Empowering Equestrians to Train their own horse with 100% Force Free & Horse Friendly methods

Posts tagged ‘negative reinforcement’

Debunking Myths: The Whip is an Extension of My Arm

There are so many myths in the horse world it is hard to choose where to start debunking them. Since I have seen several advertisements on Facebook with videos of horses at liberty and instructors talking about ‘freedom’, ‘connection’, ‘positive training’ or ‘friendship’ while carrying a whip directing a horse with a swishing tail and a lot of tension in its body, I will start with the whip (it-is-an-extension-of-my-arm) myth. (more…)

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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Fact Friday: Negative vs Positive Reinforcement Training for Rehabilitated Horses

Recently I started training the rescue horses at the BC SPCA. I was asked to help (re)train the horses with positive reinforcement, since that is my specialty.

Would my training benefit the rehabilitated horses in terms of welfare? Is negative reinforcement training better in terms of welfare or is a horse better off with positive reinforcement training? I found a possible answer in a study done at the University of Wales, UK.

Negative reinforcement vs positive reinforcement

The aim of their study was to compare these training strategies (negative versus positive reinforcement) on equine behaviour and physiology as the first step in establishing an optimal rehabilitation approach (from a welfare perspective) for equids that have been subjected to chronic stress in the form of long-term neglect/cruelty.

They trained 16 ponies with basic tasks like trailer loading, lead by hand, traverse an obstacle course, etc. During training the  heart rate was monitored and ethograms were compiled. In addition each week an arena test was done. The training lasted for 7 weeks.

Significant difference

After all data was compiled there was a significant difference between the two methods. They found that ‘animals trained under a positive reinforcement schedule were morekyra06062009 004 motivated to participate in the training sessions and exhibited more exploratory or ‘trial and error’ type behaviours in novel situations/environments.’ (in comparison with the horses trained with negative reinforcement).

These results support my own experience with positive and negative reinforcement. The end result of the training may be similar but the experience for the horse is significantly different between positive and negative reinforcement.

To read the full paper go to: Negative versus positive reinforcement:  An evaluation of training strategies for rehabilitated horses, 2007, Lesly Innes, Sebastian McBride

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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Clicker Training: How to start with a horse that is traditionally trained?

How do you start positive reinforcement training with a horse that is already trained with negative reinforcement (traditional or natural horsemanship training)?

Start with a ‘clean slate’

I would suggest start with some exercises that are totally new to the horse. Choose exercises (and cues) the horse doesn’t know yet.

You should make sure it is a new exercise so the horse doesn’t have any negative or aversive association with it. Start introducing the marker (‘click’) or bridge signal and pair it with an appetitive (something the horse really appreciates, like a nice treat).

A good place to start are the key lessons. Most likely traditional and natural horsemanship schooled horses havenever done any targeting or mat training.

Work on these new exercises until your horse understands positive reinforcement and he feels safe enough to try out new behaviours or go explore new objects.

How to re-train a horse with positive reinforcement?

___clickertraining_hippologicOnce your horse understands he has a choice to cooperate or not, you can run into the problem that he says ‘no’ to your training ideas. That is not uncommon. They regain the power over their own body and training. They just love to say ‘no’ without being afraid of reprimands.

Often this is just a phase and the best thing you can do is listen to your horse and acknowledge his say. Use your creativity and find other ways to enjoy his company or find other exercises he does like.

Don’t mix -R and +R in one exercise

In order to keep it clear what your horse can expect from you, you should not mix negative (-R) and positive reinforcement (+R) in one and the same exercise.

If you use accumulating pressure to reinforce certain behaviour and than add an appetitive (treat) you can ‘poison’ your cue. The horse can’t be sure what to expect: more pressure or a treat. The appetitive is not really the reinforcer, taking away the aversive is (that came first). You want to avoid that your horse refuses treats after a while.

Once you decide  you want to change a part of your training to positive reinforcement you will realize that you have to countercondition the exercise.

Counterconditioning

There are many things you might want to re-train with positive reinforcement. For instance if your horse doesn’t want to trailer load (anymore) you might need to do some ‘counterconditioning’.

Definition:  Counterconditioning is a type of therapy based on the principles of classical conditioning that attempts to replace bad or unpleasant emotional responses to a stimulus with more pleasant, adaptive responses.

It can be a challenge, depending on the horses feelings about the exercise, to countercondition a behaviour. It depends on the horses (general) trust in humans, his history and the expertise of the trainer. It can be done. It is like’therapy’ for horses: they have to learn to overcome their fears and anxieties and learn to trust something positive is going to happen if they see a trailer.

Ethics

I think you can almost countercondition everything. The pitfall however is that the horse is sometimes not only expressing his fear. If you countercondition a horses agressive behaviour when he is cinched: are you working on counterconditioning a learned response to the girth or are you (unconsciously) shutting his voice when he is expressing pain? Something to take into account when you retrain horses.

What is or was your biggest challenge in re-training a horse with clicker training?

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

 

Force Free Horse Training: Is it possible?

Can you teach your horse everything he needs to know without using pressure in an aversive way, pain or threats? Can we really get rid of our spurs, tight nose bands, crops, training sticks, whips, martingales and other ‘aids’.

Yes, you can!

_give an appetitive HippoLogicYou can teach a horse something with adding an appetitive (something the horse likes to
receive) or an aversive (something the horse wants to avoid or escape from). If you know what motivates a horse in a positive way, you can use that in all training situations.

Time

Horses are flight animals and it is really easy to motivate then with fear. We all know hippologichorses that already start moving as soon as the rider or trainer reaches for a whip. That is motivation by fear. Because it triggers the instinctive flight response it is a very quick way to make the horse respond.

If you want to motivate and teach the horse to move with an appetitive, it can take longer before you get results. You have to figure out a strategy that works for that horse, put it on cue and then built on the duration of the behaviour. That can take time, even when you have more than one strategy you can try. I think there is a way to motivate every behaviour in a positive way (by adding an appetitive).

Positive reinforcement for human and horse

I am convinced that positive reinforcement is a much nicer way of training. It is not only the trainer that gets motivated positively (with the behaviour he wants of the horse), there is also something in it for the horse. Beside a reward the horse also gets a say in the matter.

Knowledge

Since positive reinforcement training is still a relatively ‘new’ science in the equestrian world not everyone has experienced the advantages. Sometimes negative reinforcement (natural horsemanship and traditional methods) seems quicker at first glance.

_trailer_training_hippologic.jpg

For instance when a horse on a competition ground refuses to go back into the trailer. In general the horse is already over their threshold (read: extremely stressed) and is out of learning mode. Introducing positive reinforcement at that time takes more effort than when a horse is relaxed and in learning mode. The short cut (forcing the horse into the trailer) seems faster. In reality the horse loses their trust in people. In fact the whole process of teaching a horse to like trailers and trailer rides will take much longer. Only people sometimes don’t see the whole picture. They think positive reinforcement will take longer because their wants (horse in trailer) are not met instantaneously.

As long as you have enough time (I am not talking about emergency situations) and imagination I think you can teach a horse everything with positive reinforcement. What do you think?

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email info@clickertraining.ca

 

How to … get your horse out of the pasture (effortlessly)

I sometimes jokingly call myself a ‘lazy horse owner’. Why? Because I rather spend a bit of time training my horse than deal with undesired behaviour day in and day out and get frustrated all the time.

Tips for getting your horse out of the pasture

Here is a video of me getting Kyra out of the pasture.

I prefer not to get stuck in the mud, surrounded by horses. I am, like I mentioned, a bit lazy and I don’t want to chase my horse or to walk over to ‘catch’ her if she is in the far end of the pasture. Way too much work…

Make yourself fun to be around

Since I started clicker training horses, I discovered a huge change in their attitude towards me. I have changed from being (I am guessing here) ‘not so much fun’- to be around to ‘I rather be with my human than with my herd’ attitude. Just by switching from traditional/natural horsemanship methods to positive reinforcement.

It is not only the food rewards that make my training interesting. I think it is also the puzzles my horse must solve in order to get that click. She is not afraid to try out new behaviours, she is not afraid of being punished for displaying her ideas. On the contrary, she is encouraged to think and to figure out what it is I want from her.

So the first step in getting a horse interested in coming out of the pasture is to ‘offer’ something. Be more reinforcing than the herd and the hay or grass.

Chain of behaviours

What you see in the video is actually a chain of learned behaviours. These are the steps I all trained separately.

Responding to her name

I taught Kyra to respond to her name and come to me. I used targeting to teach her that. As you can see, I don’t need a target anymore and I even don’t need to call her. If she sees me, she wants to be with me.

Stopping at the gate

I taught her to always stop before an open gate and wait for a cue. I reinforced her in the past (click & treat) for stopping and waiting until I clicked my lead rope to the halter.

The second step in this proces is to reinforce her for the opposite behaviour too: walking thru the gate on my cue.

Turning around

I always teach my horses to turn around on cue, so I can close the gate safely.

Waiting

After walking calmly thru the gate and turning around, Kyra has to wait for me to close the gate. I have reinforced this step many, many times.

I realize that I need to be more reinforcing than the juicy grass patch on the outside of the fence. I don’t want her to drag me to places she wants to go. I have often clicked for waiting while I closed the gate. I used a lot of high value treats, like a whole handful of pellets.

To graze or not to graze

Every horse and every horse person knows the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. I have taught Kyra to wait for my cue to graze and to follow my lead if we want to get away from the grass. As you can see in this video Kyra walks over to the grass (I wasn’t paying attention), but she is also willing to leave the juicy patch when I gently ask her to follow me.

This was a difficult lesson to teach Kyra and I did a lot of trial and error in this process. I can do a whole blog post on just this topic.

Last but not least

I taught my horse to walk with me without pulling the lead rope.
Is getting your horse out of the pasture just as easy? Let me know what difficulties you have and I can help you find +R solutions.

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult!

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