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

Posts tagged ‘shaping plan’

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.

(more…)

Feel more successful in riding and training your horse

I am reading a very interesting book. It is called Before Happiness and is written by Shawn Achor. You can look it up if you want. In this book you can find ways to improve your succes rate. The thing I like most is that I have already been using a lot of these strategies in my lessons and in my own horse training and riding._safe hand feeding_hippologic.jpg

Success strategies

One of the success strategies is creating mini goals, so you can feel good about accomplishing steps towards a bigger goal. In positive reinforcement we call that a shaping plan or it can refer to your training plan. In the shaping plan you write down the stepping stones towards a goal behaviour. Your training plan contains your ultimate goal, ten year plan, five year plan or (just a ) one year plan.

A good shaping plan creates clarity for the horse (the desired behaviour) and he can also feel successful after each click and reinforcer. It is like saying ‘yes’, ‘yes’ to your horse, so he knows he is on the right track.

Giving yourself a head start

One of the brilliant strategies in the book is giving yourself a head start. I used to skip this part, because it felt like ‘cheating’. Studies have proven that giving yourself a head start doesn’t feel like cheating for your brain. Instead it gives your brain the feeling that you are already half way there.

In horse training you can do the same thing. In a shaping or training plan you write down your goals and you divide them into smaller goals.

What I used to do is start writing down the first step I have to accomplish or teach my horse. I never thought of giving myself a head start by writing down a few steps that are necessary in the process but  that I already have accomplished.

Targeting

For me, a shaping plan to teach a green (non-clicker trained) horse would look like this:

Training steps in training plan by Hippologic

Now I would give myself a head start and write down:

Steps:

  • Safe hand-feeding (check!)
  • Trust in handler and not scared by introduction of a new object (check!)
  • Standing still behind a barrier and paying attention to handler (check!)

This would be my head start. The fourth step would be ‘looking at target’ et cetera. In this way the trainer can already feel successful because s/he can tick off the first three mini goals.

Try it and I would love to hear how this works out for you.

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 … teach your horse anything

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

Goal setting

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

Shaping plan

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

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

A few of the building blocks of this goal are:

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

_mountainblock_hippologic

Context learning

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

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

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

Set it up for success

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

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

Practising

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

Latent learning

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

Rinse and repeat

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

Context shift

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

Generalize

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

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

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

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

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How to… teach your horse to ignore grass

Here is the audio blog of this article:

 

_teach your horse to ignore grass_hippologic_grazing_mannersHaven’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.

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’

It 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.

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.

How did you teach your horse to ignore grass?

Sandra Poppema
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website

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Learn more

If you would like a more detailed step-by-step training program to teach your horse to ignore grass, you can book a personal consult or you can participate in my online course Set Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them.

 

 

 

 

How to… shape behaviours

In positive reinforcement training one of the techniques to get behaviour is called ‘shaping’. In shaping the goal behaviour is achieved by splitting the desired behaviour into many tiny steps. Each step is trained separately (clicked and reinforced).

A criterion is only raised if the previous tiny step is confirmed. In this way you can build a behaviour from scratch (free shaping). You can also shape existing behaviours. This is when elements like distractions, distance or duration are gradually added.

Shaping plan
It is not very common in horse training, but writing down your training steps in a shaping plan is a very valuable tool. It will help you become better at splitting behaviour faster.

If you think before you train, you know what to do when things don’t work out the way you expect. It is much easier to understand/find which steps you skipped and what you can do next time. Even if you don’t bring your shaping plan to the barn, it is much clearer in your head once you’ve written it down.

The questions are:

What is the tiniest step you can think of to train behaviour X?
Next question is: can you split that step into smaller steps?
Then: Can you make it even smaller?

It is not relevant if you think your horse already mastered a particular step. Write them all down. One day you might train another horse that needs step 1 to start.

Start shaping
The easiest way to get experience in shaping is to build on existing behaviour and modify it.

You can work on duration. Example: your horse already knows to lift his foot for cleaning but he is not yet ready for the farrier. You can shape the behaviour into holding his foot for longer periods of time. Each second can be one of the steps to bridge and reinforce.

_keylesson_target_voet2

Not only lifting his foot is important for a farrier, but also stretching the front leg forward will help the farrier trim the hoof properly. Once your horse can do that, you can also start building duration.

You can also shape ‘distractions’ into his training. Your horse can already lift his feet for trimming, but now you want to add people and or horses walking by while you’re hold your horses foot up. Or your horse needs shoes and you want him to get used to the hammering on the hoof or the smell of a hot shoe burning the hoof. Again, start with very tiny steps to implement these kinds of distractions.

Free shaping
In free shaping the trainer teaches a completely new behaviour to the horse, for instance teaching a horse to jump at liberty over a low jump. A horse will naturally avoid a jump if he can walk around it. That is why people build chutes and chase the horses over it with a lunge whip.

Wouldn’t it be great if you can teach him to jump over it because he chooses to? If you can positively reinforce him to go over a jump he learns to like it in the process. After all: there is something in it for the horse (other than the relief of any pressure or threats taken away).

In order to shape the goal behaviour the trainer has to divide this complex behaviour into baby steps. What are the tiniest steps you can think of?

It depends on the horses attitude towards jumps and his experience with them. A general shaping plan for teaching to jump at liberty could look like this.

Each step can be divided into as many steps as your horse needs, for instance moving one step towards the pole must be repeated until the horse is so close he can step over it.

  • Look at the pole
  • Move towards the pole
  • Step over the pole with one foot
  • Step over the pole with two feet
  • Step over the pole with three feet
  • Step over the pole with four feet
  • Walk over the pole
  • Walk over the pole and keep walking for 1 metre
  • Walk over the pole and keep walking for 1 + x metres
  • Trot over the pole
  • Keep trotting after the pole for 1 metre (1+x metres et cetera)
  • Change the pole for a caveletti/low jump and start from the beginning
  • Change the place of the pole/jump and move it from the rail a bit more to the middle
  • et cetera

It can help if you can use Key Lessons like standing on a mat (standing still and sending your horse off of the mat), back up and safe hand-feeding.

Until your horse can trot or canter the arena at liberty and jumps freely and enthusiastically over all the jumps.

Have fun shaping!

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

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Techniques to get behaviour part II: shaping, targeting & capturing

[Click hier voor de Nederlandse versie van dit artikel]

In part I of this series I discussed the pros and cons of luring and moulding. In this part I will talk about shaping, targeting and capturing.

Shaping
In shaping the goal behaviour is achieved by splitting the desired behaviour into many tiny steps. Each step is trained separately (clicked and reinforced). A criterion is only raised if the previous tiny step is confirmed. In this way you can build a behaviour from scratch (free shaping). One can also shape existing behaviours. This is when elements like distractions or duration are gradually added.

Pros of shaping
It is a safe and sure way to train any behaviour.

It is a good way of setting the horse up for success: each step of the process is easy to understand and easy to perform. The bridge signal ‘guides’ the horse through the process, so he gets lots of information about what is expected.

It can be used to train very difficult and complex behaviours.

The horse is not restrained in any way. This makes it easier to notice mental changes (emotions) or physical changes like fatigue in your horse.

Cons of shaping
It can be hard for a trainer to split the behaviour into small enough steps. If the trainer is ‘lumping’ (making the steps too big, raising the criteria too fast) shaping can cause frustration in trainer and horse.

Depending on the behaviour, the process can take a while since every step of it has to be trained separately.

The rewards must be reinforcing enough and the tasks must be challenging enough to keep the horse engaged. That can be a challenge.

Trainer must have a keen eye and perfect timing to observe and click the tiniest steps towards the goal behaviour.

Targeting
Targeting is touching a specified surface (eg a target stick) with a particular body part. Example: teaching your horse to touch a target stick with his nose. The target is not a lure because it is not a primary reinforcer. Targeting is taught through shaping.

hippologic key lesson targeting

Pros of targeting
Targeting has a lot of practical uses and you can train almost any behaviour with it.

It is a safe training method. There is no need for physical contact, so you can train even your horse from behind a barrier if necessary or desirably.

The target is not distracting the horse like a lure would.

A target on a stick can enlarge your reach. You can send your horse away from you and your pocket full of treats.

The horse is free (not restrained) during training and it is easier to notice emotions in training like fear, curiosity, frustration and so on. It is also easier to notice if your assignment is physically (im)possible to perform for your horse or to notice fatigue.

Cons of targeting
You have to fade out the target. That can be a bit of a challenge. The best way to do this is to put a cue on the behaviour first.

It is an extra tool in your hands.

Targeting is taught through shaping, see cons of shaping.

Capturing
Capturing is ‘catching’ the end behaviour as it happens with your bridge signal and reinforcing it. Example: the classical bow looks very much like the natural behaviour of a stretch after a nap.  Click and reward your horse while he is stretching. Capture the behaviour several times. Then add a cue. See also Introducing and using cues.

Pros of capturing
The most obvious pro is that it is a really fast way to get a new behaviour, since the horse is already displaying the ‘goal behaviour’.

It is a safe method to train the behaviour.

Novice trainers can use it. Timing doesn’t have to be very accurate.

Cons of capturing
The training is totally dependant on the horses willingness to perform the behaviour and the chances of the trainer being present at the time. The trainer must have a bridge signal and reward present.

It can be hard to communicate a (new) cue to your horse. While training you may have accidentally introduced one already.  You might not know what it is as a horse is very perceptive of your unconscious movements. This might be difficult to change afterwards.

My favourite training methods
These three are my favourite ways of getting a behaviour. I use targeting and shaping on a daily basis.

I used capturing to teach Sholto the classical bow (see picture below) and flehmen on command. Kyra’s lying down and nickering to me are also taught through capturing.

_classical bow_buiging_hippologic

Kyra’s flemen and her classical bow (see picture below) are taught with shaping and targeting.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

What is your most used method to teach your horse behaviours?

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

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Key lessons for Trainers

Earlier this year I wrote about the key lessons (your keys to success) for horses. Not only the horse needs to be set up for success, but also the trainer. These three key lessons are for trainers. They will help you reach your goals quicker and enjoy the journey more: a training plan, a shaping plan and a training diary.

Training plan
If you know what it is you want to achieve, it is easy to distill a step-by-step plan from your goal. The difficulty is to determine: what are your goals and how important are they?

Goals
Ask yourself: is my goal really my own goal or is it more or less influenced by others? It is harder to achieve a goal if you lack intrinsic motivation . You can’t always influence the extrinsic motivators so if they disappear what’s left?

If your motivation is to get compliments or approval from your fellow equestrians and nobody notices it, it can be a real disappointment. It will be much harder keep going. Or maybe you are working on something your instructor wants you to do and you don’t see the value in this particular exercise.

If you’ve been teaching your horse something because you like it and you enjoy the process of teaching it, you will feel the satisfaction of your accomplished goal much longer. Therefor you will be looking forward to working on your next goal.

_dream_goals_ HippoLogic

Intrinsic or extrinsic motivation
So, think about your equestrian goals. Ask yourself if it is really you that wants to achieve it, or is it someone else’s goal? Think about what it feels like when you’ve accomplished your goal. Do you want it because you like it, or do you want it to get approval of an outsider or maybe you think you are supposed to do it.

I know a lot of people who don’t ride their horse for various reasons. They all feel more or less pressured all the time to defend their choice to outsiders. I know some of them will ride because ‘it is expected’. As you can understand this kind of motive will not give pleasure. Riding can become a real struggle.

Letting go 
Sometimes you have to let go of goals. That can be painful. Keep in mind that is is OK to change your mind and your goals. It is easier if you understand why you want to let go of your goal(s).

If you don’t like to ride your horse because you’ve discovered that you have a fear of riding (a real taboo for equestrians) you can choose to work on your fear with a trustworthy instructor who respects your boundaries. Or, you can choose to let go of your riding goals. If you know what motivates your choices it is also much easier to ‘own your story’.

Sometimes you discover that your goals or motivation have changed and that it’s time to redefine your goals. It is much easier to work on a goal that you really want, than a goal that has been expired.

Keep track of accomplishments
One way to keep yourself motivated is to keep track of your achievements by keeping a training journal.

Most people have a tendency to compare themselves to others, which is almost never a fair comparison. I’ve heard someone once saying: “You always compare the best of others, to the worst of yourself.” Yes, sometimes this is true. Better compare yourself with… yourself. The only fair way to do this is to keep track of your own journey and to realize often how far you’ve already come.

It is your journey and as long as you are making progress you are doing a good job! Keep that in mind.

Next time I will write more about shaping plans.

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what you think is a valuable basic in clicker training and why.

Sandra Poppema
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