Can you Compete with Clicker Training?

This is a question we are asked over and over again, “Can you compete with Clicker Training?” or even “If Clicker Training works so well, why aren’t all the famous competitors doing it?”. There is so much to this I’m going to see if I can break it down. We have a few points to look at – the goals of competing (horse vs. human), the long standing traditions and strict rules of the competition world, the types of behaviors asked for in competitions and why, and which parts are beneficial or detrimental to the horse.

We know that positive reinforcement works just as well as negative reinforcement and can teach any behavior a horse is capable of. We know this because science and experience has shown this, so why is it that people who are excelling at clicker training are not competing and people competing are not excelling at clicker training? We know that if we train the behaviors that we expect our horses to perform in competition, put the behaviors on an appropriate schedule and build it into chains, we can refer to these behaviors even in a competitive environment where we can’t feed. But the nature of the competitions as they are currently doesn’t make it easy to avoid negative reinforcement. These competitions have been built, designed, and judged on standards created based on negative reinforcement training techniques that have been molded over centuries of using horses for labor, entertainment, and warfare. Rules regarding which tools are allowed and how the behaviors should appear were all decided based on these standards – standards of labor, entertainment, and warfare.  Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Ethics

Taina’s Opinion on Aversives

Taina tells me all day long "I HATE!" with her pinned ears and dragon face she says "back off!", she bares her fangs and swings her head to tell me she really, really wants to bite me. This is extremely kind of her. I try hard to listen to all of her communication, but her emotions are extremely conflicted and quickly changing. She wants so badly to trust and to be friends, she has really come to love me (if I do say so myself), but her fear is so deeply ingrained. Through her past life her whole world has become aversive, her whole world is a threat to her existence, all new, all different, is definitely dangerous.

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Posted by Jessica

Wispy’s Winter Fitness Update 1

It's been a couple weeks but Wisp and I are still doing well!! Janneke helped kick us off on the right foot with lots of ideas to play with. We have been mixing it all up to keep it as interesting and engaging as possible. Too much of anything gets old, even something good! First of all, I have to say, Tumble Mats have become one of the greatest investments in our whole barn! Everyone is enjoying them. They have given us a list of fun exercise behaviors to do with Wispy too! We are starting on easy as Wisp and I don't do "stretching" - we both need a little yoga! So here we go, double sized Yoga mats for Wispy and we're ready to get started!

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Posted by Jessica

Dealing with Emergencies

As positive reinforcement trainers many of us struggle with the fear of what to do in an emergency. What if our horse becomes aggressive or dangerous when spooking, how do we protect ourselves? What if our horse becomes over aroused and potentially aggressive? What if our horse gets hurt or sick and we need to perform a medical procedure we haven’t had time to prepare for? What if our horse is sick and can’t be given food? How do we ensure our safety and our horse’s wellbeing without becoming aversive?

First and foremost. We may all aspire to reducing or eliminating aversives in our horses lives, but the truth is that they are bound to happen. Life isn’t always perfect and emergencies do happen. Even poorly performed R+ can become aversive for a confused learner. So while we may (and I feel we should) aspire to being aversive free we must forgive ourselves the times life isn’t so perfect. We can utilize tools like the Humane Hierarchy which encourages us to assess the horse’s lifestyle, management, nutrition and health care, then arrange the antecedents, before moving towards a training approach with positive reinforcement to alter the behavior. Only then consulting professional trainers, veterinary behaviorists, or anyone with experience to help ensure you’ve tried all logical options before progressing to using aversives to overcome an issue. There will be times we may need to slide down this hierarchy very quickly, ruling out adjustments and training techniques in our mind very quickly in order to keep a situation safe. We may even act instinctively, defend ourselves or fall back on our pre-learned habits to get a job done quickly, rather than rethink a new alternative way to handle it. Ideally we would save these more extreme options for situations like a veterinary procedure that is non-optional. We wouldn’t want to use restraints, confinement, or aversives, just to teach our horse something fun we want to do for ourselves, but rather for something that is needed for their own well-being.

If you’re contemplating going to an aversive extreme to get something you want from your horse, stop and think about how important it really is that it be done, and who is this really for? Is it really vital your horse learn to carry you if it’s emotionally damaging to themself? As opposed to a medical or safety situation which is truly vital.

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Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, Clicker Training, Ethics, Troubleshooting

Taina Beginning to Explore

Those of you who don't know Taina, she's one of the most damaged horses I've ever met. She came to us last summer as an extreme neglect case, she was emaciated and lame when she stumbled off the truck and up our driveway to her new home. Over the next few weeks we unwrapped layers of her terrible past. With X-rays and grooming the filth off her body we learned she's had the ligaments cut in her tail so it forms the "J" shape so popular in the Paso Fino shows. Her legs lashed with whip marks from dancing in pillars, and her trachea crushed from being roped in rodeo events. As her winter coat grows in the white marks of scars become more and more apparent all over her body. Emotionally she was much worse than physically, which is hard to imagine. When it was time for any sort of interaction she'd tuck her head into the back corner of her stall and tremble while we haltered her and began whatever treatment was needed. While she'd stand near the front of her stall and carefully take handfuls of treats from us, she would leap away at the first sign of danger. Soon her fear began to fade and her feeling of control expressed as aggression. She rapidly learned she could keep humans at a safe distance with her beautiful dragon impersonation.

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Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses, Equine Emotions, Troubleshooting

Wispy’s Winter Fitness

Wispy’s Winter Fitness

My beautiful flower, Wispy, has gotten a bit… shall we say, portly? She’s just like me, terrible posture and eats way too many sweets! We’ve decided to take this winter to get ourselves into shape. This being said, I have always really struggled when looking at aspects of equine fitness and exercise. There is so much out there and so much of it is based on unstudied theories, opinions, and misguided training philosophies. I struggle to pull apart what parts are beneficial to the horse’s well being and which parts are for us, for fun, sport, or cosmetic appearances.So much of concepts of physical training is done to help horses become more of what we aspire for them, and not so much for their own health. So much of these concepts are also taken to extremes which push the beneficial aspects of the training to detrimental lengths. Pushing collection to strain the hind end, strength and speed training to strain the joints, everything being pushed to be done to new, higher, faster, more dramatic extremes. My dear friend Janneke helped me puzzle through all of this and break it down step by step for me and Wisp just as she had for her horse DeeJay before he fell ill. So how did we break down what Wisp and I really need? and how do I teach it all with R+?
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Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Care and Management, EE Horses, Troubleshooting

Consistency is Safe but Variety is Fun

Consistency is Safe but Variety is Fun!!
When we rescue a horse the first thing we like to show them is that their new home, their new world, is safe. To do so we make a clear schedule and meet their needs in an organized and neat way. This means we feed them in a simple way (no puzzles, nets, or slow feeders), in the same place and times of day consistently. We make sure everything is done gently, slow, and predictable. The predictability is the key to feeling safe. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Care and Management

Pressure Free Behaviors

Pressure Free Behaviors
How do we get behaviors without any physical contact? When someone asks “how do I train…” your answers should fall under one of these. “I use this weight shift”, “Try pressing here”, “wave your stick like this”… and so on, are not appropriate answers in this group. If someone is asking how to train something on this group they’re looking for how to train it with positive reinforcement, not pressure/release (R-).

So what are the options? Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Clicker Training, Troubleshooting

Operationalizing Whips

Operationalizing Whips
Let’s take the whip discussion and operationalize it. I find a lot of psuedo-science and romanticized opinions are clouding our ability to look at the use of this tool appropriately.

Remember Classical Conditioning? Repeated pairing of any stimuli, the first being conditioned to predict the second. Keep that in mind as you review the next ABC scenarios… Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Equine Emotions, Ethics

Heart Horses

Heart Horses
Many of us equine-enthusiasts strive for what we consider a special relationship with our ‘heart horse’…
We have millions of definitions, descriptions, stories and romantic ideas of what this “relationship” should be or look like. A common image is a horse and human riding together in a whimsical setting, with no tack or tools to bind them, just two souls connected by the heart. We dream of clear communication letting our horses know exactly what we want from then and when, creating beautiful, dance-like riding. We also dream of a horse who has the self-created desire to comply. The horse who wants to do what we ask, for no other reason than their love for us, their beloved human. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses, Equine Emotions, Ethics
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