Does Clicker Training Your Horse Leads to Confusion?

When you change your training approach, you step outside your comfort zone. You know you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone if you feel insecure or confused. Another sign is that you get different results, hopefully BETTER ones!

What you need is to replace your confusion with clarity. How you do that, I’ll explain in this blog.

Lets see how you can recognize confusion. You might think right away: ‘I am never confused!‘ I understand how you feel and that’s a normal reaction. This is what confusion looks like:

  • When can I stop clicking?
  • Should I stop riding now I’ve started clicker training?
  • How do I start?
  • Should I click more often?
  • Should I always end with a jackpot?
  • When should I raise my criterion?
  • Am I using the right treats?
  • Can I still use my training stick?
  • Does my horse understand the cue?
  • How can I know if my horse really knows my cues?
  • Do I need to keep clicking for trained behaviours?
  • Shall I use different treats for different behaviour?
  • Is it a coincidence my horse did so well right away?

3 Steps to deal with confusion

  1. Information
  2. Decide
  3. Action

More information

Where can you get more information?

Contact me (see below) and watch the webinar about 4 Main Road Blocks almost All Clicker Trainers Hit and subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Decide what you want

Do you want to learn more about how you can teach your horse to listen to you? Feel confident? Get results? What do you need, in order to get that? Who can help you? If you don’t know someone at the top of your head, what else is possible? What about an online course or coaching?

Decide what you want and make a decision.

Decide to say ‘No’ to what doesn’t serve you, to focus on the top priorities (which can bring you back to #1: More information). The more clarity you have the sooner you accomplish what you want. It saves time and money, too. How?

If you’re being vague and say things like ‘I just want to ride better‘ you can find any instructor that will help you. But are you getting better? Depends in what…. If you say ‘I want to learn lateral gaits‘ or want to ride with positive reinforcement, you’ll notice that suddenly most coaches you ask are not qualified to fit your goals. Choosing the an instructor that help you reach your goals, saves time and money spent elsewhere. It’s a lot of fun working on what you really want!

Action!

Once you made a decision about what it is you want and need, need have to take action! Otherwise nothing will change!

Only Action leads to Accomplishments ~ HippoLogic

How can you take action? You can start to book a free discovery call with me and I will give you clarity. Take action and book your appointment now.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
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5 Tips for dealing with Frustration in Horse Training

We all get frustrated in training or riding our horses. That’s a given. Horses can also get frustrated if their expectations about their training or the consequences of their actions (release of pressure or receiving a treat) are not being met.

What can you do to prevent frustration and what if you are already frustrated or your horse is, what can you do next?

What causes frustration in your horse

If expectations are not being met it can cause frustration in your horse. For instance, you’ve clicked and now he expects a treat. If you’re clumsy or slow with your food delivery while your horse is waiting he can get frustrated. If you always offer carrots and now you’ve clicked and he gets a hay cube instead he can be dissapointed which can lead to frustration (‘Why am I not getting my favourite treat, a carrot?’).

Same can happen in traditional training and riding: the horse seeks release (relief) from riding aids and body language (pressure, pulling on lead ropes, waving whips and training sticks) and doesn’t get this release of pressure when he performs correctly.

If you, as trainer, raise the criteria in your training too quickly or make the steps too big your horse can get really frustrated: normally he immediately get a click and a treat if he goes to a mat and steps on it, but now he does not! What is going on? You might think you’re working on ‘duration’ but if your horse gets frustrated in the process his learning process will slow down.

Preventing frustration in clicker training is one thing, but what can you do if your horse is already frustrated? 3 Tips.

If you go too slowly it also can cause boredom or frustration in your horse.

Poor timing of the trainer or inconsistency (lack of clarity), can cause the horse to get frustrated. You just clicked for X, now you’re clicking for something different? No, but if the timing is poor this can cause miscommunication, which can lead to frustration.

If you decide to clicker train the new horse in the barn instead of your own horse. This can cause frustration in your horse: now is is being excluded from training, choice and treats. His expectation is not being met.

All examples that can cause frustration in the horse because he can’t seem to influence the circumstances or desired outcome. I think you get the picture.

If you know better, you’ll do better

Now you know, you’ll see this happening all around you. First you’ll recognize it in other people’s horses and if your brave you’ll see it in your own horse too. That can be painful, but it’s a necessary step in order to prevent frustration in the future. Be proud that you’re ready to acknowledge it: now you can move to the next step.

How can you recognize frustration in your horse?

This is a tricky one because I haven’t found any scientific research on recognizing frustration in horses, yet we all have seem in in horses. Haven’t we?

I am willing to take the risk not being scientific and base my story on anecdotes and experience of my own observations.

Next time you observe a person training (riding) a horse look for these behaviours. They cannot taken out of the context but in order for clarity’s sake I have to. Here a signs that the horse is irritated or (getting) frustrated:

  • Tail swishing (can be as subtle as just once)
  • Pawing with one or two (alternating) front leg(s) or weight shift
  • Stomping front foot
  • Head lift (subtle) or
  • Push with the nose
  • Flick of one ear
  • Two ears flicked and closed
  • Snaking of the neck
  • Ears pinned
  • Wrinkles around the nostrils

Horses may not all use these and many are also to express other emotions and messages. Here is a picture of a horse that expects breakfast and was pawing. Instead of giving food, I made a picture to capture her expression.

How to deal with frustration

In order to prevent frustration you have to offer clarity. What to do if your horse is already frustrated?

  1. Start with congratulating yourself for noticing! Not many horse owners/trainers recognize it in their horse
  2. Stop and breathe so that you can come up with a plan to handle your horse’s frustration
  3. Change what you’re doing that is causing frustration (this is crucial) and aim to prevent frustration. If that means you have to give your horse a break or ask something you know he can and will do, ask that. This will interrupt the feelings of frustration.

Prevention

Frustration is not always preventable but you can prepare yourself and your horse in training and set both of you up for success. Clarity provides frustration in training. #animaltraining

  • Improve your timing (watch yourself on video)
  • Improve the RoR (rate of reinforcement)
  • Lower your training criteria until your horse understands what he has to so
  • Become more predictable for your horse and make a plan before you start training
  • Ask help if you can’t solve it on your own. A tiny bit of frustration in your horse can help find solutions, but too much and too often will put a strain on your relationship with your horse.

Read more about preventing frustration in training and riding.

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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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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

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).

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  • Do you want to turn your equestrian dreams into reality, but you don’t know where to start?

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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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  • 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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Best Basics: House-training for Horses

When I put a picture on Facebook of Kyra pooping next to the poop bin in the indoor arena, a lot of people asked me how I potty trained my pony. _Horses_only_washroom_byHippologic Why house-train a horse? To be honest, I started it because I am a very lazy horse owner. My philosophy is: Why do it myself if I can train my horse to do it? This is why I trained Kyra to come to the pasture _zindelijkheidstraininggate instead of me wading through the mud to get her. She has to go through the mud anyway, she might as well do it by herself so I don’t risk loosing a boot in the mud or getting stuck there. I really hated walking across to the other end of the arena with a bedding fork to search for Kyra’s poops. I always had to walk twice because her poops are so big they don’t fit on a bedding fork in one go. I wanted her to make it easy on me. That was my motivation. This result (see picture) didn’t happen overnight and not even in a few weeks. She doesn’t always poop when we are working in the arena and we are not always working in there. To me it was just of a game, without a timeline. Clicker training Kyra was already clicker savvy, so she knows really well that after a click of my clicker, she will get a reward. The click pinpoints the behaviour. In order to get more of the wanted behaviour, the best results are obtained by rewarding the animal while (s)he is doing the wanted behaviour or within 3 seconds after the wanted behaviour. A clicker acts as a bridge between the wanted behaviour and the moment of giving the reward. So I didn’t have to reward her within or during the wanted behaviour, I only had to ‘bridge’ (click) during the behaviour that I wanted to capture and then bring her the reward. That came in handy at liberty. Start easy In the beginning my criterion was really low. In my mind I divided the indoor arena in two halves: the half with the poop bin (light green rectangle) in it and the other half. Every time she needed to poop I asked her very gently to maintain gait until she was in the “proper half” of the arena if possible. Often we didn’t reach that half. Maintaining a trot was never possible, but at least she kept walking. A few steps. It wasn’t really about maintaining gait, but more about making the wanted behaviour easy._house-train_potty-train_horse_hippologic If she needed to go poop and we were in the half of the arena where the poop bin is located (green striped area), she was allowed to stand still to take her washroom break. Why? Because pooping while walking, trotting or cantering leaves a long trail of poop. Like I said, I don’t like to waste time on poop scooping in the arena. On top of that I clicked and rewarded her with a handful of treats during pooping. She learned that pooping was rewarded sometimes, whereas other times it was not. It was up to Kyra to figure this out. And she did! Raising criteria After a certain period I realized that Kyra was 100% of the time pooping in the half of the arena where the bin is located. That was a sign for me to raise my criterion. I divided the “designated poop area” in half again (pink striped area). So now the space where I let her stand still to poop and click and reward her for pooping was about a quarter of the arena size. After a while she discovered that the had to go poop in a certain corner of the arena. Every time I had the feeling that she “got it”, I raised the criterion and made the “allowed area” a bit smaller in my mind (dark blue striped area). Correcting my mistake The poop bin is located in the same corner where the shavings are stored. Kyra thought she had to poop in the shavings, which was an obvious mistake (yellow/orange area). After all, her stall is full of shavings where she poops in. So I began to watch her closely, because she usually pooped in the shavings when she was in the arena all by herself. This was a learning point and failure is the best way to success (I decided to ‘fail forward’ and adjusted my training). Under saddle I could catch her going in the shavings one time and gently let her out of it. She only had to take one or two steps (towards the bin). Then she pooped next to the bin and not in the shavings. She had earned herself a jackpot. [read here more about -> “rewards and jackpots“<-] After a few times she learned that “in the shavings” wouldn’t get her a reward. Goal Now my goal is to let her poop in the bin, so I don’t have to clean up at all. Wouldn’t that be awesome? I’ll let you know when we get there.

UPDATE (Jan 2017)

Here is the sequence on this blog: I accomplished my shittiest goal ever! In which I tell you about how I taught Kyra to poop in the manure wheelbarrow. It even has a video! Go on and check it out!

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If you want to know about me or have a question about house training your horse, book your free discovery call. What’s holding you back? 4 Main reasons people get stuck in training their horse (free training)

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
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