6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training (6/6)

In this series I will be sharing 6 interesting facts I didn’t know about when I started using positive reinforcement in training animals. This is part 6. This one is really an eye-opener! This is a phenomenon you only see in R+ training! Continue reading

6 Things That You Might Not Know About Clicker Training (5/6)

hippologic

In this series I will be sharing 6 interesting facts I didn’t know about when I started using positive reinforcement in training animals. This is part 5. I like this one!

Some of these are common misunderstandings people have about clicker training while others are facts most equestrians don’t know at all.

The goal of this blog is to help more people understand how well positive reinforcement (R+) works in training our horses. I want every one to know that clicker training offers more great benefits besides training your goal behaviour. Positive side-effects you won’t get in negative reinforcement (R-) based training methods (traditional and natural horsemanship). I wish I had known these benefits earlier in life.

#5 Positive reinforcement has many smart training strategies that I haven’t found in other training methods

_clickertraining_secret_hippologicIn the decades that I have been using positive reinforcement training I have discovered so many smart training strategies that I haven’t heard of in other methods.

This is what I learned in the first 20 years in horses

In traditional and natural horsemanship training the aim was to create more of the desired behaviour by taking away something the horse dislikes (an aversive). Therefor, the solution I was offered ,when a horse wouldn’t obey, was to ‘ask again but increase the pressure’ (the aversive): eg more leg! If that didn’t work: a tap with the whip. Increasing the command until my horse would go. The myth I learned was: ‘He (your horse) knows what to do.’

If a horse didn’t cooperated in taking an oral de-wormer, you just tied him up so he couldn’t pull his head away. Which most of the time resulted in a bigger struggle next time. The myth I was told (and I believed) was: ‘He will soon learn that this doesn’t kill him’.

Sounds familiar?

___clickertraining_hippologicIn general the ‘solution’ was often the same (more ‘pressure’) and only aimed to short-term success (the now). Basically the go-to solution was using more coercion, often painful. Rewards must be ‘only sparingly used’ otherwise ‘I would spoil the horse’.

Positive reinforcement expands your horizon

In positive reinforcement the aim is to train the horse by reinforcing the desired behaviour with something the horse wants to receive/have (appetitive). You focus on the good things!

So, when my horse doesn’t offer the desired behaviour I immediately start asking questions. Not the “How can I make the good thing easy and the bad thing difficult?”-question (which often means “How can I -the trainer- get to my goals ASAP?), but many questions. Horse-centered questions:

  • Why does my horse not cooperate?
  • Has my reinforcer (my reward) lost it’s value?
  • Is something else more reinforcing or urgent?
  • Am I clear in what I want my horse to do?
  • How can I make it easier and more fun (!) for my horse?
  • Does my horse understands what I want (Am I lumping? Is there a context shift? Is he distracted? Bored? Anxious or in flight mode?)
  • and so on

Training strategies

Then you have those smart training strategies that really help achieving your goals and goal behaviour, like:

  • positive reinforcement: reinforcing with appetitives (something the horse really wants to have and want to make an effort for to get it)
  • 5 strategies to get your goal behaviour with R+
  • writing a shaping plan (detailed step-by-step approach of training your goal behaviour)
  • the use of a bridge/marker signal to pinpoint exactly what you want to see more of
  • the use of high and low value reinforcers to increase engagement, decrease stress levels, prevent boredom and predictability in training and so on
  • ‘jackpots’
  • chaining behaviour
  • back chaining behaviour

Training_logbook_journal_diary_hippologic2016Except for the use of rewards I never heard of any of the above strategies until I learned more about positive reinforcement. A few of these are really your Key to Success in Equine Clicker Training. If you want to learn more join the online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula where you learn all 12 Keys to Success.

It makes life so much easier that I can’t picture training horses or coaching people without these strategies.

Read the other articles in this series:

part 1 of 6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6

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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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Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

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6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training (2/6)

In this series I will be sharing 6 interesting facts I didn’t know about when I started using positive reinforcement in training animals. This is part 2. Read also part 1 and part 3.

Some of these are common misunderstandings people have about clicker training while others are facts most equestrians don’t know at all.

The goal of this blog is to help more people understand how well positive reinforcement (R+) works in training our horses. I want every one to know that clicker training offers more great benefits besides training your goal behaviour. Positive side-effects you won’t get in negative reinforcement (R-) based training methods (traditional and natural horsemanship). I wish I had known these benefits earlier in life.

# 2: Clicker training will make you more resourceful

When using pressure-release in training and the horse doesn’t cooperate, the go-to strategy is to increase pressure until the horse does what you want. This is actually the only strategy I they taught me, when I was learning traditional and later on natural horsemanship training.

light-bulb-1926533_640When you decide to use less pressure-release in training and focus more on positive reinforcement, you give your horse a voice and a choice in training. Therefor you have to learn to listen what your horse is communicating to you if things don’t go as planned.

If you know the reason your horse does not follow your cue, you need to come up with a way to address his feelings or concerns first. It helps if you have knowledge about (natural) horse behaviour and natural needs horses have.

What if my horse doesn’t want to do what I want?

Depending to the cause of saying ‘No’ you can come up with another way, a new strategy to make it easier for your horse to say ‘Yes’ (without making something else more difficult!).

Possible causes of not cooperating are:

  • fear
  • something else is more reinforcing
  • something else is more urgent (e.g danger, internal processes like hunger, pain)
  • your horse doesn’t understand what he has to do
  • and so on.

Become resourceful

You have to come up with strategies that will be:

  1. Addressing the reason your horse said ‘No’ so he gets into learning mode again.
  2. Easier to understand (splitting behaviour and making a shaping plan)
  3. Worthwhile for your horse to participate (it’s the receiver that determines the reward, not the trainer!). You don’t want him to ‘zone out’ (and go into learned helplessness)
  4. Interesting and fun for your horse, so he will stay engaged

So you have to become very creative! That is the fun part of training animals!

When you allow your horse to say ‘no’ in training, you have to accept that ‘no’. Treat the ‘no’ for what it is: valuable feedback from your horse. It is ‘just information’. Information you can use to benefit you and your horse!

You have to find out why: What is causing your horse to say ‘No’?

If you figure that out, you listened to your horse. This helps you come up with a strategy to entice him to say ‘yes’, without forcing him.

clickertraining.ca

This skill -to think out of the box -is a very useful skill in all other situations in life. Get creative!

Read his body language

It can be as easy as recognizing that he is just tired. Simply ending the training session will give you more of the desired behaviour next time.

If it is mental fatigue, you can focus on a well known and established behaviour that take no thinking effort. And so on.

Tell me your story

Share your story (use the comment section at the bottom) about one time you had to come up with an alternative strategy. What did you do differently than you would have done traditionally?

we_listen_hippoloic_weclickWhat was the situation and what do you think caused your horses to say ‘No’ ? What solution did you come up with and what was the result? Do you think it benefited your relationship with your horse?

Stay tuned

Read the other articles in this series:

part 1 of 6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6

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Join our community for online positive reinforcement training tips, personal advice and support in training your horse.

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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!
Sign up for my newsletter (it comes with a gift) here: HippoLogic’s website.

 

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  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

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  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

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“There is nothing wrong with Negative Reinforcement applied properly”

Said someone once to me. I didn’t say anything, but my body screamed: ‘Yes, there is….

Although I couldn’t explain in words why I felt that way, now I do. Since it was hard to catch it in words, it is a long explanation, so please get seated.

When I talk about horse training, I like to use the scientific definitions in order to keep the language as clear as possible and to avoid emotional and subjective projection. Let’s start with some definitions because this statement (“There is nothing wrong with R- applied properly”) is one that causes a lot of commotion among horse people. Continue reading

Why are NH and traditional horse training methods still popular? This is why

You would think that if one knows better, they will do better. Right? I think it is a bit more complicated than that. Here is why.

Natural horsemanship (NH) and traditional horse training are based on negative reinforcement. Negatieve reinforcement is strengthening behaviour by taking away an aversive (= something unpleasant). Pressure-release is an example of negative reinforcement. The pressure (aversive) is taken away to increase or strengthen a behaviour.

__hippologic_beautiful_thing_about_learningClicker training is based on positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is strengthening behaviour by adding an appetitive (=something the horse wants). After the marker signal (the click) the horse receives a treat.

Learning through negative reinforcement (R-)

If you sit on a pin what makes you stand up? The pain? Or the release of pain? Would you sit down on a pin next time if you see one lying on a chair? Or would you have learned to avoid it and check your chair before you sit down? This is how an aversive works: you learn to avoid or escape.

Learning through positive reinforcement (R+)

_moneyIf you find money on the street, you will be checking the streets or wherever you found the money the first time more often for money, until it wears out.

Positive reinforcement is strengthening behaviour by adding an appetitive, something pleasurable. In animal training we make use of a bridge signal, to ‘bridge’ the time gap between the desired behaviour and the appetitive. This is also called a marker signal, to ‘mark’ (click) the desired behaviour.

Downsides of using positive reinforcement

The difficulty with the use of positive reinforcement in training is that you have to let go of all traditional ways you’ve learned to train horses in the past. If the horse doesn’t perform the desired behaviour, more pressure is applied or even coercion until the horse does what he has to do.

When a trainer uses positive reinforcement, he has to stop and think when a horse doesn’t perform the desired behaviour. He can’t simply ‘click louder’ or ‘give a bigger reward’ before the desired behaviour has happened. R+ is not bribing. Bribing doesn’t give long lasting results.

A trainer has to investigate why the horse doesn’t do the exercise he was cued for: Is it physical? Can the horse perform the exercise? Is it a psychological reason? Is he fearful, does he have a negative association, is another behaviour more reinforcing, is he performing self reinforcing behaviour and so on.

Investigate the motivation of the horse

In other words; a positive reinforcement trainer is always investigating the horse’s motivation. Is it internal (eg hunger) or external (something outside the horse). He wants to understand the reason the horse isn’t cooperating, so he can solve it.

This takes takes skills: you have to have knowledge of the natural behaviour of the horse, his natural needs (how his body works) and recognize his physiological state (interpret body language). On top of that you have to have patience and know how you can motivate a horse with appetitives (things a horse wants to have and is prepared to work for).

Skills

Training a horse with positive reinforcement takes more skills than training a horse with negative reinforcement. If a horse doesn’t respond with the desired behaviour, the first reaction of the trainer is to apply more pressure, make the signal aversive in order to motivate the horse to move.

If you have been told over and over again to apply ‘more leg’ or ‘a light tap of the whip’ you have not learned to think about the reason the horse is not motivated. You just do as you’re told and that is what you keep doing.

Only if you run into real problems with the horse you are ‘forced’ to think about another solution.

Why are people are still using negative reinforcement?

1. The most obvious reason is that riders in general still are not taught about positive reinforcement. The horse world is still very set and traditional.

2. Another reason is that negative reinforcement used on the horse, is positive reinforcement for the handler/trainer.

Let me explain. Every time a rider applies an aversive leg aid (one that is trained traditionally with pressure-release until the horse reacts in the desired way) and the horse responds with the desired behaviour, the rider is reinforced positively.

negative reinforcement horse is positive reinforcement rider

Photo: Nelda Bogado

The word ‘desired’ behaviour already tells you. It is the outcome the trainer/rider/handler wants. So every time a trainer applies pressure-release and the horse responds positively it is the trainer that feels rewarded and reinforced by the outcome of his action.

It is only when the trainer has to apply so much pressure that it becomes uncomfortable for him/herself that people start to question negative reinforcement. That is the moment training is not positively reinforced by what the horse does, that is the moment people start to search for ‘other ways’.

Hopefully they find positive reinforcement and discover that developing a relationship with a horse and training him can go hand in hand. Training can be a win-win situation!

Positive reinforcement for the horse is also positive reinforcement for the trainer: the trainer gets the desired behaviour from the horse and (s)he gets to feed the horse. Feeding an animal from our hand is something we all love to do!

_Rplus is Rplus_hippologic

Join our Community!

  • Are you looking for professional positive reinforcement advice?
  • Do you want an affordable program?
  • Do you want to turn your equestrian dreams into reality, but you don’t know where to start?

If you have answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of the above questions look into one of the online programs HippoLogic has to offer.

Join our community for online positive reinforcement training tips, personal advice and support in training your horse.

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If you’re interested to become a member of the HippoLogic tribe, please tell me what you want in this short questionnaire. Thanks a lot!

HippoLogic.jpg
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!
Sign up for my newsletter (it comes with a gift) here: HippoLogic’s website.

Take action. Start for free!

Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

Simply check the best time for you in my online calendar and click to reserve your free call today.

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‘When can I stop using food?’ in Clicker Training

This is a question equine clicker trainers get asked often and is a really fascinating question for me as positive reinforcement horse trainer.

I get that it’s a concern for people who are interested in clicker training and those who are exploring the pros and cons. It seems like a hassle, right?

Why is this such an intriguing question?

If you know the principles of training you’ll understand. Let me explain. Basically there are only two ways you can motivate a horse in training.

  1. Strengthen (reinforce) a behaviour by taking away an aversive. An aversive is something the horse wants to avoid or get away from.
  2. Strengthen (reinforce) a behaviour by giving an appetitive. An appetitive is something the horse wants to receive, something he likes.

So if someone ask me ‘When can I stop using food in training?’ it sounds like the person wants to know ‘When can I stop reinforcing behaviour?’ or ‘When can I stop offering appetitives in training?’

I have never heard someone ask a riding instructor ‘When can I stop using my whip?’ or an employer that wants to know when he can stop paying his newly hired employees.

reinforcement_hippologic

It is a legit question

However, I do understand where this question is coming from. It comes from a fear of never, ever doing something with your horse without having a treat in your pocket. I get that, but a reinforcer isn’t a bribe that you have to use every time and also have to keep increasing.

Here is what happens if you start using positive reinforcement:

  • Your horse will learn that he can influence the training by his own actions (the right behaviour leads to a click, which leads to an appetitive)
  • Your horse will gain the confidence to try out new behaviours because that increases his chances of getting what he likes (food). He is having fun discovering what leads to a treat and what doesn’t.
  • He will like the engagement with his person, because there is a ‘puzzle’ involved and there is no punishment for ‘wrong answers’. All answers are ‘Good’ or, worst case scenario, ‘Not Reinforced’.
  • In the beginning it will be about the food, yes, but if the trainer uses a marker (the click) to mark the desired behaviour in a consistent way, the horse will shift his attention from the reinforcer, the food, to the click (the marker) and therefor will be focused more on this behaviour instead of the food.
  • As soon as the marker signal (the click) becomes a reliable predictor of the appetitive, the click becomes as valuable as the food. Now the click has become secondary reinforcer. Something the horse has learned to value. First it meant nothing, now it means ‘an appetitive is coming’.

Reinforcement never stops

In positive reinforcement as well as in negative reinforcement training (traditional training and natural horsemanship methods) reinforcement never stops.

If the reinforcement stops the behaviour will go extinct (die out), unless it is ‘self _carrot_or_stick_hippologicrewarding behaviour’, behaviour that reinforces itself without external interference. 

All behaviour must be reinforced 
in order to stay in the horses 
'repertoire'.

Riders will never stop using leg aids (pressure-release) and if the horse fades out his response, he will get a reminder (the rider will use reinforcement) to ‘hurry up and respond quicker’ by the use of a stronger leg aid, the tap of the whip or the use of spurs.

Does a (well trained) horse need to be in pain every time you ride him? No, he will learn to anticipate on a light cue, that now is a reliable predictor of an aversive. It’s this principle that ‘keeps the horse in line’. The horse had learned how to avoid it.

What about positive reinforcement training? Do I have to keep using food forever?

Yes and No.

Please explain!

_cutting_carrot_hippologicYes, you will have to reinforce a learned (trained) behaviour once in a while after it is established. This will prevent extinction. This means you will have to remind your horse that there is ‘still a chance of getting something good’ (food) once in a while for good performance.

No, it doesn’t have to be food!

Once you get more experience as trainer you can use other reinforcers too that aren’t food. You can even reward behaviour with behaviour.

Yes, you will carry food almost every training, but it is not what you think. Once you have discovered how much fun it is (for you and your horse) to clicker train him and how easy you get new behaviours you can’t stop teaching him more and more.

Food is a powerful primary reinforcer and comes in handy when teaching new behaviours. That is why clicker trainers almost always carry food: they are busy training new behaviours!

No, you don’t have to reinforce well known behaviour every time with food.

HippoLogic mei '09

It can take a long time before positively reinforced behaviour goes extinct. Your horse will learn that you equal fun and he is willing to do so much more for you even when you don’t carry  food. Once your marker becomes valuable, you can replace food with other reinforcers, like scratches or other behaviours.

What about you?

What is your answer to the question ‘When can I stop using food in training?’ Please share it in the comments.

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons below. Or post a comment, I read them all!  Thanks a lot!

 HippoLogic.jpg
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect 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 reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover what else I have to offer.
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Difference between Negative (R-) and Positive Reinforcement (R+)

Let’s start with explaining what positive and negative reinforcement is. Then I will share what was a real eye-opener for me about the difference between positive reinforcement (R+) and negative reinforcement (R-). It is not so much the obvious difference (the carrot or the stick-difference), it’s way cooler!

Definitions

Reinforcement (R): strengthening (a behaviour)

+ (plus): adding

– (minus): removing

Appetitive: something the animal really wants to have and values

Aversive: something the animal really wants to avoid or escape from

Positive reinforcement: use of an appetitive in order to make a behaviour stronger (reinforce the behaviour).

Negative reinforcement (R-): taking away an aversive in order to make a behaviour stronger (reinforce the behaviour).

reinforcement_hippologic

Positive reinforcement_positive_reinforcement_clicker_training_hippologic

In R+ trainers use mostly food rewards because food is of high value to the horse. In R+ the use of a marker signal (often a sound, eg a click) is used to communicate to the animal what behaviour the horse was reinforced for, not the moment of offering the appetitive. Clicker training is an example of positive reinforcement training.

Negative reinforcement

Traditional riding aids are based on R-

In R- trainers use mostly pressure to communicate. The moment of taking away the aversive is the way to communicate to the horse what behaviour the animal was reinforced for. Traditional training and natural horsemanship are based on negative reinforcement.

The difference between R+ and R-

It is not the food or the use of a marker in positive reinforcement that is the biggest difference. It is the way the horse responds in training that is the real difference.

In negative reinforcement it's the trainer that raises the criteria, 
in positive reinforcement it's the animal that raises the criteria.

In other words, in R- the horse will not offer behaviours spontaneously (because there is no reward involved for the animal).

The ‘release of pressure’ is not a reward: the horse will not offer ‘more behaviour’ in the hope of a more severe aversive ‘in order to earn a bigger sense of relieve’.

In R- the horse learns to avoid or prevent the aversive all together by anticipating his owners behaviour, but he will not actively seek ways to improve the behaviour since there is nothing in it for him if he does.

If the trainer wants to create more of a desired behaviour or better quality behaviour he uses an aversive to communicate that he wants something different now (raising criteria).

horse_eye_hippologic_clickertraining.jpg

In R+ the horse keeps actively looking for ways to earn the appetitive reinforcer by offering more of the desired behaviour. The horse learns he can influence the appearance of an appetitive by anticipating the behaviour. He will actively look for ways to earn the reinforcer and therefor will raise the criteria on his own by offering more of the desired behaviour.

The horse as individual

For me this way of approaching the difference between R- and R+ was a real eye-opener!

I suddenly realized that not everyone is looking for a horse that learns to think and comes up with solutions on his own!

Personally I think this is a tremendous asset in training animals. It can sometimes be a challenge to channel this motivation, but if you know how you can achieve spectacular results! It not only helps speed up training but it also benefits the relationship with the horse: he wants to train with you because there is something in it for him!

I also realize that this is exactly the same reason it can be such scary thought: a huge animal that thinks he is entitled to his own ideas (he is!). What if this is turned against the trainer? Then what? What if the horse decides not to cooperate… does that mean he doesn’t like you or your training? What if the horse ‘decides to let you down’?

What if… this is not the case at all? What if the horse mostly doesn’t cooperate because he simply doesn’t understand the question? Or he won’t do it because he is afraid? What if he is allowed (and encouraged) to communicate his concerns or fears? Would that benefit the relationship? I think it does!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe beauty of herd animals is that they are hard-wired to cooperate: the drive to work together in order to keep safe and survive is so strong they can’t ignore it. That’s the same reason we could domesticate them in the first place.

I think it is amazing to see how much horses put up with in order to cooperate. That’s the very same reason you can train them so well with negative reinforcement: their will to stay safe and survive is so strong.

Food for thought

Anyway this fact was food for thought for me. What about you? Are you afraid or delighted to let your horse raise the criteria and have a say in his training?

Remember: 
Negative reinforcement for the horse, is positive reinforcement 
for the trainer (the trainer gets what he wants: desired behaviour).

Join our Community!

  • Are you looking for professional positive reinforcement advice?
  • Do you want an affordable program?
  • Do you want to turn your equestrian dreams into reality, but you don’t know where to start?

If you have answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of the above questions look into one of the online programs HippoLogic has to offer.

Join our community for online positive reinforcement training tips, personal advice and support in training your horse.

Shape the community

If you’re interested to become a member of the HippoLogic tribe, please tell me what you want in this short questionnaire. Thanks a lot!

HippoLogic.jpg
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!
Sign up for my newsletter (it comes with a gift) here: HippoLogic’s website.

Take action. Start for free!

Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

Simply check the best time for you in my online calendar and click to reserve your free call today.

Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

Debunking Myths: ‘The Whip is only 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.

‘The Whip is only an Extension of My Arm’

Equestrians say this and often they add ‘… but I don’t use it.’ Or they add ‘… I don’t use it to hit my horse‘ or ‘I only use it to get his attention‘ or ‘It is a useful tool in the right hands‘. We have all heard this and maybe even said it! I know I have said it many times and believed it too.

Motivation

Ní Dhuinn ImageryThat was before I understood the principles of motivation and learning.

There are only 2 ways all living beings are being motivated. 1) we are motivated to avoid pain/discomfort/unpleasant things (these are called ‘aversives’) and 2) we are motivated to get pleasure/wonderful things/things that make us feel good (these are called ‘appetitives’)

Your horses’ point of view

Unfortunately the horse just sees a whip. Or the stick.

Your horse has made an association with this tool based on his experience.

That is his motivation. I think I it is safe to generalize here and say the majority of horses have aversive associations with whips and training sticks. In other words: they have learned that they cause pain and want to avoid it by anticipating their behaviour. That is the real reason horses often do better when there is a whip nearby. They have learned how to avoid it.

_carrot_or_stick_hippologic

Your point of view

You can call it ‘carrot’ stick, but to the horse who knows perfectly what a carrot looks like, tastes like and smells like, your carrot stick is just a stick. With a string. And it is (or has been!) used to touch the horse, not only in a good, friendly way (to give scratches) but also often in aversive ways. That last part is the part we tend to forget when we say ‘It’s only an extension of my arm.’ That is the part that makes us feel uncomfortable as horse lovers: that we do use aversives to get our way.

Negative reinforcement

That is what negative reinforcement training is: taking away an aversive in order to strengthen a behaviour. The whip or stick is meant to (and used) to apply aversives with.

Aversive: something an animal actively wants to avoid or escape from

 

The Magic of Work at Liberty

Who hasn’t seen wonderful clinicians that work at liberty with one or more horses. Their horses seem to do everything s/he wants. They have that magical bond and offer to teach this to you too! If you look closely you see they are carrying a whip or a some kind of stick. Sometimes it is really thin or white. It is designed to be almost invisible to human eyes. Not to horses! They learned to watch those tools very closely and pay attention to those ‘extensions of arms’. Why? Because in training sessions they are often applied to give aversives with and the horse remembers! If you watch the body language of those horses closely you can see that it is that tool that gives the commands (‘Do this, or else…’) instead of giving cues with (‘Please do this, so you could earn an appetitive’)

Whips are made to use as aversive

Most horses have the experience that a whip is (has been) used (in the past) to apply aversives with. Yes, I mean inflicting pain or discomfort (No, I really mean pain. Whip yourself and you know what I am talking about).

By waving your whip or ‘just carrying’ it, your horse will anticipate this behaviour because of his learning curve, the association with the whip is based on his experience in the past: Whips can hurt. This is why riders can’t and won’t ride without it: they simply don’t get the same results.

Sorry to burst your bubble

Now you know why… I am so sorry to burst your bubble. When it happened to me I felt really guilty, but when you know better you can do better. I know you can do it, I could too.

Ní Dhuinn Imagery

Image by Ní Dhuinn Imagery

This is exactly why clinicians who work at liberty carry one or two whips in their hands while working at liberty with their horses. It is not magic and it is certainly not positive reinforcement: the horse can tell what is coming next if he does not obey the commands. There is no magic in at liberty work in natural horsemanship! It is science and it is based on negative reinforcement training.

Don’t let your other senses fool you

You are being fooled by the beautiful, emotional music in the videos/performances, your eyes are distracted by what your ears hear.

The music is purposely chosen to trigger wonderful emotions in you and is meant to distract your eyes from what they see: a horse that displays tension in the muscles, swishing its tail, stressed expression in their eyes. or horses that vent their tension on the horse next to them.

Tip

Watch your favorite video without sound and pay attention 
to the horses. What do you see? Does the horse look happy or tense? 
If you mimic his body language how does that make you feel?

 

Then there is often a voice-over or words to read in the video (also meant to distract your eyes from what the horses’ body language is telling). They use beautiful words like ‘connection’ or ‘harmony’, ‘partnership’, ‘friendship’, ‘love’ and so on. Words that play with our emotions and make us long for what we want: be accepted by our horse.

Magical bond

We all want that magical connection with our horses so badly that we want to see ‘the magic’, we want to believe what they are saying. We all want to hear that we too, can achieve this. We believe the ‘leadership’ and ‘friendship’ myths that they are selling us.

Then, after we bought the program, we refuse to see what it really is: negative reinforcement training. No place for the horse to have a say in their training whatsoever. If they do they get more aversives. Really sad actually because if you use positive reinforcement you can get all this and more!

Negative reinforcement for the horse is positive reinforcement for the trainer

We humans are heavily positively reinforced by the Oh’s and Ah’s and admiration from our friends at the barn or our instructor, so we carry on with it. It also gives us a powerful feeling that a horse -an animal 8-10 times our own size- obeys us.

On top of that, who wants to admit that they are forcing their horse to work at ‘liberty’?

This is what I use to say

‘No, no. It is An Extension Of My Arm’, I explained to every one when I changed my whip for a training stick. ‘I am just being a good leader’ and ‘I am mimicking the behaviour of the alpha horse or lead mare’ and so on. I believed it myself!

The more someone asked critical questions the more I repeated the marketing nonsense I bought into myself. That is called cognitive dissonance. I couldn’t be further from the truth.

Ní Dhuinn Imagery

Image by Ní Dhuinn Imagery

Listen to your Inner Wisdom

My heart…. my heart couldn’t be fooled by the smart marketing one-liners. It was that little voice in my heart that kept telling me ‘This is not friendship, this looks more like a dictatorship to me. It is not magic when the horse walks without tack, he really knows that if he runs away from you and your whip/stick that you will react with, more pressure, more running around than ever.’

The horse just chooses the smart choice: self-preservation. Being near the human simply means getting rid of the pressure when you work at liberty.

The myth debunked

Sorry, I was distracted and getting carried away, let’s get back to the whip myth.

I am not saying you are using it to apply aversives with, but in our world I don’t know any horse that has seen a whip but never has had an aversive encounter with it. None. Not even my own horse.

This what I am referring to: every horse in this world will encounter a whip as an aversive tool sooner or later in his life. Unless we all turn to 100% positive reinforcement! 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

A whip is simply designed to be used as an aversive tool! It is designed to inflict a lot of pain without causing a visible injury. Every equestrian who ever accidentally (or on purpose) has been whipped by herself or someone else knows what I am talking about: it hurts! Badly!

What equestrian has never been so frustrated that they used their whip to motivate their horse into the desired behaviour? In other words: when you get desperate you use your whip to hit! What equestrian has never used a whip to flick the horse with in case of emergency or to get out of a very dangerous situation? Yes, that is totally understandable. Horses remember those things, even years later! Even when you felt guilty or felt very sorry about it, the horse simply learned a lesson and will remember.

Lose the extension!

When you know better, you do better. Loose the ‘extension’ because it doesn’t benefit your relationship with your horse.

What happens

When you don’t carry a whip around you feel suddenly less powerful and maybe even very vulnerable. I know this is how I felt, when I decided to work without a whip or a training stick. Have you tried it? It makes you think about other ways, more creative and hopefully more friendly ways to ask your requests to your horse, your friend.

The reason that a horse responds to a whip ‘as extension of your arm’ is because it has been used as an aversive in the past. And it is still carrying this value. If it hasn’t, your horse wouldn’t respond as well to it.

The riders who claim to ‘only hold it-but don’t use it’ why are you carrying it?

Why is nobody using a peacock or ostrich feather as 
'extension of their arm' in training or riding?

People who claim they ‘don’t use the whip’ are still signalling a threat to the horse ‘behave or else…’ Why else would they carry such a useless device? Isn’t that distracting and interfering with the hand-rein-connection?

_whip-as-extension-of-arm-myth_hippologic

Does it make sense to you? Does it make sense to the horse?

Secret

If you need a tool to act only as an extension of your arm why not use something that is not designed to dispense aversives? Something that makes it even impossible to inflict pain, something long and soft like a peacock or ostrich feather? I tell you why: the feather does not have the same power as a whip or stick. As soon as your horse finds out that it is useless to dispense aversives with it will lose ‘its purpose as an extension of your arm’.

It is the same with some dressage horses who will quickly learn that their rider won’t use their whip as soon as they are riding within the small white dressage ring fences. They become instantly dull to the leg aids because they know there will not be a ‘follow up’ with the whip. The rider is negatively punished by the use of the whip because it can cost points. The horse has learned that he is ‘safe from the whip’ in the dressage ring. Until that one day the rider gets so frustrated and decides to use the whip ‘really good’ to show the horse who’s boss in the ring….

Most people complain if they have to start carrying a whip or training stick during riding or training. Why not get rid of it if you don’t use it…

Or, admit the advantage of your whip. Not to me, to yourself. And to your horse (although your horse already knows why you really carry it). Be honest!

Visit Ní Dhuinn Imagery on Facebook, she made the beautiful drawing of the ridden horse above.

Related post:

[Riding lessons] Why do kids start with a whip?

Did this blog post stirred something in you? Was it good or bad? I hope you’re just like me and want to give horse people (and their parents) clarity and help debunk the myths that still effecting our horses in not such a great way.  How can I help you further?

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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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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.

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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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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

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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
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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.

Related post:

How to bring your horse to the pasture safely

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
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Reflections on +R vs -R (positive reinforcement vs negative reinforcement)

How valuable is a behaviour to you when it is associated by the horse with aversives (-R, negative reinforcement)?

Is a behaviour that is associated with something pleasurable /appetitives (+R, positive reinforcement) worth less, or more to you?

Or do you not care at all what your horse’s associations are with your ways of getting the behaviour?

In other words: do you care for the result more than the way you got the result?

The carrot (click) or the stick…

_carrot_or_stick_hippologic

Which one do you prefer?

 

Sandra Poppema
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‘Clicker training doesn’t work for my horse’

The first thought that comes to my mind when a person tells me ‘Clicker training doesn’t work for my horse’ is ‘Why not? Is he sleeping?’ Just kidding. (Klik hier voor de Nederlandse versie van dit artikel).

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Horses can be trained either by using an aversive to reinforce behaviour (negative reinforcement, -R) or using an appetitive to reinforce behaviour (positive reinforcement,+R).

What does the statement ‘Clicker training doesn’t work for my horse’ mean, when someone says that? Does it mean that:

  • The trainer doesn’t understand the concept of +R and therefor is not applying it properly?
  • The horse doesn’t respond to the marker, the clicker?
  • The horse is not interested in the reward the trainer offers?
  • The horse is not paying attention to the trainer and therefor doesn’t respond to the cues and/or clicker?
  • It only seems to works part of the time (with some behaviours)
  • The horse (sometimes) performs ‘worse’ during clicker training

What_if_Clicker_training_does_NOT_WORK_hippologic

#1 Trainer doesn’t understand the concept
A lot can go ‘wrong’ if the trainer isn’t conscious of what he is doing or doesn’t understand what he is doing and expects a different result. The basic terms to understand are: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcementmarker or bridge signaltimingshaping behaviourproper hand-feeding, cues, reinforcer and learning theory.

#2 The horse does not respond to the clicker
Can your horse hear the marker (the click)? Does he knows what your marker/bridge signal means? It usually takes 30 – 50 repetitions (marker+reinforcer, marker+reinforcer etc.) before the animal has learned that the marker is an announcement of an appetitive.

Does your marker sounds the same every time? A clicker always makes the same sound, therefor it ‘travels’ the same pathways in the brain. If you use a special word, it can take longer for your horse to generalize the marker sound, so it can take a little longer for your horse to respond and repeat the behaviour you’ve marked. If you use different markers make sure your horse has been introduced properly to each of them.

The marker is not (yet) paired associated with an appetitive or the trainer has not yet figured out what the horse considers a reward, see #3.

#3 Horse is not interested in rewards
The key is that the reward must be reinforcing the behaviour. ‘The receiver determines the reward’. If the behaviour is not getting stronger, the reward did not reinforce the behaviour so it wasn’t a real reward.

Pay attention to your horses needs and wants. A reward can also vary in value: a tuft of hay can be reinforcing in winter, but not in Spring when you keep your horse in a field full of juicy grass. It is the trainers responsibility to find out what the horse wants to work for at that moment.

#4 The horse is not paying attention
Why not? Is there something more urgent going on for the horse than the trainers cues? Can the distraction be removed or the horse taken somewhere else to train? Does the horse think he’s in danger? It doesn’t matter if the trainer doesn’t see the danger, for the horse it is real. Is the horse in ‘learning mode‘? Is he relaxed and engaged enough to learn?

Does the horse responds to the marker, see #2? Are the cues clear and fully understood by the horse? Does the trainer keeps the horse involved or is he distracted himself? Is the horse frustrated or maybe has mentally shut down for one reason or the other? Are the rewards reinforcing? Is the proper behaviour reinforced? It is all about timing: you get what you reinforce.

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#5 It only seems to works part of the time
The horse is not interested in the ‘rewards’ you are offering that day, see #3. He might be distracted, see #4.  The cue is not yet established in a different context. The horse doesn’t respond well because the training steps are too big, the criterion has been raised to quickly (also known as ‘lumping’). Or your rewarding schedule is too predictable, see #6.

#6 The horse performs ‘worse’ during clicker training
The rewards have lost their value or the reinforcement schedule is too predictable for the horse and therefor the behaviour becomes extinct. In other words: the click doesn’t motivate the horse anymore.

Of course this is only the tip of the iceberg for the many reasons that positive reinforcement aka clicker training doesn’t work for you(r horse). Can you name another reason? Please share in the comments!

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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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‘Clickertraining werkt niet bij mijn paard’

Mijn eerste reactie als iemand me vertelt ‘Clickertraining werkt niet bij mijn paard’ is ‘Waarom niet? Slaapt hij?’. Dat is natuurlijk een grapje. (Click here for the English version of this text.)

Er zijn eigenlijk maar twee manieren om paarden iets te leren. Bij de ene manier versterkt men het gedrag door iets vervelends (een ‘aversive) weg te nemen als het paard het juiste doet (deze methode heet negative reinforcement, -R) en bij de andere manier wordt iets prettigs (eenappetitive‘) aan het paard gegeven om het gedrag te versterken (dit heet positive reinforcement, +R).

Wat is de achterliggende betekenis van de bewering ‘Clickertraining werkt niet bij mijn paard’? Betekent het dat:

  • De trainer het concept van +R niet (helemaal) snapt en het daarom ook niet goed toepast?
  • Het paard niet op het brugsignaal, de clicker, reageert?
  • Het paard niet geïnteresseerd is in de beloningen die de trainer biedt?
  • Het paard niet op de trainer let en daarom ook niet op zijn aanwijzingen en/of clicker reageert?
  • Clickertraining alleen maar soms werkt?
  • Het paard soms zelfs slechter presteert als de trainer clickertraining gebruikt.

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#1 Trainer snapt het concept niet
Er kan nogal wat ‘mis’ gaan als de trainer zich niet bewust is van zijn invloed op het paard, of als hij niet snapt wat hij aan het doen is en daardoor een ander resultaat verwacht dan hij krijgt. De basisbegrippen die een clickertrainer moet kennen zijn: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcementbrugsignaaltimingshaping behaviourveilig voedselbeloningen aanbieden, cues, reinforcer (= versterkers) en de leer theorie.

#2 Het paard reageert niet op de clicker
Kan het paard het brugsignaal (de click, tongklik of je speciale woord) horen? Kent jouw paard de betekenis van je brugsignaal? Gemiddeld duurt het 30 tot 50 herhalingen voordat een paard heeft geleerd dat het brugsignaal (click + beloning, click + beloning, click + beloning enz.) de aankondiging is van iets prettigs.

Klinkt je brugsignaal altijd hetzelfde? Een clicker maakt slechts één soort geluid en daardoor ‘reist’ het altijd over hetzelfde pad in de hersenen. Met andere woorden: het paard weet, dat als hij dat geluid hoort, altijd een beloning volgt.

Als men een speciaal woord gebruikt, kan het langer duren voordat dit als ‘brugsignaal’ in de paardenhersenen gegrift staat. De stem wordt beïnvloed door vele factoren: emoties, een verkoudheid, het volume, toonhoogte.

Doordat een gesproken brugsignaal altijd een klein beetje anders klinkt, duurt het langer voor een paard het voldoende generaliseert. Hij moet altijd eerst ‘beslissen’ of dit wel of niet het brugsignaal was. Het kan daardoor ook iets langer duren voor het paard goed reageert op het brugsignaal en het aangeduide gedrag gaat herhalen.

Als men verschillende soorten brugsignalen gebruikt, moet men zich ervan verzekeren dat ze allemaal apart zijn aangeleerd.

Het kan ook zijn dat het paard het brugsignaal nog niet associeert met de beloning die erop volgt, zie #3.

#3 Het paard is niet geïnteresseerd in beloningen
Het ‘geheim’ dat in de beloningen schuilt, is dat het het gewenste gedrag moet versterken. ‘De ontvanger bepaalt de beloning’ wordt vaak gezegd in clickertraining. Dat houdt in dat als het paard het gewenste gedrag niet opnieuw wil uitvoeren nadat hij ervoor beloont was, de beloning dus niet belonend werkte.

Het is aan de trainer om te ontdekken wat het paard wil en wat zijn behoeften zijn. Een beloning kan ook veranderen in waarde. Een plukje lekker ruikend hooi kan in de winter een lekkere beloning zijn, maar niet in de lente als hij in een weiland vol sappig voorjaarsgras loopt. Het is de verantwoordelijkheid van de trainer om uit te vinden wat werkt voor dat paard op dat moment.

#4 Het paard let niet op de trainer
Waarom niet? Is er iets urgenter dan de aanwijzingen van de trainer? Kan de afleiding worden weggehaald of kan het paard beter elders getraind worden die dag? Denkt het paard dat hij in gevaar is? Het doet er niet toe of de persoon het gevaar niet ziet of denkt dat het paard zich ‘aanstelt’. Voor het paard is het echt!

Is het paard in de leermodus? Is hij ontspannen genoeg en voldoende geïnteresseerd om iets nieuws te leren?

Reageert het paard goed op het brugsignaal, zie #2? Zijn de cues duidelijk en begrijpt het paard ze? Houdt de trainer het paard betrokken of is hij zelf afgeleid? Is het paard gefrustreerd of heeft hij zich mentaal afgesloten om een of andere reden? Werken de beloningen gedragsversterkend? Wordt het juiste gedrag gemarkeerd door het brugsignaal? Het draait allemaal om timing: ‘You get what you reinforce’.

_clickertraining_hippologic_reinforce

#5 Clickertraining lijkt slechts in sommige gevallen te werken
Het kan zijn dat het paard niet in de beloning geïnteresseerd is die dag, zie bij #3. Hij kan afgeleid zijn, zie bij #4. Het kan zijn dat de cue nog niet voldoende is bevestigd in een andere trainingsomgeving. Paarden leren in een bepaalde context en als daarin iets veranderd moet het paard opnieuw leren de cue van de trainer daaruit destilleren.

Het paard reageert niet zo goed omdat de trainer zijn criteria te snel omhoog gooit. Als de trainingsstappen te groot zijn of er teveel criteria tegelijk veranderen, snapt het paard het niet meer. Dit wordt ook wel ‘lumping’ genoemd in het Engels. Voorkom ‘lumping’ door een goed shaping plan te maken. Het beloningsschema is te voorspelbaar, zie bij #6.

#6 Het paard presteert slechter door clickertraining
De beloningen hebben hun waarde verloren waardoor het paard geen interesse meer heeft. Het kan ook zijn dat het beloningsschema te voorspelbaar is geworden waardoor het gedrag juist ‘uitdooft’ (niet meer vertoond wordt). Met andere woorden: de click motiveert het paard niet meer.

Uiteraard is dit slechts het topje van de ijsberg van mogelijke oorzaken waarom ‘clickertraining / positive reinforcement niet werkt’ voor jou(w paard).

Welke oorzaken kun jij nog noemen?

Sandra Poppema
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Peer pressure at the barn

One of the most underestimated challenges of positive reinforcement training can be… people in your environment.

It is a journey
The journey to switch from negative reinforcement (most traditional and natural horsemanship methods) to positive reinforcement training (clicker training, on target training) is instructive and beautiful.

peer pressure barn_hippologic_clickertrainingIt is not always a straight, fast or smooth road. It is often a winding, bumpy road with lots of ups and downs, but the views are astonishing. You will see many positive changes in your horse and your relationship.

On your journey you will learn how to think outside of the box, it will teach you to become more creative. It will teach you how to think in solutions instead of problems and it will alter the relationship with your horse in an extraordinarily beautiful way.

good relationship horse

Slowly you start using more and more rewards to reinforce your horse to do things for you. Then you might slowly stop using the tools that your horse experiences as aversive, like a whip, rope halter, training stick or spurs. So far so good, until… you encounter a hiccup.

Believe me when I tell you: this day will happen. Your horse doesn’t do what you ask him to do. You can’t figure out why or you can’t figure out a way to ask him differently so he will understand. You don’t have enough tools yet, so you don’t have an answer right away. That’s OK. It is OK to not know everything right away. What to do?

Back to default
It is perfectly normal to fall back to your old tools or habits of using pressure, force or even to inflict pain. Don’t blame yourself for it. Becoming aware is the first step in changing! Hooray!

peer pressure at barn_hippologic clickertrainingIf you are prepared for this day, and it will happen, you can just simply say to yourself. “Hey, you know what? I don’t know what to do. Let’s figure it out first. Let’s find help and try again another time.” Really, it is OK not to know what to do! And it is also OK to stop your training until you do know how to solve your training problem in a way that is acceptable for you and your horse”.

Remember what is most important
Choosing to make your horse your priority can be extremely hard to do. Especially when other people are watching you work. Imagine that the farrier has come to trim your horses’ feet. Your horse is afraid of the farrier or there is something else that causes your horse not to cooperate the way he normally does. It can be hard to listen to your horse and figure out the ‘why’. Your horse probably has a very good reason.

In most cases it is OK to say: “Sorry, my horse is not prepared enough yet. Let’s do this another time.” Do what you need to do in order to protect your relationship and the trust you have build with positive reinforcement. In Dutch we have a saying:
Trust arrives walking and departs riding. Which means that trust is hard to build and easy to loose.

Do you really want to risk your relationship with your horse so the farrier can do his/her job right now? It can be dangerous for everyone if the farrier is more a traditional person. Or would you rather choose to make sure the farrier and your horse are safe next time?

Would you like to know how to deal with peer pressure at your barn? It is all covered in the Ultimate Horse Training Formula, HippoLogic’s online complete home study course.

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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!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
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Natural Horsemanship vs Clicker Training

What I really liked about the Natural Horsemanship method I followed in the late nineties, was the step-by-step program I bought. It was very practical because it described the horse behaviour in advance: I could expect this, this and this. Fan-tas-tic! I just had to follow the steps and boom! “Friendship” and “Partnership” where delivered.

Step-by-step program
When things didn’t work out the way the book described you could look up “pitfalls” and read where you skipped a step and what you had to work on. Great. It worked. Best thing of all, I didn’t have to think for myself anymore. It was all in the levels. If it really didn’t work out “I was just not ready for the next level”.

A new way
The biggest struggle when I started clicker training in the late nineties was that there was no “method”, no step-by-step program to follow and few people to turn to for advice. There were only a few rules to follow: pinpoint the wanted behaviour with a bridge signal and let the bridge always be followed by a reward. The receiver determines the reward.

Not many experts available
The only source of knowledge that I had in the late nineties was an Yahoo email group. It was in English and this is not my first language, so that was a huge threshold to turn to for questions and advice. I was lucky to learn from someone who had followed a course about training sea mammals with positive reinforcement and that I had studied Learning theory during my bachelors in Animal Management. This made it much easier for me to understand the whole science behind positive reinforcement.

Outside the box
Not only did my clicker training journey come without a map and a clear road to follow, I had to learn to think outside the box. It was so completely different from all the things I had learned about _HippoLogic_thinkingOutOfTheBox_clickertraininghorses in the previous 25 years and at the same time it made so much sense emotionally: looking forward to earning a reward versus avoiding an aversive.

Times changed
I am glad to see that there is so much information available for passionate horse owners and riders who like to start training their horses with rewards. There are books, clinics and also a lot of instructors and horse trainers who are available all over the world. It is still a minority but who knows what happens in a few more years. Internet is one of the blessings in spreading information these days.

Sandra Poppema

What to do if your horse doesn’t listen? (A question about Clicker training)

I get that question a lot lately. A horse has to to what the riders asks, is a motto most riders have. Otherwise he is ‘testing you’, ‘disobedient’ , ‘disrespecting you’ or ‘he will become the leader’ and what not. Not my horse!

The other day at the barn someone said to me: “You do Natural Horsemanship, right. So if your horse doesn’t listen to you, you don’t have much you can do…”. That was an interesting remark.

First of all, I try to not be associated with Natural Horsemanship anymore. The way I KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAmotivate and train horses is the opposite: I add rewards. All the NH methods I know use negative reinforcement (adding a reversive first and taking the aversive away as soon as the animal responds in the proper way). This method is also known as Escape Learning or Avoidance Learning. I did that, been there, not doing it again… Why?

I discovered a method even more powerful and more reliable to train my horse and bond with her: positive reinforcement. Adding a reward if the horse shows the wanted behaviour.

Secondly, if my horse doesn’t ‘do as I ask’ That means I have a job to do: find out why.

Since I shifted to 100% clicker training I never use ‘increasing pressure’ anymore. What a relief! I never liked using my whip or ‘phase 4 with my carrot stick’. http://meetville.com/quotes/author/b-f-skinner/page2

I don’t feel that she is ‘testing me’ in a negative way, ‘disrespecting me’, ‘trying to become the leader’, ‘disobedient’ and what not. Why? Simply because I removed those expressions out of my equestrian vocabulary, because I don’t believe these myths anymore.

Since I emerged myself into the way animals learn and what motivates them (learning theory of B.F. Skinner), there is no need for me to use reversives like accumulating pressure, pain or the threat of accumulating pressure.

I also don’t use punishment anymore to ‘teach a horse’, because now I know punishment is meant to stop a behaviour/undesired behaviour, not teach a better behaviour.

When I was making the video of Kyra and me cantering with a flag, she didn’t want to canter at first. That is so unlike her. I take this sign seriously, because I want a two-way communication with my horse. So yes, that means that she is allowed to an opinion. Even if it can be inconvenient sometimes.

When she doesn’t do what I ask her to do, I ask myself: ‘Did I asked the wrong question or did I asked the question wrong?” If she is still learning, I will check if I set the situation up for success and ask myself what I can do to improve. Note here that I am not focusing on “who is wrong”, I am focusing on what can be improved. That what you focus on, becomes bigger.

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This poster is made by http://www.doggiedrawings.net/

Anyway, I found a friendly way to ask Kyra to canter for me. She did it and I gave her a big jackpot. That is the biggest reward you have. In this case: dismount her, get rid of her saddle and allow her to take a nice roll.

I found out that she is changing teeth (molars) and she might have had a headache or felt not well altogether. I always find out later what was going on if my horses didn’t want to work for me. Horses always have a good reason.  Mostly pain-related or they spot (real) danger. That’s my experience.

Have you ever experienced something similar? That a horse didn’t want to do something and that you found out later what their reason was? Please share your story below.

Sandra Poppema