The Great Debate: To Feed or Not to Feed?

I was re-reading my blog post and I realized I have misspoken. My head filled in my line of thinking but my words didn’t express it correctly. I shared a video and blog post called: Should I Reward Every time I Click?. My point wasn’t about rewarding (reinforcing) every click, it was about using food (primary reinforcement) every time I click. I reward every behavior either with a primary reinforcement or what is known as a conditioned or “secondary reinforcement”.

I know this can be like a foreign language to a lot of you, so let me back up and elaborate a bit. Here we go with psychology 101, but stay with me as it will help you to better understand your horse. You will become a more effective teacher both on the ground and under saddle.

First what is a reinforcement? In operant conditioning, reinforcement occurs when an event following a response causes an increase in the probability of that response occurring in the future. It is how we all learn. It sounds technical but it is pretty simple. It is going on all the time in our lives as well as in our horse’s lives. We are either seeking something we want or avoiding something we don’t want. In this post, we are focusing on positive (reward) reinforcement which is seeking something we want.

Next, what is a primary (unconditioned) reinforcer? It is a consequence, such as food or water, that fulfills a primary, unlearned drive, such as hunger or thirst, and thereby reinforces a behavior without dependence on prior learning. These are the things needed for survival. Primary reinforcements are: food, air, water, sleep and procreation (for survival of the species)

Okay, now what is a secondary (conditioned) reinforcer? Secondary Reinforcer refers to a stimulus that gains reinforcing properties because it is associated with a primary reinforcer. That means that pairing the “new stimulus”(clicker) with a “primary reinforcer” (food) results in the “new” taking on the value of food. Think Pavlov’s dogs. The bell brought about the same physical reaction as the presentation of food even with no food present. Are you still with me? This is where the bridge signal(clicker) comes in. You can use any stimuli you choose to condition as a reinforcer. There is nothing magical about the clicker. In fact, with the marine mammals at Sea World we didn’t use clickers. But for this post I am going to use the clicker as the example.

By the way, did you know that we also have a conditioned reinforcer in our lives? It is money! It is just paper. We don’t react this way to all paper. We have come to associate money, the special paper, with the things it can buy us. These are things we need to survive, which are primary reinforcers. If we were to be transplanted to a desert island would we want to take money? No, we would be focused on food and water. Do we work for only enough money to survive or do we go above and beyond and keep trying to earn more money? Of course we could survive with a lot less money but we choose to have more money than is absolutely necessary.

As we now have some basic working definitions, let’s go back to my previous post. I stated in that post that I don’t always reward the behaviors. I misspoke, I do reinforce, I just don’t always use food as a reinforcement. I also use conditioned reinforcements quite a bit. For example I have conditioned patting my horse as a reward. Some horse like this intrinsically but some do not. We humans have a tendency to think they all like it but it is not always the case, as with some horses it is just a little above neutral. I always try to strengthen it’s value by doing some conditioning (pairing it with a food reinforcement).

Let’s consider what serves as a conditioned reinforcer in our horse’s lives. Of course, I am talking about a horse who has been trained through positive reinforcement. In this scenario the horse would have been conditioned to the sound of a clicker or some other “yes” signal. The horse has learned that the clicker itself is a conditioned reinforcer, that is the strongest because that is where we have focused our attention, we conditioned it as a reinforcemnt. But by exposure we have conditioned our presence to be a conditioned reinforcer since we bring the food (primary reinforcement) to the training sessions. Our presence means there is a chance for reinforcement. It is not as strong as the clicker but it is conditioned. Toys and turn out time are also things I have conditioned to be reinforcers. And as stated in the video in my last post, the signal(cue) itself has been shown to have a very reinforcing value. It releases dopamine which was previously thought to occur when the food reward was delivered. Instead they have found it occurs when the signal is given. This seems to indicate that the signal is also a conditioned reinforcer. It has a very strong reinforcement history, it has been conditioned through the pairing of a primary reinforcement. That actually makes sense since the whole process of training with positive reinforcement has been conditioned, an association has been made. That is the beauty of it!

Now back to my last post. There is a big debate on feeding after every click or not. I have heard for years that some people feel you should feed after every click otherwise it is a lie to the horse. I refer to a horse here because this is not the practice with marine mammals. I have found the use of conditioned reinforcers to be a valuable tool for training. I always reward but sometimes it is with a secondary reinforcer. In the previous post I cited why this is so effective. I may use pats, verbal praise, another signal or toys just to name a few. In fact the clicker IS a conditioned reinforcer. That means it has reinforcing value on it’s own. Just hearing the click serves to reinforce them just like a pat. The clicker is like our money. We conditioned the clicker right off the bat by pairing it with a primary reinforcement, something that has an innate value to our horse’s and need to survive, food. The horse’s are getting all of the food they need, yet they still choose to work for the food reward just like we continue to work for more money than we need for minimal survival. The clicker will maintain it’s value as long as we follow up the click with primary reinforcement more often than not. Moreover, the same holds true for other conditioned reinforcers. As stated in the video, the question of what the reinforcer might be has a profound effect on our horse’s behavior. Anyway, thanks for letting me set the record straight as well as bearing with me through psychology 101. There will be a test on Monday. 🙂

Should I Feed Everytime I Click?

Robert Sapolsky on the Dopamine and Pleasure by 5minKnowledge

This video has great information for positive reinforcement/clicker training. The findings are really enlightening. These findings show that the release of dopamine comes at the time of the signal for a previously trained behavior instead of at the time of the reward. That is an important distinction. It also talks about how the dopamine level rises significantly when the reinforcement (reward) isn’t delivered for every performance of a behavior.

We used this all the time with the marine mammals. There is a bit of resistance to this concept in the dog/horse world. I have successfully used it to raise criteria and focus for 27 years now. This is where the secondary reinforcer (a clicker, another signal or patting) is great tool, which allows for offering the primary reinforcer (food reward) a little more selectively.

Dr. Sue McDonnell, the head of the Equine Behavior Program at University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center School of Veterinary Medicine, (that is a mouthful) told me that she has found that reinforcing (with food) one in ten times maintains behavior with the Icelandic herd she works with at the school. She adopted these methods quite a while ago. It must have been 2001. I tend to reinforce more often then this but I think that this is a good statistic to keep in mind. The various schedules of reinforcement are amazing tools.

I start teaching them about this pretty early on in training. If you have been quite predictable up to this point, it will take teaching your horse to accept the new routine. You will actually have to reinforce them for their good attitude when they don’t receive a reward following a click. I suggest you start with a simple and well established behavior. When they perform correctly click and then give them another signal for the same behavior. Reinforce well when they respond willingly, even if it is after a hesitation. I find that they can develop a sense of entitlement and can get frustrated with change if we are too routine. It is important to me that the horses be easy going, flexible and attentive. I want them to see change as a good thing.

Just as the video describes, the dopamine comes when the new signal is offered not when the food is offered. The signal itself (with a familiar behavior) is actually a “conditioned reinforcer” as there is a reinforcement history associated with the behavior. We used it ALL the time at Sea World. It was the norm, not the exception. I have found it to be equally as effective with horses. This is a principle not widely embraced during the early years of dolphin training but is now used universally, with marine mammals as well as other exotic animals. It is important to remember that conditioned or secondary reinforcers, such as the clicker, need to be maintained to hold their value.

This is an invaluable tool for raising criteria with an established behavior. For example, say you ask for a behavior such as having your horse lift his legs. He then does what he has been taught to do. He earns the click (secondary reinforcer) which is a reward, but then doesn’t get a food reward (primary reinforcer). He has a history with this task and knows he is doing the right thing. You offer another signal and ask him to lift his leg again. He gets a rush of dopamine from the signal itself and he tries even harder to earn the food reward. This is how simple it is to get them to raise their own criteria. It also helps in establishing a good work ethic.

By using less primary reinforcements you can raise the criteria of the behavior as well as sending the dopamine levels “through the roof”. You can see how useful this is in the training equation. This principle is also at work with something referred to as “Extinction Burst”. In a nutshell, this is when you ask for a behavior that is familiar and has an established reinforcement history, then you quit reinforcing them for their effort. They start performing the behavior with more and more enthusiasm before they quit trying altogether. You may use selective bridging (clicking) to establish this new, higher criteria. It is good to use a generous food reward (primary reinforcement) for this increased effort.

If you were to study schedules of reinforcement, you would see that it has been shown that reinforcing a behavior every time will actually cause the performance of the behavior to diminish somewhat. Conversely, variation in the schedule of reinforcement will raise criteria and effort.

Okay, I hope this didn’t get too technical for anyone. Apologies if this sounds too much like a textbook, but I think it is important to understand these principles. They are always in effect whether or not you are aware of them. By gaining a better understanding them, you can become a more effective teacher for your horse, dog or dolphin!

Ask Shawna: Horse with Major Mounting Fears

October 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Ask Shawna, Under Saddle

Here is a question sent in by Peggy, but I have heard from a couple other people with very similar issues so I thought it was a good time to address this potentially dangerous issue.

QUESTION: I have a spanish (?) mustang mare who is 7 years old who I rescued from the slaughter house last year. She definitely has had some past traumas. She has come so far in terms of trust and settling since I’ve had her but the one thing I really want to “fix” is her tendency to bolt or buck when mounting….she is quiet and relaxed up to that point when you swing your leg over (the point of no return!) I have worked extensively with her on the ground, desentisizing her even to a dummy that I throw over her back (stuffed jeans with boots attached). I have begun the target training with her and she is VERY food motivated so I’m hoping I can somehow use this to solve this problem. The question I have though is How? Thanks so much! you have already been a great help.

This is was an update as Peggy got a start on things: At this point I can stand in the stirrup with her for quite a while without any worries from her. I praise her and rub her all over and then when I get down I give her small little bits of carrot. This is how she learned to pick her feet up for trimming and now she is a pro at it…with just little bits of carrot!

ANSWER: First of all I want to say kudos to you for rescuing this mare and for taking the time to discover the horse that is under all of the trauma. I have found, over and over, that the horses who have been abused or have suffered under harsh training, respond VERY well to positive reinforcement. They usually end up being the most loyal and committed horses. They have found a safe harbor and they never want to let it go. The rehabilitated horse can be a real diamond in the rough.

Your mare seems to have a trauma of some sort related to the rider getting on her back. It is important to first rule out any physical cause. Be certain that there is not an injury or soreness in her back, that the saddle isn’t causing her any pain. These things can certainly cause pain and a drastic reaction. Often times the rider getting in the saddle can exaserbate the pain. The association is made with the mounting process. Even when the problem has been resolved the horse is now anticipating the pain. Horses make these associations all the time. This is part of the learning process.

In your horse’s case there is certainly some unpleasant association with mounting. Whether the origin is physical pain or emotional trauma does not really matter as we will address it the same way. We will rebuild a new, better association with the mounting process. You are on the right track with the dummy. I love that you put boots on it!! You are also on the right track with introducing the carrots. We are just going to tweek this a little bit. The best thing to do is to break it down to little steps and to create the mounting as closely as possible. It helps that you have recognized a specific action that seems to set her off. It makes it easier to pinpoint this particular issue. Sometimes it isn’t so clear and you need to break down all the little steps along the way. We want to establish a good reinforcement history with not only the leg swinging over but the actions that happen before and after as well. We don’t want her to just stand there and tolerate the mounting, although for a little bit she will be in this phase, we want her to look forward to mounting. By using the positive reinforcement, we have a great motivator to re-balance the scales and her association.

So here is what I recommend:

Start doing her target work at the mounting block. This gets her attention out of defensive mode and onto something that she has had success with and enjoys doing. This means she has a good association with target training. This will start to change her view of the mounting block. She may not be showing anxiety with being at the mounting block but that doesn’t matter. The stronger we get the association with the whole process the better. Next, do the dummy thing again, this time with positive reinforcement being a part of the equation. So click and reinforce each time the dummy swings that leg over. Here is a crucial factor. Renforce while the dummy is still on her not when it has been removed. You want the association when the pressure or weight is on her. If you reinforce when it is removed she may make the association that as soon as the weight is off it will get reinforced.

At ths point I would recommend, if possible get someone else to help you for 2 or 3 sessions. You choose who would be better mounting and who would be better on the ground. It is easy to direct from above if you feel you are the better choice for mounting. I would have the person on the ground asking her to target. Clicking and feeding correct responses. You want to see her attention on the target and not paying attention to the rider. The rider’s actions seemed to have caused her bucking and bolting in the first place so we want to help her focus on something besides the rider. Start with the weight in the stirrup. If she is quiet and solid bounce around a bit shifting weight without swinging a leg over. If she is good for this I would suggest feeding her well and leaving it here for the day. You have given her food reinforcement but also quit trying to mount which will be reinforcing to her as well.

Next day you might try leaning your body accross the saddle. It is more weight but isn’t the leg yet and it isn’t such a vulnerable position. Always keep safety in mind as you progress. Keep her focusing on target training. Feeding her well for her good choices. Never move to the next step until she is solid with the previous step. I think at this point she will be focused on the trainer with the target.

As you progress, look for her to be relaxed always reinforcing her for soft eyes, soft lips, low head carriage. Try to reinforce as ears and eyes are on the ground trainer vs. the rider. Since the issue stems from the riders’s activity we want the focus off of the rider at this point. Progress slowly. It is always better to go to slow then too fast.

This next part has to be your call as it is a feeling as opposed to something I can lay out in steps. When you feel she is ready to try the leg over, do it slow and low while the ground person is asking her to target. This is a behvioral tool with a long technical name but in a nutshell you are giving something to do that has a strong reinforcement history. She has a decision to make, touch the target or go off bucking. She can’t do both. At this point in time she is loving the target and will most likely stay completely focused on the target. When she lets you in the saddle have the ground person reinforce her a LOT. You want to build a strong association,i.e. “Rider in the saddle is GOOD!!” The first couple of times I would have the ground person reinforce. Even lead her around a bit, click and reinforce her, have her touch the target. When she has been good you will begin to shift the focus to the rider. Have her target as the rider gets on (this will help to set her up for success) and now the rider reinforces from the saddle. I ride with a waist/fanny pack and a clicker on a riding stick or in your hand. Lean forward and reinforce her. If that goes well the next time have the ground person there with the target but not asking her to target when the rider mounts. The rider will click and feed once in the saddle. Then ask her to walk off, click and reinforce her again for responding well.

Well there is a pretty detailed plan for you. Of course horse are individuals and you may choose to modify as you move along. I know you will have success. I wish I was there to see her attitude turn around, that is the best part!! It is such a great feeling. I can’t wait to hear how it all goes!

Ask Shawna: My Horse Won’t Drink Water at Shows!

Question from Stacy:

Hi Shawna, I can’t wait to get the training package! I am having trouble getting my horse to drink water at shows. She won’t drink til we get home. Can you help me encourage my horse to drink?

Answer from Shawna:

This is a new scenario for me but I know we can get her to learn to drink as a trained behavior. I have never had a horse who won’t drink any old water you put in front of him. So I have not experimented with these tactics myself. But I imagine you have heard of putting something in the water (like mint extract or electrolytes) while at home. It will be more familiar and a stronger association when she gets water that may taste and smell different than her usual water. That may help if you haven’t tried this. However, her problem may be related to nervousness and being in a new environment.

We will start at home and get it on a signal. Okay, the first thing to think about is if you know a time that she is likely to drink water. Maybe it is after eating or after being ridden or when she first comes in from the paddock. I have a couple things to try. The first one is called “capturing” and it can be done in conjunction with the other plan I will out-line. I suggest watching her at the times that you think she may drink. When she does, click and feed. It may help to be further away at first if she gets distracted by your presence. You can click as soon as she goes to her water. I am thinking she will stop and watch you. Step away but still watch. Just wait, she is still thirsty and will eventually go back click again, etc. This is how we teach the Sea Lions to holler. We just reinforce them and pretty soon they are doing it all the time (a little annoying at first) then we put it on a signal. Pretty soon she will be drinking water for your attention and reinforcement. Start getting closer and putting a signal in just before you think she is going to drink. She will associate that signal(maybe it is a point to the water and verbal “drink”, it can be whatever you would like)

The other approach I suggest is get a bucket to be her drinking bucket. At the times when she tends to be thirsty enter her stall with the water, set it on the ground and give her a point to the water, tap the water or even use a target to get her nose to the water. Click and reinforce. When she is consistent with touching look for any movement of her lips. It may mean you splash a bit take the water to her lips so she can kind of taste it or lick, reinforce any licking or moving lips. Keep along these lines and I imagine she will soon turn that lipping/licking into actual drinking. At first, I would interrupt it with a click. Then let it go a little bit, letting her drink longer and longer. Remember to click on the behavior you want to see more of, when she is drinking(or even flapping lips in the beginning) not when she has quit or moved away from the bucket. I also suggest you feed her alot for each of these approximations so it makes a bigger impression on her. When she is consistently responding correctly I suggest trying at different times of day so she learns to respond to your cue vs. her thirst. Next, I suggest moving just outside of the stall or paddock where ever she lives. Use the same bucket and the same cue. She may be a little slower again. Look for those baby steps we took to help her in the beginning to build up her confidence. When she is good there try someplace else. Pretty soon she should be drinking any place, any time around the barn. You can even have her do it just before feeding time. she drinks and she gets a jackpot of food. When you go to the show take the same bucket and take some of your water if you can for the first lessons. It will be the most familiar and will help to set her up for success. Set it on the ground and give her the cue. Go back to the baby steps if necessary. She’ll get it figured out. The good thing about using the positive reinforcement is that it also promotes relaxation within the horse and it may even help to settle her nerves at the show. Felling more settled will also allow her to respond to her natural thirst.

Well, I have never had to teach a horse to drink but I have taught a whale to urinate on command! I am confident we can get it figured out, though it may take a little tinkering here and there. Pay attention to her habits, what she seems to respond to and adapt the training to what seems to be working for her and your situation. Please keep me updated. I am here to help you along the way. I am excited to see this through to the end!

Ask Shawna: Bolting? Teach Your Horse to Turn and Face it Instead.

Video Ask Shawna answer. Sabine’s horse bolts when he is spooked. A lot of them do! This is unsettling whether you are mounted or on the ground. I address how to change this behavior. The good news is that as you progress through the exercise on the video your horse will soon be applying his new lesson to objects he has never seen before! It is a concept that they learn and practice over and over. Through the use of positive reinforcement (clicker training) he will develop a new association with new objects/sights/sounds. Instead of fearing them he will start to see them as a potential for reinforcement. Your horse will actually begin to seek out new objects on his own. Also, it was tested and shown that through de-sensitization (de-spooking) your horse’s heart rate will stay lower in the face of “scary” new things. That’s huge! It shows that he will feel calmer which allows him to make better decisions about what to do when he is exposed to new objects/ scenarios. With the positive reinforcement your horse will actually WANT to be better about new things. When he is dealing with his fears from an internal place it is way more effective than us dealing with it from an external place. One more perk is that once you start using the clicker training under saddle they want to pay more attention to you and they are way less interested in what is going on around them. This is particularly effective for the horse who is spooking as a way to get out of work. Anyway Sabine, I hope this answers some of your questions and gives you some good ideas of how to progress. Thank you for submitting your question to Ask Shawna!! Enjoy getting your horse On Target!!

Here is a link to the free video series in case you you haven’t seen it yet.
CLICK HERE: Is Your Horse Spooky Under Saddle?

Ask Shawna: “Dropping” While Clicker Training

Okay, I guess I’ll go there! I have seen (and heard of) horses who “drop” during positive reinforcement training sessions. I have tried to find out what other “clicker trainers” have noticed in regard to this behavior and no one really seems to address the subject so I thought “someone should!” I got an Ask Shawna question about a gelding just before I released a short video series on de-Spooking your horse. William, the horse who is featured in this de-spooking exercise has dropped. Actually,he has more of an erection. It is not sustained and everything…well…goes back to normal. I thought the timing of this question was fortuitous. It is a good time to address the subject. Then I received a comment/question about William’s “willie”. Horses dropping during clicker training is the exception and not the rule. I know that dropping is an indication that your horse is relaxed. Okay, so what does the erection mean? I don’t know! I got to say I don’t really care for this behavior but sometimes I don’t even notice at first. Let’s get to the questions and I’ll elaborate as we go.

Question #1:(Cara)
“Hi Shawna,
I was so excited to learn about your website and your new video series yesterday. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s release!
I do have a question. I’ve been clicker training my horses for several years and love it. I do have one horse that concerns me. He’s a big Arabian gelding that I’ve had since birth. He was gelded right at a year old. He’s a very, very smart horse and also very playful.
My concern is he gets really excited during clicker sessions to the point that he is nickering a lot and even dropping out of his sheath. Usually I just stop when he gets to this point because I’m not sure what it might escalate into. He just started this really excited behaviour about a couple of years ago and he’s 13 now. Because of one thing and another he’s been mainly a pasture pet his whole life. He doesn’t get worked with daily or even weekly but I’m wanting to do more with him. He’s not studdish in general other than this. Even around mares he couldn’t care less. Anyway, can you PLEASE tell me how to handle this behaviour?”

It is funny, I have seen it in geldings but never in stallions. I haven’t even heard of it in stallions (that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened) I haven’t even seen it in studly geldings. That makes me wonder the origin of the behavior. Anyway, I had a horse who would sometimes drop and occasionally have an erection. This was so long ago (17 years) that the clicker training community was not in existence and there was no one else to confer with.

I had never seen this in any of the horses I had worked so I assumed it was an isolated case. I would do demonstrations in front of hundreds of people at expos and I didn’t really want this to be a part of my demonstration. Me, being the trainer that I am, decided I would address it with behavior modification.

I used three tools to manage his dropping/erection behavior. First, my big criteria for all sessions is an attentive and responsive horse. I want the sessions to feel like a 50/50 interaction with the horse as involved as I am. I want to see him trying and putting out energy when I ask for a behavior that requires energy and watching patiently all the while. My horse, Hershey (he is in my book and original DVD from way back when) would give me a pretty big clue that things were askew. His focus and energy would fall below the criteria I felt was acceptable. I wasn’t going to beg him to participate, therefore I would put him home. My horses know this means they have lost the opportunity continue this session. This has proven to be quite effective. I would then go back in about 10 minutes and try again. They usually returned to the sessions fully focused and ready to go. The decision to take him home was based on attitude and not the act of dropping. But these two things often go hand in hand. This helped quite a bit. This was tool #1.

Pretty soon I recognized that when he was starting to drop it was because of his focus. This leads to tool #2. I would ask him to trot off to another area, in a circle or even just a few steps. As soon as he decided to trot he drew himself back up. I had to focus on teaching this bright response to trot with a high ratio of reinforcement for a while. But this worked great for preventing this awkward behavior. Preventing is always easier than correcting. Tool #3 was to draw attention to the times when he was doing something requiring low energy without dropping. These three things really helped to manage this behavior.

So Cara, If he gives you any indication he is getting wound up(it could be that he nickers before he drops) I would address it with one of the first two tools. Try to prevent it by moving onto a higher energy behavior. If he loses focus put him home or leave the paddock. This will take little bit for him to recognize that you are ending the session and then to figure out why. So you need to be consistent…very important! Plus you have to be paying attention to the little nuances if you can detect them, if you can’t than keep an eye on “things”. The third tool is more of an add-on. I feel it is a little muddled and may not be as clear for them. I hope this gave you some ideas. I have limited experience with this problem but this is what has worked for me…now onto William…

Question #2:(Valerie)
“Am I the only one who noticed this horse has dropped. My first reaction is to think, he is sedated…but he doesn’t act sedated. I would have liked to have seen Jen mounting the horse. Now, he is walking but still dropped. What is that all about? Ok now he is t rotting and has pulled up! It did have me concerned when this video started but I do look for minute details in everything. I wish I knew about this training with the horse I had years ago. This William horse has the most amazing markings! He looks as though he has star bursts on him. I have ordered Shawna’s book and am eagerly awaiting it. I will be taking the clicker training method out of the paddock in the next few days…weather conditions pending…thanks so much for these great and simple techniques!”

I am really glad that you brought this up. He is not sedated. William drops quite often (in many situations whether clicker training or not), sometimes partially sometimes all the way, It doesn’t seem to have a pattern that I can tell. He has done it a couple times in our relatively small number of sessions. I am still getting to know William and figuring out what is “normal” for him. Another thing is he isn’t my horse so I don’t work with him consistently. In this video clip, when I am asking him to come forward and he doesn’t really move at first…That will be a red flag for me from now on. I couldn’t see what was going on down below so I didn’t put the two together. I thought he was just being a little apprehensive because of the milk jugs. Now I can start to recognize this type of behavior and double check. If he has dropped and has choses not to respond I will ask him to do a new higher energy behavior which does not seem so compatible with dropping. I will have to build a strong reinforcement history with this behavior when he is not dropped and is more apt to give me the correct response. Ultimately, he will have a decision to make, stand here unresponsive or put it away and trot on with me. The early stage is when I might need to put him home if he chooses to remain unresponsive. After a few trips home he will get the idea. With the correct training he will decide that the trotting on is the more rewarding of the two behaviors. Down the road he will readily move on and kind of break the habit and it will turn into more of a non-issue. Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers to this situation but I am sharing what has worked for me so far. I hope this helps!!

I also want to point out that, upon further research, I have found a trend with this behavior. From my own experiences and from conversations with other clicker trainers. It seems that this behavior is mostly encountered with cross over horses and in particularly with the more worried horses.

Ask Shawna: Horse Refusing to Jump at Shows

October 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Ask Shawna, Jumping, On Target Training

Video answer: I address a jumping issue. This mare who is great at home is not so good at the shows. When we are at shows things are different. Our horses are acutely aware of subtle changes in our behavior. They are probably more aware of it then we are! Sometimes it is our nerves or excitement that can worry our horses. But sometimes they can begin to recognize that they can get away with more at shows. After all, we don’t get to keep jumping the course and schooling in the ring until we get it right. Sometimes it can just be sensory overload for our horses. They have so many new things to watch and worry about that they have a hard time focusing on the job at hand. In any case we can get this straightened out with the use of positive reinforcement. By building a strong reinforcement history(with jumping) she will look forward to jumping.

I recommend starting at home since that is where she has success. Free jumping(no chute or whips) is always a great tool for building the horses confidence, if confidence is the issue. This is also great for teaching the young horse and to correct stopping. This helps the horses learn how to figure out their own distances. It is uncomfortable for them to take off from a bad distance. They learn to adjust and take care of themselves in this process. It allows them to really focus on jumping with out the distraction of the rider. You always want to click on the action you want to see more of so in this case it is when they commit to jumping the jump. In the beginning it may be for stepping over the rail! I am going to recommend some really fun footage which will show you this process. In this blog go to the catagory: Jumping. I suggest watching “Bugs Free Jumping a Line(at liberty)” and, this one is really fun…”Free Jumping From Mint’s Helmet Cam” That’s right, Mint is wearing a helmet cam and so am I, so you see it from my view and his!

Linda, back to your mare. I think you might do just as well to start clicking as she goes over jumps with her rider at home. I know this isn’t where the problem happens but she will start to put a MUCH higher value on jumping as she realizes it may earn her a reward. You can do this over itty bitty cross rails to start. The point is the committment to jumping, not the height of the jump. Reinforce well for each jump. She will put this together. The next step may include reinforcing her for responding to the rider’s adjustments before and after the jump, this will help her to listen to the rider but it still serves to reinforce the whole process. Don’t worry that you are clicking over the jump, she won’t slam on the brakes as soon as she lands. Just come to your usual stop. Next do lines and then courses. At this point I would mix it up, sometimes reinforce the first jump, sometimes the third jump, sometimes at the end of the course.

Now that she has a new perspective it is time to go to a show. Now, I suggest you go to a few schooling shows with the point of truly schooling. I would click and reinforce often in the warm up area. She has new elements to contend being away from home so I think it is best to start way back in the beginning of the training process. Reminding her that jumping here may also be reinforced. I think at this point she will probably be performing like she does at home. But don’t take her good attitde for granted, reinforce the heck out of it! When you go in the ring if she jumps the first jump I would click and feed. Go onto the next 2, 3 or 4 jumps, if things are going well click and reinforce again…etc. Do a few classes like this, change up which jumps you decide to click and reinforce. Sure this is not going to win you the class but it will help you to win plenty more later. I would do a few shows like this at different showgrounds, if possible. You could also trailer to someone else’s arena and school there as well. Like I said in the email…I know with 100% certainty that you can get her turned around. I have done this with cases that were much more extreme!

I could go on and on but I think I have covered what you need to know. If you have questions please feel free to ask. Please keep me posted on your progress!

Is Your Horse Spooky Under Saddle?

Hey Everyone!!

YAY!!! The last FREE video on de-spooking your horse is up! Today William goes under saddle with the cluster of milk jugs. He is getting bolder with every session.

This next video will really help you tie it all together. You are well on your way to having the bold horse you always wanted. I love that so many of you have jumped right in with this exercise. Thank you for sharing the stories of the success you have had already!!

Enjoy getting your horse On Target!!

P.S. If you know of someone that could use some help de-spooking their horse or building boldness and confidence, please feel free to pass this link onto them too!

CLICK HERE: Is Your Horse Spooky Under Saddle?

On Target Training, Shawna Karrasch

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