Do you really need to stop giving treats in training when your horse needs to lose weight?

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet tell you to STOP FEEDING TREATS!? You know your horse needs to lose weight and get back in shape, but How to do this without treats?

Why stopping giving Treats is a good idea

It seems like a solution to stop offering your horse treats when he’s overweight, right? If you’re giving your horse lots of dense-calorie treats without asking him to burn them off, it’s probably a good idea to stop giving those.

Take a good look at what you consider a treat: Is it calorie rich? Is it nutrition value low? Or is this just the common human approach of “treats”?
We -people- usually mean candy or other low nutrition value/high calorie foods. Right?

If you’re using real treats like peppermints (although how much calories would all the peppermints in one training contain?) are they really having that much impact on your horse’s obesity?

Or can you influence his weight with changing his management? Usually decreasing hay or grass intake and minimizing dinner grain portions have a much bigger (pun intended!) impact on your horse’s weight!

If your horse turned into a Mugging Monster, you can turn that around quickly!

Why stopping giving Treats is a bad idea

When we train horses (R- or R+) we still need to reinforce the desired behaviour from time to time. If we don’t, and the behaviour is not intrinsically reinforcing, the behaviour gets extinct.

Traditional trainers need to use their whips, sticks or ropes once in a while (depending on how much of a threat the aversive still is) to keep their horses in line. ‘The horse needs a little reminder,’ is what they say.

Same goes for positively reinforced behaviours: we also do have to remind our horses (with a treat!) what we want from them (movement).

We need to do that to keep motivation high! Whether that’s in R- or in R+. Or we’ll lose it.

When we clicker trained our horses to exercise and offer movement (walk, trot, canter, jumping, gallop), we still have to offer a treat with enough value, once in a while to keep their motivation high. That’s why it’s a bad idea to stop giving treats to (overweight) horses in training.

If you’re a clicker trainer and you suddenly stop giving treats as reinforcement, you’ll disappoint your horse. He’s expecting food rewards. When he doesn’t get them he can get demotivated! That’s another big reason why stopping with treats is a bad idea.

You can experiment with other reinforcers: things your horse will value. When you get more behaviour (movement) you’ve successfully reinforced your horse to move. When you get less behaviour or sluggish movements or a slower response time to your cues, you know you weren’t actually reinforcing the behaviour and you need to find a better appetitive!


Read my blog about How to Move Your Horse with A Click

Healthy Treats for Horses

Most of my clients find it a challenge to find healthy treats for their overweight horse. Part of it is our own mindset. We usually value “healthy treats” way less, than unhealthy snacks! That’s human thinking! We need to shift our minds!

Start thinking how a horse thinks and how he sees the world. Horses eat about 16 hours a day. That’s their nature! Therefore they will always be hungry (to a certain extent). They love low calorie/high fibre foods! That’s another huge difference between us and a horse!

Ideas to keep training with treats (the smart way)

  • Training a horse with treats, means we can use (normal, healthy) foods to motivate them in training!
  • Take the amount of food (calories) you use in training, out of their daily ration. That way using treats in training won’t contribute to weight gain
  • If you’re horse doesn’t get dinner grain/pellets/ use, alternatives. Here is a list of over 30 options for treats in training.
  • Add interesting options to the low calorie/high fibre foods in training, like cinnamon added to soaked beetpulp, r adding a few sunflower seeds in the low calorie food rewards etc
  • Balance the calorie denseness of the treats with the amount of movement (calorie burning) you ask your horse to do.
  • The more you train (and the better your horse understands what he needs to do), the less food you need! So when you train your overweight horse to move and you need a lot of food reinforcers, knowing that this won’t be lasting forever helps!
  • Once movement/exercising gets intrinsically reinforced (‘runners high’), the less external reinforcement (treats) your horse needs!

Join R+ (movement) Training for Overweight Horses Program

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet recommended: No more treats!” or “More exercise” to get your horse in shape? Join my R+ for Overweight Horses program. We’ll address your biggest struggle in getting your horse to move with positive reinforcement. You can only join after a personal conversation, so I can tailor this 2-week online coaching program towards your horse, your situation and your needs! You can book a call here.

If you want to get better at things like:

  • Building duration in exercising your horse with R+
  • Getting your horse in shape and lose weight without a crash diet
  • Creating fun in movement training so you don’t have to keep running along

This is for you. Check out the information page here!

Sandra Poppema, BSc

Founder of the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Sandra Poppema BSc HippoLogic Clicker training coach
https://mailchi.mp/a0a07dd3228d/rplus-training-for-overweight-horses

Is This The Reason that You don’t Clicker Train Your Horse?

A common objective about clicker training horses is that ‘you have to carry a clicker and treats around all the time‘.

Is that what’s really holding you back or is it something else? Something fear based? Maybe you’re afraid your horse turns into a monster or becomes treat crazy and you don’t know how you would handle that.

‘You have to have treats on you all the time’

carrying treats in clicker training_hippologic_debunking myths_clickertrainingThat carrying treats and a clicker is a burden, is just a matter of perspective. Horse people are carrying tools around all the time. Most of them way heavier and bigger than a box clicker (which you can replace by a verbal marker or a tongue click) and a pocket full of treats. Think of whips (riding crops or lunge whips), training sticks or heavy lead ropes to name a few.

I have treats on me most of the time. I don’t always use the treats I carry, sometimes they just go stale… Yes, that can be yucky. Everyone who found a piece of forgotten fruit or carrot in their pockets a few weeks later can confirm that. That is a disadvantage of having treats on you…

Training Results from Positive Reinforcement are long lasting

Decades ago -when I was still carrying a whip and or “carrot” stick around- my results in training could deteriorate pretty quickly when I didn’t bring my tools (to threaten my horse into coercion). We all tried to ride without a crop, only to discover just carrying one helps, right?

_carrot_or_stick_hippologicOne huge advantage of positive reinforcement is that you teach the horse to choose to follow your cues. You make positive associations in training all the time.

Following cues turn into pleasant habits for the horse. After you trained the desired behaviour you fade out click and treats. Well trained clicker horses are used not to get treats all the time!

Once a behaviour is established and on cue you only reinforce the behaviour once in a while and that doesn’t even have to be with food. There are many ways you can reinforce a clicker savvy horse without a food reward. I find it very important to teach students the principles of learning and motivation and teach them to rely on their training skills and and not on a treat or a tool.

Afraid to loose control without training tools

I think one of the fear is that we think we loose control without treats in our pocket, but people who haven’t tried R+ or haven’t used it properly don’t realize the training is IN THE HORSE. Therefor you don’t need the treats and act like a dispenser. You don’t lose control without treats. You can fade out the clicks and treats. (Actually that is what you have to do in order to be successful in positive reinforcement training.)

Although it’s true you do have to reinforce once in a while after the behaviour is trained, but that goes for R- too. Traditional well trained horses still get whipped or kicked in their flanks once in while. Think of the many well trained horses that are ridden with spurs.

There always need to be a certain level of Reinforcement in order not to let the behaviour extinct. light-bulb-1926533_640

 

Carrying treats or a clicker is no different from carrying other reinforcing tools. They are different tools with the same goal: not to let the behaviour get extinct.

So don’t let a small box clicker or a pocket full of treats withhold you from a wonderful relationship with your horse and excellent results in 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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Connection

One of the perks of Clicker Training Your Horse is…

You Are Allowed to Hand-Feed your darling! No, not allowed, you are ENCOURAGED!

_everybodylikestofeedhorses_hippologic

Isn’t that great news? Isn’t that one of the best things of having animals: to feed them? Don’t we all like that? What is better then to hand-feed them and train them at the same time!

key lesson Table Manners_hippologic_safe handfeedingFinally you found a coach that encourages you to do what is one of the most reinforcing things to do: offering food and letting the horse take it off of your hand!

Don’t let anyone take this away from you. If you are concerned about what would happened if you started using food reinforcers in your training, don’t listen to the general opinion: educate yourself.

Set yourself up for success and learn how you can do it right. Make it fun for you and fun for your horse. Win-win. You get the desired behaviour, your horse gets a wonderful treat (and you get to hand-feed him!)

Read these 2 articles if you want to know how to start safe and use food effectively as reinforcer in training. (You know you can always consult me personally, right? Contact me for a free discovery call.)

Clicker Training 101: Your first clicker session (including a step-by-step training plan)
&
Tips to Train your Horse to behave Safe around Treats

handfeeding-horses_hippologic_tablemannersforhorses

Myths about hand-feeding horses

People who use food reinforcers are frequently confronted with a lot of misunderstanding about how “treats” or “rewards” can be effectively used as reinforcers. I asked my Facebook friends to help me out with some common believes that live in the equine world about treats in training. Thank you all for helping me. I will quote the answers:

  1. Hand-feeding creates mugging horses
  2. Hand feeding makes them bite.
  3. That it instantly makes them fat.
  4. Hand feeding horses is bad because it turns them into monsters, they get rude, pushy and bite everyone.
  5. That’s bribing and horses do X only for treats but not out of respect towards the person treating them!
  6. They get Treat Crazy, and will not be able to think or focus on what they are doing.
  7. It will make your horse aggressive pushy and mouthy.
  8. Hand-feeding makes them spoiled and they will refuse to eat out of a bucket and you will have to exchange it for a gilded bowl.
  9. It makes them nippy, aggressive, pushy, space invading.
  10. You can only hand-feed your horse twice.
  11. They’ll kill you if you forget your treat bag once upon a time in the future.
  12. It’s unnatural (as opposed to using carrot sticks and spurs and what not), since horses don’t feed one another in reward for tasks.
  13. It’s super dangerous, for when done incorrectly it turns them into raging killing machines that can never be re-educated.
  14.  Only hand-feed grain and hay but not treats because it will send the wrong message to the horse.

I will debunk these in upcoming blogs. I will give you one now.

Myth #5 “Horses won’t respect you”

The believe “That’s bribing and horses do X only for treats but not out of respect towards the person treating them!” is a common one. Here is what I believe if someone says:

‘With Clicker Training the Horse only does it for the Treats (not for you)’

Help me and share the believes you are fighting

What comments about hand-feeding or using treats as reinforcers annoy you? Do you need an answer, please leave a comment and I will help you with a science based one.

Safe the date: Thursday March 7, 2019

Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Succes 

_key to success_hippologic1

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Clicker Training Mastery (advanced course) starts March 6, 2019

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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!
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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‘When can I stop using food?’ in Clicker Training

This is a question equine clicker trainers get asked often and is a really fascinating question for me as positive reinforcement horse trainer.

I get that it’s a concern for people who are interested in clicker training and those who are exploring the pros and cons. It seems like a hassle, right?

Why is this such an intriguing question?

If you know the principles of training you’ll understand. Let me explain. Basically there are only two ways you can motivate a horse in training.

  1. Strengthen (reinforce) a behaviour by taking away an aversive. An aversive is something the horse wants to avoid or get away from.
  2. Strengthen (reinforce) a behaviour by giving an appetitive. An appetitive is something the horse wants to receive, something he likes.

So if someone ask me ‘When can I stop using food in training?’ it sounds like the person wants to know ‘When can I stop reinforcing behaviour?’ or ‘When can I stop offering appetitives in training?’

I have never heard someone ask a riding instructor ‘When can I stop using my whip?’ or an employer that wants to know when he can stop paying his newly hired employees.

reinforcement_hippologic

It is a legit question

However, I do understand where this question is coming from. It comes from a fear of never, ever doing something with your horse without having a treat in your pocket. I get that, but a reinforcer isn’t a bribe that you have to use every time and also have to keep increasing.

Here is what happens if you start using positive reinforcement:

  • Your horse will learn that he can influence the training by his own actions (the right behaviour leads to a click, which leads to an appetitive)
  • Your horse will gain the confidence to try out new behaviours because that increases his chances of getting what he likes (food). He is having fun discovering what leads to a treat and what doesn’t.
  • He will like the engagement with his person, because there is a ‘puzzle’ involved and there is no punishment for ‘wrong answers’. All answers are ‘Good’ or, worst case scenario, ‘Not Reinforced’.
  • In the beginning it will be about the food, yes, but if the trainer uses a marker (the click) to mark the desired behaviour in a consistent way, the horse will shift his attention from the reinforcer, the food, to the click (the marker) and therefor will be focused more on this behaviour instead of the food.
  • As soon as the marker signal (the click) becomes a reliable predictor of the appetitive, the click becomes as valuable as the food. Now the click has become secondary reinforcer. Something the horse has learned to value. First it meant nothing, now it means ‘an appetitive is coming’.

Reinforcement never stops

In positive reinforcement as well as in negative reinforcement training (traditional training and natural horsemanship methods) reinforcement never stops.

If the reinforcement stops the behaviour will go extinct (die out), unless it is ‘self _carrot_or_stick_hippologicrewarding behaviour’, behaviour that reinforces itself without external interference. 

All behaviour must be reinforced 
in order to stay in the horses 
'repertoire'.

Riders will never stop using leg aids (pressure-release) and if the horse fades out his response, he will get a reminder (the rider will use reinforcement) to ‘hurry up and respond quicker’ by the use of a stronger leg aid, the tap of the whip or the use of spurs.

Does a (well trained) horse need to be in pain every time you ride him? No, he will learn to anticipate on a light cue, that now is a reliable predictor of an aversive. It’s this principle that ‘keeps the horse in line’. The horse had learned how to avoid it.

What about positive reinforcement training? Do I have to keep using food forever?

Yes and No.

Please explain!

_cutting_carrot_hippologicYes, you will have to reinforce a learned (trained) behaviour once in a while after it is established. This will prevent extinction. This means you will have to remind your horse that there is ‘still a chance of getting something good’ (food) once in a while for good performance.

No, it doesn’t have to be food!

Once you get more experience as trainer you can use other reinforcers too that aren’t food. You can even reward behaviour with behaviour.

Yes, you will carry food almost every training, but it is not what you think. Once you have discovered how much fun it is (for you and your horse) to clicker train him and how easy you get new behaviours you can’t stop teaching him more and more.

Food is a powerful primary reinforcer and comes in handy when teaching new behaviours. That is why clicker trainers almost always carry food: they are busy training new behaviours!

No, you don’t have to reinforce well known behaviour every time with food.

HippoLogic mei '09

It can take a long time before positively reinforced behaviour goes extinct. Your horse will learn that you equal fun and he is willing to do so much more for you even when you don’t carry  food. Once your marker becomes valuable, you can replace food with other reinforcers, like scratches or other behaviours.

What about you?

What is your answer to the question ‘When can I stop using food in training?’ Please share it in the comments.

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

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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 what else I have to offer.
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