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

Posts tagged ‘rehabilitate rescue horse’

Rehabilitating Horses with Clicker Training

Is that possible? Yes, it is! In my years working for the SPCA I trained many horses and barn animals with positive reinforcement (R+). Some horses needed to be rehabilitated mentally, some physically and some both.

I also taught employees and volunteers the basics of clicker training and together we trained the horses in order to make them more adoptable. These experiences helped me develop my own R+ training system and special tools that now help horse owners all over the world.

Using positive reinforcement to administer medication

Many of the horses at the SPCA needed medication when they were brought in: deworming and other oral medication like anti-inflammatory pills or pain killers. Some animals needed eye ointments or other wound care.

 

Using positive reinforcement in such situations was a real benefit. With coercion you might get it done once or twice before the animal smartens up and it becomes a struggle. The small amount of training time you put in with clicker training before or during administering medication, saves you time and effort in the future.

Building trust with R+

Using positive reinforcement also means giving a horse a voice and a choice in training. These things help building trust and a positive relationship with the animal. This also contributes to a positive view about humans in general.

Whenever a horse or other animal escaped everybody stayed relaxed. There was no chasing or shooing the animal back into his habitat. We usually used food or a friend to bring them back or sometimes we were just being patient. I really liked that way of handling animals. No screaming, no panic and we never had to corner an escaped animal.

We always joked that they where in a spa. The horses didn’t have to work, they got to exercise themselves in the pasture and they all loved their clicker training sessions.

Clicker conference 2.0

In 2019 I gave a presentation at the Dutch Clicker Conference 2.0 A New Way of Rehabilitating Horses in which I shared examples of rehabilitating horses with clicker training.  I’ve seen many benefits the use of positive reinforcement brings.

By listening to your animal in training you can spot problems early on. When my own horse got sore hoofs I noticed right away that she wasn’t as forward as she usually was. Kyra normally is really cooperative and when she is not, I know I have to investigate what is going on. The vet told me she had EMS (Equine Metabolic Syndrome) and laminitis.

Using R+ to rehabilitate a laminitis horse

I used positive reinforcement to exercise Kyra despite her sore hoofs. I hand walked her on the road.

A year earlier I taught Kyra to graze and stop grazing on cue and therefor I didn’t need to worry about the juicy grass next to the road. Yes, this amazed me too since she was also on a restrictive diet.

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Clicker training helped me to lift her feet (she didn’t want to lift her front hoof because it caused more pain in the other hoof she was standing on), helped me get her used to wearing hoof shoes and a grazing mask.

Positive reinforcement to reduce stereotypical behaviours

Some horses I worked with at the SPCA had stereotypical behaviours. Well suited environment (proper housing, management, care) in combination with clicker training helped greatly in diminishing those kind of behaviours.

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I have seen horses that were weaving, cribbing or displayed other neurotic behaviour in training change. They stopped displaying their stereotypical behaviours in training and it greatly reduced altogether.

Although this is purely my experience I would love to see some research done on this. I think the horse world is ready to accept a broader view on positive reinforcement.

Conclusion

The more I work with R+, the more I see how much influence this kind of training really has on the animal. Positive reinforcement has more benefits than just training the desired behaviour. It can be a great way to reduce stress, restore and built trust and improve their welfare by offering the animal choices and ways to influence his environment.

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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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Important values in the horse-human relationship: Trust

Personally I think trust is one of the most important values in a horse-human relationship. Without a foundation of trust you don’t have much to built a good relationship on.

It’s easier to love someone you trust, than someone you don’t. That ‘someone’ can be a human as well as an animal. If you trust someone, you can relax in his or her company and rely upon him/her to help keep you safe and not to hurt you.

We can’t learn when we are in fear and our flight-fight response is triggered. The same goes for horses.We learn best when we feel at ease and are relaxed. In other words; when we stay in learning mode.

Trust is not something you can buy (with treats), force (with pressure) or gain quickly. You have to build trust, over time, with your actions. Not with words.

we_trust_actions_hippologicYou want all your actions (handling, training, riding) to contribute to building trust, not to take away trust.

In Dutch we have a saying: ‘Trust comes by foot but leaves on a horse’ which means that trust is built slowly but can be destroyed quickly.

Take this question with you every time you spent time with your horse: Are my actions contributing to building trust or not? If you don’t know the answer, place yourself in his shoes. Observe your horse’s body language, mimic it and see what emotions get triggered. Are you relaxed or tense? Can you still breathe? Do you feel safe or not?

How do you build trust in your relationship and how do you measure it?

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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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Tips to re-train undesired behaviour in horses

In another post I explained the power of a variable reward schedule and how to use it into your advantage. A variable ratio schedule is the most powerful reward schedule because it takes the longest for a behaviour to become extinct. How can you use this information in re-training undesired behaviour?

‘Extinction’ of behaviour

Extinction means that the behaviour will never be displayed in a certain situation. There is 0% chance of a reward, so therefor the behaviour has become ‘useless’ in that situation.

This is what we want to accomplish when a horse displays undesired behaviour, like kicking the stall door. We want to ignore the behaviour in order to make clear that this will not get him anywhere.

Why does it often seem not to work at all (ignoring undesired behaviour)?. It is because of a natural occurrence in learning that is called ‘extinction burst’.

Extinction burst

Once the owner decides to ignore this undesired behaviour in order to let it become extinct (0% chance of a reward so therefor displaying the behaviour has no value for the horse anymore) the behaviour will first show an ‘extinction burst’.

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Extinction, extinction burst and spontaneous recovery graph from study.com

During the extinction burst the horse will show an increased amount effort in the hope for a reward. If one decides to ‘reward’ (read: react) to this undesired behaviour in any way, even if it is with shouting at the horse in an attempt to punish this undesired behaviour, chances are that the horse regards this as his reward. After all, it is the receiver (horse) who determines if something is a reward.

How to handle it

If the horse kicks a door in order to get your attention and he gets what he wants, it is a reward. Every time an extinction burst is rewarded it takes longer for the behaviour to become extinct.

So if you expect the horse wants your attention, make sure he doesn’t get it. Every time he kicks his stall door walk out of sight or turn your back. In this way you make sure you don’t give him attention for kicking the door.

Extinct behaviour

If you want to let a behaviour go extinct the extinction burst is the most important moment not to reinforce.

This is also the  moment most people are tempted to react. The person interprets the increased undesired behaviour as ‘the horse hasn’t learnt anything’ and because the bad behaviour increased (instead of decreased) they feel the need to interfere in the hope punishment will solve this.

Spontaneous recovery

A second, smaller extinction bursts can occur over time, which are called spontaneous recovery of behaviour. In the case of our horse kicking the barn door, he might show the behaviour  again but less extreme. When the extinction burst(s) don’t get reinforced the behaviour will go extinct.

Undesired behaviour

In dealing with undesired behaviour we always want to know what caused the behaviour, so we can work on that too.

Sometimes it is really hard to determine what reinforces a certain undesired behaviour. If the behaviour is ‘self rewarding’ just ignoring the behaviour won’t work. The horse will get his reward regardless what you are doing. Then you have to figure out how you can reinforce the opposite behaviour more than the undesired behaviour or find a way to prevent it.

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This kind of self rewarding behaviour is hard to re-train

Rewarding the opposite behaviour

In the case of door kicking you can ignore the noise and start rewarding the horse for ‘four hooves on the ground’. In this way you communicate what it is you do want from the horse: standing still. Use the reward he wants for the undesired behaviour: your attention or during feeding time the food.

This approach works really well, but it takes a lot of effort from the trainer. You must be paying attention when the horse is standing still and is quiet. That can be a bigger challenge than just ignoring the door kicking.

Make sure everybody is on the same page if you want to re-train behaviour like door kicking. Ask everyone to follow the simple rules: go to horses that stand still and look for attention, ignore the door kickers.

Remember this

Every time an extinction burst is rewarded, the behaviour becomes stronger. Something you want in training desired behaviours, not in re-training undesired behaviours.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect horse women with their inner wisdom and teach them the principles of learning and motivation, so they become confident and skilled to train their horse in a safe and effective way that is a lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover what else I have to offer.
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