Advantages of an ‘End of Training’-signal in Clicker Training

Most horses get super excited when they get introduced to positive reinforcement (clicker) training. They literally won’t stop. They are always ‘on‘ and in training mode. This can be very exhausting for the owner (and for the horse too).

Green horses

When horses are new to clicker training they get appetitives for things they do (the desired behaviour). Therefor it’s understandable that they will try go get a treat by offering the desired behaviour. They are training you.

If you don’t give them what they want and expect, it can cause confusion in your horse and even frustration. He doesn’t understand that just a minute ago he lift his leg and he got a click and treat and now he lifts his leg and gets ignored or maybe even shouted at! ‘What’s going on?’ the horse wonders.

You horse doesn’t understand that training for Spanish walk is wanted and desired in the arena, but when you walk in front of him at the grooming place it’s undesired. What? It’s the same behaviour!? Why doesn’t he get the same response?

What’s clear to us, might not be clear for our animals. Try to see it from his perspective.

Clarity

Here are some things that give clarity:

  • Use a clear End-of-Session-signal. This indicates: ‘No more clicks can be earned from now on.’ Stick to it! Be consistent!
  • Using a unique end of session signal for a break or indicate the end of the training session gives the horse the security that he won’t miss out and he can relax.
  • You can use an end of session signal in between training sessions too, so your horse can mentally take a break and relax a few minutes.
  • Some horses even need a start-session-signal at first. Some horses think that if you’re in sight, a training session is starting. This can be confusing for your horse. A start session-signal can be calling your horse’s name or simply say: ‘Pay attention.’

Safety

Clarity also increases safety. If your horse exactly knows when a lesson is in session, he will learn quickly that offering behaviours is a desired action and they will be reinforced.

He also learns that offering his latest trick or behaviour after your end of session-signal will never leads to clicks.

‘High risk’ behaviours

If your horse knows this, and they learn quickly when behaviour will be reinforced (in a session) and when it won’t (outside training hours), you can safely train more ‘high risk’ behaviours.

A ‘high risk’ behaviour is a behaviour that can be dangerous if it’s performed unexpectedly. If you train Spanish walk and your horse will offer that front leg up in the air when you’re standing in front of him to lead him, chances are that you’ll be hit by his flying leg.

Same goes for training lying down: you don’t want that behaviour offered spontaneously when you’re riding! Right?


If horses know the end-of-training signal, they know his vending machine is closed, no matter how many quarters (behaviours) are thrown into it. It’s empty. It won’t work. They will safe these behaviours for training sessions.

Of course it’s best to put behaviours on cue as soon as possible, for clarity and safety reasons. However, tn the learning process there will always be a short period when a trained behaviour is not yet confirmed and on cue. An end-of-session signal will help keep you and your horse safe.

Here is how much clarity it gives

In this video you see I end our training by giving Kyra an end of session signal. Putting my empty hands up and say ‘All gone!‘ indicates ‘You’re free to do what you want to do. You won’t miss out on clicks and treats.’ I knew she wanted to roll so badly but she wasn’t doing it because a training session was going on.


Bring a horse to the pasture safely

Here is another example that will help increase safety.

In the past I’ve had bad experiences with traditionally trained horses that run off immediately when released in the field. Sometimes you don’t even get a chance to take off the halter safely. Other horses even kick and bolt in order to get their freedom. Very dangerous!

To prevent such behaviours I give a treat after I release horses in the pasture. In the beginning they get a treat before taking the halter off and after taking it off. Later in training I give a treat only after I take the halter off and get out of the pasture. Instead of running off they will linger in the hope for a treat. Then I fade out the treat.

In this video Kyra didn’t want to leave me, so I gave my end-of-training-signal. That’s when she realized that she wasn’t missing out on reinforcers (food or attention).

It’s clear how powerful that end-of-training signal is. My horse that almost nevers runs in the pasture.

Any thoughts or questions about using or introducing an end-of-session-signal? #justask

Happy Horse training!

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc
I help horse owners create the relationship with their horse they’ve always dreamt of and get the results in training they really, really want.

Sign up for HippoLogic’s emails (they are free, full of goodies and joining comes with a reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online courses and our Membership Mentoring Program, the Clicker Training Academy, that will change your life.

Why a good start is important. 5 Tips to start clicker training your horse

If you have not yet started clicker training your horse, here is a good way to start. Start with Key Lesson (your key to success) Table Manners.

Table Manners for Horses is similar to etiquette for people: we don’t use manners naturally, they are learned behaviours. Just like we teach children to use knife and fork and sit with our feet below the table and wait our turn, we can teach our horses safe behaviours around food and treats. We also don’t walk into other peoples houses (strangers) to see what’s in the fridge, right? Our horses are not suppose to check what’s in our pockets either.

Clear criteria

In order to start clicker training well, you need to have clear criteria in your head. What do you want to reinforce and see more off? What behaviour would you like to eliminate from your relationship (biting, mugging, being pushed etc)?

Focus on what you want, is the most important in equine clicker training. That’s what you want to see more of and that why you need to be prepared to click for ~ HippoLogic

Teach Your Horse to Behave Around Food: 5 Tips for Horses

Here are the criteria I like to teach horses who are new to positive reinforcement training:

✅ The horse needs to take the food off of the hand gently and calm: lips only and no teeth. No grabbing or moving super fast towards the food as if there’s a fear to miss out. That could be dangerous.

✅ The horse must learn to wait until the food (treat) is served to the lips and don’t move towards the food (the pocket with treats or hand that’s feeding the horse).

We -people- don’t go to the kitchen in a restaurant either so see where our food is. No, we wait patiently until it’s brought to us. We don’t start eating or grabbing the bread when the waitress still holds your plate. We wait until the plate is put in front of us before we start eating calmly.

✅ Only expect a treat after the bridge (click) and not at random.

Just like not every plate the waitress carries is for you. Only after you ordered you can expert food.

✅ The horse must be relaxed and in a calm state. Ears forward or relaxed to the side. This in combination with a closed muzzle and relaxed lips makes a friendly face. His must learn to trust the treat will come.

Just like in a restaurant you are polite and friendly to the waitress, not looking angry at the waitress when she bring the food to the table. You say ‘Thank you’ and smile.

✅ Make sure your horse is not hungry. In many restaurants you get or can order some bread and butter to change your hangry-ness into a better mood. Do the same for your horse: provide hay during training or train after a meal.

Horses are different than us. They are designed to eat 16 hours a day, so they will eat after a meal. If train when your horse is hungry, you’ll create problems that can be very hard to un-train, like grabbing the food and even biting.

Make sure positive reinforcement is a real win-win: win for you and win for your horse. Treat well ~ HippoLogic

;Read more about starting clicker training here.

5 Tips for Trainers

The criteria above mean also that the trainer also needs to have a few good habits.

Clicker training is not only about training your horse. You-as trainer- need to develop good habits, too. ~ HippoLogic

  1. Click first, then take a treat. Don’t make ‘pre-loading’ a habit or your horse will only focus on where your hands are. That really reinforces mugging
  2. Always deliver the treat to the mouth, so that your horse never has to look for the treat. Teach him that he can trust you to give it to him
  3. Make the food move to the horse, not the other way around. If you encourage your horse to move towards the food you easily reinforce the undesired mugging behaviour
  4. If you drop a treat, immediately present a new one. The one on the ground can be ignored, taken away if it’s sandy or be a bonus. If you or your horse drop treats often, use bigger treats
  5. Start with medium or low value treats (grass pellets, moist hay cubes) and not with high value treats (usually the sweet ones like carrot, apple and store bought treats)

What’s your biggest take-away from this blog? Use the comment below. undefined

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
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Fun exercises to start clicker training

Having fun is important because it keeps you and your horse motivated. If you start positive reinforcement training/clicker training you can be overwhelmed by ‘everything you have to do differently’. Not only do things in a different way, but also exactly in the opposite way.

Timing is everything in clicker training horsesIf you come from a traditional background training and riding horses or you come from a natural horsemanship background, you can have the feeling that you’ve been doing it ‘wrong’ all along. That’s not true and it is also not a motivating thought.

People who change their approach because they are looking for a more ethical way of training or the method they use to train horses doesn’t feel good anymore, are often attracted by positive reinforcement (R+) methods. In R+ it’s common to give the animal a voice in training. Giving the animal power over what is happening to him builds trust.

Start easy, stay motivated
_smile_tricktraining_horse_hippologicSet yourself up for success. A good way of starting positive reinforcement training with your horse is to start with easy, seemingly purposeless and completely new exercises to your horse that give a feeling of accomplishment when you reach it.

Start easy and choose something fun so you will stay motivated. Be gentle with yourself: you are learning a new skill. Give you and your horse time to learn and discover.

Choose an exercise that looks impressive but is simple to teach your horse and simple for your horse to learn. Don’t start with complex behaviours before you have enough basics under your belt.

Consider it ‘fun’ time
If the new exercises seem purposeless there is no stress if you decide not to follow up with training and there is no pressing timeline in your mind (like a farrier appointment that’s coming up for a scared or green horse).

Choose something completely new. In this way the horse doesn’t have an existing association with the new things he and you are going to learn. You start with a clean slate.

_hippologic_tricktraining_vrijheidsdressuur

Trick training
If you want to practise your mechanical skills in clicker training and you are looking for suitable exercises to start with, think about starting trick training. There are several easy tricks you can teach your horse and practise your clicker skills, your timing and safe hand-feeding skills.

For a safe and fun way to start take a look at my Key Lessons (your Key to Success).

Easy and fun tricks to start with are:

  • standing on a mat, a tarp or a pedestal with 2 front feet
  • smiling (= flehmen)
  • simple bow (front leg one step forward and head down)
  • targeting (touching an object)
  • shaking ‘No’
  • push a ball with his nose
  • back crunch

What exercises or tricks would you recommend to horse enthusiasts that just started clicker training?

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the results in training they really, really want with joy and easy for both horse and human. I always aim for win-win!
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