6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training (3/6)

In this series I will be sharing 6 interesting facts I didn’t know about when I started using positive reinforcement in training animals. This is part 3.

Some of these are common misunderstandings people have about clicker training while others are facts most equestrians don’t know at all.

The goal of this blog is to help more people understand how well positive reinforcement (R+) works in training our horses. I want every one to know that clicker training offers more great benefits besides training your goal behaviour. Positive side-effects you won’t get in negative reinforcement (R-) based training methods (traditional and natural horsemanship). I wish I had known these benefits earlier in life.

#3 Clicker training can improve the bond between horse and trainer

clickertraining.ca gets you the results and relationship you want

Clicker training improves the bond with your horse

Since the horse is at liberty and not restrained while being trained he has much freedom. The horse has the freedom to walk away when he is bored or when he looses interest or concentration. The horse is also allowed to express his emotions, without repercussion. In positive reinforcement training the trainer wants to know how the horse feels. This all contributes to a good relationship with your horse. You get to know each other really well.

Positive reinforcement to desensitize your horse

Example: when you want to lead a horse past a scary object at liberty with a target it will be clear where the horse starts to get nervous. He will stand still in order to investigate or he will get tense. Since there is no room for coercion in positive reinforcement training you have to think of ways to make the horse at ease and give him confidence that the scary object is not so scary. You can ‘meet him where he is at’.

What most of us learned to do

If we have a horse on a lead lope and we encounter something that the horse finds scary what do we do? In most cases the first thing we do is to encourage the horse to walk on with a gentle pull on the rope. What is the most common reaction if the horse balks? Pull a bit harder! So on top of ‘that scary thing’, the person doesn’t calm the horse down by pulling the horse. It can even cause more stress and pulling hard on a lead rope can also hurt the horse. Not something you want to add to an already stressful situation, right?_flag_training_hippologic

Building trust

Usually if you let your horse investigate scary objects as long as he likes, his fear will decrease pretty quickly. This is not easy; giving your horse even only 15 seconds to investigate can feel like a lifetime.

If you connect a positive, wonderful association (click and treat) to something scary, your horse will learns it is OK to stand still and look at scary objects. He learns quickly that it can be rewarding  to investigate new and potentially dangerous objects.

The next step will be teaching your horse that a click and treat will follow if he passes new objects. First it’s OK looking at the the objects while passing by, later on you can click and reinforce if he ignores new objects altogether.

Since new objects are already connected with positive associations (curiosity is a good feeling, positive reinforcement) you have built trust. The horse has learned that he can trust you (you stay calm and patient and you give click & treats) and that it is OK to express his feelings and emotions. He doesn’t have to worry about your reaction in scary situations!

Read more about how can improve your bond with your horse in training: 5 Tips to Improve the Bond with Your Horse

Read the other articles in this series:

part 1 of 6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6

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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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Clicker Training 101: Your first clicker session (including a step-by-step training plan)

When you are new to the idea of clicker training your horse you might ask yourself: How do I start? What do I need? Where do I buy these things? How do I teach my horse to respond to the clicker? These and more questions are answered in this blog to help you get started. Continue reading

4 Benefits of Teaching Your Horse to Target

The Key Lessons are my Key to Success in Equine Positive Reinforcement Training. One of my keys to success is Key Lesson Targeting. In this blog I will share the purpose and benefits of this basic exercise. Watch the videos in this blog.

What does Key Lesson Targeting look like

The horse learns to touch an object (target) with a certain body part.

I always start with nose targeting and I like to use my DIY target stick (a floater on a stick) as object. When the horse touches the target, he hears a click (which marks the desired behaviour) which is followed by a reinforcer.
targeting

Purpose of Key Lesson Targeting

  • Safety. By using a target on a stick you can create distance between you and your horse. You can use targeting while working with protective contact (a barrier between you and your horse), so you don’t even need to be in the same space in order to train him.
  • Clarity. A target creates clarity for the horse. Many behaviours are way quicker to train with a target than without one. The target gives the horse a clear clue: that is the object to interact with. Using targeting to train complex behaviours is easier than purely relying on your free shaping training skills. Example: After lots of repetition the target stick becomes really attractive. Your horse now really wants to touch it!  That makes it very useful when you add the criterion ‘distance’ into training. It can almost become like a magic wand which you only have to wave and your horse will come. Then you simply add a cue (his name) and voila! Your horse learned what to do when being called. The target stick provided the clarity.
  • Great foundation to teach to target other body parts and/or train other behaviours  (possibilities are endless).

Benefits of teaching your horse Key Lesson Targeting

  1. Your horse learns to pay attention to the target, not your hands or the treats, which is the case with luring.
  2. Your horse learns that he has to do something (offer a behaviour) in order to receive a click and reinforcer. Targeting is a very simple behaviour (you can make it really easy by holding the target close) which makes it an excellent exercise to start clicker training your horse.
  3. It is a great way to teach your horse that he can influence the clicks and reinforcers by his own behaviour, in other words to explain your horse the ‘rules of clicker gaming’.
  4. Key Lesson Targeting is Your Key to Success in teaching your horse many other useful behaviours too, like following a target to create behaviours like head lowering, walk, trot, canter or to teach your horse to be send away from you (to a distant target). Teach your horse to touch a stationary target to get in and out of his stall while feeding or you can use targeting to trailer load, respond to his name, mat training and so on. Your imagination is the limit.
  5. You teach your horse to move towards something (target) instead of moving away from something (pressure). Your horse has to make a conscious decision in order to do this. You teach him to think.

Advanced Targeting ideas

Nose target: teach your horse to respond to his name, get him out of the pasture, walk, trot, canter, halt, small jumps, big jumps, touching scary things, ‘dismount me please’-signal, colour distinction, shape distinction, ring a bell, pick up an item and retrieve.

Ear target: helps in cleaning ears, trimming hairs, self-haltering

Mouth target: oral medication, de-worming, checking teeth/mouth

Eye target: cleaning eyes, adding ointment or eye drops

Hip target: aligning to a mounting block, travers, appuyement

Shoulder target: shoulder in, sideways, aligning to mounting block

Neck target: injection training

Tail target: backing, sitting

Stationary target (a ball that you hang on a wall or a mat on the ground): teach your horse not to crowd you when you bring food, send your horse away from you, send your horse over a jump

Hoof target: mat training, preparing for the farrier: lifting legs, using a hoof jack, stepping on a pedestal, tarp, trailer ramp, into water

Knee target: Spanish walk, Spanish trot

Just to give you a few ideas.

Read more about targeting:

Key Lesson Targeting

Benefits of the HippoLogic Key Lessons

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to help equestrians create the relationship with their horse they’ve always dreamt of. I do this by connecting them 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 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 courses that will change your life.

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Smart strategy to train a halter shy horse

Let me start by telling you that there are many ‘wrong’ ways and many right ways to rehabilitate a horse that has a halter or bridle trauma. Here is my story in which I share the wrong and the right strategy.

Problem_Haltering_haltershy_horse_hippologic

This is Punky. His problem was that no one, except the owner, could halter him.

You can see how that can be a daily stress for both horse and humans in a boarding facility, right?

Solution

The wrong way is to go straight to problem solving. That is what we humans like to do, it is natural to us and it has been reinforced all our lives that this is the way to do it.

That is exactly what I did…

dealing with problem beahviour_hippologic1

I started the ‘wrong’ way, which was pretty much what most horse trainers would do.

When I was training Punky, I thought I could skip my own Key Lessons and ‘just teach the horse to be OK with a halter’.

I thought just teaching Punky to target the halter would be the one and only step to desensitize him. I envisioned that the next step could be the haltering. Easy-peasy.

It was a bit more complex than that and I learned how valuable the HippoLogic Key Lessons really are. For all trainers.

We can’t skip steps because it is the horse who determines how many steps are needed, not the trainer.

solving problem behaviour_hippologic

How Key Lessons helped me train a halster shy horse

When I started out teaching Punky to target his halter, he became really excited about all the treats he was (in his mind!) ‘suddenly’ receiving.

Key Lesson ‘Table Manners for Horses’ (safe hand-feeding)

I needed to teach him Key Lesson ‘Table Manners for Horses’ in order to keep my fingers safe and to teach him that a food reward only can be expected after the click.

Key Lesson ‘Patience’

He started to mug me more and more. Again, I had to lower my criteria about his learning curve. I realized that I should have taught him Key Lesson ‘Patience’ (move his head out of my space in order not to mug me) before I taught him anything else.

Then, when I thought I was ready to work on ‘desensitization of the halter’ I noticed that he wouldn’t even wanted to come near a halter. Every time I wanted to halter him he put his head up to prevent me from haltering him.

Key Lesson ‘Targeting’

I decided to teach him Key Lesson ‘Targeting’ (nose and ears) so I could bring the halter near his body and ask him to touch the halter with his nose.

This wasn’t enough to halter him. Now he was OK with touching the halter with his nose and even putting his nose into the nose band, but he was still putting his head up and backing up when I wanted to pull the halter over his ears.

Key Lesson ‘Head lowering’

Therefor I needed to teach Punky Key Lesson ‘Head lowering’. Asking him to lower his head on cue turned out to be super helpful in giving Punky clarity about all I wanted from him:

  • Keep your head near me
  • Put your nose in the halter
  • Lower your head
  • Target the crown piece with your ears
  • Keep your head low so I can bring the crown piece over your ears and…
  • Keep your head down until I close the snap.

Lumping a common pitfall in training

In other words: I was lumping instead of splitting the goal behaviour. A pitfall all trainers need to beware of.

_hurry slowly_festina lente_hippologic.jpg

This was a valuable experience for me. Now I start all horses I train, teaching them my Key Lessons. No matter what I think they already can do or what I ‘think I can skip’. Building a solid foundation first, speeds up training instead of slowing it down!

Here is a video of haltering Punky, training day 4:

Here is a video of day 11, after I taught all the necessary Key Lessons:

Read more

How you can turn basic exercises as ‘Table Manners’ for Horses and ‘Patience’ into tools is discussed in part I.  Read here part II where you can learn how to use Key Lessons Targeting and Mat training to train complex behaviours. Read part III to learn how you can use Key Lessons Head lowering and Backing for advanced training purposes.

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

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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 gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online 8 week course ‘Ultimate Horse Training Formula: Key Lessons, Your Key to Success’ that will change your life.

Benefits of Key Lessons in Clicker Training (2/3)

Not too long ago I wrote a blog about the ‘boring basics‘ which appeared not to be boring at all!

I realized that some equestrians maybe still consider basic exercises as ‘exercises’ or ‘basic’ while they can be so much more. I consider HippoLogic’s Key Lessons (Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement training) not basic exercises, I consider them tools. Important and powerful training tools.

In this series I will explain how you can turn exercises into valuable training tools.

Key Lessons for Horses

The 6 fundamental exercises in clicker training that can become your most valuable tool are:

  1. ‘Table Manners’ for horses
  2. ‘Patience’
  3. Targeting
  4. Mat Training
  5. Head Lowering
  6. Backing

How you can turn basic exercises as ‘Table Manners’ for Horses and ‘Patience’ into tools is discussed in part I. Read part I here.

From exercise to training tool to success strategy

At first the Key Lessons are goals in training, but once you master these exercises you can start using them as tools. They will help you get other, more complex behaviours. Once you are using them as tools you will notice that they become your success strategy. That is what I teach in my online course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training. 

Targeting 

The Key Lesson Targeting is a goal when you have to teach your horse how to target. You teach him to touch an object with his nose.

_trailer_training_hippologicOnce your horse can do this and you’ve put the behaviour on cue you can start using the target to create other behaviour. For instance you keep the target out of reach and ask your horse to ‘touch target’. Instead of marking (=clicking) the behaviour ‘touch’, you click for the behaviour ‘walking’ (towards the target). In this way you use the target as a tool te get other behaviour.

With a target you can get as many behaviours as your creativity lets you.
Start teaching your horse to use a stationary target. With a stationary target you can create a ‘safety blanket’ feeling for your horse. It is also a great place to send your horse to when you enter the stall, paddock or pasture with food.

I have seen trainers using a target on a very long stick to create rearing, you can use it to teach your horse to ‘follow a moving target’ so you can teach him to follow you.

If your horse often leaves you when you are working at liberty you can present the target as a reminder ‘good things happen’ when you pay attention to your trainer. Targeting also can be used to create Key Lessons ‘Head lowering’ and ‘Backing‘.

Mat training

Targeting is very, very versatile. Once your horse knows how to target with his nose you can ask him to target other body parts, like his feet.

_mat_training_hippologic

You start training your horse to step onto a mat or piece of plywood. Once your horse is confident to do this and he knows the cue for it you can transfer the behaviour ‘step on the mat’ to other objects. Like a pedestal, a tarp or a trailer ramp. Of a wooden bridge that you encounter on a trail or the cover of a manhole or a horse scale, like in the picture below.

_428kg

Once your horse knows how to target with his nose and his feet it is not that hard to ask him to target other body parts. Once you realize that now you know this Key Lesson it is easy to see how you can use targeting as a training tool, right?

Ear target, to help clean them, overcome head shyness and is a great aid in teaching your horse to ‘self halter/bridle’.

Mouth and lip target to teach to accept oral medication like worming paste, accept a bit, check his teeth or teach your horse to pick up items and give them to you.

Knee target to teach the Spanish walk, Spanish trot, put his hoof on a hoof jack or to teach your horse ‘jambette’.

Hip target to align your horse at the mounting block, travers, move over and so on.

Eye target to clean eyes, put ointment in, calm him down.

Sternum target to teach classical bow

Chin target to teach positions of the head

Tail target to teach backing

Hoof target to lift hoofs, use a hoof jack, put hoof in boots.

Your creativity is really the limit. If you can think it you can train it. This is why I call HippoLogic’s Key Lessons, your Key to Success.

Read part 3 here.

Check out the webinar I have done about this subject:

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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 that will change your life.

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Tons of Winter Training Ideas

Here in Canada it is Winter again. Normally the climate is mild here in Vancouver, BC but this winter we’ve already had snow that’s lasted for almost two weeks.

_Kyra_sneeuw_hippologic.jpgWe all know that frozen pastures limit our horses ability to exercise themselves and horses generally are more spooky and more forward in cold weather conditions. Riders with an outdoor arena can’t ride due to the frozen ground. How can you get the most out of this time of year? Here are some tips.

Work on Simple behaviours

Choose to work on some smaller, but still important behaviours that will make your life easier and improve the relationship with your horse. Does every ride start with a bit of irritation because your horse lifts his head every time you want to halter/bridle him? Does he always walk a few steps while mounting?

How does that influence your relationship? Imagine how you would feel to have a horse that would put his head into his own halter or bridle, align perfectly next to your mounting block and stand still until you give the cue to walk on?

Simple behaviours you can work on in Winter that would improve your life at the barn can be:

Have some fun with your horse

If the weather isn’t allowing you to ride you can spend time with your horse , groom him and do a wonderful photo shoot. Maybe you can have eternalize some of your equestrian goals you worked on this year.

_Smile_tricktraining_horse_hippologic.jpgYou can take your horse on a walk to hand graze your horse. This would be a perfect time to start teaching him how to quit grazing on a cue, since winter grass is less enticing than the juicy green Spring grass that will be back in a few months.

Start trick training and have a good time! Here is a good book that will get you started on a few easy tricks.

What does your favourite Winter training looks like?

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website

 

 

 

5 Benefits of Trick Training in daily life

Today I had a really hard time to sit down and write a blog because my horse Kyra is on my mind. Last week she was diagnosed with EMS (Equine Metabolic Syndrome): obesity, laminates (foundering) and insuline resistance are three very important components of this syndrome as well as Cushing’s. _Kyra_hippologic

Change of life style

Kyra needs a different life style for now: no grass, a restricted intake of calories, as little sugar as possible (only soaked or low sugar hay and no apples, carrots or other sugary treats) and more exercise (which is hard since she is very sore on her front hooves).

How trick training helped

Sometimes previous training benefits you in situations you never could have expected. So can trick training. Many tricks may seem useless when you train them, however they can benefit you in surprising ways. Here are some examples.

When the vet came I wanted him to take X-rays of Kyra’s front feet to see if there was any rotation of the pedal bone. She needed to stand on wooden blocks with her front feet to take the pictures.

1) Clicker Challenge and 2) Mat Training

Kyra knows how to stand on different kinds of pedestalsmats, tarps and last year we participated in an online  ‘Clicker Challenge’. She had to stand for 5 seconds on two small wooden blocks. Exactly the same blocks the vet brought. How amazing is that!? In hindsight this was the perfect preparation for taking the X-rays.

I joked to the vet and asked if I could get a discount since Kyra behaved really well and safe. First he said ‘no’ but then he told me I actually just saved $ 50 on the bill because Kyra didn’t need sedation to make her stand on the blocks.

3) Trick training: financial benefits

When I wrote a cheque he did give me an additional discount (Thank you!). So our trick training paid off! Not to mention the stress we avoided because we didn’t have to make her do something she was afraid of. I didn’t need to stress about it, too. So, this was a triple bonus.

4) Muzzle and 5) boots

The vet also recommended a grazing muzzle so she can be in the pasture with her herd. I really have a hard time putting horses in a solitary paddock. The stress she has in there worries me. Stress has a negative impact on the immune system and wouldn’t benefit the healing of her laminates (which is an inflammation of the lammellae in the hoof).

Targeting helped me get the muzzle on in no time. Kyra didn’t seemed to mind the muzzle to try it. She doesn’t realize yet that she is rewarded by getting it on, but will miss out on the grass later in the pasture. I feel like I tricked her, but it is the best I can do if I want to get her healthy as soon as possible.

A few weeks ago I had started training Kyra to accept a soaking boot. This related well to the need to have Kyra use soft ride boots now to protect her feet and I didn’t need to start training this behaviour from scratch. It saved us a lot of time and stress when it was needed most. Having trained Kyra in all the basics and having experimented with different tricks has prepared her for a lot of different situations.

Practising for the Clicker Challenge in January 2015:

Here the video in which the behaviour of the Clicker Challenge is established and how Kyra did with the vet.

Ignoring grass

Now I hand walk Kyra daily to give her the exercise she needs. I have a really good barn friend who loaned me some horse boots that really give Kyra some relief. Thanks to the many hours of training her to ignore grass, I don’t have problems walking the street with the very juicy banks of grass.

How did trick training help you in a situation you had never thought it could be useful? Please share your story and help inspire others to enjoy trick training (more about trick training).

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below. Or just hit the like button if 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 what else I have to offer.

Clicker Training 101: How to start, part II

In a previous post a while ago I talked about How to start clicker training: introducing the clicker. Once your horse knows the click means a reward is on it’s way, you can start clicking for specific behaviours.

Targeting

_zw_touchtargetThe next lesson can be targeting. In targeting you ask the horse to touch an object with a body part. Usually we start with the nose. Later on you can also teach your horse to target with other body parts: the mouth for easy deworming, the hip for lateral work, the knee for Spanish walk and teach your horse to follow a moving target.

Choose a target that you won’t use in your daily routine, so your horse does not have a history with the object. You can make your own target stick with a floater attached to a bamboo stick, use a lid of some sort or a fly swatter.

Shaping plan

Make a step-by-step plan in your head (or better write it down) to the end behaviour. First start easy by clicking and rewarding for looking at the target, then moving towards the target and finally touching the target with the nose. It depends on the horse how many steps this process requires: some horses are not used to strange objects, others are curious and want to investigate it.

Functional key lesson

I call targeting a ‘key lesson’ in training because it is extremely functional. Once your horse can target you can use it for many purposes like getting your horse out of a Summer pasture.

[Note to email subscribers: the embedded video below doesn’t show up in emails, please visit my blog to watch the video. Thanks.]

The target means a click can be earned. The click in itself is a reinforcer, but also the (maybe even high value) treat…. Kyra thinks that she should better come over and check it out. Nothing bad has ever happened targeting.

Please let me know how you use targeting in your training. I would love to share some ideas.

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.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

‘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!
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Happy Horse training!

Sandra

Technieken om gedrag te verkrijgen: shaping, targeting en capturing

[Click here for the English version of this article]

Deel I van deze serie ging over de voor- en nadelen van luring en moulding.  In dit tweede deel licht ik de begrippen shaping, targeting en capturing toe.

Shaping
Shaping betekent ‘vormen’. Shaping houdt in dat het eindgedrag wordt bereikt door het op te delen in zoveel mogelijk kleine stapjes. Elk stapje naar het gewenste gedrag wordt afzonderlijk getraind (geclickt en beloond). Het criterium wordt pas verhoogd als de vorige stap goed bevestigd is.

Door het doelgedrag in vele trainbare stappen te verdelen, kan elk gewenst gedrag vanuit het ‘niets’ aangeleerd worden. Dit heet free shaping.

Shaping kan ook worden gebruikt om al bestaand gedrag verder te trainen. Zo kan men langzaam elementen als duur, afleidingen of afstand erbij in trainen.

Voordelen van shaping
Het is een veilige en zekere manier om elk gewenst gedrag te trainen.

Het is een goede manier om je paard op te zetten voor succes. Elke stap van het shaping proces is gemakkelijk te begrijpen voor het paard en makkelijk uit te voeren. Het brugsignaal (de click) begeleid het paard door het gehele proces, zodat hij voldoende informatie krijgt over wat er van hem verwacht wordt.

Shaping kan gebruikt worden om complexe gedragingen aan te leren.

Het paard werkt in vrijheid. Dit maakt het gemakkelijker om mentale veranderingen in het paard op te merken (emoties) of fysieke veranderingen zoals vermoeidheid of fysieke beperkingen op te merken.

Nadelen van shaping
Het kan erg lastig zijn voor de trainer om het doelgedrag in voldoende kleine stappen te verdelen. ‘Splitting’ heet dat in het Engels. Als de trainer de stappen te groot maakt (‘lumping’) of zijn criteria te snel verhoogd, kunnen paard en/of trainer gemakkelijk gefrustreerd raken.

Afhankelijk van de complexiteit van het gedrag wat men wil trainen, kan shaping enige tijd in beslag nemen. Elke kleine stap moet immers afzonderlijk getraind worden.

De beloningen moeten voldoende waarde hebben voor het paard en de taken moeten voldoende uitdaging bieden om het paard geïnteresseerd te houden. Dat kan een uitdaging op zich zijn.

De trainer moet een goed observatievermogen en goede timing hebben om elke kleine voortgang naar het eindgedrag op te merken, direct te clicken en te belonen.

Targeting
Targeting is het aanraken van een bepaald object (bv de bal aan een stok, de targetstick) met een specifiek lichaamsdeel. Het paard moet bijvoorbeeld met zijn neus de targetstick aanraken.

De targetstick is niet hetzelfde als luring of lokaas gebruiken omdat de targetstick geen primaire reinforcer (voer) is. Targeting wordt aangeleerd met behulp van shaping.

 

hippologic key lesson targeting

Voordelen van targeting
Targeting is een oneindig veelzijdig omdat bijna elk gewenst gedrag met targeting aangeleerd kan worden.

Het is een veilige trainingsmethode. Er hoeft geen fysiek contact te zijn tussen het paard en de trainer. Je kan zelfs trainen met een hek tussen jou en je paard als dat wenselijk is of noodzakelijk.

De target heeft niet zo’n grote aantrekkingskracht als lokaas en leidt het paard daardoor minder af van het te leren gedrag.

Een targetstick kan je bereik vergroten (je arm verlengen). Je kunt met een lange targetstick je paard van je af leiden, dus weg van je zakken vol met lekkers en uit je persoonlijke cirkel. Zie foto hierboven.

Het paard kan vrij lopen tijdens de training waardoor het gemakkelijker is om emoties in het paard op te merken zoals angst, nieuwsgierigheid, frustratie enzovoort. Ook is het gemakkelijker om te zien of het paard fysiek in staat is de opdracht uit te voeren.

Nadelen van targeting
Je moet de target afbouwen. Dat kan een uitdaging zijn. De gemakkelijkste manier is om het gewenste gedrag eerst goed op cue te zetten.

De targetstick is een extra stuk gereedschap in je handen.

Targeting wordt aangeleerd door middel van shaping, zie nadelen van shaping.

Capturing
Capturing betekent letterlijk het ‘vangen’ van het doelgedrag met de clicker (markeren) en het versterken (belonen). Voorbeeld: de klassieke buiging lijkt erg op het natuurlijke gedrag van een paard dat zich uitrekt na een dutje. Click en beloon terwijl je paard zich uitrekt.

Voordelen van capturing
Het grootste voordeel is dat het een snelle manier is van iets nieuws aanleren, aangezien je paard het eindgedrag al vertoont.

Het is een veilige manier van trainen, het kan van een afstand.

Onervaren trainers kunnen het gebruiken. Je timing hoeft niet heel nauwkeurig te zijn om het (hele) gedrag te markeren.

Nadelen van capturing
De gehele training staat of valt met de bereidheid van het paard het gewenste gedrag te vertonen als de trainer aanwezig is. De trainer moet altijd zijn brugsignaal en beloning bij de hand hebben.

Het kan lastig zijn om het paard achter een nieuwe cue voor het gewenste gedrag aan te leren. Tijdens het aanleerproces kan je paard iets al als een cue hebben opgevat. Aangezien de trainer niet weet wat het paard als cue opgevat heeft, kan de trainer dit niet in zijn voordeel gebruiken om van de ‘werk cue’ over te switchen naar de ‘definitive (opzettelijke) cue’. Zie ook Introducing and using cues.

Mijn favoriete training methodes
Bovenstaande drie methodes zijn mijn meest gebruikte technieken in paardentraining. Targeting en shaping gebruik ik dagelijks. Ik ben altijd alert om gewenste gedraging te ‘vangen’ (capturing).

Ik heb capturing gebruikt om Sholto de klassieke buiging aan te leren (zie onderstaande foto) en het flehmen op commando. Bij Kyra heb ik het liggen en het naar mij hinniken met capturing aangeleerd.

_classical bow_buiging_hippologic

Kyra’s flemen en haar klassieke buiging heb ik haar stap-voor-stap met een combinatie van shaping en targeting aangeleerd (zie onderstaande foto).

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Welke methode gebruik jij het meeste om nieuw gedrag aan te leren?

Sandra Poppema
Bezoek mijn website voor persoonlijk advies of hulp bij clickertraining

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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?

Safe the date: Thursday March 7, 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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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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  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
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Key lesson: Mat training

In this series about the key lessons (the key to successful clicker training) I’ve already talked about five important exercises. There are two more important basic lessons for the horse: ‘patience’ and ‘mat training’.

Standing on a mat
The purpose of mat training is to teach your horse to stand on a mat with his two front hooves. It is basically targeting with hooves. If your horse learns to stand on a rubber mat, he learns to trust you and standing on new surfaces. Horses have a lot of ‘feel’ in their hooves and therefor it can be scary in the beginning to stand on a item that is soft and squishy, like a puzzle mat.

_key_lesson_standing_on_a_mat_hippologic

Other behaviours
Once your horse has learned to stand on a mat on cue, you can build ‘duration’. Just like in targeting. If you train for duration in easy exercises it will be easier in the future to train duration, like in exercises under saddle. Your horse can learn to generalize. You can introduce a keep-going signal to make it more clear what you want to train.

Train opposite behaviour
Always reinforce the opposite behaviour of what you are training as well. You want don’t want teach him to stand on the mat only, but you also want him to step down on command. If you don’t do this, you will create a horse that always runs to whatever mat or similar surface he spots. And expects a treat!

After introducing a mat, you can ask your horse to mount other surfaces like a piece of plywood. Or ask your horse to walk over it. The sound of his hoof beat might scare him at first, but if you reinforce every little step (literally!) or even weight shifts he will soon gain the confidence to walk over it. This is a really good preparation for walking up ramps or entering trailers or walking over (wooden) bridges. It makes it easier to teach your horse to mount a pedestal.

Mat training also helps to make clear where you want your horse to be. If you want this to teach him to stand next to a mounting block, the mat can help indicate where you want your horse to stand.

Slow horses
If you have a horse with more whoa than go, it can help to teach him to walk from mat to mat in the arena. First at walk, then trot and finally in canter. It can make energy-saving horses really enthusiastic: it is clear that they have to go from mat to mat. So they know when to go and where they can stop. It can give them a feeling of control and makes it predictable for them. It can also help the trainer to be happy and content with little progress because the mats make the criteria and progress ‘visible’.

_Keylessonmatwork2

Fast horses
If you have a horse that has more go than whoa you can also teach him to go from mat to mat. Place the mats close together at first until your horse knows what is expected. You can teach him to slow down, walking over a mat, but keep going. Or you can ask him to stop. Experiment!

Jumping at liberty
Mats can help send a horse over a jump by himself, without chasing him with a whip over a jump. Simply place two mats on either side of a pole and ask your horse to go to the other mat. Place the mats a bit further apart each time,then you can raise the criteria by making a low jump and built from there.

Links to other key lessons

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

Read more

Read the blog about advanced mat training and 5 Benefits of Key Lesson Mat 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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Key lesson: targeting

In my previous post I talked about the key lessons safe behaviour around food ,  equine emotions during training, head lowering & backing.

Another key lesson I want to encourage all clicker trainers to teach their horse is ‘targeting’.

Targeting
In targeting you ask your horse to touch a target with a body part. You start this game simple and the goal is for your horse to touch a target on a

_targetstick_

Target stick

stick with his nose.

Once your horse knows the target is meant to be touched with his nose (not lips or teeth), you can start experimenting. Hold the target a bit lower, higher, more to the left or to the right. If the horse is touching the target a solid amount of time you can put a verbal cue to this new behaviour, like ‘touch’.

Versatile
Targeting is a very versatile exercise and therefor a really good tool to have in your training ‘tool box’. Once your horse can target his nose to the target stick, you can shift the context: practice in other surroundings, use different objects, teach your horse to target with different body parts, et cetera.

Basics
Targeting is an excellent way of starting positive reinforcement training with any horse. If you use a target on a stick you can create a distance between you and the horse. Therefor it can also be used to train (potentially) dangerous horses. With a target on a stick you can train your horse to move away from you, you don’t have to bend through your knees or stretch to ask your horse to touch low and high targets.

I  suggest working with ‘protective contact’, a barrier, when you start, especially with potentially dangerous horses.  Then the horse can’t enter your personal space while you are still getting used to the mechanical moves of presenting the target, bridge, take the target out of the horses’ reach and present a treat.

Teaching other behaviours
Once your horse knows how to target and you’ve put it on cue, you can use it to train other behaviours. If you hold the target stick a bit closer to the horses’ chest you can elicit a weight shift which can be shaped into backing up. Also the opposite can be achieved and targeting can be used to teach a horse to follow you or being lead. You can teach a horse to lower his head.

verjaardag2011 022

Kyra targeting helium balloons during de-spooking training

If your horse can target different object with different body parts the uses are endless: medical (targeting the mouth for oral medication, eyes to your hand in order to treat infections, ears etc), dressage exercises, de-spooking, hooves for trimming and so on.

Read here my post Targeting for advanced uses.

Links to other key lessons

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

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!
Get your FREE 5 Step Clicker Training Plan on HippoLogic’s website.

Take action. Start for free!

Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

Simply check the best time for you in my online calendar and click to reserve your free call today.

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Key to success: make plans

What is a training plan? Is it really necessary to write it down? Isn’t that time consuming? These are the things people ask when I talk about training plans and shaping plans.

How a training plan can help you (purpose)
You don’t have to make a training plan, but it will help you become a better clicker trainer faster. Why? Because it forces you to think about your training goal, your approach and all the steps you need to take to get to your goal.

If you are at the barn and you don’t know what to do, a plan can help you move in the right direction.

level4

Difference between a training plan and a shaping plan
Your training plan contains all the behaviours you want to teach your horse, in your shaping plan you write down the step-by-step approach of each behaviour.

Goal setting
First thing you have to think about and write down is your goal. What it is it and how would you recognize it when you achieve it? That is a hard question to begin with. That is one of the reasons people would like to skip this step. If you avoid it, it doesn’t exists, right? Wrong!

How can you achieve your goal if you don’t know what it is you’re looking for? How can you enjoy a satisfied feeling of accomplishing something if your goal is so vague you can’t even write it down? I know it is hard, but when you practise it this will become easier and easier over time.

It’s OK to start ‘big’ and write down a vague goal, the next steps will help you through the process of making it more clear.

Shaping plan
Once you have determined a goal it is easy to divide it into little training steps, the building blocks of your end behaviour. This is how you shape a behaviour.

Ask questions like: what does my horse need to do in order to achieve the goal? What skills must I train first? And think about the training tools that can help in this process.

Training steps in training plan by Hippologic

Criteria
Try to visualize and write down how many times your horse must do a certain behaviour before you raise the criterion. It doesn’t have to be accurate right away, but thinking about it helps when you are at the barn training your horse.

If you have set the criterion ‘Horse touches target when it’s near the ground’ you can raise it after he has done it three times. Then you hold the target in another place where the horse has to reach for it: maybe more to the left and then more to the right.

Rewards
It is also very important to write down which reward and how much of that reward you will be using. Some rewards will wear down their value over time in some horses.  Some horses are more motivated if they get a variation of rewards.

Experiment and write down what you’ve learned about your horse. It is fun and very educational to read it back one day.

_shapingplan_hippologic

Personalize your plan
Another very important part of your training plan is to put in specific information about the target animal and things for the trainer to remember. If you read your training plan before you start training it can help you remind you of  certain things like: I have to click first and take the reward out my pocket (instead of taking the treat before I click). Or remember that this horse has separation anxiety and training him works best if there are other horses in sight.

Results
Write down your results in order to start the next training at the point where you stopped or so you can take one step back to refresh the horses memory and raise the first criterion after one time instead of three times to improve and get to the next steps.

Starting a training journal can be very simple and it doesn’t have to take much time. Sometimes a few simple keywords or just circling the training step where you have stopped is enough to help you remember.

Have a creative clicker training!

 

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
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Choosing the right target stick

DIY target stick HippoLogic

My DIY target stick

What criteria does a target stick need to meet to be a ‘good’ one? That depends on personal preference.

In this post I will tell you what I think is important about a target stick. I’ve seen all kinds of objects and DIY target sticks for horses on the internet, some look safe others don’t, some look handy others don’t.

If you want to know how a target stick is used, read this post.

My favourite target stick
I made my own target stick. I have experimented with different materials over the years and this is the one that I like the most, see picture on the right.

Lightweight
I prefer a solid lightweight target stick. This is important because you can hold a lightweight stick longer in your hands before getting tired. You can also work more accurately if the stick is rigid. If your target stick is too flimsy it may bend at the wrong moment and you don’t want to bump your horses sensitive body by accident. A flimsy target is harder to hold still.

hippologic key lesson targeting

I made a special lightweight target stick for my son: a soft floater glued to a whip. For this goal: working with a clicker savvy horse and only asking the horse to touch it with the nose, just to make a picture it was OK. I would not recommend it in other situations: too flimsy and inaccurate.

Safe
The target at the end of the stick has to be safe. I choose to use a floater of hard plastic so horses can’t get a grip on it if they are exploring the target stick with their lips and or teeth. I use duct tape around the bamboo stick, to prevent splinters. Tennis balls on whips or sticks or soft floaters/pool noodles are not safe if you work with mouthy horses.

 Hip target stick hippologic

The stick must be long enough

Length of the stick
I want my target stick to have a convenient length: long enough to use it to target my horses hips if I stand near the head and long enough to work with the horse while working with a protective barrier between us. But also short enough not to become too heavy after a while. You need to be able to use the target stick easily in one hand without getting tired.

Obvious/clear
The target must be easy to discriminate from the stick. It will be easier for the horse to see it and understand that it is only touching the target at the end of the stick that will earn him treats.

An obvious target makes it also easier for the trainer to have clear criteria what to reward and what to ignore.. One of the goals of using a target stick is to create distance, so the horse has to learn to touch the end. That is why you put a target on a stick. If the horse can’t distinguish the target from the stick, you are missing the point of this tool.

My first DIY target stick HippoLogic

My first DIY target stick by HippoLogic

This is my first DIY target stick: a dog toy on a willow branch. It was too flimsy, too short to use for different exercises (head lowering or hip targeting), not glued to the stick so it fell off often. The dog toy was easy to grab for Kyra (because of the little bulges) and the willow was way too tasty! 😉 

Small enough
Choose a target that is big enough to notice and get touched by the horse, but small enough to be light and easy to work with. The smaller the target the easier it is to store and to take with you.

Quality
You want to invest in a stick that lasts for years. If your target stick is easy to use, you will use it often. You get used to it and therefor you want quality. That quality doesn’t have to be expensive as you can see with my target stick.

I am curious what you use as target stick. Did you buy one, or do you use an existing object (like a tennis racket) as your target stick or did you make one yourself like I did? Please share your ideas.

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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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10 Tools that changed my Training Approach (IV)

What is so powerful about clicker training? What tools are used and how can they change your training approach?

_targetstick_hippologic

In this series I am talking about 10 of my favourite tools for training horses and how they changed my training approach to a much more horse friendly way of training. You can read about Training tools # 1 – 3 here, Training tool # 4 here and Tool #5 here.

# 6 Target stick
A target stick is an enormously versatile tool to communicate with a horse. Targeting means that you teach your horse to touch an object (the target) with a body part (nose) on command.

When I started targeting I didn’t have a clue regarding the possibilities I could use the target stick for. I just thought it was a fun game with my horse. I started teaching my first pony to touch a bright pink skippy ball. Then I taught him to nose the  ball. I think that was about it.

Now I consider the target stick a very valuable tool. Read more about how to use targeting in your training in this post Best Basics: take targeting to the next level.

If your horse can target different kinds of targets with his nose you can teach him to target other body parts. I always thought that would be very difficult: you can ask a horse to move towards you, instead of away from you. Pushing a prey animal away is not so hippologic key lesson targetinghard, if he doesn’t go apply more pressure. But how to react if he doesn’t want to come toward you? You can’t ‘make’ him, or can you? Yes, you can with clicker training!

Once a horse is clicker savvy he will always be very eager to find out what you want from him. In order to let the horse come towards the target you have to set him up for success. Sometimes it simply means that you will hold the target only half a centimetre from his body so the chance that he will bump into it accidentally is huge.

# 7 Treats
Treats are not ‘just’ treats to the horse. Treats have a certain ‘value’ to the horse and also to the trainer. In clicker training trainers often speak of ‘high value’ food rewards and ‘low value’ food rewards. There are also certain advantages about the size of the treats you are using in training. How can you use this knowledge to your advantage and turn ‘treats’ into ‘tools’?

High value treats
High value treats can be treats that the horse doesn’t get often but he really likes, for instance sugar cubes. If you use high value treats sparsely the value doesn’t wear of. High value treats don’t have to be healthy because you won’t use them often.

Most people really like birthday cakes, I do. I thought I could eat them every day. Until I worked in a bakery which sold all kinds of super tasty cakes and pies. Since I could have free cake every Saturday my taste for cake changed and I don’t value them as much as I did before.

_healthy_horse_treats_hippologic_valentine

Super yummie treats can be used to teach your horse difficult tasks, for instance where the horse has to overcome a big fear. Trailer loading can be very scary for some horses and if the reward is something the horse really values he will try harder to overcome his fear and conquer the first step towards the trailer. If you ask a difficult task and the horse gets a treat he doesn’t really like, he might decide that it is not worth it.

Low value treats
In other cases you want to use low valued treats on purpose. When a horse is learning food manners it can be a good idea to start with low valued treats. You don’t want to get him too excited. Especially when he has to learn to take the treat carefully with only his lips off of your hand. With high valued treats the horse might become anxious to loose the treat and he might behave too enthusiastically so he would grab the treat instead of staying calm and taking it gently.

Examples of low value treats can be his diner grain or pellets.

Large treats
It can be safer to start off with larger sized treats on purpose, for instance to teach a horse food manners. A big treat is easier to see and_cutting_carrot_hippologic to take off of your hand gently. The chances of getting bitten while feeding a large treat, like a whole carrot with greens is much smaller.

Small treats
Small treats can be handy for the trainer but they can also be very useful if you want to increase your rate of reinforcement (RoR). Smaller treats are eaten and swallowed faster so the training is not  interrupted by chewing and eating the reward.

If a horse mugs you but he can take treats very politely off of your hands you can increase the rate of reinforcement by clicking and feeding treats faster. You can click the horse for ‘not mugging’-behaviours like: looking away, keeping his nose away from your pocket, keeping his head and neck straight forward if the trainer is standing next to his head. Clicking for the right behaviour while the horse is still eating will prevent the ‘mugging’ behaviour which often will be displayed after he is finished eating.

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!

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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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Best Basics: take targeting to the next level

DIY Target stick

Target stick, made out of a floater, glued to a bamboo stick covered in duct tape to prevent splinters

Of the seven key lessons in clicker training  ‘targeting’ is my favourite at the moment. I love targeting so much because it is inexpressibly versatile and I am excited because I just discovered new possibilities of this game myself.

What is targeting
In targeting you ask you horse to touch a target with a body part. You start this game simple and the goal is for your horse to touch a target stick with his nose. Once your horse knows the target meant to be touched with his nose, you can start experimenting. Hold the target a bit lower, higher, more to the left or to the right. If the horse is following the target all the time you can put a verbal cue to this new behaviour, like ‘touch’. Then you can hold it a bit closer to its chest in order to teach him to back up.

Moving targets
Once a horse knows to touch a target with his nose and it is under command you can take this game to the next level. Try asking your horse to 1_chasetargetfollow a moving target. Start easy with just a tiny step forward and build on that. Of course every step in the process is clicked and rewarded.

When your horse follows a target in walk, you can ask him to follow it in trot and even canter. If you don’t like lunging or driving your horse around in the round pen, you can use the target stick to get your horse moving. You can use the target stick to teach your horse to come to you in the pasture or entering a trailer.

It is totally the opposite of traditional methods where you use pressure to teach, so this can be difficult at start. You have to be willing to keep an open mind and keep thinking out of the traditional training box. That can be a challenge in itself.

Stationary targets
You can also teach you horse to target a stationary target. A stationary target doesn’t move and is attached to a wall in his stall, the trailer or at a gate in the pasture. You can train ‘duration’ and see if you can teach your horse to keep his nose  against the target for 2 seconds, then 3, 4 up to several minutes. A stationary target can be used to teach ground tying.

Stationary targets can contribute to safety around horses. If the target is attached on a fence in the pasture a few meters away from the gate you can use it to send a horse to touch it and stay, so you can get another horse safely out of the pasture without being crowded by horses who all want to work with you. You can put hay safely in the pasture without being surrounded with agitated, hungry horses and so on.

These are just a few training suggestions for touching a target with the nose. There are an infinite number of uses you can think of the use of a target.

Target other body parts
You can also teach your horse to touch other body parts. I’ve taught Kyra to touch the target stick with her knee in order to teach her the polka and Spanish walk.

I recently worked on the ‘hip target’ where Kyra has to step towards the target with her hind quarters in order to touch the target stick with her hip bone. This comes in very handy when she is not aligned to the mounting block. Now I can simply ask “hip” and hold my hand in position so she steps towards the mounting block with her hind quarters._Hip_target_hippologic

Teach your horse to target his shoulders. Imagine what complex movements you can create if you can move your horse’s hips and shoulder at liberty. I’ve seen people use it to teach their horses dressage exercises like travers, shoulder in and half-pass.

Kyra also knows how to target her hoof sole to the target stick, which helps with hoof care. She knows how to target the corner of her mouth to the dewormer syringe and targeting the halter makes haltering a piece of cake. My friend taught her horse to open his mouth in order to take the bit and bridle him.

Like I said: the possibilities are endless. How do you use targeting in training?

Sandra Poppema
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Deworm your Horse in 6 Easy Steps

_dewormingcanbe_Years ago deworming meant stress for me and my first pony. Sholto was not really hard to deworm, but I had to be cautious. He could move his head down in a split second and sometimes that meant that I pinched the syringe in his palate. Or, I emptied the syringe while he was moving his head sideways and all the dewormer paste squirted in the air because the syringe was sticking out of his mouth on the other end.

When I started using clicker training my mind was focused on teaching Sholto tricks. It never crossed my mind to use clicker training to teach my horse things like ‘happily accepting a deworming treatment’.  For the World Equine Clicker Games 2013 I made a video about easy deworming with my current horse Kyra.

Targeting the syringe
Kyra had already mastered the key lesson ‘targeting’. So she knows that touching an object on my cue is rewarded. I started using a cleaned old dewormer syringe as a target.

Session 1: touch the syringe. Some horses have very negative associations with dewormers and for those horses ‘looking at the syringe’ could be the first step.

Desensitize the corner of the mouth
Session 2: In order to empty a dewormer in a horses mouth, you have to empty it at the back of their tongue. The easiest way to enter their mouth is in the corner, where they have no teeth. The horse must accept the syringe touching the corner of his mouth.

Accept the syringe
When Kyra accepted the syringe against a corner of her mouth, it was time to take the third step in this training process. Putting the syringe in her mouth. I use the verbal cue ‘open’.

I always let Kyra come to the syringe to test if she doesn’t think the syringe is an aversive.

Accepting a substance
Step 5 is getting the horse to swallow the paste. Often the paste is a surprise to the horse, so you can train your horse to be ready for it.

I tested first if Kyra would like applesauce. She wasn’t crazy for it, but she ate it. Good enough for session 4: accepting a substance out of the syringe.

I use a cue word to warn Kyra ‘something is coming’. I don’t want to surprise her with something with a bad taste.

The real thing
The sixth step of this process was the real dewormer. Because a lot of rewards were involved in this training, Kyra doesn’t have negative associations with the deworming syriche. The syringe is now associated with good things (clicks and rewards).

I never expected that it would become this easy. Now I can deworm Kyra without a halter and without any stress.

Every time before I deworm Kyra I start with a short reminder session with a few clicks and rewards.

Of course you can also try to put the dewormer paste in a sandwich and just feed it to your horse. I’ve seen that working with some horses, too.

Here is my One minute deworming video:

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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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