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

Posts tagged ‘rewarding’

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.

Sandra Poppema, BSc
For tailored advise, please visit my website if you want to work with me.

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Interpretation of behaviour

Today I visited a beautiful barn with some horses and a goat. I was invited into the stall where the goat lived. The handler had warned me that the goat sometimes headbutts.

It was a friendly goat and she came up to me to greet and was well mannered. She stood in front of me, sniffed me and waited. I thought it was very polite, especially for a goat. They are, after all famous for their love of food and I was carrying pellets in my pocket. Then she kind of put her head gently in my hand. I thought that was so sweet…

I am used to cats and horses, and I am not familiar with goats. Because she put her head in my hands I automatically assumed that she wanted to be scratched behind her ears. Of course I did what she asked. Let me rephrase that: of course I did what I thought she meant.

The goat re-positioned her head, so a few seconds later I was scratching in between her long, pointy horns. As soon as I touched those horns I remember thinking: “Oops, Goats don’t like to be touched on their horns”. Humans are slow and animals are fast, so before I knew it I had accepted the goats invitation to play. Goat play involves a lot of rearing and headbutts. So she ‘attacked’ me. Ouch!

Although she hurt my wrist, she didn’t use too much force. So I think it was just play. She only used a bit more force than I can handle or more than I like. I don’t like headbutts at all!

I realized quickly that I had misread her invite to play for an invite to scratch her ears. I didn’t know what to do or how I could get her stop so I basically jumped out of her stall and quickly closed the door. She headbutted the door quite hard and I was glad the door was between us now. I think she was disappointed that I had left the game so soon. After her headbutting the door I turned around, because I didn’t want to encourage her behaviour in any way by giving her attention. I just didn’t know what to do.

 

It did make me realize how easy it is to misread an animals’ behaviour if you have no experience with the species or have no knowledge about the natural behaviour of the animal. I thought about novice horse owners and how hard it must be to be around a large animal that you know nothing about and what you know is probably outdated. Sounds scary!

Back to the goat and her headbutting. I suggested we give the goat a playmate or  a punching bag to play with. If she had a playmate or thing to play with she wouldn’t have to use humans as playmates. I hope it will work and will let you know if it works.

Have you ever misinterpreted the behaviour of an animal and gotten into trouble? Share your story in the comments. Thanks!

UPDATE: this goat is adopted and lives now among a lot of other goats. 🙂

Sandra Poppema
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10 Tools that changed my Training Approach (I)

What is so powerful about clicker training? Why does it work and what do you need to succeed?

Here are some of my favourite tools for training horses and how they changed my training approach to a much more horse friendly way of training.

1 Clicker or bridge sound_hondenclicker
The most powerful communication tool I ever had is the clicker. This simple device has had such a great impact on my life and on all of the horses I trained.

It is the concept of the clicker that is important and changed my whole training approach and philosophy. It changed my focus to what I want from what I don’t want. By focusing on what I want, I get more of it.

The click marks the exact behaviour and then a reward follows. In this way I can communicate very clearly to my horse what it is I want. He will try to do more of that behaviour and he will be rewarded again. I never reward him ‘for a good ride’ anymore, but I reward specifically for 1 perfect step of shoulder in. If my horse understands that it’s the shoulder in I reward for, he’ll give me more. When I ‘rewarded’ my horse after a ride by feeding him dinner it has never guaranteed me a better ride next time. He simply didn’t connect the food with the quality of the ride, he probably associated it with taking the saddle off.

If the horse doesn’t have to be afraid of punishment or aversives, the chances improve that he will try more behaviours which makes it easier to teach him more and more things. It encourages the creativity of the horse.

2 Reinforcers
_Hippologic_rewardbased training_receiver_determinesWhen I changed my focus from traditional training to working with rewards I was forced to think about the question ‘What is rewarding for my horse?’ If the reward is not reinforcing the behaviour you’re training it is useless as reward.

This resulted in observing my horse with new eyes. I started to pay more attention to his preferences: what kind of exercises/training did he like best? What treats did he eat first if I gave him a choice? What was his favourite scratching spot? I also noticed other things about him, like who were his friends in the pasture and where he stood in the herd hierarchy. I learned a lot since I started focusing on rewards and my horses’ opinions about them.

3 Timer
When I started using clicker training I trained with my pocket full of treats, but often I used a kitchen timer to make sure I didn’t over-train my horse.

I used 5 minute training blocks with breaks in between. I had never used a break in my training before! I used to train and train and train. My horse improved, I changed my criteria, my horse improved, I raise my criteria and so on, until my horse didn’t improve anymore. That often resulted in ending our rides with some frustration for both of us.

_time-your-training_hippologic

The timer made me much more aware of the improvements we made per session. Taking breaks also gave me the opportunity to reconsider my training approach if necessary. A break can also be a big reward, just a few minutes to relax.

In the break my horse can decide what he wants to do. If I work at liberty the breaks I give my horse can give me valuable information. Does he stay with me, does he walk off? What is he going to do in the break? If he is heading for the door, it is a sign that he’s had enough.

I still use a kitchen timer when I train new behaviours. ‘Less is more’ applies to training time. More training time does not necessarily result in better performance.

Read here part II

Read here part III

Read here part IV

To be continued…

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

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