Things to Consider Using Treats in (Clicker) Training Horses

There is much to consider when you’re serious about positive reinforcement training and want to use treats. This is not the occasional sugar cube I am talking about.

Let’s see what’s important in clicker training your horse and choosing the right appetitive or food reward.

Value of the reinforcer can change over time

Value of reinforcers can change so I keep that in mind too. Kyra loves to work hard for hay cubes in Winter, but in Summer not so much.

In Spring and Summer I often use dandelion leaves or simply freshly plucked grass. Kyra has EMS so she won’t be full time in a pasture anymore. That’s why a handful of juicy grass will always be high value for her.

Low sugar grass pellets (simple to use and cheap to buy in bulk since it’s a ‘dinner grain’ type of feed) will do year round for Kyra.

Occasionally the value ‘wears off’ and I will mix in a few sunflower seeds or different kind of dinner pellets I get from other people, to make the reinforcer more interesting and less predictable.

Home made treats: cheap, easy and sugar free

I also bake my own treats (find the DIY home made horse treats recipe here) and it’s easy and cheap in comparison to store bought treats. You can choose the flavour, too. I usually make them with lots of cinnamon or tumeric (both anti inflammatory). All horses seem to like those flavours. People love the cinnamon ones and are fairly disappointed if I tell them no sugar is involved. 😉 The smell is soooo good!

Healthy vs Unhealthy

One thing to consider is the amount of reinforcers you use. If you would put all the treats you use in a day in a bucket, how much do you think that will be? The amount of all sessions added together.

If you use 10 reinforces per day and you choose apple pieces, that would be 2 apples or 1 if you make the pieces really small. If you use 15-20 per session and train 3 sessions a day that will add up.

So ‘healthy’ is one thing to consider. I used to feed handfuls of grass pellets in the beginning of Kyra’s training, when I was in the phase of taming her. She was born in the wild and untouched when I got her. She didn’t eat anything she didn’t know: no carrots/apples, commercial treats in the wild!. She only wanted to eat hay and grass pellets.

How much reinforcers do you use?

So I had to use lots! When I realized how much pellets I was actually using in just a 5 minute session, I was shocked. I calculated I used 1,5 to 2 scoops of pellets a day. Full scoops! I fed handfuls per click so it went really fast. Kyra was still very scared of me at the time and had hay available at all times, so I didn’t have much choice. She choose her hay from the net over hay from my hand in the first few days.

This was a lot, for a yearling, so I reduced the amount I fed after a few days by making the sessions shorter and the breaks between sessions longer so I wouldn’t overfeed her. She also had made great progress in accepting me nearby. Once I could feed smaller hands of pellets I could decrease the overall amount significantly.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
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More articles about using food reinforcers

Easy treat ideas for clicker trainers

3 Reasons to use treats in training

Clicker training 101: Tips for Treats

Is your horse mugging you?

Teach a horse to lead (or lunge) on grass *grass training done successfully*

A step-by-step training guide can you find in my article that’s published on Horse Rookie. One day I realized that my horse kept pulling me toward grass and it made me feel like an inadequate horse owner. Here I was, with over 30 years on horse experience and still I was pulled towards juicy patches of grass. Sound familiar? I decided to make a training out or it, but whatever I did nothing worked long-term. Next day it all seemed forgotten. Which it wasn’t really, it was just the pull of the grass that was so much stronger than my pull on the lead rope. So the behaviour was very much self-rewarding. Only one thing to do: become more enticing than the grass! The only way to do this is with 100% positive reinforcement.  In the article I wrote for Horse Rookie I describe two ways of approach, depending of the level of clicker training your horse had before. All horses like ‘grass training’ because it’s a win-win: either grazing or not grazing is rewarded. READ THE ARTICLE HERE Imagine how much frustration you’ll avoid!

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Take this Challenge and transform your horse’s behaviour.stop grazing_hippologic clickertraining academy grass training leading on grass2.jpg Enjoy the accountability and group learning. Put your name on the waiting list and get emailed when we start!

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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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10 Tips to Train Your Horse Faster

When I started ‘training’ my free lease pony I had no idea what my plan was. Well, that is not entirely true… I thought I had a plan.

When he was born my plan was: “To start him under saddle when he was 4 years old”. That’s it. I was 12 years old. I had no idea how to do it, but I thought I knew. After all, I had read all the books in the library about horse training.

Here are 10 tips that I wished I knew back then to set myself up for success, to give myself confidence and motivate me in times of frustration. It would have made my life and that one of the pony (!) so much better.

OK, here we go.

Tip #10 Set a goal

Training_logbook_journal_diary_hippologic2016Set a goal and make a plan (see tip #8). Simply start writing in your training journal what you want to teach your horse. Eg ‘standing still at the mounting block’. Writing it down is very important.

Tip #9

Focus on what you want, instead on what you don’t want. I hear lots of riders say things like: ‘My horse can’t stand still’.

What do you visualize when you read this? You probably see a horse that walks away or doesn’t stand still. Focus on what you want to happen and phrase it that way: ‘I want my horse to stay with 4 hooves on the ground while I mount’. Now visualize it. Is this what you want?

Tip #8

Be specific. The more specific you are the better your chances of success. You know what to look for, so you also know when you are successful.

In the example above I can be more specific: ‘I want to teach my horse to align with the mounting block and stay with 4 hooves on the ground while I mount. My horse is calm and relaxed when I sit in the saddle and he waits patiently for my cue to walk on.’ What do you see when you visualize this?

If you are specific you will know exactly what your training criteria (and you have your training plan) are: 4 hooves on the ground, aligning to the mounting block, standing relaxed while being mounted, wait for a cue to walk on.

Tip #7

Find yourself an accountability partner. Someone supportive of your goals and who is not afraid to ask how you’re doing with your goals. If you want a really good accountability partner look for someone who knows more than you do about the subject and can help you specify your goals and help write down your training plan. Find someone who doesn’t judge.

Tip #6

Next step is to plan your training sessions. A plan without action is nothing but a wish._A dream without a plan is just a wish_Hippologic_equestrian goal setting.jpg You have to know when you want to work on it. Weekly lessons or a monthly meeting with your partner are a great way to make yourself accountable.

Use your calendar to plan what you will work on each day. For example training your horse to align along the mounting block on Monday, Tuesday and Friday. By the end of the month you know how much time you spent on training a specific behaviour.

Tip #5

Keep your training sessions for new behaviours short and sweet. If you train a new behaviour you only have to work on it for a few minutes. I train max 5 minutes per session when I train a new behaviour. Then I give a break or I ask behaviours that are already understood very well and are easy to perform for my horse, before I go back to train another 5 minutes on the new behaviour.

timing is everything_hippologic

Tip #4

Know when to stop. Stop when it’s (still) going well. This is very difficult, but I now know when the best time to stop is. I learned to recognize that little voice in my head that whispered ‘One more time’, ‘This was fun! Let’s do it again. (And again. And again)’ or

‘Let’s see if my horse really understands it or if it was a coincidence that he did it’. This is a good time to stop or focus on something else.

If you keep going, the behaviour will decrease and you can get frustrated. That is not the best time to stop practising, but you have to.

Tip #3

Manage frustration and other negative feelings. If you went on and on until the behaviour gets worse and/or you and your horse get frustrated: please stop. It is better to stop when you feel a little frustrated than keep going. That will never make it better. Forgive yourself, make a note in your training logbook and thank yourself for becoming aware. Awareness is the first step in improving.

Tip #2

Celebrate! Share your success with your accountability partner. Celebrate it with yourself and do something you will remember for this special moment. Take a picture or video of the new trained behaviour or share your story on your social media. Hooray! Be proud! Be happy!

Tip #1

_positive_reinforcement_clicker_training_hippologicUse a bridge signal in combination with something the horse wants. Positive reinforcement is the one thing that made all my training so much easier, quicker and more fun too! A bridge signal (or marker) is such a great communication tool. It provides clarity for yourself and for your horse and makes everything you want to train so much easier and with less frustration.

I wish I would have learned all this in the riding school I learned to ride, or from all the (five) books the library owned when I was a girl!

It would have saved me hours and hours of frustration and prevented me from many dangerous situations. I would be much more confident and saved me a lot of frustration. Me and my pony would have had more fun and a better relationship earlier on.

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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 ‘Patience’

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7 Tips for Clicker Trainers

In clicker training you use the clicker to teach new behaviours and every once in a while to confirm established behaviours.

  1. Let your click always be followed by a reward, even if your timing was wrong. That’s ‘part of the deal’.
  2. The receiver, the horse, determines the reward. Not the trainer. We can reward our horses with money or slaps/pats on their necks, but if we want to make clicker training ‘work’ we have to figure out what really motivates our horses._Hippologic_rewardbased training_receiver_determines
  3. Keep training sessions short if you are teaching a new behaviour. I often use a kitchen timer to make sure my sessions are only 5 – 10 minutes, depending of the horse and the circumstances. Or I put a certain amount of treats (about 10 -12) in my pocket. This has taught me to check my treat supply often, and if I’m running out of treats I know it is time for a break. It prevents a click with no treat to follow up.
  4. Give your horse an “end-of-session”-signal so you can give him a break and you can get a refill. These tips help you not to over-train your horse. You can do multiple sessions in one training. Make sure you give your horse a break in between sessions. Sometimes allowing a roll or some grazing in between is a break. Or just getting on the other side of the fence will give your horse a break. Start your session with a “start-session”-signal, like clapping your hands or giving a verbal cue.
  5. Start teaching your horse the Key Lessons. It will give you and your horse the perfect building blocks for all kinds of other behaviours. It will teach the trainer timing and creates opportunities to practice basic mechanical skills like: cue- wait for behaviour – click- take a treat- present treat to horse- cue again, practice working with a training plan and logbook and train your observational skills.
  6. Train with the end goal in mind, then divide that behaviour into as many building blocks as you can think of. Write them down.level4
  7. Keep a training journal to keep track of your successes and of your points to improve.

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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.
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