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

Posts tagged ‘Rewards’

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.

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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.

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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