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

Posts tagged ‘positive horsemanship’

How to drop the crop

We all like to hold on to our beliefs and our familiair training aids. I know I do, even when I already know I never will use it. Here are some ways to drop your crop.

‘Safety’

Holding on to your riding crop (carrot stick, training stick or lunge whip) gives us a feeling of safety and empowerment. We need our crop, just in case…

But what if you don’t have a crop anymore. What would happen? Would you die? Yes, it can feel that way, but you (probably) won’t. (more…)

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Debunking Myths: The Whip is an Extension of My Arm

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

The Whip is only an Extension of My Arm

Equestrians say this and often they add ‘… but I don’t use it to abuse my horse‘ or ‘I only use it to get his attention‘ or ‘It is a useful tool in the right hands‘.

Unfortunately the horse just sees a whip. Or a stick. And your horse has made an association with this tool based on his experience. I think I can generalize here and say most horses have aversive associations with whips and training sticks.

_carrot_or_stick_hippologic

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 more than once in an aversive way.

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

Who hasn’t seen wonderful clinicians that work at liberty with one or more horses. Their horses seem to do everything he wants. They have that magical bond and offer to teach this to you too! But they are carrying a whip or a training stick. Sometimes it is really thin or white. It is designed to be almost invisible to human eyes. But horses watch those tools, those ‘extensions of arms’ closely. You can see that it is that tool that gives the cues what to do, or else…

A whip is (has been) used in the past to apply aversives with. Yes, I mean inflicting pain or discomfort (I mean pain). 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.

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 follow the clinicians orders… There is no magic in at liberty work in natural horsemanship! It is science and it is based on negative reinforcement training.

You are being fooled by the music in the videos, 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.

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). 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.

We humans are heavily positively reinforced by the Oh’s and Ah’s and admiration from our friends at the barn, 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. And on top of that, who wants to admit that they are forcing their horse to work at ‘liberty’? ‘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. I couldn’t be further from the truth.

Ní Dhuinn Imagery

Image by Ní Dhuinn Imagery

But 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.

Sorry, I am 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.  And it is that what I am referring to: every horse in this world will encounter a whip as an aversive tool sooner or later in his life.

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!

What equestrian has never been so frustrated that they used their whip to motivate their horse into the desired behaviour? 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? Horses remember those things, even years later!

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?

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 clicker in their hand 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!

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

Be creative in horse training. Here is how

In horse training we often have to be creative if we encounter resistance, fear, frustration or if something else is just so much more reinforcing than you. You have to be even  more creative, if you want to come up with a force free and horse friendly training solution. Here are some tips that can help you become creative.

Occupy your conscious

Occupy your conscious so your unconscious can come up with a solution. Do something completely different. Go draw a horse or colour a colouring sheet. I made one for you, see the download at the bottom of the page.

Listen to yourself

Talk your training problems over with a good friend. When you hear yourself talk you can put things in perspective and come up with a solution._________colouringsheet_horse_hippologic_art

If that doesn’t work, your friend might have a solution for you or you can ask yourself: ‘What advise would I give if it wasn’t me, but a friend with this problem with her horse?’

Have fun

If you are not looking to solve a particular training problem, just download my colouring sheet and relax. Have some fun.

I would really appreciate if you upload your colouring sheet and show it to me. You can send me an email info@clickertraining.ca or put a link in the comments below. I’m looking forward to seeing your creativity!

DOWNLOAD your colouring sheet here

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching or do you want to sign up for the next  online course ‘Set Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them’, please visit my website

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The clicker, for me a symbol of …

WP has a Photo Challenge with the theme ‘symbol‘.

For me the clicker became an important symbol. It represents force-free horse training, friendship, fun and a life time of learning. Let me explain.

_clicker_hippologic_symbol 

 

Force-free training

The clicker represents positive reinforcement: training behaviour by adding an appetitive to the horse in order to reinforce behaviour. There is no force or coercion in positive reinforcement training.

Friendship

When I started to use positive reinforcement I had to learn about what my horse likes and dislikes.

Positive reinforcement is a way to give my horse a choice in training and therefor it gives her a voice. For me friendship is not only listening to my horse but also acting on the information she is giving me. Friendship means that I sometimes have to change my approach if my horse doesn’t like it, can’t (physically) do it or won’t do what I ask for whatever reason. For me, the clicker symbolizes this.

Fun

Learning new skills, exploring new ways has always been fun to me. The clicker represents also the fun the horse displays when he figures out what the training question is. The eagerness my horse shows in working with me: always coming to the gate in the pasture as soon as she sees me and the soft loving nicker to greet me.

Life long learning

Switching from traditional and natural horsemanship methods to positive reinforcement forced me to develop new skills so I could communicate clearly what I want from my horse.

I had to learn to listen better to my horse and I had to develop my observational skills in order to pinpoint (click) the desired behaviour. I had to figure out what motivates my horse in order to reinforce the behaviour I am teaching her. I studied the learning theory and learning curve of animals intensively. Something I probably wouldn’t have done tothis degree if force was still my go-to method in training and riding horses.

The road to positive reinforcement has been (and still is) an exciting journey for me. I am still fascinated every day by how learning actually  works in horses and how we humans can influence it. It is a life long journey with fabulous views!

What represents a clicker for you?

Sandra Poppema

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

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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
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book your personal consult!

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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.

__Clicker_training_werkt_niet_hippologic

#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
Bezoek mijn website voor persoonlijk advies of hulp bij clickertraining

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10 Tools that changed my Training Approach (IV)

What is so powerful about clicker training? What tools are used and how can they change your training approach?

_targetstick_hippologic

In this series I am talking about 10 of my favourite tools for training horses and how they changed my training approach to a much more horse friendly way of training. You can read about Training tools # 1 – 3 here, Training tool # 4 here and Tool #5 here.

# 6 Target stick
A target stick is an enormously versatile tool to communicate with a horse. Targeting means that you teach your horse to touch an object (the target) with a body part (nose) on command.

When I started targeting I didn’t have a clue regarding the possibilities I could use the target stick for. I just thought it was a fun game with my horse. I started teaching my first pony to touch a bright pink skippy ball. Then I taught him to nose the  ball. I think that was about it.

Now I consider the target stick a very valuable tool. Read more about how to use targeting in your training in this post Best Basics: take targeting to the next level.

If your horse can target different kinds of targets with his nose you can teach him to target other body parts. I always thought that would be very difficult: you can ask a horse to move towards you, instead of away from you. Pushing a prey animal away is not so hippologic key lesson targetinghard, if he doesn’t go apply more pressure. But how to react if he doesn’t want to come toward you? You can’t ‘make’ him, or can you? Yes, you can with clicker training!

Once a horse is clicker savvy he will always be very eager to find out what you want from him. In order to let the horse come towards the target you have to set him up for success. Sometimes it simply means that you will hold the target only half a centimetre from his body so the chance that he will bump into it accidentally is huge.

# 7 Treats
Treats are not ‘just’ treats to the horse. Treats have a certain ‘value’ to the horse and also to the trainer. In clicker training trainers often speak of ‘high value’ food rewards and ‘low value’ food rewards. There are also certain advantages about the size of the treats you are using in training. How can you use this knowledge to your advantage and turn ‘treats’ into ‘tools’?

High value treats
High value treats can be treats that the horse doesn’t get often but he really likes, for instance sugar cubes. If you use high value treats sparsely the value doesn’t wear of. High value treats don’t have to be healthy because you won’t use them often.

Most people really like birthday cakes, I do. I thought I could eat them every day. Until I worked in a bakery which sold all kinds of super tasty cakes and pies. Since I could have free cake every Saturday my taste for cake changed and I don’t value them as much as I did before.

_healthy_horse_treats_hippologic_valentine

Super yummie treats can be used to teach your horse difficult tasks, for instance where the horse has to overcome a big fear. Trailer loading can be very scary for some horses and if the reward is something the horse really values he will try harder to overcome his fear and conquer the first step towards the trailer. If you ask a difficult task and the horse gets a treat he doesn’t really like, he might decide that it is not worth it.

Low value treats
In other cases you want to use low valued treats on purpose. When a horse is learning food manners it can be a good idea to start with low valued treats. You don’t want to get him too excited. Especially when he has to learn to take the treat carefully with only his lips off of your hand. With high valued treats the horse might become anxious to loose the treat and he might behave too enthusiastically so he would grab the treat instead of staying calm and taking it gently.

Examples of low value treats can be his diner grain or pellets.

Large treats
It can be safer to start off with larger sized treats on purpose, for instance to teach a horse food manners. A big treat is easier to see and_cutting_carrot_hippologic to take off of your hand gently. The chances of getting bitten while feeding a large treat, like a whole carrot with greens is much smaller.

Small treats
Small treats can be handy for the trainer but they can also be very useful if you want to increase your rate of reinforcement (RoR). Smaller treats are eaten and swallowed faster so the training is not  interrupted by chewing and eating the reward.

If a horse mugs you but he can take treats very politely off of your hands you can increase the rate of reinforcement by clicking and feeding treats faster. You can click the horse for ‘not mugging’-behaviours like: looking away, keeping his nose away from your pocket, keeping his head and neck straight forward if the trainer is standing next to his head. Clicking for the right behaviour while the horse is still eating will prevent the ‘mugging’ behaviour which often will be displayed after he is finished eating.

To be continued….

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

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