DIY Easy Healthy Horse Treats (sugar free)

We all would like to treat our horses from time to time. Positive reinforcement trainers are always on the lookout to find a special treat for their horse which they can use in training.

Kyra is an extremely picky eater when it comes to treats and she won’t eat commercial horse treats. I was very exited when I tried this recipe and discovered that she liked these right away. For Kyra this is a high value treat, so it makes it worthwhile to make.

Healthy Cinnamon Horse Cookies
The molasses is optional. If you don’t use molasses you can use an extract for flavouring, they are low-sugar treats.

Ingredients
1 ¾  cups uncooked (brown) rice / 6 cups cooked rice
1 cup ground stabilized flax
3 tablespoons cinnamon
½ cup flour
½ cup molasses (optional)

Directions
Pre-heat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit (135 degrees Celsius). Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Cook the rice and let cool down.

Mix all ingredients together. It will make a very sticky dough.

_healthy_horse_treats_hippologic_

Wet your hands before making little balls of the dough. This is very time consuming. If you don’t have much time you can also roll the dough simply onto the 2 cookie sheets with a rolling pin. Make it half an inch thick. Pre-cut the cookies with a pizza cutter into little squares before baking.

Bake them for 60 minutes. Turn cookies and bake for another 60 minutes. They should be crisp and not squishy. Let them cool down for several hours to harden.
If baked properly and stored in freezer or fridge, they will keep for up to several weeks.

I hope there is no need to keep them stored for weeks. My horse Kyra loves these!

These healthy cinnamon horse cookies make excellent gifts, too.

Here is the video with instructions:

Here is the connaisseur who did the tasting:

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I improve the human-horse relationships by reconnecting you with your inner wisdom and teach you the principles of learning and motivation, so you become confident and knowledgeable to train your horse in an effective and FUN way. Win-win for horse and human.
All HippoLogic’s programs are focused on building your confidence and provide you with  a step-by-step formula to train horses with 100% positive reinforcement.
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Myth Monday: Training with Food rewards causes pushy Horses

All positive reinforcement trainers have heard people say: ‘Training horses with food rewards makes them pushy’. Some people even state ‘dangerous‘ instead of pushy. Maybe you have said it yourself before you started using positive reinforcement (+R) to train your horse.

You get what you reinforce

In +R training you use a reward that reinforces the behaviour you want to train. The trainer uses a marker signal to mark the desired behaviour in order to communicate to the horse which behaviour he wants to see more of. Key is the marker signal.

What is mugging?

Mugging or other undesired behaviour around food or treats is just learned behaviour. If you understand how learning works, you see that mugging is caused (reinforced) by the trainer. Even if it wasn’t a professional trainer, but just a mom who wanted to give her daughters pony a carrot just because …. If the pony was sniffing her pocket or maybe just gave mom a little push with his nose and mom thinks: ‘Oh I forgot I had a treat in my pocket. Here you are, sweet pony. You are so smart.’_mugging_hippologic

If someone has rewarded a horse for sniffing his pockets, this behaviour was encouraged. Therefor the horse will repeat this behaviour. It leaded to a reward. The same goes for a horse that is pushing you around in order to get to the food. If he gets rewarded for pushing you around, you have ‘trained’ him to do so. Even if it was unconscious, for the horse it was not. He was the one that paid attention (Read more in my post What to do if your horse is mugging you.)

Teaching ‘polite behaviour’ around food

The same way you can encourage (read: train) a horse to mug or behave pushy, you can encourage him to behave ‘politely’ around food and treats. I put polite between quotation marks because it is not per definition an equine behaviour. It is a trained behaviour. Polite behaviour is one of my key lessons (the keys to success in +R training).

Just like children have to learn not to speak with food in their mouth and other polite behaviours, so must horses learn what behaviours we want to see and consider polite (and save). It’s the trainers task to spent time on these.

Mugging is a trainers’ fault

Since mugging is a learned behaviour one can re-train it by reinforcing the opposite behaviour more and ignoring the mugging. Horses are smart and they will learn quickly what behaviours will lead to rewards and what behaviours will not.

If the trainer understands the learning theory and the equine mind, mugging is easily prevented or changed.

Train desired behaviour instead

Just think about what the opposite behaviours of mugging look like and start reinforcing those.

  • The horse looks straight forward or slightly away when you reach into your pocket, instead of moving his nose towards your pocket.
  • The horse backs up a step when you are about to hand-feed him, instead of coming towards you to get the food.
  • The horse takes the treat gently off of your hand and uses his lips only,  instead of taking it with his teeth.
  • The horse stays out of your personal space instead of pushing you with his nose.
  • And so on.

So, when people state that using food rewards causes mugging, pushy, dangerous or other unwanted behaviour in horses I know they just don’t understand how learning occurs. That’s OK. They can learn, we just have to reinforce the desired behaviour (or thoughts).

Related post The Dangers of working with Food (rewards).

 —————————————————————-

Therese Keels commented on Facebook : “It does cause pushy horses! They push you to think faster, use your imagination more. They push you to observe more closely, to pay attention and be present. They push us to be kinder, more considerate and understanding. They push us to be better at being us. Take that kind of pushy any day. :-)”

Thank you, Therese for this wonderful comment! Love it!

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The 5 Essentials for Good Riding lessons (4-b/5)

This article is a sequel on the Positive Reinforcement (+R) for Horses during riding lessons (The 5 Essentials for Good Riding lessons (4-a from 5)). +R doesn’t have to be used solely to improve the performance of the horse.

+R for riders

I would love to see more positive reinforcement in riding lessons applied to the rider. Why? I don’t recall seeing a rider ever improve after he or she was shouted at by an instructor. Yes, they sit straight or with their shoulders back right away, but this causes a lot of tension. Due to the tension in their body they loose their ‘feel’ immediately and it destroys their independent seat instantly.

Not only do horses have to be in a learning mode in order to learn a new skill, it also goes for the rider. If the rider is bombarded with too many instructions at the same time or instructions that seems contradictory he or she can become frustrated.

Splitting behaviour as instructor

In my education as Centered Riding instructor I learned to split the riders tasks into tiny steps. We started to ride on a yoga ball and did all kinds of exercises to improve our feel on the ground before getting into the saddle. Something nobody had taught me in my education to become an ORUN instructor ( official Dutch certification for riding instructors).

Make the rider feel successful

For instance, when I had to teach riders the riding trot by one or two steps of trotting at a time. And I had to make them successful, too. I was taught to instruct them to transition to the walk before or just when they were about to lose their balance. It also gave me the opportunity to tell them about their improvements and listen to their feedback about the experience. Then I gave them time to practise on their own. Only after they mastered this tiny step would I raise my criterion for the rising trot._reinforcing_rider_hippologic

With this method of teaching I have seen riders improve their seat within an hour of riding. Even when they have had lessons for over ten years! I also noticed that their confidence in themselves grew and a lot of riders got rid of their fear of falling of.

I remember when I had to learn to trot myself. That was more like: trot until you find your balance. Which- of course- never happened while I was uncomfortably bumping up and down on a  fast trotting riding school pony… Trotting scared me so I was even more afraid to learn to canter.
Sandra Poppema
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website and book a free intake consult!

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Read more in this series The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons

Part I: Independent seat
Part II: Schoolmasters
Part III: Facts about horse behaviour
Part IV-a: Positive reinforcement (horses)
Part V: Attention for the horses emotions

The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons (4-a/5)

Often when I watch people ride I see struggle. I see a lot of frustration and it seems so difficult to learn how to ride. Truth is, part of it is in the way riding is taught (in general), but it doesn’t have to be like this. Riding and learning to ride can be relatively easy and effortless if the following prerequisites are met. Riding certainly doesn’t have to be the struggle it seems to be for most riders.

5 Things I would like to see more of in today’s riding lessons are:

  • Independent seat
  • Schoolmasters
  • Facts about horse behaviour
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Attention for the horses emotions

Positive reinforcement (+R)

Positive reinforcement is adding something pleasurable in order to get more of the desired behaviour. Example: in riding lessons most of us are taught to pat the horse on the neck in order to reward the horse for their effort. Why don’t we get more enthusiastic horses from this commonly used ‘reward’?

First of all: this is not reinforcing for horses! They don’t like it (…) and therefor it isn’t a reward. Horses have learned that the patting on their neck indicates the end of a certain exercise, for instance trotting around.

If it was reinforcing, they would like to show more of the behaviour in order to earn another reward. I haven’t seen one horse in my whole life that was eager to go back into trot after being patted on the neck. I must admit I have seen green horses occasionally go more forward after being patted on their necks, but that was only because they were turned into flight mode because of it.

Secondly, the timing of this kind of ‘reward’ sucks big time. For instance riders are in general taught to pat the horse on the neck and give it a long rein after a downward transition. Have you ever seen someone being taught to use this ‘reward’ after an upward transition?

I remember I was being told to pat the horse on the neck and giving him a long rein ‘for giving me this good (10 minute long) trot’. It doesn’t make sense scientifically… not to reward during the desired behaviour and often more than 3 seconds after the behaviour. Since riders are not taught to use a bridge signal, the horse doesn’t even know what it was for…

If you pay close attention you can see that it doesn’t cause eagerness in horses, they just ‘endure it’.

A reward has to be reinforcing the behaviour

In order for the horse to connect the behaviour with the reward the reward has to reinforce the behaviour. In other words: the reward has to be rewarding for the horse. A pat on the neck is not, a food reward usually is. And the reward must be given during the desired behaviour or announced with a bridge signal during the desired behaviour.

Reward the riding horse

Why not using a (real) reward to encourage the horse to give us more of a certain behaviour?

I have used a clicker during my riding lessons and it worked amazingly. The rider offered the food reward after each time I clicked. Even riders who never had heard of positive reinforcement or clicker training were open to try it.1_treat

None of my pupils ever said ‘Let’s stop rewarding my horse during your lessons’. On the contrary: they were all pleasantly surprised about the leaps of improvements their horses showed once we introduced a bridge signal and a real reward!

I used positive reinforcement to help improve things like the right head position during transitions, stepping more under their center of gravity with their inner hind leg in bends, teaching smooth transitions walk-canter-walk, ‘duration’ in lateral gaits, standing square and so on.

Adding a reward helps to cummunicate clearly what it is you want from the horse.

Good side effects

The best thing was the side effect of using the clicker on the horse: it helped the rider to develop their feel during a certain exercise. As soon as they heard the click, they knew the horse was doing it right. Which meant they were doing it right! After all, the horse can only do something right if the rider is helping him to perform.

As soon as the riders learned what ‘feel’ they were looking for, they could reproduce it on their own too! I didn’t have to explain anymore what it would feel like in words, but I could  just let them experience it themselves.

Rewarding works so much better than releasing (accumulating) pressure to teach a horse something new. A reward is something the horse looks forward to and engages him in riding. A release on the other hand is often more of a relief and not a reward at all.

[To be continued….]

Sandra Poppema, BSc.
Are you struggling with applying clicker training under saddle? Visit my website to book an online consult. I will be honoured to help you and your horse out. I’ve 2 decade experience with teaching equestrians to ride and train their horses in a horse-friendly way.

Read more in this series The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons

Part I: Independent seat
Part II: Schoolmasters
Part III: Facts about horse behaviour
Part IV-b: Positive reinforcement (riders)
Part V: Attention for the horses emotions

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The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons (3/5)

Often when I watch people ride I see struggle. I see a lot of frustration and it seems so difficult to learn how to ride. Truth is, that is is in the way riding is taught (in general), but it doesn’t have to be like this. Riding and learning to ride can be relatively easy and effortlessly if only these prerequisites were met. Riding certainly doesn’t have to be a struggle what it seem to be for most riders.

5 Things I would like to see more of in today’s riding lessons are:

  • Independent seat
  • Schoolmasters
  • Facts about horse behaviour
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Attention for the horses emotions

Facts about horse behaviour

If you are a horse behaviourist and you’re watching a riding lesson you hear a lot of nonsense about horse behaviour being taught to riders. I wish all instructors had to write at least one paper about natural horse behaviour before they are allowed to teach.

_Horse_behaviour_hippologicMost famous ones are the ‘be the leader’-myth and the ‘don’t let him win’-myth that refer to the idea of one alpha horse that makes all the decisions and is the dominant horse of the herd. There is no such thing in a herd. Yes, horses can behave dominant in certain situations, but decisions when to move and were to go are more based on a (part of the) group decision.

Instructors make riders believe that they have to ‘dominate’ the horse all the time. How? By being dominant in a way people are by using pain inflicting methods such as kicking the horse forward or using whips and spurs to make the horse obey. It just breaks my heart…

This is not only cruel to the horse but it is unnecessary too. I also think that most riders (who start riding because they love horses) are made insecure by behaving ‘dominant’. Horse lovers want to bond and connect with their horses.

The good news is: you can develop a friendship and still ride your horse safely. Horse lovers don’t like to inflict pain to horses, but they do so because they are taught to by the instructor, so they are acting against their own gut feeling. That’s never a good feeling.

Horses are highly social animals

The reason horses could be domesticated in the first place is because of their social structure. They depend on their herd members for survival and they are ‘hard-wired’ to work together.

If a horse doesn’t follow a cue there is always a reason:

 

  • They don’t understand the cue. All riders are different and not all riders give the exact same cues all the time.

 

  • Something else (danger or getting out of sight of a herd member) has a higher priority. They can simply have missed your cue because of that.

 

  • The behaviour has not been reinforced enough (they lack motivation) or
  • other behaviour is more reinforcing

 

  • The are physically unable (anymore). Maybe they have pain or are tired.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAHorses don’t think in ‘winning or losing’ they act on ‘surviving or getting killed’. They spook because they are afraid, not because they are ‘out to get you’ or ‘want to avoid work’ or ‘are acting out’.

I wish riding instructors would explain more about the natural behaviour based on facts/scientific research to their students and not on century old hear-say.

Horses don’t have to be dominated in order to let them cooperate, they will cooperate freely if they benefit from it. Thankfully more and more people discover the power of the use of positive reinforcement training: it works extremely well and it gives the trainer a good feeling too.

More about positive reinforcement in the next article.

What myths have you heard in riding lessons that you wish are not being taught to riders? Please share.

Sandra Poppema, BSc.
Are you struggling with applying clicker training under saddle? Visit my website to book an online consult. I will be honoured to help you and your horse out. I’ve 2 decade experience with teaching equestrians to ride and train their horses in a horse-friendly way.

Read more in this series The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons

Part I: Independent seat
Part II: Schoolmasters
Part IV-a: Positive reinforcement (horses)
Part IV-b: Positive reinforcement (riders)
Part V: Attention for the horses emotions

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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’.

Extinction_Graph

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.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Most powerful reward schedule: Variable ratio

In a  variable ratio schedule a desired behaviour (once it is established and put on cue) will be reinforced randomly. There is no way the horse can predict when he can expect a reward, so this will keep him motivated to perform well.

Benefits of a variable reinforcement schedule

With a variable ratio schedule it will take a very long time before a behaviour will become extinct. Extinction means that the behaviour will no longer be displayed in a certain situation. There is 0% chance of a reward so therefor the behaviour has become ‘useless’ in that situation.

A variable ratio schedule is the most powerful reward schedule. Your horse figures ‘This could be the time my behaviour gets rewarded, so let’s try this again’. No reward? ‘Maybe this time I will get a reward… Let’s give it a bit more effort… Yes! It worked’.__rewards_hippologic

A variable reward schedule is also the reason why most horses keep displaying undesired behaviours. I explain this further in this post.

Extinction burst

If a behaviour is never rewarded (intrinsically or extrinsically) it will go extinct. Just before a behaviour goes extinct there is usually an ‘extinction burst’.

Often when an in the past rewarded behaviour doesn’t result in a reward the animal shows a sudden and temporary increase in the behaviour followed by the eventual decline and extinction of the behaviour targeted for elimination. Novel behaviour, or emotional responses or aggressive behaviour, may also occur (Miltenberger, R. (2012). Behaviour modification, principles and procedures. (5th ed., pp. 87-99). Wadsworth Publishing Company.)

Extinction_Graph

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

The same principle occurs in a consciously applied variable reward schedule. Just before the horse loses interest in displaying the behaviour he will show a little ‘extinction burst’ as a last attempt to influence the reinforcement (reward). This is the improved behaviour a trainer is looking for and wants to mark and reward.

Withhold the click

If the horse already has a strong positive reinforcement history with a certain behaviour or with positive reinforcement training in general, it can react differently to a withdrawn click than when he is in the beginning of the learning stage of an exercise.

A well used withdrawal of the click will induce an improvement of behaviour (extinction burst). It also can help the horse figure out quicker which behaviour is rewarded and which isn’t. In this way you can give more information about what you want.

Instead of the trainer acting like a ‘vending machine’: put money (behaviour) in and expect a reward (treat comes out), the trainer now behaves more like a ‘gambling machine’ with a fair chance to win.

_reward_schedules_hippologic

The horse may become ‘superstitious’ and tries to figure out if there was a difference with the behaviour that was similar and didn’t get rewarded and the one that did. Just like superstitious people who are suddenly paying attention to the colour of their socks in order to influence their chances of winning, the animal will also pay more attention to the details of the behaviour in order to influences the chances of a click and reward.

Pitfalls of withholding a click too long

Withholding a click can also trigger impatience, frustration or confusion in the horse. So  use this technique with caution. You don’t want to discourage your horse. A little bit of frustration is no big deal, as long as the horse stays in learning mode.

Sometimes a bit of frustration can actually benefit the learning process. It is the trainers responsibility to walk this line. If the horse gets frustrated or shuts down, turn back to a continuous reward schedule for a while and make your training steps smaller and lower your criteria.

When you start teaching a new behaviour it is really important to click every improvement and use a continuous reward schedule. The next step in training should be only rewarding the behaviour when you have cued it. Once the cue is established, switch to a variable reward schedule.

Fading out the rewards

So once your horse has learned a specific behaviour you can reward less and less and still get the behaviour. This is called fading out the click.

Continuous reward schedules are very easy to use (reward 100%) because you don’t have to think about it. What about a variable reward schedule, are you using this in your training?

Sandra Poppema
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website and book a free intake consult!

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Setting yourself up for Success: Reward schedule

When things are going smoothly we tend to go on for too long or do too many repetitions of the same exercise. While we are still having fun showing off our horse’s newest trick, the horse gets bored…

Continuous reward schedule

A continuous reward schedule is very useful when we are teaching our horse a new behaviour. Rewarding every effort in the beginning, encourages our horse to stay focused on us and will help him to keep offering new behaviours. In this stage of training we want the horse to expect a reward. As soon as the horse masters the new behaviour and we’ve put it on cue, we should change our reward schedule.

If we don’t change our reward schedule and we keep using a continuous schedule of reinforcement, we become way too predictable. Our horse will lose interest in improving his efforts. He knows exactly what you ask and when his reward is coming. He probably will also know what reward you will be giving him, too.

How to prevent predictability

If the reward doesn’t change or the reward schedule stays the same (most people have a schedule of 100% chance of a click and reward), the reward ‘wears off’. Chances are the horse’s performance will deteriorate: he will try to find the least amount of effort he needs to exert to still get the reward. His enthusiasm simply fades and the training stagnates.

Keep your horse engaged

In order to keep your horse engaged in training it helps to give the animal the feeling he can influence his environment. When the reward schedule and the rewards are predictable, his actions don’t seem to influence you/the rewards anymore. This is why it is important to keep the horse ‘guessing’ when and what kind of reward is coming.

There are several ways to become more unpredictable in your reward schedule in order to stimulate your horse.

Rewards

Carry low and high value treats. You can reward good tries with lower value treats and excellent performances with high value treats.

Don’t forget the power of rewarding with a jackpot. A jackpot is a very large (think one or two hands full of treats) and/or a very high value reward that is only given on special occasions.

Best thing to do after a jackpot is to give the horse a break, so you will end training this specific behaviour on an excellent note. You don’t have to stop your training that day entirely, only that specific behaviour.

_treats_in_training_hippologic

Vary the ratio of the click

You can use a fixed ratio reward schedule where you only click and reward for every 2nd or every 5th good performance of a behaviour. Mind you, your horse can learn to predict a fixed ratio schedule. When that happens his behaviour may deteriorate for the performances that are ‘in between’ an expected click and reward.

variable ratio schedule means that it will be random when a behaviour (once it is established) will be rewarded. With a variable ratio schedule it will take a long time before a behaviour will become extinct.

In what way do you use treats to keep your horse engaged in your training?

Sandra Poppema
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website and book a free intake consult!

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Setting your horse up for Succes: Short sessions

[Lees hier de Nederlandstalige versie]

We all know the fantastic feeling when our horse is learning something new very quickly. We are in a flow and our horse understands our cues and he is so smart. You don’t want to stop. Have you experienced this? I love it. How can you reproduce such a state?

Learning takes brainpower

_orenA horse’s attention span last only for a certain amount of time. After the attention span is used up, it doesn’t matter how much more you practise: you are not getting better results. If you are doing more repetitions (because it was going so well before) it will become a recipe for failure. You can become frustrated if your horse ‘suddenly’ starts making ‘mistakes’ or his performance looks sloppy. This happens when his brains is ‘full’ and he can’t concentrate anymore. Your horse doesn’t do this on purpose.

The secret to Success

Stop your training sessions while you are still making progress. This is the best time to give yourself and your horse a break. Keep sessions short and sweet. In this way you will keep progressing, but over multiple sessions, instead of progressing and then deteriorating at the end of each session.

If you end on a good note, this is where the next session will start. It will give you, the trainer, a good feeling if you end your sessions when you are still progressing. It is motivating and it will keep you looking forward to the next session.

Signs to stop your session

When I started this (ending my training sessions when we were still making progress) it was hard. No one wants to stop when it is going very well and when you are still having fun.

_short training sessions_hippologicI noticed a pattern in me before my horses achievements dropped. It seemed to be right after the voice in my head told me: ‘Just one more time’ or ‘Let’s see if she really understands it and try again’ or ‘Wow this is going fantastic let’s do this again. It is so much fun now that Kyra has mastered it’.

Sometimes it happened when someone else came to watch and I expected Kyra to perform well because she kept on improving until a moment ago. Suddenly Kyra seemed to have forgotten what I had taught her. See this post Setting your horse up for Success: Context shift.

Tips to keep sessions short

  • Count your treats before your start training (10 – 20 treats)
  • Use a timer (5 – 10 minutes)
  • Notice improvements and stop when your horse performs well
  • Stop instead of ‘trying one more time’
  • Remind yourself: better a few short successful sessions than one long one

Practise makes Perfect

Now it is much easier to stop my session at the highlight and give Kyra a break. I never think anymore ‘One more time to see if she gets it’. Now I just know she will perform this well if I stop now and give her a break.

It doesn’t matter if it looked like a coincidence that she performed so well. Even if she only did it once and I stop, she will remember next time. Especially if I jackpot her before I end the training.

Length and amount of sessions

I have experimented with the length of my sessions and the amount of sessions. As long as I keep my sessions short, give Kyra enough breaks between sessions, offer a variety of different exercises and use an unpredictable reward schedule (without discouraging or frustrating her), I can engage her for a really long time.

I also noticed that the length of a session is very personal and can vary between horses. A lot of factors influence the length of a successful training session, like the age of the horse, difficulty of the exercise, physical and emotional state of horse and trainer,  environmental factors/distraction and so on.

Do you use breaks in your training to improve performance?

Related blogs

Setting your horse up for Success: Context shift

Setting your horse up for Success: Splitting behaviour

 

Sandra Poppema
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website and book a free intake consult!

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Setting your horse up for success: context shift

Horses learn in a certain context. Each change in the context of training your horse should be considered as a new criterion. Use this to set yourself and your horse up for success.

What is a ‘context shift’?

If you want to teach your horse something new, like targeting, practise this in the beginning always in the same place, the same context. Maybe you start this exercise in the round pen or in his stall where you can train with protective contact (a barrier).

After a few session in which your horse made progress you might decide that you want to train without the barrier. Now you’ve changed the context. Expect a change in performance and lower your criteria in the beginning so you can give your horse confidence. If you always trained indoors and you ask the same exercise outdoors, your context (indoor/outdoor) has changed.

_context_shift_horse_training_hippologic

Not only the horse experiences ‘context changes’

If your horse masters the exercise and you want to show it to your friend or film it: the context changes for you. Have you noticed that it is suddenly much harder to perform at the same level when some one is watching? 

Why horse and rider perform much better at home

The same thing happens (for rider and horse) if you train for a competition and you as team perform great at home. Once you are in the dressage ring in a new place, with white fences your horse never saw before and you know there is a two person judge watching you, the context in which you have practised has changed. A lot. No wonder is doesn’t go as smoothly as it always goes at home, with your own instructor who you trust. Again, start lowering your criteria and set yourself up for success: consider the first competitions in a strange environment as training. Boost your horse’s confidence by communicating what you want. Positive reinforcement is an excellent way to communicate what you want and see more of.

How to handle context shifts

You will soon notice that you only have to lower your criteria (and your expectations) just a little bit and for a little while. If you don’t do this, the chances of getting dissapointed and/or frustrated are much bigger. Also for your horse it is much easier to learn to generalize certain aspects of the surroundings that have nothing to do with the cue for the behaviour.

Conclusion

You can use the context in teaching new exercises to your advantage, then if you want to teach your horse to generalize certain things in the setting you can change the context of your training. In this way the horse learns to generalize and he will soon learn is important to pay attention to (your cues) and what is best to ignore in order to get a click and reward (for instance certain things in surrounding, that are not part of your cue).

Related articles

Set you horse up for success: Splitting behaviour

Setting your horse up for Success: Short sesssions

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

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Setting your horse up for success: splitting behaviour

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make in horse training is that they don’t set their horse (or themselves) up for success. Once you know some basics about horse training, setting it up for succes becomes easier. A common mistake is not visualizing what the goal is and planning how to communicate it to your horse.

_splitting-and-lumping-HippoLogic

Splitting behaviour

If you have a goal in mind to teach your horse, the first step to set yourself up for success is making a shaping plan. In your shaping plan you describe your goal, your starting point and how you are going to divide the goal into baby steps in order to built this new behaviour.

Split your goal behaviour into enough baby steps and train every step separately until it is mastered before you raise a criterion. In this way you train (shape) your goal behaviour in a systematic way. Each baby step is in fact a building block of the desired behaviour. So far the theory.

Splitting behaviour is not easy and this is a continues aspect to work on. Even me, after more than 16 years of experience with positive reinforcement training, I catch myself lumping behaviour. Why? Because every horse, every behaviour and every situation  is different.

You can’t possibly know beforehand what your horse is capable off, physically or mentally. You only know that until you reach a  boundary. Also the training circumstances have a great influence on the learning capability of humans and horses. Teaching your horse something new in stormy weather is probably not setting yourself up for success.

Lumping behaviour

The most common mistake is that the steps trainers make are too big for the horse. This is called lumping. The horse doesn’t understand what is expected from him. When you lump, you simply have raised (too many) criteria, too soon.

How to recognize lumping

It is quit easy to recognize if you know what to look for. You know it is time to adjust your criteria or tweak the setting of your training if your horse shows signs of:

  • fear
  • frustration
  • disinterest
  • distraction
  • anger
  • shutting down

Your horse can get disinterested in you and your training because he thinks he will never  earn a treat and simply gives up. Or he can get frustrated: ‘Why don’t I get that treat now, when I did this just a minute ago I got it.’

Trainer

This also goes for the trainer. If you feel frustrated, anxious, despair, anger or other undesired emotions, just stop for a moment. Take a break and take  few deep breaths. Get yourself into thinking mode again. Then figure out a way to split the training into more steps and start over.

Lowering your criteria is not the same as ‘failing’, on the contrary: lowering your criteria in order to follow your horses (or your own) learning curve is setting your horse up for success. A side effect is that you will succeed quicker, too

Mastering splitting

I don’t think it is realistic to expect we’ll never lump behaviour anymore. It is part of the learning experience: split behaviour enough until you notice a bump in the road. This is when you know you’re lumping. Then you split the ‘lump’ and go on until you encounter the next bump. That is ‘learning’ and it is fun.

Every time you notice that you’re lumping it is a sign that you have experience. Why? Otherwise you wouldn’t notice it and might try to solve the problem with a bit more tack, a whip or other ways to make the horse do what you desire. That is what most people do, I see this happening in the most experienced clinicians too.

Here is a video in which you can see what splitting and lumping can look like:

[Readers who get my blog via their email won’t see the video embedded. Sorry about this. If you want to see it, follow this link to my blog https://hippologic.wordpress.com]

Science of learning

I am grateful I have learned a bit about horse behaviour/body language, learning theory, learning processes and how to motivate a learner (human and horse). I don’t need to force my goals onto my horse anymore now that I have these tool of knowledge and experience.

If my training is not getting me the results I wanted or expected I take a break and regroup. Sometimes my break lasts for a few day or even a week. It doesn’t matter. My horse doesn’t win, if I stop training just because I don’t know what to do at that moment. I am always aiming for a win-win.

Force is never the (right) answer in my opinion. I treasure the bond with my horse too much for that.

Related articles

Setting your horse up for success: Context shift

Setting your horse up for Succes: Short sessions

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I connect 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.
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5 things I like about my horse

Yesterday when I was at the barn, there was still some daylight left. Although it was windy and a bit chilly I decided to work with Kyra outdoors so we could enjoy the last few sunbeams.

When I walked into the barn to get her, I changed my mind about the work and decided to let her loose and just observe her and enjoy the moment. She was actively seeking juicy patches of grass and it was a joy to see her displaying a lot of exploration behaviour. She went into the round pen where there is only sand. We usually only use it to make video’s in there, so it involves a lot of bridge signals and reinforcers. I guess it is the reward history she has in there, that made her want to enter the round pen.

While I was observing her I realized that I really like my horse. Why?

Kyra is curious

_HLhippologic_talking to the horseShe wants to explore new things and she seems to enjoy learning. I like it when she shows curiosity and I encourage it. When we walk in the isle she wants to sniff things and I let her. She will come with me, the sniffing only takes a few seconds.

Kyra is cooperative

_cooperative_horse_hippologicShe really likes to find out what it is I want from her. Of course using positive
reinforcement in training helps a lot. She is also very forgiving. Sometimes it happens that I cause frustration because I raise my criteria too early (lumping instead of splitting the behaviour). When I correct my mistake she is willing to please again. I really like this in horses.

Kyra communicates clearly

I work a lot at liberty and I don’t have sanctions for walking away. If she walks away from me or walks towards the exit of the arena, I interpret this as a sign that she is not interested anymore and I change plans.

In the pasture she is very clear about her boundaries towards the other horses.

Kyra is gentle

_HLhippologic_listening to your horse_clicker_trainingI am always very surprised how gentle and patient she is with people in general and with children in specific. She stands perfectly still when children groom her, even when they are a bit nervous or clumsy.

Kyra is beautiful

I like her soul, her character and her appearance. Since she is a grey her coat changes every time she sheds. She is like a jaw breaker: changing colours all the time. I like her big open eyes and her soft muzzle with the long whiskers that tickle in my face when she greets me.

Kyra_hippologic

What do you like about your horse?

Sandra Poppema
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website and book a free intake consult!

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How to… make the arena more appealing

In my previous post What if your horse doesn’t like arena work I already mentioned that the first step is to find out the reason why.

If you can exclude physical reasons like pain from the saddle, medical reasons like hoof cracks or maybe an unskillful (or rude) rider and so on, you can look for solutions to make your horse more happy in the arena.

What floats his boat?

It is obvious: positive reinforcement (+R) of course. This way of training will make your horse more eager to work for you. With +R you will trigger your horses brain. He has to find out what made him earn that bridge signal (paired with a lovely reward). He will be challenged to think. Horses like that. Really they do!

Variation

If your horse gets bored in the arena because everything you do is very predictable, try something new. If you always ride him, try some at liberty work, long reining or horse agility. Variety is the spice of life.

Use more positive reinforcement to create a better association with the arena or ‘work’ he has to do. Change your Rate of Reinforcement, your treats or your exercises. Raise your criteria (slowly). Trick training is a lot of fun.

Challenge your horse and do something crazy together like ‘101 things to do with a cardboard box’. You can bridge & reward him for every new exercise he comes up with: touch the box with his nose, left hoof, right hoof, kick it forward, play fetch with it, shake it and so on. Don’t bridge a second time for the same idea.

Give him a ball (small or huge) to play with, or to wake his curiosity. Make sure he is not afraid of it.

Relax time

Don’t forget: there is a time to work and a time to play. Do nice relaxing activities in the arena.

I like to let Kyra roll before we ride in the indoor arena on a rainy day (she loves rolling in hog fuel when she has a wet coat) or after our ride.

If your horse likes to be groomed, groom him more often in the arena. Spend time scratching his favourite spots. Watch a video about TTouch or horse massage and try if your horse likes that. 

Feed him in the arena. If you have an outdoor arena where patches of grass grow, let him find them. So he can display his exploration behaviour.
_positive associations with arena_hippologic
Don’t forget: it can take some time before a negative association changes into a positive one. Make haste slowly.

 

What do you do to create variation or make the arena more appealing to your horse? Share it in the comments!

Sandra Poppema
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website and book a free intake consult!

 

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What if… your horse doesn’t like arena work?

This is a common statement in the equestrian world: ‘I don’t ride dressage because my horse doesn’t like it’ or ‘I don’t use the arena because my horse hates it’ or… Who hasn’t heard this? Can you do something about it? Yes, you can!

Find the reason

First question I always ask people when they say this is:’Do you like to ride in the arena?’ When the rider says ‘no’ it is usually because it is hard to believe your horse enjoys riding in the arena if they don’t.

If the answer is ‘I know this because my horse refuses to go into the arena’ it is more likely that the horse indeed has a negative association with the arena.

What is associated with arena work?

If you don’t like to ride in the arena, you may have some negative associations with riding in the arena yourself. What happened? Did you fall off of your horse? Does it reminds you of shouting, angry instructors you have had in the past? Is it because you are ‘lumping’ (=making too big a steps and you set yourself and your horse up for failure) your building blocks in training and get frustrated or discouraged?

If the horse doesn’t want to go into the arena, what happened to him? Do you know? Do you think you can counter condition him?

Change associations

If it is about you, try to find out what it is you don’t like about the arena a_arena_work_hippologicnd why. If you were hurt due to a fall, try to take a step back in riding until you find your confidence back in the saddle. Find an instructor who is specialized in anxious riders. If you don’t know where to find one, search for an instructor with a Centered Riding or Murdoch method background. They can help you get your self-confidence back.

If riding in an arena is associated with instructors who seem never satisfied with little improvements, find some one else. You pay, you choose.

Is arena work associated with some frustration, desperation or feelings of anger? Maybe you were never taught you how to split your training goals properly into small steps to set you and your horse up for success. I can help you make a training plan.

Maybe you don’t have a goal in mind and that makes arena work feel purposeless. What are your dreams and how can you change them into goals?

Maybe you love trail riding more because you have the feeling that you are not training your horse and you don’t have to meet anyone’s expectations on the trail. Even if trail riding or endurance is your goal, you can still think of many exercises to do to prepared your horse properly.

Change your horses associations

If your horse doesn’t want to go into the arena or is a bit reluctant to enter, work on making his associations more positive. Just enter the arena to do things he enjoys. If your horse loves to be groomed, just groom him for a couple of weeks in the arena. Or just let him in for a roll. Find out what he likes and use that to your advantage!

_tricktraining_pedestal_hippologic

You can also make the work more attractive by using appetitives (adding rewards) in your training instead of using aversives (unpleasant things) in training. If you don’t know how to start using positive reinforcement start with something fun, like trick training.

I think in 99% of the cases it is not about the arena, I think it is about the associations a rider or horse have with the arena. You can change the associations and make it fun (again).

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

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How to teach your horse anything

Whenever an idea forms about what I want to teach my horse Kyra I set it as a goal. I then start writing a training plan and make a shaping plan to achieve this goal.

Goal setting

My goal in this example is teaching Kyra to stand still, next to a mounting block, until I mounted and give the cue to walk.

Shaping plan

After I set my goal I make a shaping plan. I think about all the possible steps I have to teach Kyra to achieve my final behaviour: standing parallel to the mounting block so mounting is safe and easy for me. I have to teach her to stand still when I’m mounting, put my feet into the stirrups, taken the reins and I am ready to ask her to walk.

I write all these steps down. I don’t even have to bring it to the barn. Just writing it down makes me focused.

A few of the building blocks of this goal are:

  • making her comfortable near the mounting block
  • teaching whoa
  • mat training
  • hip targeting (to be able to align her to the mounting block)
  • aligning with the mounting block without stress
  • waiting until I have mounted
  • and walking on queue

_mountainblock_hippologic

Context learning

Horses learn in a certain context. I use this into my advantage when I am teaching Kyra something new. I practise as much as possible in the same circumstance (context).

If I have a portable mounting block I always put it in the same place in the arena to practise. I will only put it in another place if she has already mastered lining up in the first spot.

I lower my criteria a bit when I change something in the context she learned the behaviour. In this way I always set Kyra up for success and I always have a good feeling too!

Set it up for success

I always take into account my horses emotions when I teach her something new. I recently saw a video in which the trainer put the mounting block next to the track in order to mount. Unfortunately this was the place where her horse was the most nervous (‘trapped in between the fence and the mounting block.) She made her training much more difficult than it needed to be.

For Kyra the most comfortable spot in the arena was in the middle where she has the most space and couldn’t hurt herself. Secondly I noticed that facing the door was more comfortable for her than facing the opposite side of the arena. I guess she likes to know where the exit is… After all it is an enclosed area and horses are flight animals.

Practising

Then I started to practise the steps in my shaping plan. I usually go up one criterion if Kyra masters it three times in a row.

Latent learning

After a few days of practise I give Kyra a break or I train something completely different. Often something she has already mastered. After giving her a ‘weekend’ off she performs much better. This latent learning is very valuable to me. It saves time!

Rinse and repeat

After a short break I lower my criteria a bit and start with some repetition to give her the confidence that she knows what is expected. After that I can move on very quickly.

Context shift

After Kyra has mastered the basics of the new behaviour, I change one thing in the context. I put the mounting block somewhere else in the arena. Not too far away from where she was used to.

Generalize

After a few times of putting the mounting block in different spots in the arena, I noticed that Kyra generalized the mounting block. Time for a real change: a different kind of mounting block.

I started practising with benches in the park, fences, rocks etc. Now Kyra is used to all kinds of mounting blocks and she is very safe to mount.

This is the general ‘recipe’ I use in teaching my horse new behaviours. You don’t have to use positive reinforcement training to use this in your training.

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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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5 things I wish I knew when I bought my horse

It is useful to make mistakes and learn from them, but sometimes it is better to learn from other peoples mistakes. Here are five things I have learned owning my own horse.

#1 Horses

I wish I had known more about horse behaviour, training and learning theory when I bought my first pony. I thought I knew a lot, but I didn’t realize that most of the things I knew where hear-say myths, based on traditional ideas like ‘you have to dominate your horse otherwise he will dominate you’ and you have to be ‘the alpha horse’. Turns out that there is no such thing as one leader in a herd who makes all the decisions, a herd acts more like a democratic society.

In today’s society we are lucky that there is so much research about horse behaviour and how to teach horses new skills at our hands on the Internet. Make use of it! Don’t believe everything you hear and don’t be afraid to ask (critical) questions. All the time. About everything.

#2 Instructors

A lot of instructors are still teaching the myths I mentioned above. Most of them are also more focused on results than on the way the results are reached. That makes me sad. I know all riders want results, but they also really love their horses. If they only knew they can have the best of both worlds: building a good relationship with their horse and booking results.

Knowledgeable instructors

I find it very difficult to find instructors who can explain clearly the reason for everything they teach you. I’ve had coaches who couldn’t explain why I should ride circles or what exercises it prepared my horse for. They couldn’t explain why I should ride a raising trot and why it must be on the outside leg.

Always ask what their vision is before you hire them and what they’ve learned in their education. What they liked best about it and if there are things they wished they had learned more about during their education.

I know what I missed. In my 500 page book that I had to study in order to become a certified riding instructor there where only 2 pages about didactics and no information about learning theory or how to help your clients become balanced riders. Needless to say I went elsewhere to learn this valuable information.

#3 Barn owners

This is a sensitive subject. I’ve come across the very skillful and those that are clueless. Again, there are barn owners who know a lot about horses and understand their natural needs (16 hours of high fiber, low calorie food, clean water, social needs and exercise) and the ones that think boarding horses is an easy way to make money. Be careful with barn owners that are not interested in horses themselves but started a boarding facility because they bought a horse for their daughter(s).

Before you move your horse to a new barn ask questions like: how much pasture time do horses get. Is this all year round or only in the summer? What about rainy days (weeks). Also inform yourself about their rules: what is included in the price, are you allowed to bring friends, choose your own instructor, vet and farrier?

#4 Fellow barn people

Don’t underestimate the influence your fellow barn mates can have on you. You will spent many hours at the barn. Look for a place with good vibes.

If there is a lot of drama, you won’t have a good time. In some barns people are very friendly and open to all kinds of riding styles, in other barns you are treated like outcast if you are ‘not one of them’. It is always nice to make friends and share your hobby.

#5 Farriers

Good farriers are worth their weight in gold! If you have one that does a good job, keep him/her! Since the good ones are very busy people, it is advisable to make already an appointment for the next time before they leave the barn. Especially on the first sunny days in Spring and at the start of the competition season: everyone needs a farrier. Treat them well. I provide cookies and coffee/tea/cold drink. Positive reinforcement works on people too!

What advise do you want to share with people who just bought their first horse? Please share it in the comments. Thank you!

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

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Create +R solutions in a -R environment

This is a challenge a lot of clicker trainers face. You start making adjustments in your training when you start using positive reinforcement and it works…

Then you suddenly find yourself in a traditional/natural horsemanship or other negative reinforcement or pressure-release situation figuring out how to apply positive reinforcement.

Working on stamina in trotHow do you apply positive reinforcement methods in a negative reinforcement environment? For instance: how do you deal with your riding instructor’s instructions if he/she is not a clicker trainer?

Introduction of the cue

In clicker training the trainer usually starts training the cue after the desired behaviour is established while in traditional and natural horsemanship methods the cue is introduced
before the desired behaviour is even displayed. Often there are corrections or other aversives given when the horse is not giving the ‘right answer’ right away.

Preventing a poisoned cue

One can not simply apply pressure and release and add an appetitive to introduce positive reinforcement in a traditional training method. The danger of doing so is to get a ‘poisoned cue’.

A cue can get ‘poisoned’ if the horse simply can’t predict anymore if there is an aversive (more pressure), correction  or other aversive is coming or bridge signal with an appetitive (a desired reward).

The horses history

I think it depends highly on the horses history with corrections, punishment and accumulating pressure if you can mix +R and -R in a ‘safe’ way. With ‘safe’ I mean minimizing the chances of a poisoned cue.

How to apply +R in a -R environment

That is a good question. I think it is really hard for a +R trainer (rider) to follow instructions of a trainer who thinks in a traditional way. With traditional I mean that the performance of the horse (the results) comes in first place and the horses emotions are subordinate. With +R trainers the horses emotions are more or equally important to the results.

I can imagine that it is really hard to follow instructions of a teacher/instructor or person that you have given a certain ‘power’ or at least a person who you agreed upon to follow their instructions to question their methods on the spot.

How do you do it?

What is your experience with this? Are you hiring a coach that doesn’t (really) understand what positive reinforcement is and how do you implement their instructions in a way it doesn’t confuse your horse?

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

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What if your horse bites you?

What if your horse has a tendency to bite you? How can you solve this behaviour?

The first question that has to be answered is: ‘Why does a horse bite people?’ If you want to solve a problem behaviour start with finding the cause and work from there.

Possible causes

There are many reasons horses bite people. In some cases it is just play or asking attention. Stallions and geldings can play for hours the ‘I bite you, try to get me back’-game. The reaction to the behaviour is usually also the reinforcer. In my experience stallions don’t care about pain during this game, so punishment will have very slim chances to stop this behaviour.

_playful_biting_HippoLogic

Horses can also bite because they feel a need to defend themselves and all the other body language that they displayed to warn you, has been ignored. The horse is not ‘whispering’ anymore but now he is ‘shouting’ in order to express himself. If horses are consequently punished for giving warning signs, they might decide one day to skip the warning signals and start attacking right away.

A horse can also start biting because he is in pain, for example a poorly fitting saddle or bridle. The horse starts to bite in reaction to the saddle during saddling, cinching or a mounting rider.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAMaybe the horse is not biting but nibbling and that is mistaken for biting. Horses nibble out of curiosity, they nibble during mutual grooming or because they like to take objects into their mouths due to teething or being playful.

Biting also can become learned behaviour if the cause of the behaviour is long gone, but they still gain something by it. Horses that are stabled in a very busy environment and are being touched by people all the time without liking it can start biting out of agitation in order for people to let them alone. They can still bite people even if they have moved out of that situation, just because it became a habit.

Mugging behaviour can also turn into biting behaviour if it has been reinforced or if the horse gets frustrated because he doesn’t understand when to expect a food reward and when not to expect it. Some people stop feeding treats altogether, but I would suggest instead of avoiding the problem, solve it.

Sometimes we simply don’t know the cause but we still want to find a solution.

Solutions

The best solutions are tailored to the cause. If a horse is playful, it won’t help if we buy another saddle for him. If the horse is in pain, solve the pain and make adjustments to prevent more pain.

It isn’t always easy to know or make an educated guess about the cause of the problem. Ask for a professional opinion of a horse behaviour specialist or ethologist to help you find solutions that are tailored to the cause and not just solved by punishing or avoiding the behaviour all together.

Biting can be a very dangerous behaviour. Always take (an attempt) to bite you seriously, even if it is play. It still can be dangerous. I personally know three people who lost a (part of their) finger, two due to their own horse.

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

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My favourite motto is… Make haste slowly…

Is the translation of a Latin saying. A saying with a long history starting with the Romans. Festina lente, maybe you’ve heard of it.

To me this has proven a very valuable oxymoron  and it is one of my favourite personal mantras in horse training. If you take the time it takes, than it takes less time.

So many times I wanted a result right away, but couldn’t get it. These are perfect moments to remind myself: make haste slowly. To take the time to step back and rethink my strategy. Reminding myself to make haste slowly has helped me in so many ways.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Prevent frustration

If you consider your training goals first and make a plan before you start training your horse, it helps prevent pitfalls that lead to frustration. Don’t only focus on the goal, the result but also take into consideration the way that leads to your goal.

Don’t forget: you are part of a team

In horse training/riding it is not only about your results. You have to take your equine partner into consideration.

When I just started Kyra under the saddle I wanted to canter. My (classical) dressage trainer said: ‘Just wait, she will offer canter when she’s ready’. But… I wanted it ‘now’. ‘Kyra was already 6 weeks under saddle,’ was my argument. ‘If professional trainers could teach a horse to walk, trot and canter within 6 weeks after starting a horse under saddle, why couldn’t I do it?’

I took my trainers advise and didn’t push it. One day Kyra indeed offered canter under saddle. Since I use a bridge signal and rewards, I could clearly communicate to Kyra that this was what I wanted. I gave her a jackpot (a really, really reinforcing reward). From that day on ‘canter’ was part of our repertoire. I was glad I waited until Kyra was ready and I was glad I listened to the advise of my wise trainer. But it was hard…. I wanted quick results so badly.

Now I know from my own experience that Festina lente is one of the best mantras one can have when educating a horse. Learning can’t be rushed. I think Kyra’s canter wouldn’t have been so balanced if I had rushed her. I probably would have damaged our relationship by asking her something to do which she couldn’t do at the time. Something that’s very clear in hindsight.

I think ‘set yourself and your horse up for success’ goes hand in hand with Festina lente. What are your favourite mantras in horse training?

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

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The clicker, for me a symbol of …

WP has a Photo Challenge with the theme ‘symbol‘.

For me the clicker became an important symbol. It represents force-free horse training, friendship, fun and a life time of learning. Let me explain.

_clicker_hippologic_symbol 

 

Force-free training

The clicker represents positive reinforcement: training behaviour by adding an appetitive to the horse in order to reinforce behaviour. There is no force or coercion in positive reinforcement training.

Friendship

When I started to use positive reinforcement I had to learn about what my horse likes and dislikes.

Positive reinforcement is a way to give my horse a choice in training and therefor it gives her a voice. For me friendship is not only listening to my horse but also acting on the information she is giving me. Friendship means that I sometimes have to change my approach if my horse doesn’t like it, can’t (physically) do it or won’t do what I ask for whatever reason. For me, the clicker symbolizes this.

Fun

Learning new skills, exploring new ways has always been fun to me. The clicker represents also the fun the horse displays when he figures out what the training question is. The eagerness my horse shows in working with me: always coming to the gate in the pasture as soon as she sees me and the soft loving nicker to greet me.

Life long learning

Switching from traditional and natural horsemanship methods to positive reinforcement forced me to develop new skills so I could communicate clearly what I want from my horse.

I had to learn to listen better to my horse and I had to develop my observational skills in order to pinpoint (click) the desired behaviour. I had to figure out what motivates my horse in order to reinforce the behaviour I am teaching her. I studied the learning theory and learning curve of animals intensively. Something I probably wouldn’t have done tothis degree if force was still my go-to method in training and riding horses.

The road to positive reinforcement has been (and still is) an exciting journey for me. I am still fascinated every day by how learning actually  works in horses and how we humans can influence it. It is a life long journey with fabulous views!

What represents a clicker for you?

Sandra Poppema

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

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