Tips to Measure the Value of Your Reward

I mean reinforcer. Not ‘reward’. It just sounded better. ūüėČ There is a big difference, let’s take a look at the definitions:

Reward
noun

A thing given in recognition of one’s service, effort, or achievement.
“the holiday was a¬†reward for¬†40 years’ service with the company”

Synonyms: Recompense, prize, award, honor, decoration, bonus, premium, bounty, present, gift,
payment;

Informal –¬†payoff,¬†perk;
Formal –¬†perquisite¬†“a reward for its safe return”
Reward
verb
Make a gift of something to (someone) in recognition of their services, efforts, or achievements.
Synonyms:

Recompense,¬†pay,¬†remunerate,¬†make something worth someone’s while;

Reinforcer

A stimulus (such as a appetitive or the removal of an aversive) that increases the probability of a desired response in operant conditioning by being applied or effected following the desired response.

The purpose of a reward is a gift (end of story), the purpose of a reinforcer is to stimulate behaviour! Big difference.

Determine a Reinforcer

_Hippologic_rewardbased training_receiver_determinesFirst you need to know that it’s the receiver¬†(horse) that determines the reinforcer, not the trainer!

Your horse will tell you if something was reinforcing.

There are only 3 possibilities:

  1. You get more behaviour: the appetitive or aversive was indeed reinforcing
  2. You see no difference in desired response:the trainer did not give an appetitive or aversive stimulus but a neutral stimulus
  3. You get less of the desired behaviour, your reinforcer was not a reinforcer but a punishment for the learner. The behaviour decreased.

Low value or high value reinforcers

Low value reinforcers will still increase desired behaviour (they are not neutral) but they don’t over excite or over arouse your horse. Your horse stays interested in your training and keeps paying attention to you.

_treats_in_training_hippologicHigh value reinforcers can help your horse to increase his own criteria of a certain behaviour because the value of the treat excites him.

The downside is that high value reinforcers can cause over excitement and/or overarousal. You want to avoid that because it will distract the animal from the behaviour you want him to offer.

Choosing the Right Value

In general you want to use the lowest value reinforcer possible, that still get you the desired behaviour. It’s still worth it for the horse.

Low value reinforcers will help keep your horse in ‘learning mode‘ and pay attention to the behaviour, not the food.

You can alternate low value reinforcers with higher value reinforcers or you can mix them to up the value and keep it interesting.

_carrot_reward_reinforcer_horsetreat_tips for treats_horsetraining_hippologicHigh value reinforcers can be well used when your horse is nervous, in pain or if something else (a distraction) is also highly reinforcing.

A better ‘pay’ can help him decide to offer the desired behaviour despite of his emotions or other attractive motivators that going on.

It can help your horse to choose to perform better if he knows a high value reinforcer will or might come his way.

Tips to Measure the Value

When your horse grabs the treat off of your hand, bites, moves his head very fast towards the hand that offers the treat or eats the treat very fast, the reinforcer is of high value. Other signs can be over excitement or arousal and concentrating on the food instead of the cues of the trainer.

When your horse sniffs the treat first or slowly eats it, it can be an indicator of a low value reinforcer.¬†If your horse starts to refuse the treat during training it has lost it’s value and you need to stop the training session or switch to a higher value reinforcer.
If the quality of the desired behaviour will not increase (your horse doesn’t try other behaviours/increase criteria) your reinforcers aren’t high enough value.

When your horse stays engaged in your training, keep offering new behaviours and doesn’t show frustration or overarousal/overexcitement the balance of high/low value reinforcers is perfect. That might change over time or when your clicks get too predictable.

Behaviour is not static!

What are some low and high value reinforcers for your horse? How can you tell? Please share your stories in the comments and inspire us!

Please share

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from or if you want to share this on your social media, please use one of the share buttons  below. I also love to hear your view on this subject, so please add a comment. I read them all!

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Happy Horse training!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the relationship with their horse they really, really want and I teach them how they can get the results in training they dream of in a win-win way for horse and human.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or¬†visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula.
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Recipe Horse Cookies

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. Without the molasses these are very low-sugar treats. I make them all the time without molasses. I have yet to encounter a horse that doesn’t like them! Sometimes I use turmeric instead of cinnamon.

Ingredients
1¬†¬ĺ¬†¬†cups uncooked (brown) rice¬†/¬†6 cups cooked rice
1 cup ground stabilized flax
3 tablespoons cinnamon
¬Ĺ¬†cup flour
¬Ĺ¬†cup molasses (optional) or water

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_valentineWet 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:

HippoLogic.jpg
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I improve human-horse relationships. I¬†reconnect you with your inner wisdom (you know what’s right)¬†and teach you the principles of learning and motivation, so you become confident and knowledgeable to train your horse in a safe, effective¬†and FUN way. Win-win.
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.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or¬†visit HippoLogic’s website.
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Preparing your Horse for the Farrier with Clicker Training

Being a farrier  is a high risk profession. It is not only a physically demanding job, but also the clients can be very opinionated. Or worse become defensive and kick, bite or rear. With clients I mean horses, of course. How can you help your farrier be safe working with your horse?  How can you prepare your horse for a farrier treatment? My answer is of course: with positive reinforcement.Kyra one month after arrival

Positive reinforcement for the professional

The first thing reinforcing the farrier to come back is that he gets paid! I like to offer a cup of tea and some cookies too, if he is really good with my horse. But the best way to reinforce your farrier to come back and do a good job is to have your horse well trained and prepared.

Continue reading

How to change emotions in your horse during training

 

Sometimes a horse shows undesired emotions during training, like biting, mugging, signs of frustration or even aggression. What can you do to change it? My mentor always told me it is foolish to keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results. How do you break this circle?

 

Change the setup

Take a break and rethink your approach. Go back to the point where the behaviour (emotion) was still desirable. Do do know what has changed? Change it back and see what happens.

Maybe you have to change the setup of your training entirely so you won’t trigger the undesired emotion/behaviour(s). In this way you can first ‘work around it’ until there is a more desired¬†emotion or behaviour associated with the behaviour.

Find the cause of the undesired emotion

If you change your training approach you might find the cause of the frustration, boredom or other undesired emotion/behaviour in your horse.

When I encountered a lot of frustration in a horse I used this approach. I didn’t realize what had changed at first.

_low-value-treats-vs-high-value-treats_hippologic

Change one variable at a time

At first I experimented with a different target, a different area to train, hand feeding instead of feeding her from a  bucket and so on. I talked it over with someone who watched the whole session and we figured out it might be the high value food I was using as a reinforcer.

The mare got¬†so excited by the very ¬†yummie treats, she couldn’t wait (anymore) until the target was presented to earn a click and reinforcer. Because she ‘couldn’t wait’, she started to display all her impatience by pacing up en down the fence, tossing her head and pinning her ears. She soon got so frustrated she couldn’t pay attention to what behaviour lead to presenting the target¬†(ears forward, standing still, head at medium height or below) and a click. She went back to her ‘old ways’ to get what she wanted: displaying her unhappiness. This worked for her in the past and she just went back to her default behaviour, as we all do from time to time.

It was only when I changed the food reward to a lesser value food that we immediately saw a huge difference in her behaviour. Apparently the food I was using was really high value for her, so she literally couldn’t wait for another opportunity to earn more clicks and more high value treats. That’s what caused her frustration.

As soon as I offered her much lower value treats, she went back to thinking mode and she was open to learning again.

_treats_in_training_hippologic

I never met a horse that showed me so clearly that a high value treat can cause so much frustration.

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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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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Myth Monday: ‘Treats in training and Respect don’t go well together’

Who hasn’t heard the statement that ‘if you train with treats (like in positive reinforcement), your horse doesn’t respect you, he will do it only¬†for the food and not for you’. This is an interesting myth to debunk because there is so much to it.

‘Training with treats’

Not everyone who ‘trains with treats’ is using a marker or bridge signal (a¬†click) or understands the importance of the timing of the food¬†delivery.

The click indicates two things: it pinpoints the exact desired behaviour and it announces an appetitive.

If a trainer is not using a bridge/marker signal when rewarding the horse with food it can lead to confusion (Why did I get this? Was it random? Can I influence it?) and even frustration in the horse  (Why is there no food today? I expect food now). This can cause the horse to become very focused on the food, instead of the marker and the desired behaviour to display. This can cause all kinds of undesired or even dangerous behaviours.

_Myth_Monday_using_treats_no_respect_HippoLogic

When a horse doesn’t understand that he must pay attention to the marker and the associated behaviour in order to¬†increase¬†the likelihood¬†of¬†a¬†click, he can display behaviours that he thinks influences the appearance of a food reward. Often that’s behaviour that occurred during or just happened a few seconds before the food was offered: sniffing the¬†pockets of the trainer, stepping towards the handler (the¬†food) or other -in our eyes- undesired or ‘disrespectful’ behaviour. This is caused by miscommunication or lack of knowledge or experience of¬†the trainer and not ‘just¬†a result of working with food rewards’.

What is ‘respect’?

This leads us to the¬†next question: what is respect and can a horse display respect to another species? Or is what we call ‘respectful’ behaviour just something else?

Simple Definition of respect

  • a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc.

  • a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way

  • a particular way of thinking about or looking at something

I think we should scrap the word ‘respect’ out of our vocabulary when we talk about the horse-human relationship. We, humans, can still respect the horse, but we have no way of knowing if ‘the horse feels admiration’ for¬†us when he looks at us.

Respectful behaviour

What behaviours do we expect when we are talking about the horse must’ respect’ us? We ¬†all know we¬†can’t force respect, but why do so many trainers behave like they can?

Here are some ‘respectful’ behaviours:

  • the horse doesn’t step¬†into our personal cirkel, unless invited
  • the horse respectfully follows all our cues
  • takes treats carefully/respectful from our hands (doesn’t grab the food)
  • waits ‘politely’ until the food is offered (doesn’t mug us)
  • stands when mounted¬†or¬†groomed
  • et cetera

I think these behaviours can all be ¬†taught and are often more the result of training or a learning process in the horse than ‘a feeling¬†or understanding [from the horse] that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way’.

If the horse is not behaving ‘respectful’ that is also the result of the learning curve in the horse. He simply has learned that stepping into your ‘personal circle’¬†or sniffing your pockets results¬†in something he values (a scratching pole, getting attention,¬†a pet or a treat).

The horse only works for the food, not for you

In the next episode of Myth Monday I will debunk the part of the myth that in clicker training it is only the food that motivates the horse. Stay tuned!

What myths about clicker training/ positive reinforcement have you heard?

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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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.

A 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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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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‘Grass Training’: Teach Your Horse to Ignore Grass

Haven’t we all experienced that a horse pulled you towards some grass in order to grab a few bites? Isn’t that annoying? I think it is! grass training Hippologic clicker training horses

I didn’t want to be pushed around anymore by my horse every time there was some juicy patch of grass growing around. Grass is everywhere! I decided to look for a proper, force-free way to teach my horse more desired behaviour around grass.

I tried a few different approaches, before I found one that works well, gave me a solid result and is totally force-free. I would like to share it with you.

Define ‘proper behaviour around grass’

_teach your horse to ignore grass_hippologic_grazing_mannersIt took me a while to teach Kyra to behave ‘properly’ around grass. With ‘properly’ I mean: no more pulling me towards grass, wait until I give the ‘graze’ cue and ‘stop grazing and come along’ if I ask her to. I was tired of pulling Kyra off the grass.

Preparation

I must say before you can start training this you need a bit of preparation and… lots of practice time. After all, what is more enticing than grass? Well, a click can be…

What really helps is already have a solid history of click & reinforce. Secondly a horse that walks with you properly and the key lessons ‘head lowering’, ‘patience’ and ‘targeting’ are required to make this challenge most likely to succeed.

Shaping plan

Here is a summary of my shaping plan:

How I trained it

I started to reinforce lifting Kyra’s head while grazing. Why? Because this is the first step to move away from the grass. I began with leading her to grass and I would cue her to graze. Then I just waited (very, very patiently) until she lifted her head by herself. That is the moment I wanted to capture and reinforce.Enjoy trail rides again after grass training

I can’t stress how important it is to wait until the horse moves (his head) away himself. I tried other methods like pulling the head up/preventing the head from going down or asking Kyra to target while grazing in order to lift her head, but reinforcing her own head raise worked best.

High value treats

Every time she would lift her head , I clicked and reinforced Kyra with a very high value treat. One that could compete with grass. After she ate the treat I immediately gave her the cue to ‘graze’. Here is when the key lesson ‘head lowering’ comes is really handy.

I also clicked and reinforced the ‘graze’ cue. But instead of offering a treat off of my hand, the reward was to graze as long as she wanted.

Every time she would lift her head again, I clicked, reinforced and would then give her the ‘graze’ cue.

Next step

After a certain amount of training sessions, which Kyra enjoyed very much (!), I noticed that she started to lift her head more often during grazing sessions. This is a perfect time to add a ‘lift head up’ cue. The key lesson targeting helped me a lot.

So my next clicker session looked like this:

  • walk to the grass
  • give the cue ‘graze’
  • wait until Kyra lifts her head
  • click and reinforce
  • give her the cue ‘graze’
  • let her graze until I thought she was likely to lift her head up again, ask ‘touch’ target stick
  • click and reinforce
  • cue ‘graze’
  • et cetera.

In this way she is always reinforced for whatever I ask.

Raising the criterion

After several sessions I noticed that Kyra didn’t seem to mind lifting her head up anymore. She was eager to see what I had to offer her. The ‘diving into the grass’ behaviour was gone. She seemed so much more relaxed on grass.

I thought this would be the perfect time to raise a criterion. Now I wanted to lift her head and take one step forward before I gave the ‘graze’ cue again. I literally built this behaviour step-by-step.

The final step in this process was to teach her to wait for the ‘graze’ cue when we would walk on or approach grass.

Result

Now I can ask Kyra to leave grass at any time. She is very willing to come with me. She never pulls me towards a patch of grass and I never have to pull her off of the grass. Win-win, for her and for me.

Kyra turned from a I-need-to-graze-now-and-store-fat-before-winter-comes-horse into a I-see-grass-so-what-horse. She knows she can trust me and is allowed to have her share… only when I say so.

Join my online Grass Training Sign up here

Today I wanted to make a video for the FB Grass Training FB Group. Kyra didn’t want to graze, so I couldn’t show how to start walking on grass when all your horse wants to do is graze. Never thought I could be in that position: a horse that doesn’t want to graze because training is way more valuable.

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
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!
Sign up for my newsletter (it comes with a gift) here: HippoLogic’s website.
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Reflections on +R vs -R (positive reinforcement vs negative reinforcement)

How valuable is a behaviour to you when it is associated by the horse with aversives (-R, negative reinforcement)?

Is a behaviour that is associated with something pleasurable /appetitives (+R, positive reinforcement) worth less, or more to you?

Or do you not care at all what your horse’s associations are with your ways of getting the behaviour?

In other words: do you care for the result more than the way you got the result?

The carrot (click) or the stick…

_carrot_or_stick_hippologic

Which one do you prefer?

 

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

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How to treat your horse on Valentines Day

[Klik hier voor de Nederlandse versie]

Giving is better than receiving. Here are some horse treat ideas for Valentine’s Day. These suggestions are healthy so you can use them for clicker training too.

Carrot hearts ~ Ingredient
Carrot

Directions
Cut a V-shaped notch along the length of the carrot with a pairing knife or the top of your peeler. Then slice the carrot into hearts. Adjust the shape a bit more if you like.

_carrot_hearts_hippologic_valentine_horse

Apple hearts ~ Ingredient
Apple

Directions
Cut the apple into slices. Use a cookie cutter or a pairing knife to make heart shapes.

_apple_carrot_heart_horsetreat_valentine_hippologic

 

Special treat
If you want to make something really special, make your own horse treats.

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¬†¬ĺ¬†¬†cups uncooked (brown) rice¬†/¬†6 cups cooked rice
1 cup ground stabilized flax
3 tablespoons cinnamon
¬Ĺ¬†cup flour
¬Ĺ¬†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.

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.

_healthy_horse_treats_hippologic_valentineBake 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.

 

Free discovery call with Sandra

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Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Succes 

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Would you like to use clicker training in your every day training, use it all situations and for all horses successfully?

If you are ready to get the results in clicker training you really, really want this is the course for you. Do you want…

  • A well-trained horse? Trained by you?
  • More¬†knowledge and skills to train¬†horses?
  • More confidence in your training skills?

Join HippoLogic’s online training program for clicker trainers the¬†Ultimate Horse Training Formula. This program contains all tools and techniques professional trainers use. After this course you understand what you have to do before, during and after you are training a behaviour. You’ll improve your horse training skills¬†and you’ll develop skills trainers need in order to be successful.

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
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!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or¬†visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
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PS Did you know HippoLogic has a  membership (accountability) program?

 

Key lesson: Horse, stay in learning mode [emotions in training]

In my last post I wrote about the importance of teaching horses safe behaviour around food and food rewards. Another key lesson that helps keep training safe and fun for all parties is managing the emotional state of mind of the horse during training. You want the horse to use his mind and stay in his learning mode.

Reinforce wanted behaviour
In positive reinforcement training we reinforce the wanted behaviour in order to get more of that behaviour. As trainers we have to pay close attention to the behaviours we are actually rewarding. In other words: you get what you reinforce.

In clicker training, as well as in every other training method,¬†it happens¬†that¬†trainers are not paying attention to the horses’ state of mind during training.

Every trainer can unconsciously reinforce undesired behaviour, due to a lack of timing, lack of knowledge of behaviour or misreading body language. Common examples are horses that express (over)arousal, fear, pain or frustration during training.

If the horse is experiencing arousal, frustration, anger, pain¬†or¬†fear the brain can¬†prioritize these over a state of mind in which learning can occur. The horse¬†goes into ‘survival mode’. He¬†gets out of his ‘thinking mode’¬†and¬†he can’t learn anymore.¬†That is why these emotions and behaviours that can go with them are undesired in training. It is the trainers responsibility to pay attention and prevent or if necessary re-train these emotions and paired behaviours as soon as possible.

It can be hard to detect the early signs of these emotions. Sometimes it is only recognized when it is already escalating in the horse. Then it is much harder to deal with it.

Two reinforcing moments
There are two¬†moments in training which you have to pay extra close attention to the horses’ emotions because those are the most reinforcing moments.

The fist is the time¬†of the bridge signal, the click. The click means ‘this’ is what I want you to do, it pinpoints the desired behaviour.

The second important moment is the moment you actually deliver the reward, since the reward is reinforcing the behaviour at that moment.

Example
Imagine a horse is in a relaxed state of mind and happy and eager to learn. He pays attention to the trainer and is trying different behaviours and his behaviour soon meets the criterion of the trainer: he touches the target while he is happy and the trainer clicks.

Then the trainer isn’t able to deliver the food reward as quick as the horse expects it. ¬†The horse becomes a bit impatient. He pins his ears, moves to the trainers hand with the treat on it and in his hurry he uses his teeth to take the food off the hand. This happens several times in a row. The trainer doesn’t pay attention or isn’t¬†aware of this little change in the horses’ behaviour.

Emotions_in_training_hippologic2015

Can you see what emotion/behaviour is reinforced during the delivering of the treat? Can you imagine that after a few repetitions this behaviour will become a habit for the horse? He is, after all, reinforced over and over by the trainer to behave this way.

The horse can even think he has to ‘try harder’ in¬†the way he takes the food off of the trainers hand and can change into ‘threatening the trainer for treats’.

Prevention
It is better to pay attention to the horses emotions right from the start and prevent behaviours and situations that can escalate.

Make it a habit to¬†watch a¬†horses’ behaviour closely and change your criteria or training context as soon as you see the first signs of undesired emotions or behaviours.

Keep your training fun and safe for everybody.

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what your favourite key lesson is and why.

This blog doesn’t have enough room to tell you everything I know about emotions in training and how to prevent and deal with undesired emotions. Do you want to learn more about ‘Emotions in Training’ and how to coop with them? Join HippoLogic’s 8 week online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula. In this course is a whole module about Emotions in Training. Not only equine emotions and how you can recognize them, but also human emotions, like dealing with frustration, feeling like a failure, fear and more.

Here is another blog about it.

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Happy Horse training!

Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Success 

_key to success_hippologic1

  • Want to get the results in training you really, really want?
  • Want train your horse with confidence?
  • Want to learn all there is to know about training your horse with positive reinforcement?

Join this online course: Click here

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
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!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or¬†visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
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Key Lesson: Table Manners for Horses [safe hand-feeding]

One of the key lessons I like to promote as a really good foundation to start with and to keep working on,¬†is safe¬†behaviour around food, ‘table manners for horses’ so to say.

Why is this one of the key lessons?
If you are working with horses¬†you always want to be as safe as possible. You certainly don’t want to create problems, which can easily happen if you train¬†with food as a reinforcer without having clear ‘rules’. Rules are alle about expectations:

  • When¬†can your horse expect a treat: only after a click
  • When can’t he expect treats: no click, no glory, no treat
  • How he can earn clicks that lead to treats: paying attention to the cue and answer the question right

Your Key to Success in using food as reinforcer is to teach your horse safe hand-feeding or Key Lesson Table Manners.

Ground rules
People who, in the horses’ eyes, reward¬†randomly with¬†food will have horses that are always expecting the unexpected: a random treat. That leads to impatient horses: they want it now!¬†

Therefor you have to start making clear your horse has to know he has to do something in order to get a reward. He also has to know what it is he did, that made him earn the treat. He has to learn to pay attention to your marker (the click). No click, no (food) reward.

What to do if your horse is mugging you?¬†Using a marker¬†makes it easier for your horse to understand that¬†‘mugging’ is never reinforced. There is no click, so no food will come his way.

Mugging is annoying for the handler and can trigger frustration in the horse. Especially if he¬†sometimes gets rewarded for this behaviour (with attention, a pet or even food) while other sometimes he gets punished for it or ignored. It is this various ‘reward’schedule that strengthen this undesired behaviour even more. How to handle this?

You want to reinforce the opposite behaviour of mugging. A behaviour that is incompatible with pushing your arm or sniffing your pockets. This will make your training sessions more safe.

Table-Manners for Horses

  • Teach your horse to move his head (read: mouth)¬†away from you, your pocket with food or your ‘money belt’ full of goodies.
  • Teach your horse to keep his lips closed
  • Teach him to gently take the treat off of your hands
  • Teach him an ‘End-of-Session’ signal that means: no more clicks, no more treats

Table manners around dinner time
If you want your horse to behave around feeding time, you have to communicate clearly what behaviour you expect from him:

  • standing with four feet on the floor while the food cart is coming
  • back up when the stall door is opened or when the hay is delivered and so on.

Use a marker signal to pinpoint the wanted behaviours. Read more here.

Polite behaviour
With ‘polite’ behaviour I mean safe behaviour. The horse must wait ‘politely’ until the food is delivered to his lips, after the marker. He shouldn’t¬†move towards the treat, he has to learn that the treat will come to him. The horse must (learn to)¬†take the treat carefully off of my hand and only use his lips and no teeth.

When I click and when I deliver the food, I pay close attention to the horses state of mind. Those two moments (click and the delivery of the treat) are the reinforcing moments, and I do want to reinforce safe behaviour, so I pay attention to the horses state of mind.

_keylessonsafehandfeeding1

Trainer
Present the food in a safe way to the horse and ‘prove’ to¬†your horse that you are trustworthy. You will always deliver a food reward after a click and you will deliver it (bring it to his mouth so he won’t have to ‘search’ for it). If you drop it on the ground,simply give another one.

People who are easily scared by a horse that moves towards the treat in their hand and proceed to drop the food, need to work on their food presenting skills. You want the horse to trust you on where the food is presented (to their mouth) and that it will arrive. Be consistent and reliable in the way you present treats.

Before you click, always check if you still have at least one more treat to offer. It doesn’t have to be food, but if you’re working with food, make sure you have something left in your pocket to give.

_keylessonsafehandfeeding3

The value of the reward, the size and the chewiness can all influence (un)desired behaviours around food. If the size of the treat is too small, it can easily fall on the floor and get lost, if it is too big it can be hard to eat quickly. Is the reward a high value treat, the horse get frustrated if it’s not delivered quickly enough. If the horse has to chew very long it can distract him from the training.

There are many aspects to take into consideration when you reinforce your horse with food. Please don’t let this long list scare you away from working with food rewards.

Food is such a powerful reinforcer that once your horse understands how you want him to behave around food and treats in training,you can have a lot of fun with it!

Links to other key lessons

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below. Or post your comment/question, I read them all! Or simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Success 

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  • Want to get the results in training you really, really want?
  • Want train your horse with confidence?
  • Want to learn all there is to know about training your horse with positive reinforcement?

Join this online course: Click here

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
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!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or¬†visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

Training your horse with rewards

We all use or have used verbal praise and a pat on the neck as reward for a horse.Was it helpful? Did we get more of the desired behaviour? In other words: was it reinforcing the behaviour we wanted?

Reward
What is a reward while¬†training and how can we measure its value? A reward is an event that is added during or directly after¬†a certain behaviour that reinforces that behaviour. If we don’t see any increase in the behaviour or the effort to display that behaviour it wasn’t a real reward or it was not associated with the behaviour.

Timing
In order to associate a reward with the behaviour we must give the reward during the desired behaviour or within a few seconds.

Horses that get a bucket of grain in their stall after they performed well in the arena will not associate their behaviours in the arena with the bucket of food. Therefor the horse will increase their performance next time, at least not due to the food. That is why positive reinforcement trainers use bridges.

Reinforcing the behaviour
If the reward doesn’t reinforce the behaviour, it wasn’t a reward for the horse. Most Dutch people learn to ride in a riding school and we have learned to pat (sometimes it looked¬†more like slapping) the horse on the neck as reward. In hindsight: I have never seen any increase in the behaviour that was ‘rewarded’ this way.

During dinner time a lot of horses are kicking their doors. Why do you think that is? I think because they think that they will get food because they kick the doors. After all: they always get their food while they are kicking their doors.

I have worked at stables and even if I was only working in the weekends, it would take¬†me about 4 weeks to teach most horses (25 out of 30) that the desired behaviour was: 4 hooves on the floor and ‘looking’ away (head in their stall so I could throw in their hay from the corridor). It took a bit of patience and consideration during feeding time, but it was rewarding for all parties. For me because I saved time and it made my work safer. Horses that are ‘looking away’ when I am feeding them grain or hay can’t snap¬†at¬†their food with all the dangers that come with it. A few weeks later¬†all the horses learned the new, safer behaviour. For the horses because they got ‘jackpotted‘ every morning: grain and the second time I came: a bucket of grain.Feeding horses_hippologic

So next time you are rewarding your horse: pay attention. Is it really rewarding? And does it increase the behaviour you desire.

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

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New uses for ‘Old’ Tools in Clicker Training , part II

When I started clicker training I had no clue that there was a whole science behind the use of rewards. I only knew about one primary reward: treats.

I didn’t know anything about ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ rewards, how to use high and low value rewards to¬†my¬†advantage. Neither did I know about ‘chaining’ behaviours, I learned all these things in the following years.

High and low value rewards
When I started clicker training I didn’t¬†realize that a horse can consider some rewards as¬†‘high value’¬†rewards, and other as ‘low value’ rewards. I never thought that I could use this knowledge to my advantage and to help the horse perform better or make training less stressful.

I didn’t realize some rewards can lose their value and how to use this knowledge in my training. Of course I noticed when my pony became less eager¬†to work for his treats after some training. Then I just stopped the training session and gave him a break. I was not consious enough about this fact to¬†use it in my training approach. Now I am aware, I use high value rewards or¬†low value rewards depending on the circumstances.

Variable rewards_key_lesson_standing_on_mat_hippologic
I also vary my treats depending on the difficulty level of the behaviour I am training, or depending on the context. In situations where there is more distraction I might use very high value treats (for Kyra that is apple) rather than lower value rewards (non-food) in order to keep my horses attention focused on me.

If Kyra is in a more relaxed state, she values the ear scratches (see picture) more than grain. I experiment with the different value treats during one training session. You can use different treats with different values to build in a certain unpredictability for the horse, in order to stimulate his efforts.

With horses who get overly excited by certain treats I start with¬†lower value treats, horses who have¬†to overcome something really scary or aversive, get really high value treats or rewards. Sometimes I give bigger rewards, sometimes I give smaller amounts. I know how I can really ‘stretch’ the reward moment by throwing in lots of verbal praise and feeding multiple hands full of treats (jackpotting).

Secondary rewards
I now also know know that I can use secondary rewards, like¬†standing on a mat¬†or verbal praise. A secondary reward is something the horse has ‘learned to like’ because there is an appetite association attached to it.

Behaviour chains
If you chain a series of behaviours, certain¬†behaviours can¬†become a reward, too. You can also use¬†‘back chaining’. Then you start teaching the last behaviour in the chain¬†first: behaviour #3. Next step is to¬†teach behaviour #2 and then you chain them together: #2, #3. Behaviour #3 is clicked and rewarded in the chain.

Then you teach another behaviour( #1) and back chain it, so you have chained #1, #2, #3. The horse has already a solid reward history built with behaviour #3 and he will anticipate on what is coming after #1 and #2. By asking the chain, the reward for the horse will lie in performing behaviour #3, which you may or may not reward with a click and reward once the horse knows the chain.

Looking back
So when I started clicker training I thought it was a simple concept: click and treat for the desired behaviours. I understood that really complex behaviours would be better taught in small steps. That was basically what I thought was clicker training.

__hippologic_beautiful_thing_about_learningThe more I learned about reward-based horse training, the more I realize there is so much more to learn. After 15 plus years of experimenting and reading and learning I still enjoy the puzzles my horse gives me that I really want to solve with positive reinforcement only. I just love it!

What are the things you have learned over the years that really stunned you?

Read here¬†part I¬†of New Uses for ‘Old Tools’ in Clicker Training

Read here part III.

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below. Or post your comment, I read them all!

Or simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

HippoLogic.jpg
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 my online 8 week course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

New Uses for ‘Old’ Tools in Clicker Training, part I

When I started clicker training I thought it was a pretty simple and forward concept: ‘You bridge (click) the wanted behaviour and give the horse a treat. Make sure your timing is right. That’s all you need¬†to know.’

Bridging and getting your timing right are both very important and it was¬†an excellent start. I have been training horses with reward-based training since ’99¬†and I still learn so much every day. It helps that science is coming up with new discoveries, too. And that other trainers (horse owners as well as professionals)¬†are sharing their experiences over the internet.

#1 Timing
Of course timing is important. In clicker training we¬†say: ‘You get what you reinforce.’ So if the horse is displaying some unwanted behaviours, that means that the trainer has a question to think about: Did I bridge or rewarded this behaviour in any way or is this be self-rewarding behaviour? In self-rewarding behaviour the horse found a reward which motivates him to do it again.

The timing of the bridge (click) and the timing of giving the reward are both important. Those two moments are reinforcing the behaviour of the horse at that time. So, if you click for a wanted behaviour and your horse is doing an unwanted behaviour (pinning ears, snapping, pawing) at the moment you give the treat, you are still reinforcing something you might not want. It might not show directly, but it will show sooner or later.

#2 Emotions
You are not only training just the behaviour but there can also be an emotion¬†attached (associated) to that certain behaviour. In the beginning I never paid conscious attention to Sholto’s¬†emotions back then, while I clicker trained him.¬†I didn’t notice unwanted or dangerous emotions (rage, fear, over-arousal). To be honest I don’t think my pony experienced those during clicker training. He seemed very engaged and eager to work with me if I was preparing to do some clicker training.

Looking back at my training sessions using Natural Horsemanship this aspect was less important. The horse was required to fulfill his task regardless of his emotional state.

In clicker training it is much more a two-way communication.  You have to be aware of your horses emotional state because it is a part of your training. When you click you click for all aspects of your horse at that time, his physical stance and his emotional state.

My current horse, Kyra (see picture), did express a lot of fear in the beginning and I started to take her emotions into account while bridging certain behaviours. I’ve learned that you can strengthen the a certain behaviour¬†by reinforcing that behaviour.That behaviour might be¬†very much attached to an undesired emotion. Now I pay a lot more attention to horses emotions when I bridge a behaviour and¬†I can¬†use¬†this information to¬†my advantage.

emotions_hippologic

Much more
There is much more I can tell you that I have learned over the years. I am really excited every time I discover a new use for an old tool or approach. To me my journey to the reward-based training method still is very exciting.

What was one of your eye openers on your journey?

Read here part II of¬†New Uses for ‘Old’ Tools in Clicker Training

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

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Clicker Training 101: How to introduce your Horse to the Click

In clicker training we use a¬†‘click’ as bridge signal to communicate to the horse that he has done something wonderful. Immediately after the click we deliver a reward to the horse. How do you start teaching what the click means?

Tools
You need a bridge signal or an unique sound, like the click of a clicker, a tongue click or a unique word. I prefer a clicker because that always sounds the same and it is very quick to deliver. The bridge signal connects the click and the time it costs to deliver the reward.

Rewards. Choose your horses favourite treats. Even if they are not very healthy, you want to choose a treat that has a high value to your horse. Something that will get their attention._treat_hippologic_clickertraining

Reward pouch/bucket.¬†You need to stash your reward in a place where you can access them quickly but in a place out of reach of your horse. A money belt or an accessible pocket will work, or a bucket. Place the bucket on a chair so you don’t have to bend over every time you need to reach for a treat. Make sure your horse can’t reach it or start training ‘ignore the food bucket’.

Barrier. If you want set up your horse and yourself for success, start training with a barrier between you and your horse. A fence or stall door prevents the horse coming into your space to get the treats himself. You set yourself up for success¬†if you don’t have to handle your horse or a lead rope¬†and¬†a¬†clicker¬†and¬†the treats, all at the same time.

_protective_barrier_clickertraining_hippologic

Lesson 1: introducing the bridge
When you want to start clicker training you will have to introduce the click sound to the horse. You also need to teach your horse that this sound has a meaning.

You can just start with a click & reward your horse. Deliver the reward as soon as possible after the click. The quicker the reward is delivered after the click the sooner ¬†the horse will associate the click with something positive coming. With ‘soon’ I mean within 3 seconds or even faster. It can be almost simultaneously: click&reward.

Tips

  • Make sure the¬†food always moves¬†towards the horse, so¬†the horse¬†never has to come to you to get it.
  • Make it a habit to feed with a stretched arm, so the distance between your pocket (the source of the treats) is as big as possible.
  • Deliver the treat straight to the horses mouth, so he doesn’t have to search for it. This prevents frustration and mugging.
  • Deliver the treat as fast as possible to prevent mugging and frustration.
  • Make sure the treat is a reasonable size, so the horse can easily find it and it doesn’t get lost.
  • Count your treats and always check if you still have a treat left, before you click.
  • Click first, then reach for the treat. You want your horse to (re)act on the sound of the click, not on your hand reaching for a treat.

In general it takes 30 Р50 clicks until the horse has learned that the click has a meaning and it means something positive. Most horses show interest in the click much sooner and you can already start to work on specific (easy) behaviours. The horse now wants to figure out if he can influence the click by his behaviour and that is the point where you can start clicking purposefully for a certain behaviour. Now you can give your horse a break until the next training session.

Read also 5 Tips for Starting Clicker Training.

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below. Or post your comment, I read them all!

Or simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

HippoLogic.jpg
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.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or¬†visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training.
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How to turn “Standing on a mat” into a reward for your horse

Mat training is one of the¬†Key Lessons, the basics for¬†success in clicker training. In¬†the beginning the goal of mat training is to teach your horse to “stand on the mat”. Then you click and reward. Simple. But, do you know you can also use¬†“standing on the mat” as a reinforcer for another behaviour?

_key_lesson_standing_on_a_mat_hippologic

Make standing on the mat rewarding
You start with building a lot of positive associations with the mat. You start using¬†primary reinforcers¬†to reward your horse for standing on the mat, like treats.¬†Don’t forget to bridge and reward for stepping off of the mat.

After a while the mat is supercharged with pleasurable associations. Every time the horse goes to the mat or stepped on the mat a click and reward had come his way._key_lesson_standing_on_mat_hippologic

The mat as reinforcer
Once the mat is very attractive, you can start using it as a secondary reinforcer. You will notice when the mat is supercharged: your horse will be drawn to the mat as a mosquito to a lamp.

Start¬†asking a very simple exercise to perform on the mat, for instance ‘head lowering’, then you click and reward. In this way you create a chain of behaviours. This one consists¬†of three¬†links: stepping on the mat, standing on the mat (duration) plus head lowering.¬†You can variate the rewards you offer your horse.

If the mat is used as a reward, you click and let your horse step on the mat. The click and going to the¬†mat both act as¬†‘end of exercise’. Your horse can also enjoy a little break on the mat, which can be rewarding in itself. Don’t forget to still use a primary reinforcer most of the time.

If you want to create reliable behaviours you still have to reinforce the secondary reinforcer (mat) with primary reinforcers, like treats. Don’t phase¬†out the primary reinforcers one hundred percent.

Practical use
You can put a few mats in the arena while riding. You can use the mats as reward. You can practise a certain exercise riding from mat to mat. If you are working on canter you can canter from mat to mat. The mat indicates the start and the end of an exercise and can help both rider and horse. Or you can lay down the mats only a few meters apart and work on lateral movements where you ride from mat to mat.

Because the mats are supercharged, you should click and reward for ignoring the mat while passing by, walking, trotting and cantering over the mat. Your horse has to learn that only if you ask to stand on a mat, he will get rewarded.

I have used mats to teach Kyra to jump at liberty. I started off easy with one mat before a pole on the ground and another mat just after the pole and I sent her or walked with her from mat to mat. This is why it is important to reward right from the start for stepping off of the mat. Each session I either increased the distance between the mats or I heightened the jump a bit. Now I can send Kyra around the arena with 2 jumps all by herself. She really seems to like it a lot.

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

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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 my online 8 week course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training.
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