Okay, I almost called this “Traditional Training vs. Clicker Training.” The verses part of the title didn’t really appeal to me but unfortunately people often think that it has to be one or the other. This is obviosly a multi-layered question.
When I was at Sea World we only used positive reinforcement training. Then as I looked into horses I realized only removal reinforcement was used. My goal has always been to integrate the two principles to maximize our effectiveness as horse trainers.
The question sent into me really was in regards of how to work with a trainer who prefers to use only traditional training, and how to balance out the equation once the horse is started. I address that in the video clip (below) but found my mind kept going to the bigger picture. The good news is that positive reinforcement training can easily be adapted to any training program. The methods don’t compete but instead complement one another. As the training moves along you will find that you will probably use less of the traditional training aids. That is because your horse will be much more alert and responsive. Your horse will be looking forward to the interactions and will be more involved in the training process.
It is not always easy to find good trainers regardless of their disciline or method. Here are some things to watch for as you consider a trainer for your horse. Do the horses that the trainer is working seem to be comfortable and relaxed with their handlers or riders while they are engaged in work? Do they seem bright and eager or are their ears pinned? Do they have a crabby or fearful demeanor, or instead do they have a soft expression? Watch more than one horse to get an overall feeling. Talk to the other owners who have their horses in training. Have they seen good progress? Do you understand what is being asked of the horses or ask the trainer as he/she is working with the horses. You will ultimately be the one handling/riding your horse and that means you will need to understand how to implement the training as well. You will be dealing with the work ethic that is established by the trainer that you choose to start your horse.
As we learn about horses and how to handle them, it is really important to have a knowlegable trainer to turn to when you have questons. There are some great trainers out there but unfortunately, there are also some not-so-great trainers out there too. The horses will really tell the story. Trust your gut feelings and I encourage you to continue to learn about behavior principles. These proven principles are at play whether you are aware of them or not. The more you know the better you will be able to guide you horse through his journey. I will always be here to help as well!! Please keep me posted.
I am a former Sea World animal trainer (whales, dolphins, sea lions) who took these techniques and introduced them to the equestrian world. A degree in psychology is not required to train animals. It is, however, helpful. All of the work we do as animal trainers (with horses too) is based in psychology. Whether we are aware of it or not. The more you understand about these proven priciples the better you are as a trainer. That is the focus of my training is helping people to gain a better understanding of behavioral psychology and the benefits of positive reinforcement in regards to horse training. I chose to make the move to horses partly due to the lack of positive reinforcement being used with horses. I recognized that horses were not trained the same as the marine mammals. I also saw that the training we implemented at Sea World would be a huge asset to the horse world. A lot of horse people, including professionals, don’t know much about the proven principles of behavioral psychology. So I see a bigger need in helping horse folk to further understand the principles that govern the relationships we build with our horses.. It is really fun to see the light come on!!
This question was sent in by Jean: I would like to have some exercises I could do in preparation to help my horses dentist check his teeth without a struggle. He is older and doesn’t necessarily need any mouth work, but does need to be checked. Thanks so much.
This can be tricky business but with a little effort your horse will happily oblige. With the use of positive reinforcement you can build up a positive association with the dentist and your veterinarian. These procedures are often viewed as invasive to our horses and they let us know this. The more that we insist, the more resisitant our horses become. This pattern often escalates into a mess of a situation. The horse can come away with fear that carries over to the next dentist/vet visit. Worse case scenario, someone can even get hurt. With a little preparation you can teach your horse to cooperate and actually look forward to these examinations. Your dentist, vet or farrier will look forward to working with your horse.
I have showed a little sample of some of the work you may start with to prepare for a dental check. You may move to the front of the horse and graduate up to opening his mouth. Continue along with small steps toward your end goal. Only move forward when your horse is comfortable with the current step. Also, short and reinforcing sessions are more effective than long drawn out sessions. Remember to always start your clicker training program with the first and most important step of teaching your horse to wait for the reinforcement without invading your space. You never want a mouthy, nippy or pushy horse and this is established in the very early stages. Finally, as with all training,be sure to keep safety in mind for you and your horse. Don’t force or corner your horse and don’t forget to watch your fingers. When you have them in their mouth they may bite down without intending to bite you. I hope this helps you out and gives you some good ideas. Please keep me posted with your horse and his progress and enjoy getting him on target!!
Listen in to the show and learn about how to encourage your horse to become an A student! I share about both Mint and Bugs’ personalities and progress of On Target Training and how we overcame distraction and disinterest and developed an motivating, successful and positive session every time. Click here for the link to the show!
There is nothing more annoying than a horse who walks off, or worse, acts up, while you are mounting. Bugs, being a bit of a fuss budget was not the worst, but he wasn’t the most accomodating horse to mount. He would turn to face me, refuse to give to the pressure of the reins and wouldn’t move up or would just be fidgety. I could always get on him but it wasn’t always pretty. Athletic? Yes. Pretty? Not so much!
Sometimes these issues need sessions devoted to improving the situation ASAP. But in his case, I simply addressed it a little bit every time I mounted. I started by clicking when he would follow me to the mounting block. I’d click once more when he would happen to be lined up nicely, and again when he would be still. I would really draw attention to reinforcing him once I was in the saddle. Pretty quickly they start to figure out that the sooner you are in the saddle the quicker they can get reinforced. I would proportionately feed more once I was in the saddle. Horses figure out pretty quickly how to accommodate and expedite the process. Next thing you know, they are bounding right up to the mounting block with hopes of you getting on!
July 7th 2011. That is the day I got the news that I have chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL/SSL). I don’t capitalize the name of the disease because I don’t want to make it seem any bigger or more important. I want to keep things in perspective and this is not going to change my optimistic view of life and all that life holds. Sure those are big scary words but then there are plenty of scary things in life. Words I prefer to capitalize are: God, Faith, Hope, Peace and Love. These are words worth focusing on.
Here’s a quick run down of my circumstances. I went in for a routine check up. The blood work/CBC panel showed that I had an elevated white blood cell count. More blood was drawn and the count was even higher. Then we ran a more diagnostic test (flow cytometry). This at first showed the my WBC was back down…phew! Then the rest of the tests came back and showed that I have cancer cells in my blood. It is an incurable cancer but it can be very slow growing and quite manageable. There are more tests being run now that will determine which chromosomes are defective, if the cells are mutated (tend to be more stable) or unmutated (more unstable), etc. These tests will give us a better look at my prognosis. It can be a few years to twenty years. I have read that 50% of people diagnosed with CLL live over 12 years. But in either case I want to stay focused on the life I have in front of me.
I questioned if I should share with everyone or if I should just keep it on a more personal level. I decided it is more cathartic, for myself and others, to share. I am glad that I did. The people that have come forward and have given me words of encouragement or have shared their own stories have helped me through the very difficult first few days. I cannot express how much it has helped. I feel connected, not alone. A big THANK YOU to all of you who have taken the time to reach out to me. You have been a big source of comfort and reassurance.
My time feels more special now. I feel Blessed with each day. God has a purpose for me and it involves horses. I am staying focused on my passion and sharing a gift that was given to me. Thank you for being a part of my journey and allowing me to be part of yours in this unpredictable life. Now, please excuse me, I have some horses to train and people to teach!
This is so simple but very effective. It is actually a byproduct of offering reinforcement under saddle. Being a positive reinforcement based trainer, I feed from the saddle. Often horses demonstrate a favorite side. It may not be so much their favorite as the more limber side. They will turn to take the treat from the easier, more flexible side. I immediately start to balance out the two sides by feeding (usually) from the side we are bending towards. For example, if I am going to the right with a right bend that is the side I will feed from following the click or bridge signal. I often find that one side is noticeably more rigid than the other. This usually coincides with the them being more resistant to bending in that direction as well. After a couple weeks I will notice a huge difference in both the turning to take the treat as well as the softness in the bridle when asking to bend. They are actually stretching and improving their own range of motion. Super simple, super effective!!