There are many ways to apply positive reinforcement to teach your horse new skills, help him over come his fears or just have fun together. The “Open Bar/Closed Bar” technique is a great tool if you are in a situation that you didn’t have time to prepare well for.
Open Bar/Closed Bar
For instance you bought a horse (rescue) and he needs trimming or he needs his shots or injections to improve his welfare or health.
The “Open Bar/Closed Bar” technique is offering a ‘buffet’:
During the aversive stimuli you put your horse trough, he also gets lots and lots of high value reinforcers.
When the aversive stops (for example the shot has been given, his hoof is trimmed and put down) or when the horse tells you to stop the aversive, the appetitives stop too. It’s a great emergency training tool.
Medical and husbandry treatments
Here’s a picture of a mile stone in Kyra’s training: her first farrier encounter. I only had her for one month (she was untouched when I got her because she was born in a nature reserve).
By then I could lift her legs and clean her hoofs, but I couldn’t really prepare her for trimming or for a stranger holding her feet. That’s when I used the Open Bar/Closed Bar technique successfully.
The farrier was a bit nervous because I insisted on patience and gentle handling. I asked him to put her feet down or let go immediately if she wanted to. The oppositie of what he had in mind with a small horse and previously untrained… But he did what I asked and Kyra did so well!
He admitted that he had been dreading the trim but afterwards he told me she was one of the best behaved one years old’s he’d ever met! That’s the power of positive reinforcement!
You can also use the Open Bar/Closed Bar technique if your horse is nervous about something, for instance standing on a mat (Key Lesson Mat training). The time he spends with his front feet (or start with one foot) on the mat, he keeps getting treats (the ‘bar’ is open; “Yeey, free drinks (treats)!”) and when he steps off of the mat, the bar closes: no more free drinks/ treats.
If horses are really stressed they often stop eating and lose their interest in food. When that happens, you know your horse is really in distress: survival is more important than food. So his behaviour (eating/interested in the treats or no interest) can give you valuable information about his state of mind.
Sometimes it you need to use way higher value treats. Make sure your RoR (rate of reinforcement) is high: that means not only being very generous but also give the appetitives continuously.
Use it wisely
Use this technique wisely. It can be a great tool! This technique can give your horse lots of clarity. It’s not meant to ‘force’ him to do what you want. You need to give your horse the opportunity to ‘not do it’ and you can still reinforce that choice too! Only if he does the desired behaviour you can reinforce way more with appetitives, so it will become his choice.
There are a few ways you can alter this technique and that will be a blog for another time.
What situations have you used “Open Bar/Closed Bar”?
If you haven’t heard of it, would you use it in the future, you think?
Happy Horse training!