Teaching a slow trail horse to be more responsive.

August 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Ask Shawna, Under Saddle

This question addresses a tricky situation. The horses in question are at a ranch that allows the public to go on trail rides. So there is more to consider than just getting the horses to go forward…maybe it isn’t going to be best for safety reasons. But we can always add positive reinforcement into their lives to help them to enjoy their time with people, even unskilled riders. It might even be a great way to help people learn more about equine behavior and to use something besides pressure/aversive when interacting with horses. If you decide to teach them to go forward, I would suggest also reinforcing the cue for downward transitions so that you don’t lose this valuable safety tool.

Use the search bar to search my blog for more on teaching a horse to go forward.

Also, check out: wwwconnectiontraining.com. Connection Training is a community for discovering about and applying positive reinforcement training. It is a safe place to learn and share as you go.

Why I Don’t do “Clicker Training” by Helen Spence PhD

As many of you realize I also tend to veer away from the term “Clicker Trainer”. It is a loaded and inaccurate term. The people that are familiar with the term are very opinionated one way or another-they either love it or hate it. So the term may drum up interest or disdain. If they are familiar with the term than they typically know what the term positive reinforcement training indicates. However, plenty of people have obviously seen some not so great “clicker training”. For them the term has been poisoned. Teaching them will first take prying their minds open so that proper teaching can happen. But if we don’t start with that term we may start fresh with an open mind. Then we can help them to develop a true understanding of the science behind positive reinforcement training. For me, that is where we should focus, not on a label but a concept. In the marine mammal world (where the training was first put into action) we never called it “clicker training”. Most marine mammal trainers don’t use a clicker. It is a term that started many years later in the dog world.. Anyhoo, as usual, Helen can teach us a lot through her wonderful insight and knowledge. So here is her Blog post: http://clickerhappyhorse.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/why-i-dont-do-clicker-training/

Can you Teach a Horse to Jump with Better Form?

You can use positive reinforcement to change a horse’s jumping style. People tend to leave it up to luck but we can help a horse to improve his technique. Positive reinforcement has proven to be a phenomenal tool for helping horses to overcome water and stopping issues. It can help a horse to become bolder, braver, more relaxed or more energetic depending on what we focus on. . With the positive reinforcement we can motivate them to WANT to jump and the use of a bridge signal allows us to draw attention specific body parts or actions.

When and How to Use Something Other Than Food as a Reinforcer.

I put up a new blog post/video on Connection Training. When and how to use secondary (conditioned) reinforcers with your horse? This is a fantastic question and worthy of much more than this little video response. Using positive reinforcement/clicker training isn’t always as simple as it might seem. There are lots of layers and this question delves into one of those layers. There are a couple of points that I didn’t cover in the video, that I will elaborate on in a blog post. One is the other side of “try”, which is focus and the other point that I want to cover is dealing with incorrect responses…consistency is key. www.shawnakarrasch.comhttp://connectiontraining.com/when-and-how-to-use-secondary-conditioned-reinforcers-with-your-horse/

Using Positive Reinforcement to Overcome a Horse’s Separation Anxiety

When using positive reinforcement we can help our horses to overcome separation anxiety much easier than without the use of a desirable reinforcer. Think about traditional training, what is in it for your horse? Why would he want to overcome his fear? When we put something into the training equation that our horses truly value, we give them much more motivation to address their fears. They become invested in the training equation (and the outcome) no matter what the task might be. You may practice the exercise that I mentioned in the video, with traditional tasks like grooming or leading or you may use some of the tools associated with positive reinforcement training, like targeting or any other behavior you have trained using positive reinforcement. I would suggest that if your horse is unfamiliar with positive reinforcement training that you start him and get a good foundation started before you address the separation anxiety issue, or any other stressful behavior for that matter. Our horses are always making choices and they will choose the behavior with the strongest reinforcement history. So, by teaching a behavior and building a strong positive reinforcement history we will help them want to choose the learned or constructive behavior over other, less desirable behaviors. This only begins to scratch the surface but it gives you the idea. This concept also applies when another horse is taken away from the herd and your horse is left behind. If you want to join a community of positive reinforcement trainers or learn more about the training go to : www.connectiontraining.com

Abused Pony Can’t Get Past the Food

This is from a post that I posted on Connection Training. For those of you who don’t know, Connection Training is a fantastic site. We have worked to create a community of horse people who want to incorporate positive reinforcement training into their current training program. Some people want to use only positive reinforcement and some folks are just beginning to dabble in the training and are combining it with some of the more traditional training. In either case, you will find support and lots of info to help you along the way. It is free to sign up and there is a whole bunch of info ad resources to help you learn more about your horse and how he thinks. For more info go to www.connectiontraining.com

Okay, here is a link to the blog post: I posted about helping a horse to get focused on you and to relax…especially around food. http://connectiontraining.com/abused-pony-cant-get-past-the-food/

Using Positive Reinforcement to Correct a Horse’s Mounting Problem

This video answer offers some suggestions for teaching a horse to stand quietly for mounting. Using positive reinforcement/clicker training we can help to make the lesson clear and help our horses to LOVE mounting. As always, double check to be sure that your horse doesn’t physical issues causing pain. Once he is checked out and healthy proceed with these behavioral suggestions. To learn more or for help implementing positive reinforcement/clicker training to your training protocol go to www.connectiontraining.com Once you are there check out this link for Hannah and a video on mounting!! http://connectiontraining.com/video-library/lining-up-at-the-mounting-block/

Can You Teach Your Horse Olympic Level Piaffe or Passage using the Clicker?

Okay, my animals are doing well right now. So after a long and challenging spring, I FINALLY have time to post some more Ask Shawna questions and answers(recorded last winter)…yay! This is from Jacob who asks about teaching an Olympic level piaffe or passage using only positive reinforcement training (no negative reinforcement). There are a number of factors that have to be considered but I know it can be done for any performance oriented behavior… or even jumping style. For more info or help with applying positive reinforcement to your training program go to www.connectiontraining.com. What are your thoughts? Or experiences?

“Repetition is the Enemy of Wonder”

“Repetition is the enemy of wonder.” This got me to thinking. Can you think of something that was once exciting and new and pretty soon it was rather ordinary and barely noticed? I think of living by the ocean in San Diego. I lived in a little beach town for about 30 years, driving by the “wonder” filled ocean everyday. Sadly, there are a lot of days when I wouldn’t really stop and be filled with wonder. It was just a part of my day and I drove by all the time running errands, going back and forth to work or visit friends. It becomes so mundane that it was not the same as when it was new or novel. Now, I don’t dislike the ocean, in fact I love it, I just got to where it didn’t drum up the awe it once did. When I spend some time away and get back to it, I am once again overwhelmed with appreciation. Have you ever heard a song that struck a chord with you? You want to hear it all of the time. Then the novelty wears off and you don’t really “hear” it anymore when it plays? Then pretty soon you hear the song and it has become so familiar that you don’t even WANT to hear it any longer and you’ve become are sick of it. Think about your favorite food. What if you had it everyday at every meal? After a while it would most likely become your least favorite food.

I think we’ve all had experiences like this in our lives. Well, when I heard this quote the other day, being the training geek that I am, my mind immediately thought of horse training. I thought about how easy it is for us to take a good thing, something special and fun and turn it into something dreadful. This not only holds true with traditional training but also with positive reinforcement/clicker training. We think it is all honky dory because we are putting something in it that they have shown us they value. Often times we are using food and most horses love food! However, we can override the joy (or wonder) when we practice the same behavior or use the same reinforcer over and over. It then becomes a form of drilling, not anything fun, new or novel. In my opinion, this concept is quite important when we consider training our horses. Repetition and predictability are not as stimulating as variety. That is why a variable schedule/ratio of reinforcement is much stronger that a fixed schedule/ratio of reinforcement. In a nut shell, it means we should be creative when considering our horses lives and when we interact with our horses. By changing things up and trying not to develop predictable patterns we will help to minimize the vises or sourness that can come from boredom. Horses, especially ones who have been taught through negative reinforcement may tend to like the predictability of routine since it can keep them out of trouble…it helps them know exactly what to do to avoid a correction. They are usually happier when the people drop the food (or attention) and leave them alone. Depressed people tend to act the same way. Most emotionally balanced horses thrive with stimulation…they are curious and like to explore and interact with their environment. Since we are the biggest influence on their environment we have a lot of potential for providing their mental stimulation. Being that we have domestic horses in our care, we are responsible not only for their physical well-being but also their mental well-being.

By adding variety into their lives you can improve their over all attitude and quality of life. When I began working with John and Beezie Madden one of the first things Beezie commented on during that first week was that the horses who were being taught to do the positive reinforcement training were markedly better in the arena. At this point, these two events did not intersect at all. I was working on the very beginning of the training, conditioning them to the sound of the clicker and then teaching them to touch their nose to a target. These activities were only done with me while in their stalls. I had not yet done these sessions in the arena and Beezie was not a part of this phase of the training. They were two separate events, yet their attitude had changed in the arena. The change in routine was a welcome change that effected the way they perceived the other aspects of their lives.

More importantly, I think we should consider how we undertake the concept of training. We have a strong tendency to want to work on a behavior until it is perfect. This often results in drilling and can actually reduce the performance as well as attitude associated with a behavior or task. I have experimented with this concept and found that I make much more progress, both in quality as well as effort when I let a behavior go and focus on some other behavior for a while. If I really want to make progress with a behavior I will work on it maybe 25% of the time or less when I am doing sessions. That’s right…by letting it go and working on some entirely separate behaviors, the target behavior (no pun intended!) will improve more than if it is worked on every session or even everyday. According to the rules of “traditional” horse training it seems counter productive. However, as far as their mental stimulation and keeping it fresh, novelty is our friend. John Madden also recognized this and wanted the horses to learn ANY behavior, silly or not, as it improved their attitude about the other aspects of their training.

There are times when we have to help our horse to develop through some repetition, things such as physically building muscles and athletic endurance or things such as husbandry and day to day behaviors. By changing up the other aspects of their training as well as introducing new behaviors, we can keep them looking forward to all of the training. Also, for the behaviors that need to be repeated for physical reasons, varying the reinforcement, changing when, where and for how long, we can still avoid monotony. Mixing in other behaviors to this equation will help to keep things fresh as well. This includes the things we use as reinforcement. Using the same thing over and over can cause something that the horse once valued to lose it’s value…including food. Mix it up. What you feed, how much you feed (per delivery) and how often you feed. Utilize other reinforcers besides food.

This also makes me think of the other habits we get into with our horses. We tend to create habits rather easily. By switching up things like who lives next to whom, when they are exercised, where and when they get turned out or come in (do they come in by themselves or is it always the same routine? Do you always groom first and ride later?) what they do (cross training) and what toys they have…etc. By checking your patterns and mixing it up you will provide much more mental stimulation for your horse.

Remember to slowly introduce change into your horse’s life. If you have taught your horse to expect a certain fixed routine they will be rigid since they rely on the fixed events. Start with slight changes at first. Pretty soon you will see a more engaged horse…not only with you and your training program but with a lot of the other elements of his life too. Your horse will learn that new things are good. He will also begin to adapt better in novel environments and situations, creating a bolder and more confident horse. Variety in itself is reinforcing and will create a more flexible and engaged attitude in your horse when you bother to change things up. Their mental balance and psychological well-being is paramount. It takes time and real effort but the benefits are worth it. What habits have you developed? What can you do to add more variety to your horse’s life?

On Target Training, Shawna Karrasch

© Copyright 2013 On Target Training. All Rights Reserved.