Top Way To Ruin Your Training 4

The Fourth Way To Ruin Your Training

Never Rewarding

The fourth way to ruin your train­ing is by not giv­ing them a clear reward. One form of semi reward we have already talked about is release from pres­sure.  But here I want to talk about actu­al­ly adding some­thing the horse finds reward­ing.  This can be a food reward, a scratch on their favorite spot, or even quit­ting work for the day and head­ing back to the barn (and friends).

Each and every time we ask some­thing from our hors­es and they respond, we must give them a release of some type to teach them.   Oth­er­wise we are un-train­ing them.  I repeat…Each and every time we ask some­thing from our hors­es and they respond, we must give them a release and reward of some type to teach them.  Oth­er­wise we are un-train­ing them. As a dres­sage rid­er, I know this con­cept is not empha­sized enough. Most dres­sage rid­ers micro­man­age and go from one thing to the next, nev­er real­ly effec­tive­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ing to the horse that what the horse did was right. They nev­er give a full release. Remem­ber, we are not talk­ing about giv­ing it all away but you have to be able to soft­en any aid, even your seat.

In addi­tion, give your horse a break. Take a minute to stop, pat them, let them just stand still and chill.  After a good effort or a hard move­ment, take these moments of break to be friend­ly. My horse has a great work eth­ic and unlike some hors­es will keep going and work hard. That still doesn’t mean he doesn’t need this down time dur­ing rides to process, relax and get a long release.

I use food rewards reg­u­lar­ly.  It’s called pos­i­tive rein­force­ment and you can learn more about it by read­ing my blogs.  I car­ry sug­ar cubes on me all the time for those spe­cial moments or when I am work­ing on some­thing new, par­tic­u­lar­ly hard or chal­leng­ing.  I use sug­ar because of the ease of it melt­ing in the hors­es mouth quick­ly even with a bit in.

I love how Jonathan Field talks about train­ing. Like many nat­ur­al horse­man­ship train­ers, he has clear guide­lines about com­mu­ni­ca­tion with your horse through body sig­nals. What I like about his approach it how much he stress­es giv­ing your horse a break. He teach­es the idea of neu­tral. There is active neu­tral where you horse will main­tain what he’s doing until you ask oth­er­wise. For instance, when your horse is doing what you want, you leave them alone. He also talks of neu­tral where your horse will just stand still and hang out while you are friend­ly to him. Friend­ly is learn­ing where you horse likes to be stroked and touched, so the horse asso­ciates you with friend­ly stuff and not just work. Spend­ing the qual­i­ty time with the horse with­out demands is how he cre­ates draw, so the horse wants to be with him.

Love it!  I have noticed a huge dif­fer­ence in my horse when I start­ed just giv­ing him breaks to stand still and relax dur­ing the rides. Teach­ing this is key. For the ner­vous horse, it gives them a moment to be turned off; on pur­pose. For the lazy horse, it gives you the oppor­tu­ni­ty to train that they can also be turned back on.

 Stay tuned for the Final Way to Ruin Your Training

Top Way to Ruin Your Training: Lesson 3

The Number Three Way To Ruin Your Training

Shouting

The third way to ruin your train­ing is by always using too strong a sig­nal. This is a vari­a­tion of the prob­lem we men­tioned in les­son one but more sub­tle. Say your horse will trot off from your spur and will keep trot­ting but won’t trot off from the light clos­ing of both legs. Hmm there’s a prob­lem here. You are train­ing your horse to only lis­ten when you shout.

This prob­lem sneaks up on you. At first you may not notice it. One day though you wake up and your horse needs a stronger bit to stop and long spurs to go. Your horse has slow­ly been desen­si­tized to your aids.

The oth­er large prob­lem I see is that the horse isn’t quite get­ting what you are try­ing to teach it. Instead of ana­lyz­ing and chang­ing your teach­ing style, you begin to get loud­er with your aids. Maybe your half halts are stronger, your legs tighter, your reins short­er, maybe you’re using the whip more often, kick­ing, yank­ing, pulling and yes maybe even scream­ing. Whoa. Stop! This is a clear sign of mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It’s time to take a break. Back up and teach it dif­fer­ent­ly.

Hors­es can feel a fly land on their skin, they can feel your legs squeez­ing. Again, remem­ber if your horse isn’t respond­ing they either don’t under­stand what you are ask­ing or you have taught them to ignore your aids. Either way, it’s your prob­lem, not the hors­es. If your horse is just ignor­ing you, why make your job hard­er than it has to be. Go back to teach the basic aids to be from light pres­sure. Reward the basics so when train­ing gets more com­pli­cat­ed the easy stuff tru­ly is easy.

I also want to men­tion, that some rid­ers get accus­tomed to rid­ing duller type hors­es and then when they ride a “sen­si­tive” horse, they end up over rid­ing it. The horse gets more ner­vous and the rid­er get’s stronger. A vicious cycle I’ve seen over and over. Some­times, it just takes less, not more to get your horse on the aids. Giv­en that I have a sen­si­tive horse, he has taught me how to be clear but qui­et. With a sen­si­tive horse you almost have to be more clear and def­i­nite with your aids but also qui­et.

If you’re find­ing that your rid­ing is dete­ri­o­rat­ing over time here are some symp­toms that your over doing it. You may notice:

  • increased dull­ness of the horse.
  • increased ner­vous­ness or anx­i­ety of the horse as you ride.
  • your fit but your out of breath. maybe you’re work­ing too hard?
  • you get on oth­er peo­ples hors­es and over ride them.
  • your aids are very vis­i­ble to onlook­ers.
  • you are feel­ing impa­tient, frus­trat­ed or angry when rid­ing.

 Stay tuned for the 4th Way to Ruin Your Training

Top Way To Ruin Your Training: Lesson 2

The Number Two Way to Ruin Your Training

Nagging

The num­ber way to ruin your horse is to nag, nag, nag. Nag­ging is the con­stant ask­ing over and over with­out get­ting a clear response from your horse. We have all seen the rid­er who con­sis­tent­ly uses her spurs every stride just to get her horse to bare­ly trot around the ring. With every stride the horse is get­ting duller and duller. Every stride the rid­er is untrain­ing the horse by teach­ing him to ignore her aid.

They key is under­stand­ing how to pre­vent this and how to cor­rect it when you come across a horse that ignores your aid, what­ev­er the aid may be. First you have to real­ize that you ALWAYS ask soft­ly and if the horse doesn’t respond, he either doesn’t know the aid or he’s been taught to ignore it. So you have two solu­tions.

#1  Teach or reteach the aid as if the horse is just being start­ed. Hors­es don’t inher­ent­ly know to go for­ward from pres­sure with the legs. That is a learned response from their ear­ly train­ing under sad­dle. I per­son­al­ly teach the horse voice com­mands on the ground through reward based train­ing before I ever get on their backs.  You have to teach from the ground first. I want the horse to con­sis­tent­ly trot off on the ver­bal com­mand on the lunge before I teach it under sad­dle. Once the horse knows the voice cue for trot, I use it under sad­dle in this sequence. In the walk under sad­dle, add pres­sure with both legs, give the voice com­mand to trot. Once the horse trots, I release the pres­sure of my legs. Reward the horse. Repeat. In this order.  Always put the new cue before the learned cue.  For instance, add leg pres­sure first then say trot.  In a very short peri­od of time, you will be able to stop the voice com­mand because the horse will have learned to trot off from the leg pres­sure.

#2  Increase the fre­quen­cy or strength of your aid until the horse responds, then clear­ly give a release. Repeat until the horse responds to the light aid. From the exam­ple above it would look like this. You ask the horse to trot off with a light pres­sure of the legs. The horse slow­ly and begrudg­ing­ly kin­da starts to trot. You increase the pres­sure with your leg but the horse responds even less. You fol­low your leg up with light but con­sis­tent tap­ping with the whip. The horse final­ly responds. You STOP AIDING IMMEDIATELY. Let the horse trot 2–5 strides then bring the horse back to the walk and repeat. Start­ing again with the light­est of aids and only increase as need­ed. Once the horse responds to the light­est of aids, give the horse a break. I find that this com­bi­na­tion of light leg pres­sure to increased pres­sure fol­lowed by LIGHT tap­ping with the whip gets the best response with­out hav­ing to be cru­el with the whip or leg.  So to repeat it would be light leg pres­sure (no response from horse), stronger leg pres­sure but not a death grip (no response) then tap, tap, tap, tap until the horse responds.  With poor­ly trained hors­es that ignore all sig­nals, you may have to annoy them with the tap­ping of the whip or go back and do halt/walk tran­si­tions to remind them of the cor­rect response to your aids.  If the horse is real­ly bulky, then retrain all of this on the ground first.  Remem­ber to repeat the sequence if you run into prob­lems again in the future.  Also, remem­ber, don’t start with the strongest of pres­sure.  In the long run, that nev­er teach­es them to move off a light aid.

 Stay Tuned for the #3 Way to Ruin Your Training

Top Way To Ruin Your Training

The Number One Way To Ruin Your Training is

Training Without Release

We’ve all heard the adage that every moment you are train­ing your horse. We all agree with a nod of the head but what does this real­ly mean? It means, that any moment that you release pres­sure you are telling the horse that they just did what you want­ed. Every moment that you are with your horse, you are com­mu­ni­cat­ing what you want and what you don’t want. If you are not aware of what you are doing, you could be telling your horse inad­ver­tent­ly to do the wrong thing.

There are two impor­tant ways to sig­nal to a horse that they are doing what you want. You can reward them or you can relieve the pres­sure on them.

Release by def­i­n­i­tion is to grant free­dom; to free from con­fine­ment. When we talk of release of pres­sure, we mean stop ask­ing for any­thing from your horse for a moment. Direct or implied. That moment can be any­where from 1–2 sec­onds to 1–2 min­utes or longer. The release can be small like a give of rein pres­sure or a ces­sa­tion of leg pres­sure or large one like free walk on long rein or halt­ing and let­ting them relax and look around.  

Rewards are the addi­tion of some­thing the horse finds to be enjoy­able in some way in response to some­thing they did.  This can be a food reward strate­gi­cal­ly timed, quit­ting and going back to the barn or even as tiny as a small scratch­ing on their favorite spot.  The com­bi­na­tion of both release and reward is the fastest and strongest way to train.  Knowl­edge of both of these can help you train every­thing from stop­ping a horse from paw­ing in the isle to per­form­ing 15+ steps of piaffe.

Key Principles Of Release

You have to teach a horse what pres­sure means. Hors­es don’t nat­u­ral­ly always move away from pres­sure. They didn’t come with a man­u­al where brakes mean stop and gas means go. You have to teach them what the aids mean. Remem­ber if your horse isn’t respond­ing cor­rect­ly to your aid, your horse either doesn’t under­stand or has been taught to ignore it.

You have to release imme­di­ate­ly after your horse responds. How is a horse to know what you want if you don’t give him clear sig­nals. A release or a reward imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing the cor­rect response is the only way to com­mu­ni­cate. Also remem­ber, when first teach­ing some­thing, you have to reward the try or a close approx­i­ma­tion of the behav­ior or move­ment. For instance, if your horse has nev­er backed up to pres­sure on the hal­ter, you wouldn’t expect him to take sev­er­al steps back on the first attempt. He may just take a ½ step back or even just shift his weight back.

For exam­ple, let’s talk about teach­ing a horse to move away form the leg in a yeild. In cor­rect train­ing, you are sig­nalling to the horse by adding pres­sure with one leg to sig­nal them to move away from that leg and step in the oppo­site direc­tion. How does the horse know when he did the right move­ment? If he steps into your leg, you increase the pres­sure. This way you are sig­nal­ly to your horse, “nope that wasn’t right”. If he moves for­ward, you keep the leg on him but ask him to slow with your seat and legs. Again that tells him, “Nope that wasn’t quite it either”. Maybe your horse backs up, then you real­ly need to increase the leg pres­sure and add some pres­sure with the oth­er leg. Final­ly, your horse takes a step side­ways. RELEASE the leg ask­ing. STOP ASKING. This is how your horse knows he did it cor­rect­ly. To real­ly seal the deal, now give your horse a pat or a treat. Give your horse a break. Let him stand there for a moment. Don’t imme­di­ate­ly jump into train­ing it again or into the next les­son.

If you keep ask­ing, after the horse has yield­ed, you are actu­al­ly not teach­ing him to yield any­more, you are teach­ing him to ignore your requests. Once a horse under­stand how to move side­ways off the pres­sure of your leg then you can use pres­sure and release in small incre­ments to build dis­tance or dura­tion. What I mean is after the horse moves off your leg side­ways and you want the horse to take 2 steps, you release after 1 step but imme­di­ate­ly ask again. Build­ing on this sequence, you can teach the horse to leg yield across the ring. But it starts with clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion on the first step.

You build dura­tion or fre­quen­cy lat­er. First your horse has to under­stand what you mean, then you look for more steps, longer hold, or increased enthu­si­asm. For exam­ple, let’s say you are teach­ing your horse can­ter. At first you just want the horse to get the idea. You release and reward often when they offer it to your cue. As time goes on, you want them to keep can­ter­ing. In more time, you have them cir­cling. In more time, col­lect­ing and extend­ing. In even more time, pirou­et­ting and fly­ing changes. How­ev­er, you wouldn’t expect a horse new to can­ter to per­form com­pli­cat­ed move­ments. Remem­ber this in baby lessons like walk­ing, back­ing up, or load­ing on a trail­er. It’s not that you set­tle for less. It’s that you slow­ly build. You can only build by releas­ing and reward­ing often. As the horse becomes com­fort­able with the move­ment you can always ask for a lit­tle bit more. The key is a lit­tle bit. Chris­tine Betz has a great say­ing. She says “look for 1% improve­ment a day because that will be 30% improve­ment in a month.” That’s a lot.

Heads up.  This is more than one way to ruin your train­ing…

Stay tuned for the #2 Way To Ruin Your Training

Joining Up or Learned Response

Joining Up:

A young strap­ping cow­boy comes walk­ing into the barn.  Every­one.  I mean every­one stops to take notice.  Admit­ted­ly, it’s his hand­some good looks but it’s also the intrigue.  He’s here to work with the rogue horse that just came off the trail­er two weeks ago breath­ing fire and dump­ing every­one who was brave enough to sad­dle him up for a ride.  The horse is a beaut him­self so every­one is hop­ing that some­thing can be done to sal­vage him as a rid­ing and per­for­mance horse.  

Mean­while, the own­er is no new­bie but she’s nev­er had a horse quite this dif­fi­cult.  Nev­er has she expe­ri­enced a horse so deter­mined to get rid of his rid­er.  It’s almost like he was taught to do that.  So much so, she looked deeply into his back­ground.  On close exam­i­na­tion, it wasn’t all that sketchy.  He had two own­ers, both decent rid­ers.  The pre­vi­ous own­er was too busy with her kids to spend the need­ed time with the horse, so he was sold.  Along came Jane and scooped him up.  Now, she was regret­ting it.  He had dumped her three times in two weeks and she was sore and scared.

Eager­ly, the entire barn was secret­ly peak­ing glances out towards the are­na to see how the cow­boy was get­ting along.  “A horse whis­per­er” he was called which only added to the roman­ti­cized allure.  

At first, the horse was just worked in the round pen free with no sad­dle or bri­dle.  You could see the fire in the hors­es eyes… or was that fear or con­fu­sion?  The horse soft­ens and starts com­ing to the cow­boy when asked.  You can see his eye change.  You can see him bond­ing with the cow­boy.  They call this join­ing up.

Then in sub­se­quent days slow­ly the horse was restart­ed to tack.  As the days turned into weeks, the horse whis­per­er was able to get the horse calm­ly inter­act­ing with him, calm­ly being sad­dled and rid­den in the ring and calm­ly rid­ing out.  

It was a mir­a­cle the barn ladies thought!  Swoon­ing over the tall cow­boy.  He tru­ly does whis­per to hors­es.  

NOT!

While the age of the “horse whis­per­er” has fad­ed, the age of nat­ur­al horse­man­ship has not.  Peo­ple still look to those tech­niques to solve their horse prob­lems and to learn how to train.  And right­ful­ly so.  It works!  How­ev­er, while the tall, dark, hand­some cow­boy with his qui­et ways seems to be work mag­ic and whis­per to hors­es there is a more real­is­tic expla­na­tion.  

Learned Response:

Every­thing the cow­boy, the nat­ur­al horse­man or the lady tak­ing the Par­el­li train­ing does is just a sys­tem­at­ic way of train­ing learned respons­es.  Learned respons­es are con­tin­gen­cies.  If I do this then you do that.  Most­ly this is taught with pres­sure and release (aka neg­a­tive rein­force­ment).  Some­times you will see some con­se­quences (aka pun­ish­ment) mixed in.  What you see lots of is very pre­cise tim­ing of aids and very clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion to the horse.  This is where the whis­per seems to hap­pen. Once the horse fig­ures the train­er out, the horse can pre­dict what the train­er is going to do and the horse LOVES that.  It is very com­fort­ing to the horse.  If they do this, the train­er does that.  So while it may seem like mag­ic, it’s real­ly just good behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion.  

For those skep­tics out there, if you have seen poor nat­ur­al horse­man­ship and yes it does exist quite fre­quent­ly, it is because some­one has learned the method with­out learn­ing the why.  Unfor­tu­nate­ly, because of the mass pro­duc­tion of the nat­ur­al horse­man­ship tech­niques, some horse han­dlers nev­er learn the rea­son why they do what they do and there­fore they get it all wrong.  They nev­er under­stand the under­ly­ing behav­ioral prin­ci­ples and nev­er can think their way through a prob­lem that doesn’t go like a text­book.  But I digress.

So how does this all work.  While dis­sect­ing each and every nat­ur­al horse­man­ship tech­nique would be too encom­pass­ing for this blog, let’s take one as an exam­ple… gain­ing con­trol of the hors­es feet.  This is accom­plished by teach­ing the horse to move off on cue and to stop on cue.  Then you can use this tech­nique in var­i­ous cir­cum­stances to con­trol the horse no mat­ter what.  They are spook­ing.  You go back to con­trol­ling their feet and vio­la they are con­cen­trat­ing on you, not the scary object.  They refuse to enter a trail­er, you con­trol their feet and vio­la they get on the trail­er.  They don’t lunge, you con­trol their feet and in no time you have horse that lunges instead of bolt­ing and buck­ing off with the own­er in tow.  

So how do they teach this?  Lets use just one exam­ple.  While there could be mul­ti­ple ways this could go, for sim­plic­i­ty sake we will take the most direct route.  So, the train­er puts a nat­ur­al horse­man­ship hal­ter on the horse attached to a twelve foot lead and heads out to the round pen with a car­rot stick in hand.  The train­er faces the horse’s left shoul­der, put a lit­tle implied pres­sure on the horse by look­ing at the horse’s shoul­der intent­ly then step­ping toward the horse’s shoul­der then gen­tly shak­ing the whip at the shoul­der and as soon as the horse steps side­ways he releas­es all pres­sure and lets the horse relax.  Soon the horse is mov­ing his shoul­ders away as soon as the body lan­guage of the han­dler tells him to do so.  Four impor­tant things to keep in mind.  

  • The han­dler has a pre­de­ter­mined body lan­guage that he is going to use (noth­ing mag­i­cal, it could be any­thing)
  • He uses the same body lan­guage each and every time (con­sis­ten­cy)
  • He always starts soft­ly and only increas­es pres­sure if he doesn’t get a response (the cue becomes the first move­ment of the han­dler makes, the soft one.  This is just learn­ing the­o­ry at it’s best)
  • He instant­ly releas­es all pres­sure when the horse responds as the han­dler wants.

Now let’s talk about how he stops the feet.  Same set­up but he uses a glance at the hindquar­ters, then a shake of the whip towards the hindquar­ters and the horse has to slow down and turn to look at the han­dler because his hindquar­ters were just dri­ven away.  He stops.  The pres­sure releas­es.  With rep­e­ti­tion the horse learns to stop and face the han­dler when the han­dler just looks at the horse’s butt.  Again seems like whis­per­ing mag­ic but it is just a learned response.  Grant­ed not all hors­es respond so eas­i­ly.  The “mag­ic”, if there is any, is in the handler’s abil­i­ty to put the horse in a posi­tion where he will suc­ceed and will have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to get the release of pres­sure.  It is then that the horse will learn the cue based on the sci­en­tif­ic prin­ci­ples of learn­ing the­o­ry and oper­ant con­di­tion­ing (neg­a­tive rein­force­ment aka pres­sure and release).

See, hors­es love to avoid pres­sure.  They will try super hard to find the path of least resis­tance.  If they find that path doing some­thing we want then we have a well trained horse.  If that path is some­thing the han­dler doesn’t want then we have a rogue horse.  This is the #1 way that hors­es learn to be rear­ers, buck­ers, bolters, poor load­ers, cross tie break­ers, uncatch­able and every oth­er bad behav­ior.  They have had pres­sure released on them when they have done some­thing bad.  Either inten­tion­al­ly or unin­ten­tion­al­ly.  This goes to the ole adage “when­ev­er you are with a horse, you are train­ing it”.

So it is this basic prin­ci­ple that can be applied to any behav­ior and can teach a horse any­thing phys­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble.  While this is a real­ly sim­pli­fied exam­ple, it isn’t horse whis­per­ing.  It is just teach­ing a horse a learned response from a cue.

So while the out­come might look mag­i­cal, if you under­stand how hors­es learn, you can under­stand why any train­ing tech­nique is work­ing or not.

There is no mag­ic.  Why some train­ers seem to work mag­ic is in their abil­i­ty to set the horse up for suc­cess.  Because the faster the horse makes the cor­rect response, the faster the train­er can release pres­sure and the faster the horse learns.

Now in reward based train­ing we add anoth­er lay­er where a reward is offered for the cor­rect behav­ior and speeds the learn­ing process up even more all while build­ing enthu­si­asm in the horse for try­ing and learn­ing.  That’s when the mag­ic real­ly starts to hap­pen.

The Value of Adding Distractions To Your Training

Distractions: I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now.

For years, Rose strug­gled with get­ting her horse’s focus at com­pe­ti­tions, clin­ics and lessons off the farm.  Any time that some­thing was just slight­ly dif­fer­ent, he would get tense, anx­ious and dis­tract­ed.  Rose was giv­en lots of advice.

  • Try calm­ing sup­ple­ments”
  • Why don’t you give him a lit­tle seda­tion”
  • Have you tried ____________ (fill in any num­ber of ideas).
  • Put him right to work”
  • Let him stop and see what’s mak­ing him ner­vous”
  • Lunge him first”
  • Make him focus on you”
  • You just got­ta get out and do it more”
  • Half halt and put him on your aids”

Well, she tried them all and NONE of them worked.  How­ev­er, NEVER did any­one sug­gest that she should start train­ing with dis­trac­tions at home.  Teach the horse at home how to han­dle dis­trac­tions in a train­ing envi­ron­ment where you can set the horse up for suc­cess and train through the prob­lems.

We are always try­ing to have the per­fect envi­ron­ment for train­ing.  Noth­ing to spook the horse, noth­ing to dis­tract it, no loud out­side nois­es, no new hors­es, no deliv­er­ies etc, etc, etc.   So what hap­pens?  You head to a show and your per­for­mance falls apart.  Why?  If the horse can’t han­dle dis­trac­tions at home how will he ever tol­er­ate them at a show?

We seem to think there are those hors­es who can focus no mat­ter what and those who can’t.  No.  You have to train at home to teach your horse how to han­dle nois­es and dis­trac­tions or any­thing that will stim­u­late the horse so much that his per­for­mance suf­fers.  You have to set him up for fail­ure at home and learn how to train through it.  I don’t mean over fac­ing him and mak­ing him scared out of his mind.  I do mean slow­ly intro­duc­ing dis­trac­tions and show him how to han­dle it.

Here’s how to add dis­trac­tions.

First you got­ta start real­ly small.  Ide­al­ly start this work when the horse is young.  If you have a 10 year old that still can’t han­dle the stress of dis­trac­tions you just have to back up a bunch for now both in his train­ing and in your expec­ta­tion.  For instance, you first might have to just work on halt or walk.  Not piaffe or fly­ing changes.  Then start intro­duc­ing things that may make him lose focus.  Maybe get your friend to ride around on a bike or lead hors­es in the are­na.  Play music soft­ly and if he’s ok turn up the vol­ume.  Get a loud speak­er and work with that.   Oth­er dis­trac­tions might be bal­loons, flags, umbrel­las, bad windy weath­er and peo­ple and dogs run­ning around.  The premise is to start with some­thing that may just slight­ly dis­tract him and when you can halt him at X and he stands still, reward, reward, reward.  If he’s so ner­vous that he won’t halt take some steps back and either work on the ground first or have the dis­trac­tion be fur­ther away.  Maybe you just ask him to focus on you while you give him rewards for not mov­ing and keep­ing his atten­tion on you.  You can always make it hard­er after he learns the cor­rect response of stay­ing calm and focused.  The key is to build the behav­ior and then try it with the dis­trac­tions loud­er or slight­ly clos­er.

Even­tu­al­ly you can build up to big­ger and hard­er move­ments like can­ter­ing or fly­ing changes but have suc­cess at the sim­ple stuff first.  Some­times school­ing at a show helps this but not if the horse is already over thresh­old.  The impor­tant part of this exer­cise is to keep it below thresh­old so the horse stays relaxed and calm.  Then slow­ly build his thresh­old to be high­er.  Don’t just throw him in the mix and then demand he focus.  YOU WILL NOT have any­thing to reward and you will be set­ting him up for a huge fail­ure.  It’s ok to have a minor fail­ure, it’s a learn­ing expe­ri­ence but only after your horse can han­dle some small stuff.

Susan Gar­rett shows this con­cept so well with her agili­ty train­ing for dogs.  She teach­es them a les­son and once they can per­form it real­ly well she starts adding in things that will make them loose focus.  Toys, oth­er dogs, bark­ing, loud nois­es and even oth­er activ­i­ties they will be drawn to.  All so she can teach them and reward them for stay­ing focused and doing a good job.

The rea­son why all the advice didn’t work with Rose’s horse is because he was already com­plete­ly over­whelmed and over thresh­old at the show.  In that moment, you can’t train.  The horse has to have a basic lev­el of con­fi­dence taught before hand to be able to focus, train and show.  If that doesn’t exist, your show­ing will nev­er get bet­ter just because you do it more.  If every time your horse goes to a show he’s unnerved and crazy, he’s not learn­ing to be qui­et, focused and relaxed.  He’s teach­ing him­self to be ner­vous.  In that moment, you can’t make him relax.  You have to add dis­trac­tions first at home and teach him how to han­dle it.

 

Why Positive Reinforcement Doesn’t Work

I recent­ly read an arti­cle where the author was pro­fess­ing that he had tried pos­i­tive rein­force­ment and was here to say it didn’t work.  Right away my inter­est was piqued.  This has NOT been my expe­ri­ence at all.  In fact, I have seen the direct oppo­site.  I have seen it work what seems like mir­a­cles.  So what gives?

Let’s take an exam­ple.

John’s horse Smokey was extreme­ly hard to catch.  Any­time he saw John com­ing near his field he would run to the oppo­site end.  When John would actu­al­ly enter the field, Smokey would stay just out of arms reach play­ing games with John until he would give up.  So John reads this arti­cle about pos­i­tive rein­force­ment.  “Now he’s armed” he thinks.  He knows too well how much Smokey likes Stud Muffins.  So this time he heads out into the field to catch Smokey.  Well smart Smokey right away notices the bag of treat in Johns hand and VIOLA! allows him­self to be caught.  “I’m onto to some­thing now” John says as he places the hal­ter over Smokey’s head.

This con­tin­ues for about 2 weeks.  Then one day, Smokey decides, “Na, I’m not falling for that trick today”.  John’s befud­dled.  What went wrong?  He tries again the next day.  Again, Smokey will have noth­ing to do with being caught.  This con­tin­ues for a week.  Mean­while, John has resort­ed to shak­ing the bag of treats and shar­ing them with the oth­er hors­es.  Noth­ing works.  John final­ly gives up.  “This pos­i­tive rein­force­ment idea is crap” he says as he walks back to the barn with­out a horse in tow.

WHAT?  Reinforcement Doesn’t work?

In some instances no, it doesn’t.

What John failed to real­ize is that pos­i­tive rein­force­ment is a lit­tle more com­pli­cat­ed.  It requires a think­ing train­er just like any oth­er method.  So why did Smokey decide that he would pass on the Stud Muffins and stay in the field?  Why did pos­i­tive rein­force­ment fail?There could be mul­ti­ple rea­sons.  Here are just some.

  1. Lur­ing doesn’t teach the horse any­thing.  Dan­gling treats, shak­ing buck­ets, entic­ing with car­rots doesn’t work.  The horse is only fol­low­ing the food.  They aren’t think­ing and they aren’t learn­ing.  What hap­pens the day you for­get the treats or car­rots?  The horse goes back to his pre­vi­ous behav­ior hav­ing not real­ly learned to come and be caught.
  2. The Stud Muf­fin isn’t reward­ing enough.  While the treat may taste real­ly good, maybe the rain gave the spring grass a nice jump of growth and that tastes just as good too.  So John’s reinforcement/reward lost val­ue.
  3. John only comes out to the field to catch Smokey when he wants to ride.  This is again anoth­er case of the reward not being of enough val­ue.  Smokey is a lit­tle sore from last weeks train­ing and decides the treat isn’t worth the pain.
  4. There are no con­se­quences to Smokey not being caught.  In fact, if he avoids John he gets reward­ed by get­ting to stay out with his buds and eat more grass.

So how might we address all these poten­tial prob­lems.  And in this case I would use all these sug­ges­tions to train Smokey to be eas­i­ly caught at any­time by any­one.

  1. Take treats out in the field to catch Smokey but don’t flaunt them.  If he allows him­self to be caught then and only then does he get to see you have a reward.
  2. Try car­ry­ing dif­fer­ent rewards and many of them.  Some­thing real­ly valu­able that Smokey doesn’t get any oth­er time.
  3. Go out and give Smokey a treat in the field with­out catch­ing him.  Or catch him and imme­di­ate­ly release him.  Bet­ter yet, catch him, give him the reward then take him some­place even bet­ter to graze.  Vary this up so that every time you enter the field, Smokey doesn’t know whether you’ve come to ride, take him hand graz­ing, just to say hel­lo or for the far­ri­er.
  4. If and when Smokey refus­es to be caught, employ some good ole horse whis­per­ing tech­niques to ensure con­se­quences.  One of my favorite is to slow­ly (walk­ing, no run­ning or chas­ing) fol­low the horse around so he can’t stop and eat.  At first this tech­nique may take a while because in the past the horse has learned that run­ning away has got­ten the human to give up.  How­ev­er, even­tu­al­ly he will real­ize that it’s eas­i­er to be caught than to keep walk­ing and not be able to graze or hang out with his bud­dies.  A few ses­sions of this and he will get eas­i­er and eas­i­er to catch, reward or not.

See how each of these is not about pos­i­tive rein­force­ment not work­ing but about the train­ers appli­ca­tion of the prin­ci­ples.  The prin­ci­ples are fair­ly easy to under­stand but it takes skill to apply them in each sit­u­a­tion to ensure suc­cess.   It’s kin­da like your first expe­ri­ence rid­ing a horse.  You are taught to pull back to stop and kick to go for­ward.  Once you start tak­ing seri­ous rid­ing lessons, you real­ize it’s much more com­pli­cat­ed than that.  That what you once were told was a gross over sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of the process.  It’s the very same when some­one says use pos­i­tive rein­force­ment and reward your horse for doing what you ask.  It’s a gross over sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of the process.  If train­ing where that easy, every­one would be an expert.

The One Lesson Horses Should Be Teaching Us, But We Are Not Listening

The Lesson

Rose awoke anx­ious again for the 3rd month in a row.  She was used to bit­ing off more than she can chew but this time she REALLY did it.

Sev­er­al months ago, a friend strug­gling with a risky preg­nan­cy asked Rose to take over her horse’s train­ing and care for a few months until the baby arrived and she was back rid­ing.  Although Rose knew the stress of anoth­er horse under her care would real­ly tax her phys­i­cal­ly and finan­cial­ly, she didn’t want to pass up the oppor­tu­ni­ty to help her friend or the oppor­tu­ni­ty to ride the horse.  So she agreed.  That week­end she packed the horse up and brought him to her farm.

Imme­di­ate­ly Rose and the horse hit it off.  They became great part­ners and Rose was learn­ing a lot.  With the owner’s per­mis­sion Rose start­ed show­ing and tak­ing clin­ics with the horse.  The sense of accom­plish­ment she felt from get­ting the horse back in shape and into the show ring was immense.  She was doing real­ly well, com­pet­ing against stiff com­pe­ti­tion and hold­ing her own.  On top of all that the horse shined, was muscling up and peo­ple around were notic­ing.

Odd­ly though she felt very unsup­port­ed.  At first, the own­er was too busy with her health and fam­i­ly and was eager to pass off the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the horse unto Rose. Sur­pris­ing­ly, Rose felt the own­er was some­what put off on how well she and the horse were bond­ing and doing togeth­er.  Maybe a lit­tle jeal­ousy, Rose thought.

In addi­tion, Rose’s train­er was being aloof about the whole project.  The train­er was unavail­able to sched­ule lessons and unable coach her at shows.  Rose felt more and more left out of the loop.  So she was super sur­prised when her train­er was post­ing Rose’s show results.  It just didn’t make sense.

Mean­while, Rose was get­ting more and more stressed.  She felt that the rela­tion­ship with both the horse’s own­er and her train­er was strained for unknown rea­sons to her.  And she felt very betrayed and bit­ter that hard­ly any­one was sup­port­ive of all that she had done with the horse.  She start­ed to feel threat­ened and tak­en advan­tage of.

Then it hit her.  The very les­son that hors­es are here to teach us, we aren’t learn­ing…

The rot­ting affects of the ego.

Ego Driven

It was Rose’s own ego that need­ed the recog­ni­tion and sup­port from the own­er, the train­er and fel­low rid­ers.  Her own ego want­ed some­one to stand up and notice what she had accom­plished.  When she didn’t get it, she felt used, threat­ened, unap­pre­ci­at­ed.  It spoiled the whole sit­u­a­tion and she even­tu­al­ly returned the horse hav­ing loved the oppor­tu­ni­ty but eager to end the stress and dis­ap­point­ment.

She also real­ized that sad­ly it was the owner’s ego that couldn’t real­ly stand that Rose and the horse were doing so well.  And it was the trainer’s ego that couldn’t sup­port her stu­dent dur­ing her time of shin­ing but was will­ing to post show results as it reflect­ed well on the train­er.  While Rose can’t be sure of other’s motives for their actions, she can reflect on the horse world at large and see where our ego has got­ten in the way.  How ego runs the horse world and we aren’t learn­ing the very thing that hors­es are so good at teach­ing.

She thought about it.  Why do some train­ers steal other’s clients or hors­es?  Ego.

Why do peo­ple get jeal­ous of oth­er rid­ers and can’t be sup­port­ive of those that are doing well?  Ego

Why do rid­ers (or just peo­ple in gen­er­al) sit back and judge anoth­er per­son on how they are rid­ing or how they are behav­ing when they have no idea of the person’s strug­gles?  Ego

Why do some rid­ers fol­low “the famous rid­ers” with undy­ing devo­tion?  Is it to ride on their coat tails?  Is it to bet­ter their own ego for just the asso­ci­a­tion?  Isn’t this again just ego?

Why are some train­ers so pro­tec­tive of their knowl­edge and won’t real­ly share the secrets of good rid­ing?  Ego

Why do some train­ers feel the need to belit­tle their stu­dents?  Ego

Why are rid­ers putting down oth­er rid­ers?  Ego

Why are some train­ers so para­noid about other’s steal­ing their clients?  Ego  Pos­si­bly we should all real­ize that clients are not ours to own and pos­sess?

Why are we con­stant­ly try­ing to bend the world to our way?  Ego

Why are we con­stant­ly try­ing to prove we are bet­ter than oth­ers?  Ego

Why are we scared of mess­ing up, espe­cial­ly at a show?  Ego

Why do we even show to begin with?  Ego

Why do we stop car­ing about the horse’s will and desire and replace it with our own?  Ego

Why do hors­es suf­fer at our plea­sure?  Ego

The Problem

Many years ago, I (Rebec­ca) watched a very famous train­er coach his stu­dents.  I was appalled by his atti­tude.  Demean­ing each stu­dent at every chance he got to the point of abuse.  Why?  To make him­self look bet­ter?  To make the stu­dent look bad?  To prove they real­ly need­ed his help?  What­ev­er the rea­son, it was entire­ly based on ego.  I vowed that day that I would nev­er ride under him no mat­ter what.  I have lived up to that promise.  Such a bla­tant dis­play of ego is not need­ed in this world and def­i­nite­ly not need­ed in the horse world.

But that is just a real­ly obvi­ous exam­ple of the ego.  In real­i­ty, the ego is much more sneaky.  Rais­ing it’s ugly head when we feel offend­ed by someone’s actions, when we feel unrec­og­nized or threat­ened in our knowl­edge or abil­i­ty, when we sneak­i­ly manip­u­late how some­one feels about anoth­er rid­er or train­er, or when we manip­u­late the sit­u­a­tion so that we gain.  The enlight­ened ego can be the sneaki­est of all.  We have all seen it.  The per­son who has found “the way”.  Again putting them­selves above those who haven’t.  It’s just anoth­er dis­guise of the ego.  When you have tru­ly found the path, the ego will not be involved.  You will not feel more pow­er­ful, more enlight­ened and more spe­cial.  You will not judge oth­ers on what you know and they don’t.  You will see your flaws.  You will be hum­bled by your exis­tence.

The biggest prob­lem… the horse world is so full of ego that it’s accept­ed and goes unno­ticed.  The show world relies on ego for it’s very exis­tence.  There are cov­et­ed Year End Awards, Rid­er Awards, Breed Awards, Rib­bons, Tro­phies.   Not to men­tion Cen­ter­line Scores or list­ing the famous train­er you worked under.  It’s all based on ego.  I’m not sure how we escape it.  It’s how you build a rep­u­ta­tion and a busi­ness.  It’s how you earn your liv­ing as a pro­fes­sion­al.

The Path, Are We Listening

Ego seems to be such a human thing. Hors­es don’t act on ego, they act on sur­vival.  They don’t move bet­ter so they get more rib­bons.  They don’t lie to their fel­low hors­es so they get bet­ter humans.  They don’t manip­u­late sit­u­a­tions to gain pop­u­lar­i­ty.  Instead, they are con­cerned about not being preyed upon, hav­ing enough food to eat, water to drink, shel­ter to get out of the ele­ments, a “fam­i­ly” herd for pro­tec­tion, being free from stress and if they are a stal­lion, a harem of mares to pass on their geneal­o­gy.  They enjoy our warm embrace and our prais­es.  They enjoy a free sup­ply of grass or hay and a reg­u­lar meal.  They enjoy not get­ting eat­en by tiger or horse flies.  Last­ly, they give us an exam­ple of how to be.

Maybe we should take a note from hors­es.  Hors­es act and react from a pure­ness that doesn’t exist in humans.  Maybe we should let go of our need to be bet­ter, right or supe­ri­or.  Maybe we should just be.  Be with our hors­es.  I strug­gle with this dai­ly.  It is a noble cause but I have not arrived.  What I hope is that each day I let go of my ego more.  That each day I learn from my hors­es way of being.

That brings me to anoth­er point.  Should we ride?  Should we com­pete?  I think that some will feel very dif­fer­ent­ly about this.  Don’t get me wrong.  This doesn’t mean we can’t strive to be the best or strive to be bet­ter.  It doesn’t mean we give up and do noth­ing.  It does mean that we leave our ego behind and make sure that our dai­ly motives are pure.  Our striv­ing to be bet­ter should be for the hors­es ben­e­fit.  Not to out ride the com­pe­ti­tion, to put our­selves up on a pedestal or to gain noto­ri­ety.  May I sug­gest that from here on out, that we ride from the heart.  Let go of the ego.  Rid­ing from the heart embraces always doing what is best for the horse, rid­ing with pas­sion for hors­es, rid­ing so we become bet­ter for our hors­es not for our own ego.

I hope that I can live this way.

I hope that when I fall flat on my face, that my fel­low horse men and women can give me a lift­ing hand with­out judge­ment.

I hope that when I show this week­end, I do it for the plea­sure of con­nect­ing with my horse as one, for the plea­sure of danc­ing with my part­ner and to inspire oth­ers to do the same.  Not for my ego!

The Six Secrets of Training Successfully

Sarah was think­ing.  “I’m not sure I real­ly know what I am doing here” she thought to her­self.  “I’ve nev­er real­ly taught a horse to piaffe before”.  “I guess I will just start and see how it goes.”  So Sarah got her horse out and start­ed try­ing to get the horse to show some steps of small trot while work­ing from the ground.  The horse has no idea what she wants and soon becomes scared and frus­trat­ed.  Sarah then became frus­trat­ed her­self.  “Why can’t the horse just try” she mused.  “Why does he have to make every­thing so dif­fi­cult?”

While Sarah con­tin­ued the inner dia­logue she became so frus­trat­ed that she start­ed doubt­ing her­self.  Then she became angry at her­self for even try­ing.  “I’m just not good enough to do this”.  “I don’t know why I even try.”  “I suck.”  She thought.  Mean­while while Sarah was los­ing con­fi­dence, so was her horse.

Now Sarah start­ed get­ting mad at her friend Beth who sug­gest­ed Sarah start work­ing on piaffe.  Beth obvi­ous­ly didn’t know what she was talk­ing about.  There was no way they were going to be ready for the big clin­ic next month if she at least couldn’t get some half steps from the ground.  “Arghh.”  She felt exas­per­at­ed.  Her horse looked at her with mis­trust.  “What a great way to start my day” she said as she gave up and led her horse back to the barn.

WHOA, Let’s try over.

While this exam­ple is a hot mess, I bet each of us has expe­ri­enced this frus­tra­tion at some lev­el before.  Here’s how the piaffe les­son should have gone…

Sarah was think­ing.  “Beth real­ly thinks my horse and I are ready to start piaffe train­ing.  I won­der what all is involved?”  “I’m done my barn chores so let me get out that video she lent me and read the piaffe chap­ter in my new book” Sarah says to her­self.  “Wow this looks like lots of fun” she thinks as she does her research.

Then she is remind­ed of a great sem­i­nar she went to about the C’s of Suc­cess and starts fill­ing out her pdf from the lec­ture.  Down load it here: 6 Secrets of Train­ing

THE 6 SECRETS OF TRAINING

Consciousness

(What do I want? What are the steps for teach­ing it? What exact­ly am I look­ing for? Do I under­stand what I am teach­ing? Do I know how to teach it? Do I need to research or con­sult a coach?)

Sarah is find­ing out these steps in her research.  If she finds she can’t do these steps on her own she will see that she needs help.  Oth­er­wise, she gets a very clear idea of what she wants from the horse in les­son one to les­son fifty. For instance, the first step might be just get­ting her horse used to her work­ing along side it on the ground or get­ting it used to the whip.  If the horse already knows that, the first step might be just get­ting the horse to raise a leg when touched with the whip.  The sec­ond step then might be get­ting both hind legs to lift alter­nate­ly and then she can start adding some for­ward momen­tum.  This C will help you fig­ure out your train­ing plan.

Clarity

(What exact­ly do I want my horse to do? How do I break it down into lit­tle steps so he/she under­stands? How should I be ask­ing so that the horse under­stands? It helps in this stage to write the steps down and think about what you will do if the horse doesn’t under­stand any one step. Think about how you will make it eas­i­er or where each les­son will stop so you don’t over face the horse.)

This is where Sarah will write down all the steps she think her horse will need to start the idea of school­ing piaffe from the ground. These ideas come from past expe­ri­ence and from research.  This is also where Sarah might list where her horse may have trou­ble and what to do about it.  Like what step she will back up to if prob­lems arise.   Sarah will also come up with a plan of where to stop each day.  Now Sarah has a idea of how to clear­ly explain to the horse what she want and it’s writ­ten down for her future ref­er­ence.

Competence

(Prac­tice until the horse has an under­stand­ing of what I want by using reward based train­ing to sig­nal when the horse has done cor­rect­ly. Don’t leave this step until the horse shows clear under­stand­ing.)

This is where Sarah and her horse will spend time and ener­gy going through the steps above and gain­ing pro­fi­cien­cy at each step.  Mak­ing sure she has a good way to reward the horse when he makes the right move or choice.  This phase will go a lot faster and with less stress if she imple­ments rewards in the train­ing.

Challenge

(Now it’s time to chal­lenge how well the horse knows what you are ask­ing by ask­ing in oth­er con­texts. Ask in dif­fer­ent places in the ring, in dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ments, at shows, at the train­ers etc. Ask with dis­trac­tions like oth­er horses,windy days, strange nois­es from the trac­tor out­side. Or even ask for more of the same to increase the chal­lenge like more steps of piaffe. This is real­ly where you set the horse up for fail­ure with­out mak­ing it so hard that the horse los­es con­fi­dence but helps solid­i­fy what the horse knows)

Once Sarah’s horse knows what she wants from the ground, she may up the chal­lenge by ask­ing in the out­door are­na, at the train­ers or while school­ing at a show.  This may involve ask­ing for more steps or while oth­er things are going on that may dis­tract the horse.  This is the time for Sarah to real­ly solid­i­fy what the horse knows in all sorts of cir­cum­stances so that she can move to the next step of con­fi­dence that will give her the boost to start piaffe work under sad­dle.

Confidence

(this is the last steps that grows as the horse suc­ceeds in his lessons and is able to do them in var­i­ous envi­ron­ments with mul­ti­ple dis­trac­tions. Going back to com­pe­tence train­ing when need­ed and chal­leng­ing the horse to solid­i­fy the les­son.)

This is the final step where Sarah and her horse start to real­ly become con­fi­dent and strong in their abil­i­ty to piaffe togeth­er.  Prac­tice and a will­ing­ness return to the steps of com­pe­tence and chal­lenge will real­ly build con­fi­dence for both of them.

*many thanks to Susan Gar­rett for her ideas on suc­cess in train­ing.  it is her work that inspired this arti­cle as she talks about 5 C’s in suc­cess­ful dog train­ing.

What Positive Reinforcement Is and What It’s Not

Just A Title

I hear a lot of train­ers throw around the title of pos­i­tive rein­force­ment.  A lot of them incor­rect­ly.  While the ideas are pret­ty straight for­ward and easy to under­stand, I find that most peo­ple get a lit­tle con­fused because they don’t under­stand behav­ior.  So lets give a quick review here but for more infor­ma­tion read this on How Hors­es Learn.

I’ve used pos­i­tive rein­force­ment in my train­ing now for 7 years.  It is the basis for my reward based train­ing method and I use it for every­thing from teach­ing a horse to load on the trail­er, accept­ing clip­pers, back­ing and start­ing under sad­dle to fly­ing changes.  Used cor­rect­ly, it’s a great tool to add to your reper­toire.  If more train­ers under­stood the con­cepts they would be much more effec­tive.

So what exact­ly is pos­i­tive rein­force­ment.  Pos­i­tive rein­force­ment is the addi­tion of some­thing reward­ing in a response to a desired behav­ior that you would like to see increase.  What does that mean?  It means that imme­di­ate­ly when your horse does what you want you give them a reward that is inher­ent­ly reward­ing.  This great­ly increas­es the odds that the horse will do it again.  Once the horse learns that you are offer­ing rewards for what they do, they quick­ly catch on and become faster at learn­ing as time goes on.  I’ve seen hors­es first intro­duced take 15–30 min­utes or so to get the idea but then grasp new con­cepts with­in 5 sec­onds in the future.

What’s inherently rewarding?

This is the first place that train­ers usu­al­ly mess up.  They don’t real­ly know what is reward­ing.  They think a pat on the neck or a “good boy” is a reward.  Well, not nec­es­sar­i­ly.  My hors­es do respond to ver­bal praise and to pats but they didn’t at first.  The rea­son they do now is because I always fol­low it up with some­thing I know for sure they love, like food, free­dom or their friends.

Positive Reinforcement is NOT release from pressure.

I use pres­sure and release in my train­ing and rid­ing.  It can be very effec­tive.  Pair­ing it with rewards can be super effec­tive.  Tak­ing away pres­sure in response to the horse doing what you want is actu­al­ly called neg­a­tive rein­force­ment.  Don’t let the terms con­fuse you.  Just remem­ber that if your are think­ing that releas­ing all pres­sure is reward­ing to your horse, you might be miss­ing the boat.  Can releas­ing pres­sure train a horse?  Sure.  But when we think of rewards, we think of giv­ing the horse some­thing.  Can rest be reward­ing.  Sure.  But often times, it’s not reward­ing enough for me to con­sid­er it a pos­i­tive rein­force­ment.

I have one such horse.  Release from pres­sure wasn’t enough.  Just think­ing about train­ing and learn­ing was pres­sure to him.  How­ev­er, once I start­ed using rewards, his train­ing real­ly took off.  He start­ed relax­ing about the train­ing because it was clear­er to him what I want­ed.  The food rewards said “yes, exact­ly that is what I want” and he said “oh, I can do that no prob­lem.

I’ve also noticed it with young hors­es learn­ing the first lessons of life.  They are quick­er to learn when they get pos­i­tive rein­force­ment.  Ted­dy, my year­ling, had lit­tle expo­sure in the first 7 months of his life.  So when it came time to expos­ing him to the hose and bathing he was fran­tic to get away.  With­in 10 min­utes of intro­duc­ing rewards any­time the hose was near him, he start­ed to relax.  With­in a few short lessons I was able to calm­ly hose him any­where.  At no time did I have to force him to get over being hosed.  At no time did he feel the need to fight.  He real­ized that the hose went away when he stood still (neg­a­tive rein­force­ment) and that he got a reward when he didn’t move away (pos­i­tive rein­force­ment).  I will make a short video soon to demon­strate.  It’s so easy and it makes train­ing so easy too.

Really Good Timing

The sec­ond place I see many train­ers mess­ing up is in the tim­ing of their rewards.  The pos­i­tive rein­force­ment has to be exact­ly when the horse exhibits the behav­ior.  Exact­ly.  If you wait 10, 20, 30 sec­onds it’s too late.  The horse is prob­a­bly doing some­thing else at that point and it con­fus­es the pic­ture for them.  So to be real­ly clear to the horse, it’s got to be exact.

The Third Mistake

Final­ly, the next big mis­take I see train­ers make is in the deliv­ery of the reward.  When crit­ics start to bash pos­i­tive rein­force­ment, it’s because of this.  They see a horse that has been lured and/or taught to nip or search pock­ets for food and they blame the tech­nique instead of the train­er.  There are ways to train a horse and ways to deliv­er food rewards that dis­cour­age a horse that might become over­ly ambi­tious about “get­ting what you have”.  Let me also state, that we nev­er lure.  If your are stand­ing in the trail­er with a buck­et of feed, shak­ing it and hop­ing your horse enters the trail­er, you are lur­ing and total­ly miss­ing what pos­i­tive rein­force­ment is all about.

If you want to learn more about under­stand­ing how hors­es learn, how to train, how to ride effec­tive­ly and how to use rewards in your train­ing cor­rect­ly, fol­low this blog, take a course or sched­ule a sem­i­nar with me today!