Many horse owners and riders, me included, started out one point in time using appetitive reinforcers to train our horses. Reinforcers our learner likes to receive.
It doesn’t matter if we use positive reinforcement for trick training or more ‘serious’ behaviours like standing for the farrier.
Fact is, not everyone is successful in teaching their horse new behaviours or improve the quality of existing behaviours with positive reinforcement… I do believe everyone can learn it! No talent needed, only dedication and a love for horses!
Here’s how you can improve that!
Use a bridge signal
The use of a click to bridge the time gap between the desired behaviour and the delivery of the reinforcer is tip number one when you use reinforcers in training. The horse has to know what made him earn the treat. The bridge signal is also called ‘marker’ or marker signal’ to indicate that that signal marks the desired behaviour.
Set a goal
If you know what your goal in training is, write it down and describe it as detailed as possible. When you to it right, you’ve made a great start for your shaping plan. Important is to focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. It sounds like an open door, but how many of us have yelled in despair to our horse: “I wish you didn’t always walk away when groomed.” or “I wish you stopped stepping on my toes” or “I wish you weren’t so nervous around fly spray“.
This is focusing on what you don’t want. What you focus on, you create more of!
What do you want instead? “I want my horse to stand still while being groomed”,”I want my horse to stand next to me.” and “I want my horse to be relaxed when I apply fly spray”.
Here is a video of Kyra and my results of fly spray training:
Describe your goal into as much details as you can think of.
Example: I want my horse to stand still and stay relaxed when I apply fly spray. I want my horse to be comfortable with all kinds of spray cans and their content, all kinds of sounds, smells and feels. I want my horse to be OK wherever we are, when I use a spray can or spray bottle on his body, neck, legs and tail. I want my horse to be OK with being sprayed when he is at liberty. I want my horse to be confident to walk away if he doesn’t like it or had enough.
If you go into so many details you already can see how you can approach your “spray can training“. You can use different kind of bottles later on in training: start with a plant sprayer with water before you start using aerosol cans that make a hissing sound and from which the content often is very cold. Next step is training in different places (stall, pasture) and so on.
Once you have your goal set, you are ready to make a shaping plan. That’s your step-by-step approach of your training. Divide your goal into lots of smaller steps. Make each step so tiny it describes a click worthy moment.
The first step can be ‘Horse approaches spray can’, the next step can be ‘Horse targets spray can’.
Repeat each step until you see the horse is confident enough before you ask a bit more. Your horse might even increase his own criteria by skipping one of more of the steps in your plan. Don’t forget to click and reinforce when that happens!
Track your progress
Last but not least is to keep track of your process and also your progress. If you don’t make progress write down what you changed in your setup so you will remember next time you train a horse.
Keeping track is such a valuable habit. You never have to invent the wheel again! Keeping a training journal or logbook will also help you become more creative in finding new angles to training challenges.
Writing down your process will also provide you with valuable information of all the things you did well in training! Always keep it positive! That what makes a training journal a good read!
Do you set goals, write them down, make shaping plans and keep a training journal? Or do you think this is difficult?
What is your approach that helped you become more successful? Share your training tips in the comments!
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I also love to hear your view on this subject: how did you train this? Or simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. It’s positive reinforcement for me. ;-)) Thank you!
Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse people connect with their horse in training so they get the relationship and the results they really, really want.
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