Whenever you have a Challenge with your horse, the first step is to break the problem down in smaller pieces.
Imagine your horse doesn’t lift his feet well for cleaning or trimming. How can you break down that problem for your horse?
Break it down for your horse
Your horse doesn’t know anything about your expectations!
When you break your goal down and start rewarding your horse for a slight weight shift *off* of that foot, you’re reinforcing 2 things. One is that you encourage your horse to think about what he did and how it influenced him (he got a treat). The other thing is that you strengthened the first step toward your goal.
We can have success when we try to skip the first step in the process. Even when you’re not sure that you know all steps in the training process, start by thinking about the first step.
This will also give you information about the second step and the third. Especially when your use positive reinforcement and encourage your horse all the time to think *with* you. Horses are very good at helping you train them, when you let them do it and are willing to listen.
So what would YOUR next step in training your horse be like? I would love to hear it!
PS If you want to practice your clicker training skills, join our Clicker Challenge Community! You get a new Challenge each month and you’ll develop your equine clicker training skills while having fun with your horse. Everyone can join!
In this series I will keep you posted on the young horse I am training in order to prepare her for the next farrier visit. I will call her A. in this blog. A was scared to let people touch her legs, especially her hind legs. She kicked out whenever she felt something touching them.
I promised to keep you updated on our clicker training sessions. We had another session since my last post. Progress might seem slow, but I know from over a decade of clicker training horses that slow is the way to go.
Due to circumstances I had to improvise last time and it went well. This time I started training in her stall, without protective contact (a barrier). I started the lesson with a repetition of where we stopped successfully last time we trained. With her left front leg. I stroked her shoulder and clicked her for standing with 4 hooves on the ground.
The next step was stroking with my hand along her leg and clicking for lifting her leg. A did so well! She remembered exactly what she had to do. She would hold her leg up (by herself, without leaning on me) for a second. I made sure I clicked very soon, so it wouldn’t turn into a jambette this time.
Her other front leg went well too. I decided to try her hind legs. She is used to me stroking her hind legs while working with protected contact. But today, without the fence between us she was startled and she kicked straight out. Not to hurt me, if she wanted she could have! She is so fast. This was clearly too much for her. I was ‘lumping’ instead of splitting.
Back to splitting the behaviour again. I used my pool noodle on a stick again and clicked and reinforced heavily for ‘standing still’. I stroked her bum, hind legs and then her fetlock. Each time she stood still I clicked and reinforced. I made sure I kept her below threshold, so that I didn’t trigger the urge to move away or kick out. I studied her face for signs of tension: wrinkles around her eyes and nostrils, eyes opening further or her head going up a few millimetres. None of that.
One step further
The next step was to repeat the same sequence of touching, but using my hand instead of the pool noodle. Hand on bum: OK. Click and reinforce. Hand on hind leg: OK. Click and reinforce. Then a click and reinforce for something very easy and relaxing for her: touching her withers. Then back to her hind leg and stroking a bit lower, her gaskin and I could even touch A’s hock while she stayed relaxed!
This was a wonderful moment! These are the moments you feel successful and you want to do ‘one more thing’. That is usually my cue (the thought of that I can take it one step further) to stop. She was so relaxed and confident, it was really tempting to do a bit more that day, but I didn’t!
The reason is that when I started touching her hind legs this session she was afraid. A few minutes and a few clicks and reinforcers later she was OK. I didn’t want to ruin that for her!
It was already a successful training: lifting both of her front legs without a jambette and touching her left hind leg with my hand while she was confident and relaxed enough to stand still. Especially the staying relaxed part is really-really important!
In this series I will keep you posted about the young horse I am training in order to prepare her for the next farrier visit. I will call her A. in this blog. A. is scared to let people touch her legs, especially her hind legs. She kicks out when she feels something touching her hind legs.
In my last blog I wrote how I started her training. She is now used to the clicker. She knows that a click is an announcer of good things coming her way: appetitives (in this case treats). She understands my end of session signal that tells her that there are no more treats to be earned.
Besides a clicker and treat I use a target stick that I made from a piece of pool noodle on a stick. I chose a pool noodle because they are soft, light weight and cannot hurt the horse accidentally.
I did not start with nose targeting this time. I used the target to touch A. The aim is to teach her that touching her hind legs is safe, will lead to appetitives (something the horse likes to have, such as a treat) and that she is in control (no force or coercion) about accepting her body to be touched. For obvious safety reasons I still work with protective contact. A. is allowed to kick the pool noodle in case I go too fast and nobody will get hurt.
Introducing the Pool Noodle
I already knew A.’s favourite spots to scratch her, so I kept those in mind while training.
I introduced the pool noodle by holding it in front of her and click and treat her for looking at it. I am still working with protective contact (a barrier between her and me). She wouldn’t touch the target in the beginning.
Then I held it a bit more to the left on my side of the fence, still not too close, and clicked and reinforced A. for ‘standing still’. Then I held it a bit more to the right, near her withers and so on. Clicking and reinforcing every little step in order to give her confidence that standing still is what I want from her. Nothing else.
Little by little I could hold the target closer and closer until she could touch it. I haven’t clicked and reinforced much for touching with her nose or sniffing since my goal is not to teach her to touch the pool noodle with her nose. She wasn’t afraid of the pool noodle target by the way, just curious.
After 3 sessions of each 5 minutes I could touch her with the pool noodle on the withers, her chest/throat/mane and her bum. If she moved away, even a little weight shift, I went back to the previous steps when she was still relaxed and OK with it. I would take a step back and continue a bit slower. In positive reinforcement training you mark the desired behaviour. If A. wants to move away that is OK. I just wait until she is ready to come to me and present her body close to the fence so I could touch her with the pool noodle again.
I don’t keep the pool noodle on her body until she stops moving. That would be negative reinforcement (strengthening the behaviour (standing still) with taking away the aversive (the thing she wants to escape).
I know it took 3 sessions because I keep a training logbook. I keep track of time, how many sessions we do each day, how long the sessions are, how long the breaks are (usually 2-3 minutes), where we train (A. lives in an in/out stall and sometimes we train outside, sometimes inside) and how much progression we made and also what startled her or what body parts he becomes anxious. I also wrote down the next steps of her training.
I end every session with an end of training signal. Sometimes A. keeps standing aligned to the fence in the hope of getting scratches, sometimes she walked right back to her hay to eat.
In the next blog I will tell you more about how A.’s training is progressing.
How to teach your horse to lift his legs. so you can feel safe cleaning his feet.
Encourage your horse to do a weight shift. Reward taking off weight of his legwith a click and treat
Reinforce lifting the leg up
Support the leg, without holding onto it
Guide the leg down
Build on duration and keeping his foot up in the air
Add your cue
Fade out clicks and treats
Train the next leg
What are Husbandry Skills?
The term ‘husbandry skills’ refers to all the behaviours you want to teach an animal in order to take care of them safely. Daily husbandry skills are haltering, leading, grooming, cleaning hooves, cleaning nostrils, eyes and ears and so on. Medical procedures like drawing blood (important in zoo animals) or administering medication (injections, oral medication, ointments) are also a part of husbandry skills.
In this blog series I will share with you how I train a young horse to lift her legs for hoof care with positive reinforcement (clicker training).
At the SPCA barn I ‘m training a young horse to lift her legs for hoof care and trims.
The farrier did a good job last time, but his time was limited to do the trim due to the horse.
The mare was very scared and stressed. She is not yet properly trained to lift legs and let us clean her hoofs, let alone lift her legs long enough for a trim.
My goal is to have her much better prepared for a trim next time. I would like her to lift her legs on cue and hold her legs up herself (no leaning into the farrier). I want her to be confident and stress free during a trim.
Building a relationship and trust first
This horse, let’s call her A. is young and she is really scared to be touched, especially on her legs. I introduced myself to her with offering scratches over the fence. She is really itchy at the moment due to shedding, so scratches are a good reinforcer to her right now. The best way to start a relationship is to start giving.
In a few sessions A. figured out how to ‘call me over’ (Starter button) so I would scratch her: if she aligns herself with the fence I come over and scratch her. I started with her chest area, now A. also let me scratch her withers, under her mane, her chest and her bum.
She knows that she can walk away and I don’t (can’t) follow her. She is in control: she can tell me where I need to scratch her and for how long. She even is in control of how much pressure she likes in a certain spot by pushing more or less into my hand.
End of Session signal
I taught her the end of session signal: I show her my two empty hands and say ‘All done‘. It is interesting to see that she now immediately goes back to her hay if I give her my end of session signal. She knows the reinforcers (attention, scratches) will stop now.
I find it very important to have a way to communicate to the horse when and when not to expect reinforcers from me. It helps prevent mugging and turning your horse into a pushy horse.