
So, think about your equestrian goals. Ask yourself if it is really you that wants to achieve it, or is it someone else’s goal? Think about what it feels like when you’ve accomplished your goal. Do you want it because you like it, or do you want it to get approval of an outsider or maybe you think you are supposed to do it.

I know a lot of people who don’t ride their horse for various reasons. They all feel more or less pressured all the time to defend their choice to outsiders. I know some of them will ride because ‘it is expected’. As you can understand this kind of motive will not give pleasure. Riding can become a real struggle.

Letting go 
Sometimes you have to let go of goals. That can be painful. Keep in mind that is is OK to change your mind and your goals. It is easier if you understand why you want to let go of your goal(s).

If you don’t like to ride your horse because you’ve discovered that you have a fear of riding (a real taboo for equestrians) you can choose to work on your fear with a trustworthy instructor who respects your boundaries. Or, you can choose to let go of your riding goals. If you know what motivates your choices it is also much easier to ‘own your story’.

Sometimes you discover that your goals or motivation have changed and that it’s time to redefine your goals. It is much easier to work on a goal that you really want, than a goal that has been expired.

Keep track of accomplishments
One way to keep yourself motivated is to keep track of your achievements by keeping a training journal.

Most people have a tendency to compare themselves to others, which is almost never a fair comparison. I’ve heard someone once saying: “You always compare the best of others, to the worst of yourself.” Yes, sometimes this is true. Better compare yourself with… yourself. The only fair way to do this is to keep track of your own journey and to realize often how far you’ve already come.

It is your journey and as long as you are making progress you are doing a good job! Keep that in mind.

Next time I will write more about shaping plans.

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what you think is a valuable basic in clicker training and why.

Sandra Poppema
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Working with goals

Like many other horse owners and riders I also sometimes “don’t feel like going to the barn”, or the feeling “I don’t know what to do” (riding or training). Why is that? My horse is my passion!

Sometimes I get this feeling because it feels like I don’t have a goal in mind to work on. But in reality it is because I haven’t divided my goal into small enough steps. So my next step looks too big to accomplish and it demoralizes  me. On my way to the barn I often think of my goal and how my training approach will be this day. Sometimes I just don’t know and it comes while I am riding or training (groundwork). So in this case it is just a matter of start doing it and see what happens.

Or, I just don’t know how to accomplish the next step. Often that means: my steps are too big or I need some input or help with the next step. So I reconsider my steps and my goal and think about how to set it up for success. An accountability partner can be wonderful help. It doesn’t have to be my instructor. I have two training buddies to whom I can turn for help. Simply sharing my problem can be good enough to think of a solution, but also if my training buddy is asking me questions about my next step or about my approach is always very helpful.

Sometimes I am too stressed out for whatever reason. The best remedy for that, is actually going to the barn and enjoying my horse.

I like setting short time and longtime goals, but sometimes our best days are: to forget about achieving them and go without any expectations.

Another time I will write more about my goals and how goal oriented training motivates me.

Sandra Poppema
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just_Zen_hippologic

 

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