I was going through some old photos and came across these pictures from my days as a whale trainer. This is what lead me to training horses and applying the positive reinforcement (clicker) training to horses. It is fun to look back on that unexpected journey from marine mammals to horses! These photos are from the Shamu show at Sea World in San Diego back circa 1990?? I started taking the positive reinforcement(clicker training) to horses back in 1994. There is still a lot to do!! I hope that you enjoy the photos!
The real success is when the training carries through to other people and situations. Lorelei is such a story. She is a young horse in Hap Hansen’s string of horses. I initially began working with Lorelei to address her attitude about getting injections. She was intolerant of the whole process. She did quite well with the training and now stands quietly for her shots. It turns out she is allergic to just about everything and needs shots on a regular basis. Luckily, we got that sorted out just before we found out about her allergies, which require regular injections.
Well, it turns out she also has an aversion to the trailer. Not the little two horse kind, which is more common, but the big sixteen horse type. Usually horses view the larger trailers more like a building and walk in rather easily. The smaller trailers seem to create more problems. Maybe it’s the confinement and feeling trapped or claustrophobic, who really knows? The good part of having issues with the little trailers is that they are more readily available to practice loading and unloading. This is not the case with the big trailers.
With the help of my friend Lisa, who is Lorelei’s groom and primary caretaker, we addressed Lorelei’s trailer loading issues. I wasn’t there everyday but Lisa was with her and implemented the training techniques. I would try to be there as often as I could for loading in the big trailer to go to shows. Since the discrimination was with the large trailer it was difficult to actually practice on a regular basis. Lisa continued to work with the little trailer when she could. Even though the problem wasn’t the two horse trailer the reinforcement helped the whole process and association to become more positive.
Because Lorelei is young she doesn’t go to every horse show, so a couple weeks ago she was scheduled to go to a show and Lisa reported that Lorelei loaded up like a trooper with no hesitation. Then it was time to go home and Lisa wasn’t able to be there. Lorelei got right on with a person who had not even done the training with her. Not only did she load right up, she actually initiated the loading process so the groom/handler just went along with her. He wasn’t her regular groom but she responded just the same. He reinforced her once she was in the trailer but the real success comes when a horse just does the behavior without discriminating between handlers.
This reminded me of being at Sea World and bringing along baby sea lions. I usually had a young charge to train and prepare for the show. There is a lot for a young sea lion to absorb. Since the person who trained them has the best rapport with the young sea lion and a greater chance for success, they would also be the trainer who worked them through their first few show segments. I always felt proudest when I would eventually watch them successfully do the show with someone else. I knew at this point that they were solid on that segment of the show.
This is what makes Lorelei’s story so reinforcing for me. I know that I can train any horse to go into a trailer, but the real success comes when the training is done by the people who are with the horse everyday and it’s even better when the horse does the behavior for someone else all together! Not only did Lisa get Lorelei responding and succeeding at trailer loading, she really changed Lorelei’s mind about the whole thing. Now Lorelei will load for anyone, any place, any trailer and anytime. Well done Lisa!!
If you have stories of clicker training success I would love to hear them and share them with others. Please post your stories or send them to me and I will post them.
In this video answer (sent in by Krista) I address a horse’s worry about who is coming and going from the barn. Sassy will focus when she is doing a session until she sees a horse heading to the paddocks. Then she becomes agitated. I lay out some ideas to get her focus back on her session. REMEMBER… if you have questions or comments, I love to hear them!
Stretching is a great tool for helping our horse to loosen up and prevent injuries. However, if done incorrectly we can do more harm than good. It is important that the horse relaxes during the stretching process. Pulling on a stiff or tense horse can injure them as well as you! With the use of positive reinforcement/clicker training you can communicate what it is that you are looking for and you will usually start to see your horse actually stretch on his own once you initiate the process. I have just started this training with Mint. In this session Mint “drops”. This is not something that Mint has done in previous sessions. I don’t worry about it as long as he is minding his manners, paying attention and not getting distracted. In fact dropping shows a great deal of relaxation and this is an important factor when teaching your horse to stretch. When I film these type of sessions for the blog I just film it and let you see things as they happen. I want to keep the reality in there since these are things that you may or may not encounter as you move through the training process. I hope this gives you some ideas. Please post any questions or comments. I would love to hear from you.
In this video answer I address the horse who avoids being caught or who panics once caught. It is a quick and easy process to rebalance the scales and have your horse coming to you!!
In this video I address some of the nuances for training your horse the back up from the ground. This makes backing up undersaddle a breeze! There are some progressive training videos as Bug’s was learning to back up. Look under the category: Bug’s Blog.
This question is from Ann. She asks about her Thoroughbred who shakes his head when he feels pressure. Through positive reinforcement you can change this from resistance to seeking the contact.
Another Ask Shawna Answer… This question was posted by Sharon. I address barn sour/buddy sour/herd bound behavior in horses. Of course there are many factors involved but positive reinforcement has worked wonders in each of these areas. Please post your questions to askshawna.com!!
This is an old video but definitely a good one. It is a quick video of Nick Skelton jumping a puissance wall (7’6″). I cannot imagine riding up to this jump with the intention of jumping. I hope you enjoy the clip.
The answer addresses Treasure’s cranky expression when moving into the trot. Of course you always want to rule out that there is a physical cause or discomfort occurring. Once you have established that it is behavioral, there are ways to improve attitude, expression and work ethic.
This question was posted by Marjorie at Askshawna.com. I address how to teach your horse to stand quietly for clipping. Even if they are terrible with clipping, with these methods you can change their minds without resistance. Next thing you know they are voluntarily participating in the clipping process. Thank you Marjorie for the question and allowing me to be part of your success. Enjoy getting your horse On Target! If anyone has questions about horse training or horse behavior please don’t hesitate to ask.
What a great show! Listen to this week’s show where I address a hot topic in how to teach your horse to give into pressure through positive reinforcement. Click here for the link to the show!
This question was posted on my Facebook page by Lydia. In this video I am addressing how to teach your horse to continue on with a good attitude following the click. I focus on teaching this under saddle but the same techniques work from the ground. Simply ask for a behavior that has a well established reinforcement history. In other words, a behavior that your horse readily offers and seems to enjoy doing. Anyway, Lydia, I hope that this helps you to move to the next level. Thank you for the question and the opportunity to help you progress! Enjoy getting your horse On Target.