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. ūüėČ 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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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?

Easy Treats Ideas for Clicker Training Horses

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.

 

8 Important Life Lessons I learned from Positive Reinforcement Horse Training

When I was a little girl learned quickly that I couldn’t boss around certain horses. I also learned that I liked it much better when I didn’t have to.

A few decades ago I learned about positive reinforcement (+R)  training and now, 17 years later I can truly say +R has become more of a lifestyle than just a training method for me.

One of the best reviews I received from a student is: You are always very supportive Sandra¬†and make this feel like a safe place¬†(the¬†Facebook support group)¬†to ask questions. Funny, but I’ve met a lot of R+ trainers who a very encouraging and positive with their horses but extremely critical of their human trainers.¬†Sandra¬†you walk and talk R+ in all areas – with horses¬†and people.”

Here 8 of the most valuable lessons and my biggest ‘clicks’ (eye openers) positive reinforcement horse training taught me:

  1. The receiver determines the reinforcer,¬†not the trainer, not teacher nor the parent. Once I learned to think from my horses’ point of view and what his motivation is, it became clear on why he did or didn’t want to do it. Same goes for humans.
  2. Envisioning my goals before I start, makes it easy to keep on track and go back on track once I get sidetracked. Not only my equestrian goals, but all my goals!
  3. Writing down my goals made it easier to find the right teachers. Studies prove that writing your goals down will make you see more opportunities because it puts your unconscious to work.
  4. Writing down my goals helped me into dividing them into achievable (baby) steps. Whenever I feel stuck, whether that is in life or in horse training I ask myself if I am ‘lumping’ (making the steps too big) and I usually do. Once I make my steps smaller I can be successful again. This one was a biggy!
  5. Different reinforcers have different values and values can change depending on the circumstances. It makes sense that once the receiver can predict when and what the reinforcer is, he can determine if he does or doesn’t want to do the behaviour.
  6. I learned to think out of the box, because I didn’t have ready-made solutions for a lot of challenges I ran into. It is an amazing helpful life skill! I love it!
  7. I changed my focus to what goes well and improves, rather than the things that doesn’t yet go the way I envisioned. I turned from a Negative Nancy into a Positive Polly
  8. When I started to focus on my method of training, instead of only focusing on the results of my training, three interesting things happened: 1) there was now something valuable in it for the horse which made it a huge win-win, 2) the results came much quicker, easier and were way more reliable and 3) the overall relationship with my horse improved tremendously! Wow! Win-win-win!

What are the most valuable life lessons you learned in training? Please share yours in the comments.

_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.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or¬†visit HippoLogic’s website.

 

 

 

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The safest way to bring a dangerous horse to the pasture

When I was young and learned to ride in the local riding school, we sometimes were allowed to bring the ponies to the pasture. This came with a simple warning: ‘Always turn your horse to the gate before you take the halter off, so they don’t kick you.’

I still use that advice and teach it to others but there is more to learn about safety. Some horses run off, kick or bolt when released. How to handle those horses?

Horses that run off, kick and bolt

Some horses like to run off immediately and kick or bolt in the process. If you stand ‘in his way’, there is a chance that you get hurt. I’ve seen people deal with this problem by taking the halter off and shooing them away with it! I think the idea is to get them as quickly as possible out of their personal space.

I don’t think shooing away a horse that already has a tendency for bolting and running away will make a horse behave more safely.

On the contrary, it will add to his stress and he might anticipate the next time by shooing you away from his personal space. That is the last thing you want him to do, right?

Solution

There is a simple way to prevent horses from running off when you take the halter or lead rope off. You have to teach them that:

  • They won’t get chased or shooed away by you, and there is no need for them to run off or defend themselves
  • It’s safe and fun to stay a little longer with you
  • They can leave in a calm way, there is no need to rush

Incompatible behaviour

When a horse displays undesired behaviour, in this case dangerous behaviour, the simple solution is to teach them incompatible behaviour and reinforce that behaviour more.

An incompatible behaviour is a behaviour that simply cannot be displayed while doing another behaviour.

Step 1: What is the undesired behaviour?

  • Running off immediately with the chance of you getting hurt in the process
  • Turning around quickly and bolting when leaving
  • Keeping their head up and/or walking backwards so you can’t take the halter or lead rope off safely

Step 2: What is the cause?

Knowing what causes these behaviours is a huge step towards preventing them.

It can be learned behaviour: the horse has learned that the person will shoo him away and he anticipates by trying to get away before that happens. This creates a dangerous vicious circle that is hard to break when you don’t realize what drives the behaviour.

It can be a lack of education. I always teach my horses to turn around every time we go through a gate. One day I was leading a young stallion pony out of the arena. I didn’t realize that he had not yet learned to turn after walking through a gate. I wasn’t prepared that he simply walked straight out the gate, directly towards the barn.  I expected him to turn around or at least wait for me, but he didn’t, because no one had taught him that. I tripped and was dragged on my belly in the mud for several meters. When he finally stopped to see what made walking so hard, I could get up quickly and reinforce him for stopping. It was not the smartest idea to hold on, and I was lucky he didn’t panic.

It can be fear: the horse is afraid of the other horses or one horse in particular that approaches him. If he feels trapped because he is still on a lead rope that can cause him to panic and flee.

It can be impatience: maybe the horse is super excited to go to the pasture to have a good run. He simply can’t wait to stretch his legs.

Step 3: Work on the cause

If the horse hasn’t learned to stay with you until you cue him to wonder off, you can teach him to wait. If he hasn’t learned to turn around, teach him that this will be reinforced and that it’s worthwhile for him. Simply offer him a treat before you take the halter off and one after. He will learn to wait for his treat before he leaves. Better even is to use a bridge signal (a click) before you give the treat to mark the desired behaviour.

If he is fearful for the other horses, you have to find a way to distract or prevent the other horses from coming too close and crowd you.

If your horse is super excited you have to keep him calm and keep his excitement low so he won’t run off and take you with him in the process. You can train this easily with positive reinforcement training.

Step 4: Teach an incompatible behaviour 

In order to prevent undesirable and dangerous behaviours you can work on an incompatible behaviour and reinforce that more. Punishment the way we apply it, is usually not very effective. Teaching and reinforcing an incompatible behaviour is and will give you quick results, too!

What is an ‘incompatible behaviour’? A behaviour that cannot be displayed at the same time as the undesired behaviour. It takes a bit of thinking out of the box to master this skill, but it will bring you so much clarity once you can!

Incompatible behaviours: a horse can’t run off or kick when he is standing still (focus on reinforcing ‘4 hooves on the ground’), a horse can’t lift his head if he keeps his head low, a horse can’t bite with his mouth closed or when his head is turned away from you. He can’t be excited and calm at the same time! Teach him to be calm and focused on you.

Summary

Teach you horse to stay with you until you give him the cue that he can leave now. I do this by simply creating the expectation that there is something in it for the horse. I use high value reinforcers: super yummy treats or if a horse loves scratches and attention more, I will use those.

I start by reinforcing incompatible behaviours and work on the cause of the dangerous behaviours. I reinforce turning around after entering the pasture, standing still, keeping head low and after I take the halter off. Then I get out of the pasture before I give a clear signal that the horse can’t expect any more treats, my ‘end-of-training-signal’.

Then I fade out the treats slowly. I never totally quit forever with the treats because I want to keep us safe. A treat can also be just a bit of grass that you plucked just outside the fence, where the grass always is greener….

Related posts:

How to bring your horse to the pasture safely

How to get your horse out of the pasture effortlessly

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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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    How to change emotions in your horse during training

     

    Sometimes a horse shows undesired emotions during training, like biting, mugging, signs of frustration or even aggression. What can you do to change it? My mentor always told me it is foolish to keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results. How do you break this circle?

     

    Change the setup

    Take a break and rethink your approach. Go back to the point where the behaviour (emotion) was still desirable. Do do know what has changed? Change it back and see what happens.

    Maybe you have to change the setup of your training entirely so you won’t trigger the undesired emotion/behaviour(s). In this way you can first ‘work around it’ until there is a more desired¬†emotion or behaviour associated with the behaviour.

    Find the cause of the undesired emotion

    If you change your training approach you might find the cause of the frustration, boredom or other undesired emotion/behaviour in your horse.

    When I encountered a lot of frustration in a horse I used this approach. I didn’t realize what had changed at first.

    _low-value-treats-vs-high-value-treats_hippologic

    Change one variable at a time

    At first I experimented with a different target, a different area to train, hand feeding instead of feeding her from a  bucket and so on. I talked it over with someone who watched the whole session and we figured out it might be the high value food I was using as a reinforcer.

    The mare got¬†so excited by the very ¬†yummie treats, she couldn’t wait (anymore) until the target was presented to earn a click and reinforcer. Because she ‘couldn’t wait’, she started to display all her impatience by pacing up en down the fence, tossing her head and pinning her ears. She soon got so frustrated she couldn’t pay attention to what behaviour lead to presenting the target¬†(ears forward, standing still, head at medium height or below) and a click. She went back to her ‘old ways’ to get what she wanted: displaying her unhappiness. This worked for her in the past and she just went back to her default behaviour, as we all do from time to time.

    It was only when I changed the food reward to a lesser value food that we immediately saw a huge difference in her behaviour. Apparently the food I was using was really high value for her, so she literally couldn’t wait for another opportunity to earn more clicks and more high value treats. That’s what caused her frustration.

    As soon as I offered her much lower value treats, she went back to thinking mode and she was open to learning again.

    _treats_in_training_hippologic

    I never met a horse that showed me so clearly that a high value treat can cause so much frustration.

    Sandra Poppema
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    DIY Easy Healthy Horse Treats (sugar free)

    We all would like to treat our horses from time to time. Positive reinforcement trainers are always on the lookout to find a special treat for their horse which they can use in training.

    Kyra is an extremely picky eater when it comes to treats and she won’t eat commercial horse treats. I was very exited when I tried this recipe and discovered that she liked these right away. For Kyra this is a high value treat, so it makes it worthwhile to make.

    Healthy Cinnamon Horse Cookies
    The molasses is optional. If you don’t use molasses you can use an extract for flavouring, they are low-sugar treats.

    Ingredients
    1 ¬ĺ  cups uncooked (brown) rice / 6 cups cooked rice
    1 cup ground stabilized flax
    3 tablespoons cinnamon
    ¬Ĺ cup flour
    ¬Ĺ cup molasses (optional)

    Directions
    Pre-heat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit (135 degrees Celsius). Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Cook the rice and let cool down.

    Mix all ingredients together. It will make a very sticky dough.

    _healthy_horse_treats_hippologic_

    Wet your hands before making little balls of the dough. This is very time consuming. If you don’t have much time you can also roll the dough simply onto the 2 cookie sheets with a rolling pin. Make it half an inch thick. Pre-cut the cookies with a pizza cutter into little squares before baking.

    Bake them for 60 minutes. Turn cookies and bake for another 60 minutes. They should be crisp and not squishy. Let them cool down for several hours to harden.
    If baked properly and stored in freezer or fridge, they will keep for up to several weeks.

    I hope there is no need to keep them stored for weeks. My horse Kyra loves these!

    These healthy cinnamon horse cookies make excellent gifts, too.

    Here is the video with instructions:

    Here is the connaisseur who did the tasting:

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    Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
    I improve the human-horse relationships by reconnecting you with your inner wisdom and teach you the principles of learning and motivation, so you become confident and knowledgeable to train your horse in an effective and FUN way. Win-win for horse and human.
    All HippoLogic’s programs are focused on building your confidence and provide you with  a step-by-step formula to train horses with 100% positive reinforcement.
    Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.
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    Clicker training 101: Tips for Treats

    The most important thing about the treats I use is that it has to have enough value to my horse to reinforce the desired behaviour. After all it is the¬†receiver¬†that determines the reward,¬†not¬†the trainer:¬†I¬†want the behaviour, my¬†horse¬†wants the treat. Let’s make it a win-win.

    Treats can differ in ‘value’ for the horse, depending on circumstances.¬†Not only the value matters when you use treats in training. There is more to consider when you choose treats for training.

    Size matters

    When¬†you introduce the click or another¬†bridge signal¬†to your horse a small treat that can be eaten quickly is a good choice. If the horse isn’t very interested in the treat, try a higher value treat.

    If your horse has trouble ‘finding’ the treat on your hand and or gets nervous about missing out, try a bigger size treat. One that he can see easily see and take off your hand.

    The trainer can carry more treats if they are smaller. More treats means less¬†refills. This can be handy on a¬†long trail ride or during training sessions where the trainer doesn’t want to leave the horse (vet treatment, farrier).

    A food reward shouldn’t take long to eat. If the horse has to chew too long it distracts from training.

    If the treats are very small, like pellets, it can take a while before the horse eats everything. The last few pellets might be too small to eat safely. Consider just dropping them on the ground.

    _treats_size_matters_value_matters_hippologic

     

    Value matters

    There are low value treats and high value treats. It is always the horse who determines if something is high or low value to him. Low value treats can be normal dinner grain or hay cubes, high value treats are special treats that are extra tasty, like carrots.

    Work with treats that are as low value as possible, but still reinforces the desired behaviour.

    Use high value treats for special occasions. For example if the horse has to do something difficult, painful (like a vet treatment) or scary.

    High value treats also make excellent jackpots.

    If your horse gets greedy or displays dangerous or undesired behaviour like biting or mugging, try lower value treats.

    Calories matter

    For horses that are overweight, have a tendency to get overweight or founder easily low calorie treats are a healthy choice.

    Deduct the amount of calories offered during training from your horses normal feeds.

    Vitamin pellets are often a healthy choice, check the label. Most ones have a decent size, they are non sticky and are low in sugar and calories.

    _considering_treats_training_hippologic

    Practical things matter

    Not all trainers like  to have sticky treats like apple pieces or sugar covered cereal in their pocket.

    My horse Kyra likes soaked beetpulp, but I don’t like to carry¬†it around. Sometimes I bring it to the arena in a plastic container which I put on the ground. Not very¬†practical during riding, but perfect as jackpot in groundwork or during trick training.

    Some treats, like sour apples, can increase¬†the ¬†amount of saliva in your horse’s mouth or can¬†cause¬†foaming saliva. Which can become messy. It can also increase behaviour like licking your hands. If you don’t like that, try avoid these treats.

    If you bridge and reinforce a lot, cost can become an issue. Commercial horse treats are very expensive per treat in comparison to home made treats, dinner grain or hay cubes.

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    Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
    I improve human-horse relationships. I¬†reconnect you with your inner wisdom (you know what’s right)¬†and teach you the principles of learning and motivation, so you become confident and knowledgeable to train your horse in a safe, effective¬†and FUN way. Win-win.
    All HippoLogic’s programs are focused on building your confidence and provide you with¬† a step-by-step formula to train horses with 100% positive reinforcement.
    Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and you will get a gift right away) or¬†visit HippoLogic’s website.
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    New uses for ‘Old’ Tools in Clicker Training , part II

    When I started clicker training I had no clue that there was a whole science behind the use of rewards. I only knew about one primary reward: treats.

    I didn’t know anything about ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ rewards, how to use high and low value rewards to¬†my¬†advantage. Neither did I know about ‘chaining’ behaviours, I learned all these things in the following years.

    High and low value rewards
    When I started clicker training I didn’t¬†realize that a horse can consider some rewards as¬†‘high value’¬†rewards, and other as ‘low value’ rewards. I never thought that I could use this knowledge to my advantage and to help the horse perform better or make training less stressful.

    I didn’t realize some rewards can lose their value and how to use this knowledge in my training. Of course I noticed when my pony became less eager¬†to work for his treats after some training. Then I just stopped the training session and gave him a break. I was not consious enough about this fact to¬†use it in my training approach. Now I am aware, I use high value rewards or¬†low value rewards depending on the circumstances.

    Variable rewards_key_lesson_standing_on_mat_hippologic
    I also vary my treats depending on the difficulty level of the behaviour I am training, or depending on the context. In situations where there is more distraction I might use very high value treats (for Kyra that is apple) rather than lower value rewards (non-food) in order to keep my horses attention focused on me.

    If Kyra is in a more relaxed state, she values the ear scratches (see picture) more than grain. I experiment with the different value treats during one training session. You can use different treats with different values to build in a certain unpredictability for the horse, in order to stimulate his efforts.

    With horses who get overly excited by certain treats I start with¬†lower value treats, horses who have¬†to overcome something really scary or aversive, get really high value treats or rewards. Sometimes I give bigger rewards, sometimes I give smaller amounts. I know how I can really ‘stretch’ the reward moment by throwing in lots of verbal praise and feeding multiple hands full of treats (jackpotting).

    Secondary rewards
    I now also know know that I can use secondary rewards, like¬†standing on a mat¬†or verbal praise. A secondary reward is something the horse has ‘learned to like’ because there is an appetite association attached to it.

    Behaviour chains
    If you chain a series of behaviours, certain¬†behaviours can¬†become a reward, too. You can also use¬†‘back chaining’. Then you start teaching the last behaviour in the chain¬†first: behaviour #3. Next step is to¬†teach behaviour #2 and then you chain them together: #2, #3. Behaviour #3 is clicked and rewarded in the chain.

    Then you teach another behaviour( #1) and back chain it, so you have chained #1, #2, #3. The horse has already a solid reward history built with behaviour #3 and he will anticipate on what is coming after #1 and #2. By asking the chain, the reward for the horse will lie in performing behaviour #3, which you may or may not reward with a click and reward once the horse knows the chain.

    Looking back
    So when I started clicker training I thought it was a simple concept: click and treat for the desired behaviours. I understood that really complex behaviours would be better taught in small steps. That was basically what I thought was clicker training.

    __hippologic_beautiful_thing_about_learningThe more I learned about reward-based horse training, the more I realize there is so much more to learn. After 15 plus years of experimenting and reading and learning I still enjoy the puzzles my horse gives me that I really want to solve with positive reinforcement only. I just love it!

    What are the things you have learned over the years that really stunned you?

    Read here¬†part I¬†of New Uses for ‘Old Tools’ in Clicker Training

    Read here part III.

    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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    New Uses for ‘Old’ Tools in Clicker Training, part I

    When I started clicker training I thought it was a pretty simple and forward concept: ‘You bridge (click) the wanted behaviour and give the horse a treat. Make sure your timing is right. That’s all you need¬†to know.’

    Bridging and getting your timing right are both very important and it was¬†an excellent start. I have been training horses with reward-based training since ’99¬†and I still learn so much every day. It helps that science is coming up with new discoveries, too. And that other trainers (horse owners as well as professionals)¬†are sharing their experiences over the internet.

    #1 Timing
    Of course timing is important. In clicker training we¬†say: ‘You get what you reinforce.’ So if the horse is displaying some unwanted behaviours, that means that the trainer has a question to think about: Did I bridge or rewarded this behaviour in any way or is this be self-rewarding behaviour? In self-rewarding behaviour the horse found a reward which motivates him to do it again.

    The timing of the bridge (click) and the timing of giving the reward are both important. Those two moments are reinforcing the behaviour of the horse at that time. So, if you click for a wanted behaviour and your horse is doing an unwanted behaviour (pinning ears, snapping, pawing) at the moment you give the treat, you are still reinforcing something you might not want. It might not show directly, but it will show sooner or later.

    #2 Emotions
    You are not only training just the behaviour but there can also be an emotion¬†attached (associated) to that certain behaviour. In the beginning I never paid conscious attention to Sholto’s¬†emotions back then, while I clicker trained him.¬†I didn’t notice unwanted or dangerous emotions (rage, fear, over-arousal). To be honest I don’t think my pony experienced those during clicker training. He seemed very engaged and eager to work with me if I was preparing to do some clicker training.

    Looking back at my training sessions using Natural Horsemanship this aspect was less important. The horse was required to fulfill his task regardless of his emotional state.

    In clicker training it is much more a two-way communication.  You have to be aware of your horses emotional state because it is a part of your training. When you click you click for all aspects of your horse at that time, his physical stance and his emotional state.

    My current horse, Kyra (see picture), did express a lot of fear in the beginning and I started to take her emotions into account while bridging certain behaviours. I’ve learned that you can strengthen the a certain behaviour¬†by reinforcing that behaviour.That behaviour might be¬†very much attached to an undesired emotion. Now I pay a lot more attention to horses emotions when I bridge a behaviour and¬†I can¬†use¬†this information to¬†my advantage.

    emotions_hippologic

    Much more
    There is much more I can tell you that I have learned over the years. I am really excited every time I discover a new use for an old tool or approach. To me my journey to the reward-based training method still is very exciting.

    What was one of your eye openers on your journey?

    Read here part II of¬†New Uses for ‘Old’ Tools in Clicker Training

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

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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?

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    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 Р3 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.

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    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.

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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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    What to do if your horse is mugging you

    In clicker training we use often treats as rewards. Why? Food is a primary reinforcer and therefor it motivates most horses. Giving treats as reward or as ‘pay’ for a well done job is highly motivating for the horse. Treats are easy to dispense, it’s a quick delivery and small enough to fit sufficient rewards for one session in your pocket.__safety_hippologic

    One of my key lessons is to teach a horse how to behave around food and treats. What to do if your horse isn’t behaving very safe around food? Well, you can decide to find another reinforcer or better yet you can work on your horses behaviour. The first step is to make sure you are working safely. Getting mugged is no fun and losing a finger in the process is even worse.

    Work with a barrier between you and your horse until your horse is behaving safely around food. Polite behaviour around food is one of the Key Lessons in clicker training.

    Grabbing the treat
    Some horses turn to mugging because they have lost treats in the past. This may have been because the handler dropped the food or pulled their hands back as the horse was reaching for it. They have adopted a get it while they can attitude. Sometimes its a phase and they just need to be taught proper table manners again.

    Possible solutions
    Make sure your horse knows the rule: first a click then a treat.

    Only take a treat in your hand after the click. Never the other way around: take a treat, wait for the behaviour you want to reinforce and then click and treat. Always click first, then take and present the treat. This accomplishes three very important things which is why I repeat it so often:

    1. Your horse isn’t distracted by your filled hand and neither are you.
    2. Your horse has no reason to be nibbling or biting at you.
    3. With improper timing your hand reaching for the treat becomes the bridge instead of your click. Horses are incredibly perceptive and will pick up your behaviour before you realize it.

    Always bring the treat to your horse, don’t invite the horse to come and get it. Use a stretched arm and deliver the treat near his mouth quickly and calmly after the click.

    Deliver the treat directly at the lips of your horse, so he doesn’t have to be afraid he can’t reach it or he has to search for it.

    Exercises
    Speed up your RoR (Rate of Reinforcement). Click and treat as soon as your horse is keeping his lips still and is not displaying the grabbing behaviour. If he is not using his teeth to get the treat, you can present the treat in a closed first. Wiggle your fist if he nibbles your hand, click and open your hand immediately if he stops moving his lips/mouth for a second or if he looks away.

    Encourage (click) all the behaviour that you want: looking away when you put your hand in your pocket, keeping his mouth closed and lips still when you present a treat in a closed fist.

    Safety
    If your horse is using his teeth you can present the treats in a shallow food bowl or lightweight frying pan to prevent injury.

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    Some horses are better at taking large treats, eg big chunks of apple or whole (small) carrots to help reassure him that he gets the treat easily. Some horses will be encouraged to use their lips instead of their teeth if you give them smaller treats (grain). Try out different food sizes to find the one that works best for you and your horse.

    Try a context shift for example you can feed your horse from above. Hold a large treat high so your horse has to keep his head up. He’s probably not used to taking a treat from above, so he has to use his lips and thus preventing him from using his teeth.

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    Have fun clicker training your horse and let me know how it goes.

    Sandra Poppema
    For tailored advise, please visit my website

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