Advantages of an ‘End of Training’-signal in Clicker Training

Most horses get super excited when they get introduced to positive reinforcement (clicker) training. They literally won’t stop. They are always ‘on‘ and in training mode. This can be very exhausting for the owner (and for the horse too).

Green horses

When horses are new to clicker training they get appetitives for things they do (the desired behaviour). Therefor it’s understandable that they will try go get a treat by offering the desired behaviour. They are training you.

If you don’t give them what they want and expect, it can cause confusion in your horse and even frustration. He doesn’t understand that just a minute ago he lift his leg and he got a click and treat and now he lifts his leg and gets ignored or maybe even shouted at! ‘What’s going on?’ the horse wonders.

You horse doesn’t understand that training for Spanish walk is wanted and desired in the arena, but when you walk in front of him at the grooming place it’s undesired. What? It’s the same behaviour!? Why doesn’t he get the same response?

What’s clear to us, might not be clear for our animals. Try to see it from his perspective.

Clarity

Here are some things that give clarity:

  • Use a clear End-of-Session-signal. This indicates: ‘No more clicks can be earned from now on.’ Stick to it! Be consistent!
  • Using a unique end of session signal for a break or indicate the end of the training session gives the horse the security that he won’t miss out and he can relax.
  • You can use an end of session signal in between training sessions too, so your horse can mentally take a break and relax a few minutes.
  • Some horses even need a start-session-signal at first. Some horses think that if you’re in sight, a training session is starting. This can be confusing for your horse. A start session-signal can be calling your horse’s name or simply say: ‘Pay attention.’

Safety

Clarity also increases safety. If your horse exactly knows when a lesson is in session, he will learn quickly that offering behaviours is a desired action and they will be reinforced.

He also learns that offering his latest trick or behaviour after your end of session-signal will never leads to clicks.

‘High risk’ behaviours

If your horse knows this, and they learn quickly when behaviour will be reinforced (in a session) and when it won’t (outside training hours), you can safely train more ‘high risk’ behaviours.

A ‘high risk’ behaviour is a behaviour that can be dangerous if it’s performed unexpectedly. If you train Spanish walk and your horse will offer that front leg up in the air when you’re standing in front of him to lead him, chances are that you’ll be hit by his flying leg.

Same goes for training lying down: you don’t want that behaviour offered spontaneously when you’re riding! Right?


If horses know the end-of-training signal, they know his vending machine is closed, no matter how many quarters (behaviours) are thrown into it. It’s empty. It won’t work. They will safe these behaviours for training sessions.

Of course it’s best to put behaviours on cue as soon as possible, for clarity and safety reasons. However, tn the learning process there will always be a short period when a trained behaviour is not yet confirmed and on cue. An end-of-session signal will help keep you and your horse safe.

Here is how much clarity it gives

In this video you see I end our training by giving Kyra an end of session signal. Putting my empty hands up and say ‘All gone!‘ indicates ‘You’re free to do what you want to do. You won’t miss out on clicks and treats.’ I knew she wanted to roll so badly but she wasn’t doing it because a training session was going on.


Bring a horse to the pasture safely

Here is another example that will help increase safety.

In the past I’ve had bad experiences with traditionally trained horses that run off immediately when released in the field. Sometimes you don’t even get a chance to take off the halter safely. Other horses even kick and bolt in order to get their freedom. Very dangerous!

To prevent such behaviours I give a treat after I release horses in the pasture. In the beginning they get a treat before taking the halter off and after taking it off. Later in training I give a treat only after I take the halter off and get out of the pasture. Instead of running off they will linger in the hope for a treat. Then I fade out the treat.

In this video Kyra didn’t want to leave me, so I gave my end-of-training-signal. That’s when she realized that she wasn’t missing out on reinforcers (food or attention).

It’s clear how powerful that end-of-training signal is. My horse that almost nevers runs in the pasture.

Any thoughts or questions about using or introducing an end-of-session-signal? #justask

Happy Horse training!

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc
I help horse owners create the relationship with their horse they’ve always dreamt of and get the results in training they really, really want.

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How to … bring your horse to the pasture (safely)

As positive reinforcement trainer you always want to train the opposite behaviour as well. So after writing a post about getting your horse out of the field (effortlessly), it’s time to write about bring your back to the field (safely).

How to bring a horse to the field

Some horses are very excited to be back in the field and take off immediately. Some horses do this bucking and bolting. This can be dangerous but is very easy to prevent.

Safety

Bringing your horse back to the pasture in a safe way requires a few steps. You can train and reinforce each step separately. The steps are similar to getting your horse out of the pasture, but in the opposite order.

To graze or not to graze

The greenest grass always grows outside the pasture. A lot of horses take the opportunity to have a juicy bite of grass while the handler is opening the gate.

You can teach your horse to stop grazing/lift his head with positive reinforcement. He has to wait patiently until you have unlocked the gate.

Turning around

I always teach my horses to turn around on cue, so I can close the gate safely. I don’t want horses to escape and I don’t want my horse to run off before I say so.

Prevent running off

If you turn your horse around before unleashing him or before you take the halter off, he is facing the fence. This will help prevent him from running off immediately.

Make sure your horse wants to stay with you after you set him free. Simply reward him for staying and not taking off. I click and reinforce my horse for waiting. I usually reward this with a desired reward like a treat.

Reward the desired behaviour

In the beginning you might need to click and reinforce your horse just after going through the gate and turning around. Now you have his attention.

Take the halter off and click and reinforce immediately for waiting patiently. Then you can leave the field.

You might want to click and reinforce again for ‘waiting’. A few freshly picked dandelions or some grass will do. Horses learn very quickly that staying with you for a few moments after you’ve left the field can be very rewarding.

End-of-session signal

After you have left the pasture you can give your horse the ‘end-of-session’ signal. Your horse now knows there are no more treats to earn. Your horse will probably not run off, but even if he does, you’re not in danger of being knocked over.

After he no longer has the urge to go running off when you set him free, you can fade the clicks out slowly. Sometimes I just ask Kyra to perform a simple trick after I have left the pasture. She really likes that.

Related post: The safest way to bring a dangerous horse to the pasture

_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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