Ethics

These are ethical discussions about the horse world and choices we can make

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

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.

Continue reading →

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

Quality over Quantity

Quality over Quantity
I was talking to a friend about some of the horses we have at the rescue and some of the difficult choices we make for them. We are in a constant battle between quantity and quality of life. Continue reading →

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

Choosing the Tack

Choosing the Tack
With R+ we can teach any behavior through targeting, shaping, capturing, and luring – then we can put any behavior we teach on ANY cue. I joke with my kids that we can have “rainbow ponies” who respond to the names of colors as cues. “Blue”=walk on, “Red”=stop, “Purple”=Turn right. It’s just a joke, this wouldn’t be practical or ideal, trying to remember everyone’s code would be a calamity to say the least.  But the truth is with the power of R+ communication we can assign anything we want to be the cue for any behavior. We can assign opening a door to be a cue to back up or we can use any array of sign language to communicate what we like.

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Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Clicker Training, Ethics

Why Avoid Aversives?

Why Avoid Aversives?
What is the difference between P+ and R-? Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Clicker Training, Equine Emotions, Ethics

The Need for Food

The Need for Food
Today one of the kids said that they wish they didn’t have to feed treats when the horse does something they want. I explained again that this is how we both reward good choices and motivate future good choices. But they were still bothered, they wished the horse would just do it like a favor, out of love for their person. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Clicker Training, Ethics, Troubleshooting

Food Related Anxiety and Over-excitement

Food Related Anxiety and Over-excitement
Most horses start out at least a little thrilled about the clicker training experience. Teaching a safe, alternate behavior to mugging, such as stand facing forward, is a fantastic way to keep us safe and help the horse learn to relax around food. A key element in this first behavior MUST be relaxation. A horse can tuck their chin or look away or stand facing forward, but be boiling over, trembling with excitement.

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Posted by Jessica in Clicker Training, Equine Emotions, Ethics, Troubleshooting

Poisoned Cues

Poisoned Cues

The idea of poisoned cues first requires a good understanding of what a cue is and isn’t. A Cue is defined as “a discriminative stimulus (SD) established through positive differential reinforcement” this means the learner knows that cue/antecedent=behavior X=positive reinforcement. Remember our ABCs? Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (loop). A “cue” is one that results in a positive (addition of appetitive) Consequence. A cue eventually becomes a conditioned positive reinforcer, just like a click. Remember Classical Conditioning when X=Y? When a neutral stimulus is paired repeatedly with an appetitive stimulus is becomes a classically conditioned appetitive. So when Cue=Behavior=R+, Cue=R+! As simple as that! We can also test this – the animal will work for the ability to get the cue that results in R+, remember this is how behavior chains work! Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Equine Emotions, Ethics, Troubleshooting