Your Key to Success in Equine Clicker Training (clickertraining.ca)

Posts tagged ‘receiver determines reward’

8 Important Life Lessons I learned from Positive Reinforcement Horse Training

When I was a little girl learned quickly that I couldn’t boss around certain horses. I also learned that I liked it much better when I didn’t have to.

A few decades ago I learned about positive reinforcement (+R)  training and now, 17 years later I can truly say +R has become more of a lifestyle than just a training method for me.

One of the best reviews I received from a student is: You are always very supportive Sandra and make this feel like a safe place (the Facebook support group) to ask questions. Funny, but I’ve met a lot of R+ trainers who a very encouraging and positive with their horses but extremely critical of their human trainers. Sandra you walk and talk R+ in all areas – with horses and people.”

Here 8 of the most valuable lessons and my biggest ‘clicks’ (eye openers) positive reinforcement horse training taught me:

  1. The receiver determines the reinforcer, not the trainer, not teacher nor the parent. Once I learned to think from my horses’ point of view and what his motivation is, it became clear on why he did or didn’t want to do it. Same goes for humans.
  2. Envisioning my goals before I start, makes it easy to keep on track and go back on track once I get sidetracked. Not only my equestrian goals, but all my goals!
  3. Writing down my goals made it easier to find the right teachers. Studies prove that writing your goals down will make you see more opportunities because it puts your unconscious to work.
  4. Writing down my goals helped me into dividing them into achievable (baby) steps. Whenever I feel stuck, whether that is in life or in horse training I ask myself if I am ‘lumping’ (making the steps too big) and I usually do. Once I make my steps smaller I can be successful again. This one was a biggy!
  5. Different reinforcers have different values and values can change depending on the circumstances. It makes sense that once the receiver can predict when and what the reinforcer is, he can determine if he does or doesn’t want to do the behaviour.
  6. I learned to think out of the box, because I didn’t have ready-made solutions for a lot of challenges I ran into. It is an amazing helpful life skill! I love it!
  7. I changed my focus to what goes well and improves, rather than the things that doesn’t yet go the way I envisioned. I turned from a Negative Nancy into a Positive Polly
  8. When I started to focus on my method of training, instead of only focusing on the results of my training, three interesting things happened: 1) there was now something valuable in it for the horse which made it a huge win-win, 2) the results came much quicker, easier and were way more reliable and 3) the overall relationship with my horse improved tremendously! Wow! Win-win-win!

What are the most valuable life lessons you learned in training? Please share yours in the comments.

_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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Clicker training 101: Rewards and Jackpots

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In the key lesson ‘Patience’ the horse learns that sniffing pockets will not be rewarded, looking away will!

Many people think that clicker training means you have to reward with food. And that rewarding with food equals a ‘mugging horses’ or that food rewards will turn their horse into a biting disaster.

To prevent mugging and biting behaviour we must teach the horse some rules. As I pointed out in my previous post [->CLICK HERE<-] the horse must understand that there is only a reward coming after the bridge signal (click) and clicks can only be earned during ‘class hours’. A class starts after a specific start signal and ends with a specific end-of-session-signal.

A lot of people think that clicker training is not their cup of tea ‘because their horse doesn’t like treats’ or they are not willing to use food as a training tool.

Rewards

My favourite topic! Reward-based training is NOT all about the food! It is about the REWARD.

The Most important rule is …

The receiver determines the reward.

If you want to use _Hippologic_rewardbased training_receiver_determinesreward-based training effectively you must remember that it’s not the trainer who determines what the horse ‘must’ like or ‘must’ accept as a reward, it is the horse. I haven’t met one horse in my life that wouldn’t work for something they value. It is the challenge for the trainer to find the right reward that makes ‘the magic’ work.

I like money but Kyra, my horse, doesn’t care about it at all. I like food, but I wouldn’t work or even try to learn a new skill for a handful of grass.

Primary reinforcers

A primary reinforcer is a stimulus that does not require pairing to function as a reinforcer (reward). It is something they need for survival as a species. A horse doesn’t have to ‘learn’ that eating is necessary.

Examples of primary reinforcers are food, air, water, sleep, sex and social behaviours for herd animals. Food and scratches are the most practical in training.

Secondary reinforcers

A secondary reinforcer is a ‘learned reward’. For example once you have taught your horse that he will always be rewarded for standing on a mat, “standing on a mat” will become a reward in itself. The mat is associated to the message “good things happen here” in your horse’s brain.

So, food can be a reward, but a reward doesn’t have to be food.

In my career as horse trainer/clicker training instructor I have seen horses that didn’t valued food highly as a reward. Or they didn’t like the kind of treats that I had to offer. I bloopered once with chunks of apple in a demo. The horse spat it out in front of everybody to make his point. Luckily the owner of the horse helped me out by telling me what was rewarding to the horse (vitamin pellets).

Jackpot

A jackpot is a very special “bonus reward” and will only be given to the horse if he performed extremely well or showed a new behaviour on it’s own that you really want to capture. Like the first time Kyra nickered at me or the first time she laid down in my presence.

A jackpot can be a highly valued treat, maybe mints instead of pellets or carrots instead of grain.

If you don’t have a higher valued reward to offer, you can also increase the amount. If you normally reward with a little chunk of carrot, you can give a big handful as a jackpot or feed multiple chunks quickly after one another. Or if you are riding, you can dismount and unsaddle your horse immediately and take him to a nice patch of grass.

In order to let your horse know he has hit the jackpot you must give it while he is still doing the behaviour. Sometimes that’s not possible. What I do instead is I will extend my bridge signal with a lot of verbal praise when a jackpot is coming to let my horse know she’s doing an extremely good job. Like winning a jackpot from a slot machine: there will be bells and lights to let everybody know you’ve hit the jackpot.

So jackpots are not normal rewards and don’t have normal bridge signals. Jackpots are RARE!

After a jackpot you can best end the training of that day so the horse can let the newly learned knowledge sink in.

To be continued…

Read here the next article: Clicker training 101: Using and Introducing cues

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

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