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

Posts tagged ‘reinforcer’

The safest way to bring a dangerous horse to the pasture

When I was young and learned to ride in the local riding school, we sometimes were allowed to bring the ponies to the pasture. This came with a simple warning: ‘Always turn your horse to the gate before you take the halter off, so they don’t kick you.’

I still use that advice and teach it to others but there is more to learn about safety. Some horses run off, kick or bolt when released. How to handle those horses?

Horses that run off, kick and bolt

Some horses like to run off immediately and kick or bolt in the process. If you stand ‘in his way’, there is a chance that you get hurt. I’ve seen people deal with this problem by taking the halter off and shooing them away with it! I think the idea is to get them as quickly as possible out of their personal space.

I don’t think shooing away a horse that already has a tendency for bolting and running away will make a horse behave more safely.

On the contrary, it will add to his stress and he might anticipate the next time by shooing you away from his personal space. That is the last thing you want him to do, right?

Solution

There is a simple way to prevent horses from running off when you take the halter or lead rope off. You have to teach them that:

  • They won’t get chased or shooed away by you, and there is no need for them to run off or defend themselves
  • It’s safe and fun to stay a little longer with you
  • They can leave in a calm way, there is no need to rush

Incompatible behaviour

When a horse displays undesired behaviour, in this case dangerous behaviour, the simple solution is to teach them incompatible behaviour and reinforce that behaviour more.

An incompatible behaviour is a behaviour that simply cannot be displayed while doing another behaviour.

Step 1: What is the undesired behaviour?

  • Running off immediately with the chance of you getting hurt in the process
  • Turning around quickly and bolting when leaving
  • Keeping their head up and/or walking backwards so you can’t take the halter or lead rope off safely

Step 2: What is the cause?

Knowing what causes these behaviours is a huge step towards preventing them.

It can be learned behaviour: the horse has learned that the person will shoo him away and he anticipates by trying to get away before that happens. This creates a dangerous vicious circle that is hard to break when you don’t realize what drives the behaviour.

It can be a lack of education. I always teach my horses to turn around every time we go through a gate. One day I was leading a young stallion pony out of the arena. I didn’t realize that he had not yet learned to turn after walking through a gate. I wasn’t prepared that he simply walked straight out the gate, directly towards the barn.  I expected him to turn around or at least wait for me, but he didn’t, because no one had taught him that. I tripped and was dragged on my belly in the mud for several meters. When he finally stopped to see what made walking so hard, I could get up quickly and reinforce him for stopping. It was not the smartest idea to hold on, and I was lucky he didn’t panic.

It can be fear: the horse is afraid of the other horses or one horse in particular that approaches him. If he feels trapped because he is still on a lead rope that can cause him to panic and flee.

It can be impatience: maybe the horse is super excited to go to the pasture to have a good run. He simply can’t wait to stretch his legs.

Step 3: Work on the cause

If the horse hasn’t learned to stay with you until you cue him to wonder off, you can teach him to wait. If he hasn’t learned to turn around, teach him that this will be reinforced and that it’s worthwhile for him. Simply offer him a treat before you take the halter off and one after. He will learn to wait for his treat before he leaves. Better even is to use a bridge signal (a click) before you give the treat to mark the desired behaviour.

If he is fearful for the other horses, you have to find a way to distract or prevent the other horses from coming too close and crowd you.

If your horse is super excited you have to keep him calm and keep his excitement low so he won’t run off and take you with him in the process. You can train this easily with positive reinforcement training.

Step 4: Teach an incompatible behaviour 

In order to prevent undesirable and dangerous behaviours you can work on an incompatible behaviour and reinforce that more. Punishment the way we apply it, is usually not very effective. Teaching and reinforcing an incompatible behaviour is and will give you quick results, too!

What is an ‘incompatible behaviour’? A behaviour that cannot be displayed at the same time as the undesired behaviour. It takes a bit of thinking out of the box to master this skill, but it will bring you so much clarity once you can!

Incompatible behaviours: a horse can’t run off or kick when he is standing still (focus on reinforcing ‘4 hooves on the ground’), a horse can’t lift his head if he keeps his head low, a horse can’t bite with his mouth closed or when his head is turned away from you. He can’t be excited and calm at the same time! Teach him to be calm and focused on you.

Summary

Teach you horse to stay with you until you give him the cue that he can leave now. I do this by simply creating the expectation that there is something in it for the horse. I use high value reinforcers: super yummy treats or if a horse loves scratches and attention more, I will use those.

I start by reinforcing incompatible behaviours and work on the cause of the dangerous behaviours. I reinforce turning around after entering the pasture, standing still, keeping head low and after I take the halter off. Then I get out of the pasture before I give a clear signal that the horse can’t expect any more treats, my ‘end-of-training-signal’.

Then I fade out the treats slowly. I never totally quit forever with the treats because I want to keep us safe. A treat can also be just a bit of grass that you plucked just outside the fence, where the grass always is greener….

Related posts:

How to bring your horse to the pasture safely

How to get your horse out of the pasture effortlessly

_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.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin
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How to Keep Track of Your Training (the easy way!)

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a dog trainers blog about using a calendar to keep track of your training days. It sounded really easy to implement and it would help you stay motivated to train your pet. It takes only 5 minutes each day.

All clicker trainers know that only 5 minutes of training a day can already have a huge impact on your horses behaviour after only a few weeks. I thought, let’s try it! (more…)

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.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.

 

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

How to Turn ‘training’ into ‘fun time’ for your horse

I see a lot of people who are struggling with riding or training their horse. For example, they would love to ride a certain discipline, let’s say dressage, but their horse ‘doesn’t like it’. Would you like to change that if you could? If the answer is yes, keep on reading, if your answer is no, I am curious why not.

Motivation

Is it really your horses’ motivation that is standing in your way or is it maybe your own (lack of) motivation that is holding you back? How does one change motivation?

1_treatOver the years many riders told me that their horse doesn’t like to work in the arena or doesn’t like to do dressage. If I asked for more information it was often the rider who actually didn’t like to work in the arena or do ‘dressage’ as opposed to the horse. The times it was the horse, there was an existing negative association with the arena.

Rewards

If you think your horse doesn’t like to work in the arena ask yourself if you are ‘paying a decent salary’ to do the job. What is in it for your horse?

Is his only reward after walking with a stretched neck on a long rein a few pats on the neck at the end of your ride? How do you motivate your horse? Or do you motivate him with pressure-release? What is his reward? If his reward is not having to work anymore it is not good motivation to get started.

Reinforcers

Do you realize in order to turn a reward into a reinforcer you have to deliver the reward during the desired behaviour or within seconds after the behaviour ended. If the reward comes too late, the horse doesn’t associate the behaviour with the reward and your desired behaviour will not get stronger. That is why a bucket of grain after riding doesn’t improve your horses motivation to go to the arena or perform better in trot next time you ride. It only reinforces him to go back to his stall (where the good thing is happening).

A bucket of food after riding is usually not associated with all the exercises the horse had to perform in the arena. It is simply too long after the desired behaviour and it is not paired with one behaviour. It is more likely that he sees it as a reward for putting him back in his stall or taking the saddle off or doing whatever you where doing in the three seconds before you allow him eating his food.

Associate the reward to the right behaviour

_Ifahorselovestheirjob_hippologicIn order to motivate your horse in the arena, you have to make sure the reward is coupled to the behaviour you want to see more of. The same goes for the rider: pointing out their successes (small or bigger) while they are performing, make them feel that they are achieving something in that moment. After the ride they have the feeling they accomplished something and that they are getting closer to their riding goals.

For a horse it works similar. He wants to know what he does well in that moment. If you  use positive reinforcement you have a powerful communication and motivation tool in hands.

Working in the arena

The secret of enjoying the arena work more is learning what your horse likes and pairing it with the things you like. As soon as horses learn that ‘working’ in the arena equals being paid in a currency of their choice, their association with riding, arena work or dressage will turn around. Turn training into a positive experience with positive reinforcement.

Have more fun in the arena next time!

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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Three Best Kept Secrets in Horse Training

I think what makes certain horse trainers more successful than others is ‘communication’. To me the result of training is not the most important part. The most important component of horse training is the way the trainer got that result with the horse. In other words: the training method and the way it is communicated weighs more than the actual result, the behaviour.

#1 Listening to the horse

_hippologic_orenThe more I learn about body language and natural behaviour of horses, the more clearly I see if the horse is stressed, anxious, troubled, in pain or skeptical about the things the rider or trainer asks him to do. That takes the joy out of watching horses perform without willingness and eagerness to work with their handler. That is the reason I avoid the main acts on horse events. I would rather talk to passionate horse owners who think the horse matters too or are looking for ways to find out if what they do is as enjoyable for the horse as it is for them.

#2 Bridge signal

When I started clicker training I didn’t realize that I had a powerful communication tool in _clickertraining_secret_hippologicmy hand. The more positive reinforcement training I do, the more I realize that my bridge signal (the marker) functions as a very precise tool, like a scalpel. I can change the tiniest details in a behaviour to my desire. It communicates so clearly what it is I want from my horse, it is amazing that more people are not use it.

The bridge signal is the most important communication tool in working with rewards. The bridge signal marks exactly the behaviour the horse earned the reward for. Click: this is what I want. How more clear can you get?

#3 Reinforcers

The third very important pillar of training is the category of reinforcers a trainer uses.

If it is negative reinforcement, the horse learns basically through avoidance. The wanted behaviour is reinforced by avoiding an unpleasant stimulus. Negative reinforcement (-R) is sometimes referred to as avoidance learning. For example yielding for pressure. Even when the unpleasant stimulus changed to a very light cue or just a body movement of the trainer, the brain will still associate the cue with the way the behaviour was triggered, the aversive. This is the reason negative reinforcement works so well: one can fade out the aversive but it still works because of the association in the brain.

If the learning happens because the horse is getting something he wants, something pleasant that is added to reinforce the behaviour (positive reinforcement),  he will try to earn another reward.

_Reward_reinforcer_hippologic

The association the trainer builds in the horse’s brain is a pleasant one. The horse will actively seek out behaviours that got him rewarded in the past. The trainer stimulates the intelligence and the creativity of the horse with rewards. These horses are offering new behaviours all the time. Something you will not see in seasoned -R trained horses.

This is the eagerness and the joy one can spot in a +R trained horse.

Spread the word

I see so many talented and knowledgeable clinicians, horse trainers and riding instructors out there, who could be even more successful if they would only use bridge signals in their training and lessons. The bridge signal marks the wanted behaviour in the horse, but it also clearly shows to the rider/handler what the instructor means.

I wish more people understood the importance of a bridge signal paired with a pleasant stimulus (reward). Of course it’s intertwined with understanding what the horse communicates back to you and the reinforcers that make it worthwhile for the horse.

I think the bridge signal is the best kept secret in horse training and I think it is time to reveal this powerful tool to every horse lover, rider, trainer and instructor.

Share this message if you agree.

_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.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.

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tip to stay motivated

 

Dangers of working with food (warning about Clicker Training)

I always warn people that keeping a horse can be a hazardous business. I remember the day my best friend bought a beautiful young Frisian stallion and I warned her:”Be careful. Keeping horses and taking care of them can be dangerous.”

Daily dangers

The first day her finger got stuck between the stall door. And a few days later her other finger got caught in the lead rope while she was tying her horse. Well, it was her first horse, what can I say… Horses and or being around them can be dangerous.

Clicker Challenge
Yesterday I wanted to do some clicker training sessions with Kyra. I am participating in a Clicker Challenge on Facebook. The end goal is to position the horse 1 meter in front of a pedestal made of 2 little blocks of wood or stepping stones, give your horse a cue to mount the stones, let him stand for 20 seconds, reward and then dismount backing up.

_cutting_carrot_hippologicAnyway, Kyra’s best motivator is food, so that’s the reward I use the most.

Dangers of working with food as reinforcers
I think everyone has heard about the dangers working with food as a training tool. Yesterday I got hurt for the first time!

Myths
I am not talking about the myths about using food as training tool, like ‘your horse will become pushy and will mug you‘ or ‘your horse will try to bite you in order to get the food’. We all know that this is key lesson #1 in clicker training: teaching your horse to behave around food. Here I am talking about something else. Let me explain.

Pay attention
I was preparing the treats. I wasn’t paying attention, which was my mistake, and I cut my thumb! Ouch! It was a really deep cut and I can tell you it hurt. Badly. It was bleeding and bleeding and wouldn’t stop at first. Arggg, I just had my camera set-up and was planning to video my training.

Although the pain was bad, worst of all: it is my favourite clicker thumb, my left one.  Now what? Pressing a clicker with the top of your thumb hanging loose wasn’t an option. And although it wasn’t a very nice experience, I had to laugh a little at myself. I am always telling people that there is no danger in working with food as training tool… Now I am injured. Worst of all: by myself. Please don’t laugh.

Warning
Any way, I just want to warn you all: PAY ATTENTION while cutting your apples and carrots. Or be safe and choose grain, pellets or treats you don’t have to cut. Just saying… horse training can be a hazardous business. 🙂

_danger_clicker training_hippologic

PS I did train and used my right hand to click and feed. A bit ungainly but the show training must go on. Kyra didn’t care about my injury. I think she was just thrilled that I trained her anyway. Left or right hand, a click sounds like a click.

Sandra Poppema
Are you inspired and got interested in personal coaching with me 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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