Troubleshooting

Having equine trouble? Need help problem solving out of difficult behavior?

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

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

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

Protective Contact

Protective Contact

“Protective Contact” is working from the other side of a fence, gate, stall door or other barrier (backwards round penning is a blast with the human inside and the horse outside the pen). Protective contact is an extremely valuable tool to keep in our tool box, it’s great for horses new to CT, new to people, new to being hand fed, new to living domestically and great for people new to CT. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, Clicker Training, 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

BAD Horses!

Bad Horses

“Good” and “Bad”, “polite/rude”, “respectful/disrespectful”, “behaving/misbehavior” are all constructs based on human culture. All horses know are “Works” and “doesn’t work”.  Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Ethics, Troubleshooting

Eliminating Unwanted Behaviors

Eliminating Behaviors

As ethical trainers we aim to use positive reinforcement and reduce the use of aversives in our training where we can. This can be difficult when thinking about behaviors we don’t want – particularly ones that can be detrimental to the horse themselves or dangerous to the handler. Some behaviors need to be reduced, for their safety or for ours. Luckily we have options! Karen Pryor’s book is the original source of this information in her book “Don’t Shoot the Dog” (which I strongly recommend), but I’ve adapted the information more specifically for horses. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Clicker Training, Troubleshooting