Tactile Communication

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 12 of 12

Adding the Click
In an earlier section I said we expand a field not from within, but from without.   Innovations come from bringing ideas together from different areas of study.  Poco gives us a wonderful illustration of this.  I was combining two things I knew worked well: body work and clicker training.  The click turned over responsibility for the process to Poco.  I was not simply a body worker doing something TO him.  Poco and I were involved in a conversation.  I was asking questions, but I didn’t have the answers.  Poco had to provide those.

I was asking him to release through the poll.  What could you find, what could you release that would let you melt into my waiting hands?  I felt the answers through my hands, and I acknowledged them with a click and a treat.

Tactile Communication
The release through the poll was just one area I wanted to explore with Poco.  I not only wanted to get to Poco’s ears.  I also wanted to get to his hindquarters, but he had huge “DO NOT ENTER” signs posted everywhere.

I don’t know the horses I meet at clinics well enough to know which are the ones who really do mean KEEP OUT and which ones are all bluff.  If you ignore the “warning signs” of the ones who mean it, you can get seriously hurt, so I respect the “signs” all the horses post.  I try not to bludgeon my way in.  I much prefer to have them take down the warning signs themselves and invite me into their personal space.

Cues Evolve
I wanted to reach Poco’s hips.  I began my approach with long arm strokes across his back.

Poco dropped his head marginally.  Click and treat.

You can’t not cue.

Cues evolve out of the shaping process.

I was on the look out for associations which could turn into cues.  I stroked his back, and Poco dropped his head.  Again, I clicked and treated.

Poco was a tuned-in clicker horse.  He caught on right away.  I was cueing head lowering.  Very neat.

I always chuckle when this sort of thing pops out.  It’s so easy to miss that first little head drop.  It’s so easy to think that all you’re doing is stroking your horse’s back.  But if you are on the lookout, you will spot that first little drop of the head.  Once you’ve captured it with a click and a treat, you can grow it into a more definite, predictable response.

Cue Communication
Poco now had a way to tell me when it was okay for me to move on.  I could stroke a little further back along his barrel.  If his head dropped right away, I knew he was at ease, and next time I would be able to ask for a bit more.

But if he hesitated, I knew I was asking for too much.  I needed to move back towards his withers and ask for less.  Poco very quickly realized he had control.  I wouldn’t go any further, any faster than he was ready for.

I built a small, predictable loop.  First, I stood in front of him and invited him to release forward and down into my hands.

Click and treat.

Then I moved to his side and stroked along his back.  He dropped his head.  Click and treat.

That sent me back to the start of the cycle, asking for a release of his poll.  As I invited him into my hands, I leaned directly over the plane of his face.  My chin at times rested against his ears. I could feel his worry melting away.  At least in this context, he was trusting me to keep my word. I was not going to hurt him.

Adding in Lateral Flexions

poco-stroke-back

I asked for a series of these lengthening through the spine.  Then I moved to his side, but now I was looking for the next level of criterion in the head lowering.  It was no longer enough that he was dropping his head.  Now I wanted him to drop his head AND give to the side I was on.  In other words I was looking for the same lateral give that I would have been looking for if I had had a rein in my hand.

At this point I could stroke along his top line and down the backside of his hindquarters.  He dropped his head, but I didn’t click.  He brought his head up.  I re-cued head lowering by stroking my arm over his hindquarters.  He dropped his head and gave slightly to the side – a lucky discovery in his part.

Immediately I clicked and treated.

I stroked again, and he dropped his head and gave into the left bend.  Click and treat.  What a smart horse!  Our communication was expanding.  Each criterion we added gave us another bit of “syntax” to weave into the conversation we were having.

Do Not Enter Signs
It was time to ask him if he was ready to take down another of his KEEP OUT – NO TRESPASSING ALLOWED signs.

This one was on his belly.  As I also stroked along his back with one hand, I tried stroking along his sternum with the other.  He hunched up away from my hand.  This reaction revealed the kind of tension that can turn into a buck under saddle.

I eased my hand back.  He could tell me when he was ready.  When he dropped his head, click and treat, I returned to the stretch forward.  I was telling him once again that I wouldn’t proceed without his permission.

Permission granted. He took down the first of his signs.  I could stroke his belly.  He signaled his content by dropping his head and giving into the bend.  Click, treat, and walk off casually to give him some break time for processing all the new information.

Microrhythms
Cues evolve in many ways.  When you open yourself up to listen to your horse, you will quickly discover what it means when I say you can’t not cue.

When you are in conversation with someone, there are always subtle cues that are being exchanged.  We nod our head, we smile, we add in a quick word.  These simple gestures become cues that keep the conversation going. We notice them when they are absent.  When you talk on the phone and the other person doesn’t say anything in the pauses you provide, you start looking at your phone to see if the call has been dropped.

Poco and I were creating our own subtle micro rhythms.  We were understanding that our actions had influence.  I could cue him, and he could respond by cueing me.  He was showing me so clearly not only that cues evolve out of the shaping process but also that you can’t not cue.  The exchange of cues goes on even when we are not consciously aware of it.  When I turned our session into play time, I simply made these cues easier to spot.

Review
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this unit.  These videos will give you a quick review of the work I did with Poco.  The first clip was taken during the second session I did with him.  I am asking him to target his nose, then his chin, and finally I can rest my head against his forehead – click and treat.  (refer back to Part 10 of 12: Stepping Stones https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/09/18/)

 

Next came adding in duration by clicking on the exhale of his breath.  (refer back to Part 10 of 12: Stepping Stones https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/09/18/)

The next video shows the release of the poll and the building of head lowering. (refer to Part 11 of 12: Moving On https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/09/19/ and this current post.)

This final video in this series shows the taking down the “Do Not Enter”signs.  I’m coupling the stroking along his back and belly with head lowering.

This ends this section: Number 9: You Can’t Not Cue.

Coming Next: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 10: Playing with Chains 

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

Moving On

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 11 of 12

Celebration!

poco-hug-2nd-day

The previous section began my description of a series of Play sessions I had with an ear-shy horse named Poco.  Step One was teaching Poco to target his nose to my hand.  After two sessions, I could cradle his nose in my hands.  I could lean into his space, something that would previously have worried him.  And because I could lean in, I could steal a kiss.

Laugh.

Press my forehead against his.  Click. Treat. Celebrate!

Moving On

poco-come-into-hands

Training is all about moving on.  With Poco I moved on by adding yet another dimension to the body part targeting.  I stood in front of him and asked him to place his nose into my hands.

I drew my hands forward, inviting him to follow me with a give through his poll.  He wasn’t sure what was wanted.  He lifted his nose out of my hands.  Again, I invited him into my hands.  I could feel the tension in his poll, the habitual holding.

My hands offered him a suggestion, an invitation.  He found the answer.  I could feel the release as he let go of the tension.  He lengthened into my waiting hands.  Click and treat.

poco-give-full-body

Poco as he releases through the poll for the first time.

What Could You Find? What Could You Release?
Years ago I had a client who was an Alexander practitioner.  She had also studied Feledenkrais work and a number of other, related types of body work.  We did trades.  I worked on her horse and his balance issues, and she worked on mine.

Marge never gave you answers.  Instead she presented you with questions.  “What could you find, what could you release to let go of the tension?”

I remember one day she was moving my arm through a series of rotations, exploring the range and ease of motion that was available to me.  I let her circle my arm.  It was an oddly pleasing sensation.  I could just let go of all expectations and let her take my arm through a series of rotations.

Abruptly she released my arm, but instead of dropping down to my side, it remained suspended in mid air.

I remember looking at it.  How odd.  Gravity should have taken care of that.

I remember Marge chanting: “What could you find, what could you release that would allow your arm to just drop down?”

I had no idea since I had no idea why my arm was still up in the air.

Posing the Questions
Marge didn’t solve the puzzle for me.  She posed the question.  I had to find my own answers.

This was what I was doing for Poco.  I was presenting him with a puzzle.  Through my hands I was asking the same questions Marge had all those years ago: “What could you find, what could you release that would let you follow the invitation of my hands?”

Adding the Click
The click turned over responsibility for the process to Poco.  I was not simply a body worker doing something TO him.  Poco and I were involved in a conversation.  I was asking questions, but I didn’t have the answers.  Poco had to provide those.

I felt the answers through my hands, and I acknowledged them with a click and a treat.

I’ve done body work without the added dimension that clicker training brings.  I know how profoundly it can change horses.  Adding in the clicker gives you more.

“When I was young I did the best I could.  But when I knew better, I did better.”    
        adapted from the poet, Maya Angelou

Doing better means I want the conversation.  I’ve experienced the difference, and I know I want the horse actively involved in finding his own answers.  This in no way negates the value of what I had learned all those years ago through Linda Tellington-Jones.  Nor does it devalue what others are doing with their own listening hands.  I don’t know what magic exists in the hands of a skilled body worker.  But for me the magic comes through the science of clicker training.

poo-deep-release-4-good

Remember this is an ear-shy horse.  Poco is offering me a lovely soft release through his entire spine.

Coming Next: Tactile Communication

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

 

Stepping Stones

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 10 of 12

More To Learn
In the previous section I described the profound difference TTEAM training made for Peregrine’s mother.  Peregrine, on the other hand, didn’t like TTEAM body work.  I remember feeling so frustrated with him.  Here he was with his own private body worker, and he wasn’t interested.  There were so many horses who loved and benefited from the sessions I gave them.  Peregrine fussed and refused to participate.

So I put my antennae up and went looking for solutions that he liked better.  I didn’t reject TTEAM work.  I didn’t say it was wrong or it didn’t work.  It had given me far too much to ever turn my back on it. Peregrine was simply telling me there was more I needed to learn.

I think of all the elements that have gone into my horse education as stepping stones.  I’m never regretful of any of my stepping stones.  There may be things I don’t use any more, techniques I disagree with now that I have more experience, but each of those stepping stones gave me something of value.  When you are finding your way over uncertain ground, you don’t always find the clear path right away.  Learning where you don’t want to step – and why – helps guide you to the secure footing of a path that’s worth following.  TTEAM was definitely a path worth following.  Because I stepped on that stone, I found all the others that set me in the direction of clicker training.

Remembering Play

poco-in-hug

Poco

Today if you watched me working with horses you wouldn’t see very much that would jump out at you as TTEAM work. But every now and then I’ll have a horse who brings out my TTEAM background.  Poco was one of those horses.

 

poco-ear-shy

Poco showing us his concern over having his ears touched.

I introduced you to Poco earlier.  He’s the ear shy buckskin who I had been watching over a period of several months progress from being a completely don’t-touch-me horse to one who could tolerate being bridled and handled around his head.  But tolerate was the key word.  He was by no means comfortable, especially with people he didn’t know.

I was itching to play with him.  I’d watched his handler give him some great work sessions, but that’s not what he needed.  He didn’t need to work.  He needed to play.  Or more to the point, he needed US to play.

When you play, you become creative.  You take elements from different parts of your life, and you combine them in new ways to come up with solutions you haven’t tried before.  Your stepping stones become important.

Getting “Yes” Answers
During one of his work sessions, Poco’s handler was called away to check on something in the barn.

“Would you mind holding him for me?” she asked.

Big mistake.

You never want to hand me a horse – not if you want to get him back any time soon.

I began in a round about way with Poco.  I knew I wanted him to target his ear to my hand, but I also knew I couldn’t begin there.

Never start with your goal.

That’s one of the rules of good training.

I couldn’t go directly to his ears, but I could teach him the overall concept of body part targeting.  There wasn’t much I could get a consistent “yes” answer to, so I began by simply grabbing his nose firmly between my hands and squeezing tight for the briefest of brief seconds.  Click and treat.

Now that last sentence doesn’t sound very clicker compatible.  Grabbing his nose between my hands sounds rather rude and abrupt, but I’ve found that this is often an effective way to begin.  I am in effect saying to the horse:  “This is what I want to do.  This is what it will feel like.  There’s nothing else that I’m going to do, just this.”

Training Choices
I could have gone through a shaping process to teach Poco to bring his nose to my hands.  That’s another, very valid approach.  With Poco I went the more direct route.  Sometimes it is important to show the horse that what he’s worried about really isn’t all that bad.

If I shaped him to bring his nose towards me, I might have been bringing all his worry and concern right along with the rest.  “Yes, I’ll bring my nose closer to you because I want the treat, but I really am still afraid.”

Sometimes what the horse discovers through the shaping process is he really doesn’t have anything to worry about and his fear melts away.  But sometimes the worry stays locked in.  It twists its way around each reinforcer just as surely as a vine twists around the tree that supports it.

With Poco I also knew I didn’t have much time with him. I needed to explain to him fast what I was going to be asking him to do.  So I reached up and held his nose firmly between my hands.  I gave him a solid squeeze.  I clicked as I released the pressure.

I thought of Temple Grandin and her description of the comfort she felt from being squeezed tight in an enclosed space.

Who knows how horses experience this, but I have found that a firm squeeze around the nose helps to settle many anxious horses.

This quickly evolved into my asking Poco to target his nose to my hand.  The first couple of times it was more a matter of my bringing my hand to his nose than the other way around.

poco-touch-nose

It was touch his nose fast – click treat. Note he is wearing a bridle because his handler had been working on bridling when she was called away.

It was touch his nose, click fast before he could pull away.  Treat. Touch his nose again.

I used a verbal cue.  “Nose”  It began as a signal of my intent.  It meant: I am going to reach out and touch your nose.

Telling him in advance what I was going to do gave him time to prepare.  I wasn’t sneaking up on him so it actually helped him to accept the contact more calmly. He knew exactly what I was going to do, and he also knew it wasn’t going to last long and the contact would be followed by a treat.

Very quickly I could hold my hand ever so slightly away from his nostril and wait for him to come that last little bit to me.  Click and treat.

Building Clean Loops
I progressed towards this in tight clean loops.

We did a cycle of squeezing his nose – click treat, repeat.  Then I’d walk off causally with Poco following behind me on a loose lead.  That gave him a break and set us up for a change in the next cycle.

So now it might be place my hand over his nostril – click treat.  Again, repeat this several times and then walk off casually.

The next cycle was bring your nose to my hand – click treat.

Then it was target my cupped hand to your chin – click treat.

The treat was so much more than just the piece of carrot I was offering him.  The treat included lots of verbal praise –  “Aren’t you great!  You’re so smart”  – together with lots of scritching.

Scritching
Scritching is my word.  It isn’t petting or stroking.  It’s a get-your-fingernails-dirty, deep kneading of a horse’s neck and back.  Think about how horses socially groom one another.  That’s what you are imitating so get in there and get your fingers dirty!  There’s nothing soft or diffident about it.  If your hands are clean after one of these sessions, either you are a superb groomer, or you aren’t doing it right.

I’ve had people tell me I need to come up with a name for the training I do.  Here’s a suggestion: The Dirty Fingernails Club!  Somehow, it’s never caught on.

Sequence Matters
In clicker training we’re used to hearing that timing matters.  The sequence in which you do things matters, as well.

Poco’s handler had done a lot of rubbing on his neck, but she had put it BEFORE the click.  I was putting it AFTER.

Before the click, there was always the question: what more are you going to do?  There was always a bit of guardedness in Poco’s emotional response.

After the click, it was all celebration.  You’re so good!  I wasn’t trying to see how much closer to his ears I could get.  I was simply rubbing and scritching him and telling him he was wonderful.  There was no agenda other than to celebrate the previous clickable moment.  Poco let his guard down.  He melted.  Panksepp could tell us about the dopamine that was being released in his brain.  What I could observe was a softening around the eyes, a dramatic change in muscle tone, an increase in responsiveness towards me.

I wish I had filmed that first session to share with you the change in Poco.  I was opening a dialog.  Because I was in a play state he could stay to listen and begin to let me in past his guard.

You Never Know What You’ve Taught.  You Only Know What You’ve Presented
The next day I did a follow up session with Poco.  I was still a long way from being able to handle his ears so I wanted to continue the conversation I had started.

In this next session Poco was much more accepting of my hands around his muzzle.  I built a small chain.

“Nose”  The cue initially simply told him what I was about to do.  I was going to cup my hand over his nostril.  It grew into Poco actively seeking out my hand.

As soon as my left hand was cupped over his nostril, I said “Chin”.

Poco responded by dropping his head so his chin rested in the cup of my right hand.

Click and treat.

Using Your Head
I wanted to get to his ears, but I had run out of hands, so I used my head – literally.

Nose.” He brought his head into position to meet my hand.

Chin.” He gave at the poll so his chin dropped into the cup of my hand.

As I supported his muzzle between my hands, I leaned in closer to him until I could rest my forehead between his eyes.  Click and treat!

poco-nose-chin-head

“I almost got a kiss!” I told him as I rubbed his neck and exclaimed to him that “He was so good!”

Breath
Building duration was next.  As I cupped my hands around his muzzle, I waited.  I was feeling for the exhale of his breath.

poco-click-on-exhale

I am waiting for Poco to exhale.

If you want to keep your rates of reinforcement high, this is a great behavior to go after.  We want our horses to relax so we like to click behaviors we read as signs that they are “happy” and “at ease”.  So we like to click for things like ears forward, but if the horse is concentrating or listening to activity behind him, you can wait a long time for his ears to move.  And if you withhold the click too long, your horse may begin to feel frustrated.  You’ve suddenly put him into an extinction process that you hadn’t intended.

If a horse has been earning clicks pretty consistently and now suddenly he isn’t, he’s going to become frustrated.  That’s a predictable outcome of extinction.  The more frustrated a horse becomes, the less likely he is to put his ears forward.  So now you’re stuck.

What do you do?  If you wait it out, you could be unraveling all those good dopamine-propelled feelings of relaxation.  You could end up with a frustrated, angry horse who is convinced that he doesn’t want anyone touching him anywhere.

Or maybe in desperation you click him for something, anything to get yourself out of this muddle.  I’m going to come back in a later section to desperation clicks and their fallout.

For now I’ll offer a different approach.  Instead of focusing on his ears – go for his breath.  Unless you are working with a sperm whale, you know he’s going to be exhaling on a regular, easily clickable basis.  So click as he exhales, and you’ll very quickly feel your horse melt even further into your hands.

Now wait for the deep exhale that truly signals a letting go of tension.  He is well on his way to letting his guard down and inviting you in.

Celebration!
Poco would now cradle his nose in my hands.  I could lean into his space, something that would have worried him previously.  And because I could lean in, I could steal a kiss.

Laugh.

Press my forehead against his.  Click. Treat. Celebrate!

poco-hug-1st-day

Press my forehead against his. Click. Treat. Celebrate!

 

Coming Next: Moving On

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

The Teachers We Get Are The Teachers We Need

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 9 of 12

Stories
“She’s just being lazy.”  That was what I was told when I first asked about the way Peregrine’s mother dragged her hind toes.  She was not even a year old, and she had been mine for just a few short weeks.

The vet hadn’t said anything during the prepurchase exam about the way she used her hind end, but then he hadn’t really looked.  This was the first prepurchase exam I had ever seen so I didn’t know what to expect.  I’ve watched many more since, and I can say that this was the sloppiest and most superficial.

She was a weanling.  What could be wrong?  Thank goodness he was so casual with the exam!  If he had looked more closely, he might have noticed the way she was moving behind.  I’m not sure what I would have chosen to do.  I didn’t want a “problem” horse.  I wanted a horse I could ride; a horse who could teach me about great horsemanship.  The Universe was clearly listening because that’s what I got.

While my friends were taking their adult horses off to shows, I was raising my dream horse.  Only there was something wrong.  Dragging her hind feet was the first sign.

“She’s just being lazy.  You need to get after her more and make her move.”

That didn’t seem right.  There was something else going on.  A month or so after I started questioning her movement, I saw her fall for the first time.  I’m glad I didn’t listen to all those well-meaning horse people who had been telling me to get after her.  I had known she wasn’t being lazy.  I knew there had to be a different answer.  I just didn’t know yet what it was.

One of the best definitions of a teacher that I have ever heard is this: a teacher is someone who started before you.  Nowadays, as a teacher, I say to people we need to tell stories about our horses that work in their best interest.  The owner of the barn told the “lazy” story about my filly.  That story leads to the “get after her” answer.

I told a different story.  I didn’t know what was going on, but I was sure there was something wrong.  I had a new vet in the practice come out and give her a more thorough exam.  This one included neurological tests – all of which she failed.

We need to tell stories that help us find good training solutions.  If I say that there is something wrong, I’ll become a good detective.  I’ll take care of my horse’s physical needs.  I’ll make sure my horse’s feet are well balanced, that his tack fits comfortably, that his nutritional needs are met.

I’ll check for lameness issues, for ulcers, and for other health issues that might interfere with my horse’s willingness to work with me.  I’ll break my training down into small, manageable steps.  If my horse doesn’t want to go forward, I’ll explain what I want more clearly.  I’ll find lots of different ways to say “go forward” until they all begin to make sense.

Suppose after all this due diligence, I discover that actually, yes, the reason my horse didn’t want to go forward was he’s lazy.  In that case what is the worst that can happen? He’ll be healthier because I reexamined his overall management.  He’ll be better trained because I explained what I wanted.  And in all likelihood, he’ll be eager to work with me, and I won’t be thinking he’s lazy.  I’ll just be appreciating his level-headedness.

But suppose I bought into that original story – “He’s just being lazy. You should get after him.”  What’s the worst that can happen?

In my filly’s case I would have destroyed all the good will I had built up in our relationship.  She wasn’t dragging her toes because she was lazy.  She was dragging them because she couldn’t feel where they were.  The neurological damage meant she couldn’t feel her hind feet as they landed.

The news was devastating.  But even more was the prognosis.  At that time the vets had nothing to offer.  They told me she would in all likelihood continue to deteriorate until she was no longer able to stand up.  She would become a danger both to herself and to anyone who was near her.  I would never be able to ride her.  The best thing I could do would be to put her down.

I couldn’t do it.

I felt trapped.  I wanted a riding horse, not a pasture ornament.  I couldn’t afford a second horse.  But I couldn’t put her down just because she couldn’t do for me what I wanted.  Her life had value to her.  When she got to the point where she couldn’t stand up and life was hard for her, then I would face the decision to put her down.  That was the future we were looking at.  In the meantime I had to deal with the problems each day presented.

One Day At A Time
While my friends were learning how to jump, I was teaching my filly how to walk – literally.  When most of us talk about teaching our horse to walk we simply mean when we are asking them to walk with a certain energy level and overall balance.  We don’t mean how to put one foot in front of the other without falling.

When you are caught in a situation like this, you try many different things.  It is truly everything and the kitchen sink.  At the universities scientists run controlled studies so they can say this technique works, and this other is just an old wife’s tale.  I wasn’t interested in controlled studies.  I tried lots of different things.  Her condition began to stabilize.  She wasn’t getting worse.  The neurological deficit was still there.  It would always be there, but she was learning how to compensate for the lack of proprioception.

Her balance was better, but not her mood.  She was a terrible grump.  She didn’t want to be groomed.  If you walked past her shoulder, you would get pinned ears and her head snaking out at you to warn you off.  I always had to be careful when others walked past her to make sure she didn’t bite at them.  The barn owner had no use for her.  He made his money by taking clients to horse shows and giving them lessons.  From his point of view she was useless, and on top of that she was bad tempered.

I didn’t see her this way.  She was my beautiful, best beloved.  Together we were figuring out how to manage her condition.  But the grumpiness was a concern.  She clearly hurt somewhere, but she couldn’t tell me where.  As soon as I approached her, she was warning me off.

TTEAM
In one of the many horse magazines I was reading at that time, I came across an article about Linda Tellington-Jones’ TTEAM training.  The article described in detail the TEAM body work.

I was up for trying anything.  That evening at the barn I experimented with the TTEAM circles. You were to cup your hand lightly on the horse.  Then you imagined a clock face.  Beginning at 6 o’clock, you moved your finger tips once around the clock back to 6 and a little beyond, pressing softly into the horse’s coat.  You were to make one circle, and then move on to a different spot, letting your fingers guide you.

I tried it.  My filly melted.  Her head dropped.  Her eyes got soft.  She let me in.

Her whole body didn’t hurt.  Finally, she could show me where the problem was.  I could do TTEAM circles everywhere but one spot on her shoulder.  That was off limits.

Now I could help her.

I didn’t have a lot of money.  Taking on a horse was stretching my budget to it’s limits, but I knew I had to learn more about TTEAM.  I knew I needed to study with Linda directly.

So I did some research, booked a spot on a clinic she was teaching out in the mid-west and got on an airplane.  That was the first of many long journeys my horses have sent me on.

Innovations Come From the Outside In
Whether you are talking about the sciences, sports, economics: whatever the field of study is, new innovations evolve by bringing in ideas from the outside.  We don’t evolve from the inside expanding out.  We evolve by bringing in fresh ideas and combining them with what we already know.  That’s how we come up with completely novel combinations.

That’s what Sally Swift did through her Centered Riding.  She introduced the horse world to the Alexander technique and transformed how riding is taught.

Linda Tellington-Jones did something comparable for how horses are handled.  She combined Moshe Feldenkrais’ work with her knowledge of horse training to produce something brand new and revolutionary – TTEAM.

Linda describes how she stumbled across Feldenkrais.  She and her husband, Wentworth Tellington, had been running a school for instructors in California.  They had 65 horses, plus staff and students, and all the responsibility and work that goes along with the running of a successful program.  Linda burned out.  She divorced her husband, sold off all the horses and went traveling.

As she described it, she put her antennae up and followed them wherever they took her.  I love that image, and I have used it myself many times.  I follow my antennae, and they have taken me on many wonderful adventures.

Following Antennae
Following my antennae took me to TTEAM.  I became a TTEAM Practitioner and in the mid-1980s I began teaching.  That hadn’t been my intent when I headed off on this journey, but people were seeing what I was doing with Peregrine’s mother, and they were curious.  How could she be doing so much more than their own horses when she was so very handicapped?

Because I was willing to travel, I had access to people they didn’t.  I was bringing in new ideas from the outside.  I was still greener than green in so many ways.  Some of my clients could most definitely ride circles around me in terms of their skills on horseback, but I had access to resources they didn’t.  And I was beginning to understand balance in a way that could help every horse I encountered.

The Joy of Discovery
There is a lot to be said for riding lots of horses.  That’s the typical horse background of most professionals.  They’ve grown up on the backs of horses, riding everything and anything that came their way.

I was having a very different and very unique experience.  While others were off riding at shows, I was piecing together yet another tiny layer of the balance puzzle.   What fascinated me was process.  My clients understood that I didn’t have set answers for them.  What I was sharing was a love of exploration.  I wasn’t giving them recipes: this and only this is the way you train.  I was sharing with them the joy of discovering yet another layer in the training puzzle.

People would contact me because they were struggling with some handling issue.  Usually within a session or two we would be well on the way to solving their original problem, but now they were hooked on learning more.  The adventure of discovery was what I was sharing.  Very quickly they didn’t need me any more for the original problem.  That was well behind us, but they wanted to keep going, to join me on the journey that eventually led to clicker training and all that it represents.

Ready To Teach
Many of my clients became long-term friends.  As their skills expanded, they also became interested in teaching, but often they weren’t sure if they were really qualified to help others.  When someone voices concerns about being ready to teach, I always refer back to my own early experiences.  We are all experts in our own experience.  That is the one thing we can safely say.  I may not be an expert in jumping or team penning, but I am an expert in my own life experience.  That is something I know well and can share.

A teacher is someone who started before you.

I have always loved that definition.  I don’t know where I first heard it or who gets the credit for it.  Whoever it was said a very wise thing.

You don’t have to wait until you are The Expert in your field to have something useful to contribute.  You can teach and share out of your own experience.  As long as people understand that you are teaching process, an on-going, never-ending exploration, you are fine.  You aren’t teaching something that is set in stone and where you have all THE answers.  You are teaching a process of exploration.  You are inviting others to join you on the journey.

Change Makers
These days if you watch me train, most of the time you won’t see anything that jumps out at you that says: she must know TTEAM.

TTEAM was a stepping stone, and a very important one at that.  Linda followed her antennae to Moshe Feldenkrais.  He told her to keep exploring and to create.  She became a Feldenkrais practitioner, but instead of using the work just on people, Linda carried it back to what she knew – horses.  Out of that combination she developed something new.

I remember helping Linda at a clinic she was giving for a university audience in Madison Wisconsin.  It was a large group that included many vets and vet students.  One of the horses she worked that day was a big, raw-boned chestnut thoroughbred named Perfect.

Linda began by exploring his body using what she called tiger touches.  Tiger touches are not meant to be therapeutic.  They are used to collect data.  Instead of the soft circles that I had first tried, in the tiger touches you curve your fingers more like the claws of a cat – hence the name – and you go deep into the muscles.  You begin the exploration up at the horse’s poll and then work your way down his spine, shoulders and hindquarters.

At every point that Linda tested, Perfect reacted.  When she got to his back, he all but dropped to his knees, he was in so much pain.

I listened to a gasp go up in the audience.  Linda was helping people see what had been in front of them all this time.

What they had been taught had kept them from seeing how much pain horses could be in.  We had all been told horses are stupid animals.  Over and over again we heard this.  That was the underlying belief system that dominated horse training.  “Horses are stupid animals and because they are stupid, you have to use force to train them.”  But then this was added: “Don’t worry, they don’t feel pain the way we do.”

A month or so after I watched Linda working with Perfect, I was reading an article in one of the major horse magazines.  It was written by a vet.  In the article he stated that horses do not experience back pain.

That was 1984.  We have truly come a long way, and Linda, I believe, was a major catalyst for that change.

In 1984 we didn’t pay attention to saddle fit.  You found a saddle that fit YOU, and then you used it on every horse that you rode.   I remember being taught to put saddles up on top of the horse’s withers.  When the saddle slid back on our high withered thoroughbreds, we put breast collars on to hold them in place.

It was Tony Gonzales, a farrier from Hawaii, who started to look at saddle placement.  He had people watch how their horses moved when the saddles were placed up on the withers.  Then he slid the saddles back behind the “locking in” point of the shoulder and had them watch again.  The change was often dramatic.  Now that the saddle was no longer pinching their shoulders, the horses could move.

Tony pointed out how uneven our horses often are.  I remember being at a clinic of his that Sally Swift was also attending.  Tony lifted Sally up so she could see down the spine of a tall thoroughbred.  He pointed out how uneven this horse’s shoulders were.

This is general knowledge today, but it took a farrier from Hawaii bringing in fresh information to help us see what had always been right in front of us.

Change Our Beliefs, Change the World
When Peregrine’s mother was first diagnosed, there weren’t any chiropractors, or body workers around to help.  They didn’t exist for horses.  If they don’t experience pain, why would you need a body worker?

But now there are physical therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, energy workers.  They are there in large part because Linda did tiger touches on a chestnut thoroughbred named Perfect. Together they helped people see what had always been there – horses do experience pain.  It is just as real to them as it is to us.  They are just better at hiding it.

Detective Work
I have always said I was so lucky in my horses, first with the neurological issues, and then later with Peregrine and his stifles.  That may not sound lucky, but at least I knew what I was dealing with.  There was no hiding these issues.  I’ve dealt with so many horses who are puzzles.  You know something isn’t right, but the horse masks the symptoms.  It’s tempting to dismiss the reluctant attitude and reach instead for “just make him do it” solutions.

Again, we need to remember that horses are prey animals that rely on the safety of the herd for protection.  Any animal that looks lame or infirm will attract the notice of predators.  To stay safe horses have to hide their pain.  That doesn’t mean they don’t feel the sharp twinge every time they take a step.  I’ve had lots of injuries that I kept to myself.

If you don’t see the injury, you don’t need to know about it.  That’s how horses operate.  If they look vulnerable, they could be driven out of the herd.  Alone and infirm, they will certainly attract the attention of any predators that are around.

We need to remember this when we go looking for the root cause of our horse’s reluctant attitude.  The big things horses will show.  It’s hard to disguise an abscess or a torn tendon.  But other things they will be reluctant to let you see.

“He’s not right” will be a nagging feeling.  Vets, trainers, other horse people will tell you nothing is wrong, but you’ll still have that gut feeling.  Listen to it.  Be a good detective and tell a story that works in the best interest of your horse.

Coming Next: Stepping Stones
I promised you I would be returning to the ear-shy horse, and now finally in this next post, that’s what I’ll be doing.

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

 

Questions

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 8 of 12

More Questions
In the previous posts I looked at the components that go into creating clicker “super glue”.  This discussion brings us back to questions, and that’s getting us closer to returning to Poco, the ear-shy horse I introduced you to at the beginning of this unit.

There are many threads that weave through my work.  What is common to all of them are questions.  In the sciences you are trained to ask questions.  You aren’t there simply to regurgitate to others what is already known.  Your role is to explore, investigate and expand upon what is already known.

In archaeology a portion of a site that is being excavated is set aside for a future generation to uncover.  The belief is that the methods of exploration will advance, opening up the possibility that more can be learned by waiting for those techniques.

The expression: “we are standing on the shoulders of giants” holds true in every field.  Sometimes we may laugh at what people before us have believed.  We may think, what an absurd notion!  How could people possibly have believed that!? But those absurd notions were the stepping stones that brought us to our current understanding.  And the beliefs that we hold today are simply more stepping stones taking us to the next “greatest thing since sliced bread”.

Jaak Pansepp identified seven core affective systems.  (Refer to Affective Neuroscience: Published Jan. 17, 2016: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/01/17/)

The SEEKING system was one of the seven, and it turns out it plays a role in the other six.  We cannot help but be curious and exploratory.  It is built into the ancient networks of our brain.  As Panksepp describes it, “an infant SEEKS with no set goal.”

Creativity is a core driver.  We ask questions because we are curious.  We want to know what sits beyond the horizon whether that horizon is the physical or metaphorical.  We SEEK to know more.

Questions can take us out past the horizon line, and they can also take us inside to an exploration of our private space.  Here the questions become even more important because we cannot directly investigate these private realms.

Levels of Analysis
Panksepp asks questions at the level of individual neurons and the systems that they form within the brain.  I have been trained to ask questions at a different level of analysis.  That’s a phrase I learned from Dr. Susan Friedman.  (behaviorworks.org)  Dr. Friedman is a behavioral analyst.  She uses a wonderful metaphor of a viewing scope.  What is the lens focused on – the distant horizon or something much closer?  What is the level of analysis that interests you?

My focus is on balance, but I have to go inside to find the answers to the questions I ask.

Going Inside
What does going inside mean?  If I ask you to raise your arm, I have an overall understanding of how human anatomy works and what muscles, bones, and tendons are involved, but that doesn’t tell me how YOU lift your arm.

I could watch what you do, but that gives me only partial information.  I could ask you directly, but how many of us know how we do something so basic?  We lift our arms without thinking about HOW we are doing it.

So if I want to know how YOU lift your arm, I need to ask questions at a different level of analysis.  I might rest my arm on your shoulder so I can add the tactile information to all the other data I’m been collecting.

I will need to know how to silence all the other answers I’ve gotten from asking similar questions of others.  I can’t assume that your answer will be the same as theirs.  I ask my questions without knowing the answer.

I observe without judgment.

And I observe through questions.

I feel the movement of your arm lifting under my hand.   I could be satisfied with thinking:

Here it lifts.  Here it stops.  Here her shoulder moves.  Here her breath is held.

Instead I want to keep putting a question mark at the end of each of these sentences.

How is she lifting her arm?  Is it anything to do with what I feel under my hands?  How does her arm move? Where does the movement begin?  Where does the movement stop?  Is it the same on both sides?

Adding a Question Mark – Feldenkrais Work
Turning your observations into questions comes via Mia Segal, a Feldenkrais practitioner.  I wrote about her work earlier. (See Part 2: Unit 3, Chapter 3: Feldenkrais Work: Published June 9,2016:https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/06/09/)

In the horse world many of us are aware of the Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement method because of Linda Tellington-Jones.  Her TT.E.A.M training evolved out of Moshe Feldenkrais’ work for people.  Feldenkrais’ work is an exploration of movement in which an individual is guided through questions towards greater self-awareness and well being.

Asking Not Telling
Applied to horses what evolves out of this type of exploration is a question that slices straight through to your core belief system.  It is this:

Are you telling or are you asking?

You can train with a clicker and treats, but if you are telling, you aren’t playing, and you most certainly aren’t listening.

Suppose you want your horse to pick up a hind foot.  You can use your clicker and treats to “tell” him to do what you want.

“Shift your weight over off your left hind.” Click then treat.

“Unweight your left hind.” Click then treat.

“Unweight it a bit more.” Click then treat.

“Pick up your left foot.” Click then treat.

“Pick it up higher.” Click then treat.

“Hold it still while I clean your foot.” Click then treat.

You’ve been polite, but you’ve still told your horse what to do.  You’ve picked his foot up, and you’re holding it where you always hold a horse’s foot.  But suppose for this horse’s conformation that means his hock is now under pressure.

The longer you hold his foot up, the more uncomfortable he’s going to become.  He’ll start to fuss and try to pull his foot away.  You’ve been told you have to hold on.  If you let go, he’ll learn he can pull away, and he’ll never hold his foot up for you.  So you hold on.

He becomes more uncomfortable and pretty soon your wrestling match has disintegrated into a full out battle.  No matter the outcome neither of you are winners because the whole process could have been so very different.  Here’s how:

Suppose you ask for his foot instead through a series of questions.  Now it becomes:

“How do you shift your weight over off your left hind?” Click then treat as he responds with an answer.

“Can you unweight your left hind?” Yes.  Click then treat.

“Can you unweight it a bit more?” Yes. Click then treat.

“How do you pick up your left foot?” Follow his movement through the lift. Click then treat.

“Can you pick it up higher?” Yes. Click then treat.

“Where can you comfortably hold your foot?”  Click then treat as you find the spot together.

As you ask these questions, you’ll be listening to your horse.  You’ll feel how his leg unfolds as he lifts it into your hand.  Instead of holding it in a position that stresses his joints, you’ll let him show you where he can hold it comfortably.  Instead of fussing, now you have a horse who knows he’ll be listened to.

The click and the treat helps to guide him through the questions you’re asking.  The questions will give you the lesson.

The Questions – The Lesson
The Questions:

How do I feel it in my hands?

Where does the movement begin?

Where does it stop?

How does it stop?

When does it stop?

How does it begin again?

What changes with repetition?

Is it the same on both sides?

What changes under my hands?

How could it be done differently?

(Note: These questions are from Mia Segal’s youtube video: The Art of the Question.)

Your Homework
Here’s something to play with over the next few days.  Put question marks at the end of your training requests, and then make note of the changes you see in your horse.  I’ll end with a question.  What changes in your relationship as you ask questions and learn to listen deeply for the answers?

Coming Next: The Teachers We Get Are The Teachers We Need

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

Using Clicker Training Versus Being a Clicker Trainer

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 7 of 12

Using Clicker Training
Science, relationship, repertoire, persistence are the four main elements that go into the creation of clicker super glue. That was the focus of the previous post.  Put these four things together, and you will have someone who shifts from simply giving clicker training a quick look to someone who is actively using clicker training on a routine basis.  But that still doesn’t mean someone is a clicker trainer.

This is not a judgement about who is technically the better trainer.  You can be very skilled and consider yourself a user of clicker training, not a clicker trainer.  These labels refer more to the mindset that you bring to training and the impact that this has on both your training choices and your learner.

It can also be a description of where you are in the learning process.  No one starts out as a clicker trainer.  We all start out by taking a look and seeing if it is of interest.  Then we gradually move from seeing it as a tool, to seeing it more as the organizing framework for our training.

A great example of someone who actively uses clicker training – and uses it very well – but is not a clicker trainer would be Bob Bailey.  Bob has had a long and very distinguished career as a trainer.  In the fifties when open ocean work with dolphins was first being developed, he headed up the Navy’s training program.  He moved on to become the Project Manager and later Vice President and General Manager of Animal Behavior Enterprises, the company founded by Marian and Keller Breland, two of B.F. Skinner’s graduate students. In the early 1990’s when the dog community discovered clicker training, people were hungry for teachers.  They drew Bob out of retirement to give his now famous chicken training workshops.

Yes, you read that right – chicken training workshops.  Bob used chickens to teach people the science upon which clicker training is based.

Bob will tell you he uses clicker training because it is the most efficient, effective training method he knows, but if he found something that worked better, he would change in a heartbeat.  He is very much a user of clicker training.  By his own self-labeling, he is not a clicker trainer.

In a completely different category,  there are people who call themselves clicker trainers but whose understanding of what that means is light years away from what I mean.  Yes, they may click and treat, but they also cling to the need to punish their animals.  The dog gets a reward for sitting when he’s told to, but if he doesn’t sit fast enough – or worse – if he offers some other behavior, out come the corrections.  Using a clicker most definitely does not make you a clicker trainer.

The Clicker Umbrella

clicker umbrella 1
When I talk about clicker training, I often refer to the image of a huge umbrella under which a wide variety of training methods and solutions fit.  No one of these training strategies by itself defines clicker training.  You might rely heavily on targeting, but that is only one of many training strategies.  You could also use freeshaping or luring to form the behavior you want.

Pressure and release of pressure can fit comfortably under the umbrella.  If I want to figure out the answer to a treasure hunt, clues are welcome.  You’re getting warmer, you’re getting colder.  That’s the function of pressure in a clicker world.  The pressure is not escalated into a do-it-or-else threat.  It is information only.  It offers hints that help the learner get to the reinforcement faster.

If pressure remains at a level where it is information and never a threat, then even very traditional horse training techniques such as advance and retreat procedures can be modified and adapted to fit under my clicker umbrella.

So it isn’t the teaching strategy itself that determines if something fits under the clicker umbrella, but how it is used.  That includes not just pressure and release of pressure, but even targeting and feeshaping.  You can be using the tools of clicker training without really being a clicker trainer.  What does all this mean?  What is it that makes someone just a user of clicker training and not what I mean when I say someone is a clicker trainer?

Just Because You Can . . .
Ethics matter.  Here the mantra becomes:

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Using a marker signal and treats, I could easily teach a horse to stay oriented between two targets.  If I slowly raise the targets up higher and higher, I can get the horse to rear.  With a little practice I could teach that horse to balance on his hind legs and walk the length of the arena.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.  Standing up on his hind legs like that can’t be good for the long term health of a horse’s hocks.  I might be able to teach this kind of circus-trick behavior, but I can’t imagine ever doing so.

You could easily get a yearling to jump over large fences at liberty, but again just because you can doesn’t mean you should.  The same considerations apply to older horses.  Should you be asking a horse with arthritic hocks to work at speed or to travel long distances on a horse trailer?  What we want and what our horses need are not always the same thing.

With the clicker you can train many things.  It’s not enough that you are using positive reinforcement to get a job done.  We need to consider not just HOW something is trained, but WHAT we are training.

There are lots of behaviors that look impressive, but they are hard on the individual.  It may simply be that the people who are teaching them have not fully thought out what they are doing.  They are still in the phase where they are excited by the behaviors they can train.  They aren’t yet looking at the broader picture of the animal’s long-term welfare.

Experienced clicker trainers include a consideration of balance – both physical and emotional – in everything they train. They are looking at how the behavior benefits the animal now and in the future.

just because you're using R+Good intentions are not enough.  Just because you are using positive reinforcement does not mean your animal is having a positive learning experience.  If you are fumbling around trying to get your treats out of your pocket, if your timing is off, or you are inconsistent in your criterion, your animal could be having a very frustrating time.  Instead of being clear, you’re surfing a giant extinction wave that leaves a wake of confusion behind you.

To prevent this your learner needs you to have:

  • the science to know how to create and carry out a shaping plan.
  • the relationship to care about his emotional well-being.
  • the repertoire to be adaptive to his learning needs.
  • the persistence to develop your own good handling skills.

That’s what creates clicker super glue and a complete clicker trainer.

Coming Next: More Questions

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

The Clicker Super Glue

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9.) You Can’t Not Cue: Part 6 of 12

What Keeps People Interested in Clicker Training?
I ended yesterday’s post with the question: what is the “glue” that gets somebody to stick to clicker training?  What makes someone take more than that first look?  What creates the shift from being simply curious about clicker training, to giving it a try, to becoming an active user, and eventually a clicker trainer?  I think there are four main elements that go into the creation of clicker super glue.

Science
The first component of clicker super glue is a love of science.  I’ve already talked about this, but let me expand on it here.  When I talk about a love of science I don’t mean someone who has read the chapter on learning theory in the psychology text book and memorized the four quadrants.  Lots of people can give you the definitions of negative and positive punishment.  That’s simply someone who has done a bit of reading.

A love of science is something more.  It’s that curiosity that has you always asking the “why” questions.  It’s wanting to know how things work.  It’s never being satisfied with the “because that’s the way it’s done” answers.

Someone who is passionate about science is also passionate about history.  You want to know what others before you have said in answer to those “why” questions.  Where did our current ideas come from?  Why do we use marker signals?  Why do we call them bridging signals? Where did that term come from?  What was meant by it, and is it still applicable?

“Just because” isn’t good enough.  How do we test our ideas?   How do we peel back the layers of confusion our words often create and look at what is really going on when we say antecedents set the occasion for behaviors which are controlled by consequences?   Do you nod your head and passively write that down in your notes?  Or do you want to dig down into those words to find out what those relationships really mean for your animals?

People who are passionate about science understand that what is understood today is not fixed in stone.  As we learn more, our understandings change.  In the sciences, as you test ideas and develop techniques that allow for more fine-tuned levels of exploration, ideas shift.  Science is the perfect companion to training.

science is the perfect companionIn both you will hear people saying: I used to follow this line of thought, but then the data showed me that this other was a better explanation/approach.  It offered a more functional interpretation or way of handling the behavior I was seeing.

Nothing becomes entrenched because we are always asking those why questions.

Science alone is not enough.  Think of it like the super glues that come in two separate tubes.  Each tube by itself won’t hold anything together, but combine them, and you have a super glue that will last for years.  By itself science creates an interest in training, but it doesn’t guarantee that someone will turn into what I mean by a clicker trainer.

Relationship
One of the other super glue “tubes” is relationship.  When I first went out to the barn with a clicker in my hand and treats in my pocket, I was curious.  The scientist in me wanted to explore what sounded like an intriguing approach to training.  There weren’t any other equine clicker trainers around to act as role models.  I didn’t go out to the barn because I had been watching youtube videos showing me the amazing relationships people were developing with their horses.  It was the science behind the training that made me take the first look.  I kept going because that early exploration into clicker training so enriched the relationship I had with Peregrine.

I started sharing my early forays into clicker training with my clients.  I remember asking one of them what she thought about clicker training.  She said out of all the things I had shown her, it was her favorite.  When I asked why, she said it was because of the relationship it created with her horse.

Repertoire
Two tubes aren’t enough to create clicker super glue.  There is another element that I think is critical and that’s repertoire.

I’ve known many people who were excited to try clicker training.  They introduced their horses to the target, and then they got stuck.  What do you do with it?  That was the question.

When I started with the clicker, Peregrine already knew a lot, but there were glitches and speed bumps throughout his training.  Always the physical issues he had with his stifles got in the way.  As a youngster, he was plagued by locking stifles.  The stifle joint is equivalent to our knee.  When Peregrine wanted to take a step forward, the tendons that ran over his knee cap wouldn’t always release.  He’d try to move, and one or both of his hind legs just wouldn’t bend.  He’s be stuck in place until they let go.  On the ground backing usually unlocked his joints.  Under saddle the solution he was more likely to find was a hard buck forward.

So you could say he was both very well trained, and at the same time very much a problem horse.  On a good day he was a dream to ride, but when his stifles were locking up, he was a nightmare.  His stifles had forced me to learn so much more about training, especially about ground work, just to be able to manage him safely on those bad days.  On the good days, that same training produced some simply beautiful work.

Twenty plus years ago when Peregrine and I were first exploring clicker training, ground work for most people meant lunging.  That was all they knew.  You lunged your horse to get the “bucks out” so your horse was safe to ride.

Lunging was often crudely done.  The horse ran around you on a circle, often out of balance, often pulling on your lunge line.  It wasn’t fun for either of you, so if someone said: “we’re going to use the clicker to do ground work”, of course people ran for the hills!  What was fun about ground work?

I’ve raised all my horses.  Peregrine was a horse I bred.  I raised his mother, and Robin came to me as a yearling, so ground work to me has always meant so much more than lunging.  Ground work is the teaching of connection.  Ground work means showing your horse how to get along with people.  It includes basic manners and leading skills, but it’s so much more than that.  For a young horse ground work includes long walks out to learn about the world.  It includes walking through mud puddles and over wooden bridges, meeting the cows that live in the next field over, encountering joggers and bicycle riders.  It means liberty training and in-hand work.  It means learning about your body and gaining control over your balance so you can go up and down hills safely and one day carry a rider in comfort.

All this meant that after Peregrine was routinely touching a target, I wasn’t stuck.  I had a rich and varied repertoire to work with.  I began by reshaping everything I had ever taught him with the clicker.  In so many places I could almost hear him say: “Oh THAT’S what you wanted!  Why didn’t you say so before?”

Everything I had already taught him – the clicker made better. I began by using it as a piggy back tool, meaning I simply added it in to familiar lessons.  I would ask Peregrine to rotate up into shoulder-in much as I had always asked him, and I would click and treat as he complied.  It made him more willing, so it took less explaining on my part to get the desired response.

Reworking our existing repertoire got us a solid foot in the clicker door.  It gave us lots to explore to get us started.  When I’m introducing people to clicker training, I want to help them see all the many possibilities that exist in ground work.  If you equate clicker training just with targeting, you may well get stuck.  Your horse is touching a target.  That was fun, but now what?

The “now what” is finding creative ways to use that targeting behavior.  And it’s recognizing that there are many other shaping methods you can use.

It’s remembering that at one point your horse didn’t know how to pick up his feet for cleaning or to stand quietly while you put on his halter.  Can you use the clicker to make those things better?  Of course you can!  While you are learning how clicker training works, you can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.

I like beginning with the “universals”, things we all do with our horses regardless of the type of riding we do.  We all need to clean our horse’s feet, groom them, halter them, and, if we ride, bridle and saddle them.  Below is a fun video from Monty Gwynne showing how a clicker-trained horse takes a bridle.  It’s a great example of turning the ordinary – something we all do on a regular basis – into something with real clicker flare.

Persistence
Science, relationship, repertoire are all important.  There’s one more component to our super glue and that’s persistence.

Training is not easy.  It is not straight forward.  It is certainly not a linear path where one success builds on another, and you never have another frustrating day ever again with your horse.

Training is about running up against a reaction you don’t understand and going off to have a proverbial cup of tea while you figure out a different way to approach the problem.  You have to have persistence to weather these little storms of confusion.  You have to have persistence to learn the handling skills that can make the difference between smooth-sailing success and a stormy ride.

You can understand the science inside and out, but your horse may still be turning his back and walking off the minute he sees you coming.  Persistence keeps you in the game, scratching your head trying to figure out what to do next. What do you change?  What do you add?

Persistence is what gets you to clinics and fills your bookshelves with training book after training book.  It is what gets you to tie a lead rope to your fence rail so you can practice, practice, practice your rope handling skills before you ever go near your horse.  And it is what takes you back out to the barn to see what your horse thinks of all the homework you’re doing on his behalf.

Put these four things together and you will have someone who shifts from simply giving clicker training a quick look to someone who is actively using clicker training on a routine basis.  But that still doesn’t mean someone is a clicker trainer.

Coming Next: Using Clicker Training Versus Being A Clicker Trainer

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com