JOYFull Horses: Using Environmental Cues

In the previous post I shared many examples of using environmental cues.  For one example I wrote:

“When you have a training challenge, instead of tackling it head on with your normal “horse training” solutions, think instead about how you might use props.  If your horse has trouble turning to move out of your space, how could you use mats to help with this?”

One of the reasons I wanted to share the JOYFull Horses book on line was I knew I wanted to include video along with the text.  That’s what I’ll be doing in today’s post.  To illustrate just how useful environmental cues can be in training, I’m going to explain more fully how you can use mats to teach basic balance and leading skills.  I’ll be combining the draw of  the mats with the set up for a turn that can be created out of food delivery.

These videos were taken during the spring 2015 Arkansas clinic at Cindy Martin’s farm.  Cindy is one of the coaches for my on-line course.  The video features her beautiful draft cross mare, Scout.  Scout is a fairly new arrival in Cindy’s family.  When she first started riding her, Cindy discovered two things.  First, Scout’s idea of steering meant going where she wanted to go regardless of the rider’s wishes.  And second, if you asked for forward, you were just as likely to trigger rearing as any forward impulsion.  These riding issues meant it was time to go back to ground work and teach Scout the basics of leading.

By the time these videos were taken, Scout was well versed in the foundation skills of clicker training.  She had become a mannerly, very pleasant horse to be around, but her tank-like qualities were still in evidence.  This was in part due to a lack of balance.  During the spring 2015 clinic, I introduced Cindy to a simple lesson in which food delivery was combined with the use of multiple mats to teach better leading skills.

These videos take you step by step through the process.

Part 1 establishes a baseline.  Cindy is asking for Scout to turn away out of her space.  In this short video you’ll see Scout push forward through Cindy’s request.  In many traditional forms of horse training we would have dealt with this push-through by getting after Scout.  We would have punished the forward push, but punishment brings with it many unwanted consequences.  Obviously, we used a very different approach, one that used positive reinforcement to teach Scout what was wanted.

In Part 2 you’ll see how Cindy begins to use food delivery to set up the balance shifts she wants.  If you aren’t familiar with clicker training, this can look as though Cindy is simply feeding Scout out to the side.  That’s only part of what is happening.

In the video you’ll hear me refer many times to “grown-ups”.  This is a short hand expression for a lesson which I call: “The grown-ups are talking, please don’t interrupt”. This is one of the foundation lessons of clicker training, one of the very first things we teach the horses when we introduce them to clicker training.  It’s a long name for a simple lesson.  What it means is the handler is able to stand next to her horse with her pockets full of treats, and her horse will stand quietly beside her.  I gave it this very long name because I wanted to emphasize that at the core of clicker training sits good manners.

Having a horse who is mugging you for treats takes the fun out clicker training.  I don’t want the mugging behavior.  And I also don’t want the horses to be anxious about the treats, so early on we teach them this foundation behavior.  Moving away from the treat pouch is what earns clicks and treats.

So many people avoid using food in training because they see it as a distraction.  They want the horse working for them, not any goodies in their pockets.  I ask a lot of my horses, and I want to reinforce their good behavior generously with something they really enjoy.  Being able to offer something they will actively work for adds enormously to my training. Plus, I find it reinforcing for myself to be able to say thank you for a job well done.

How do you know what your horse will actively work for?  Ask yourself what will he mug you to get.  At the top of the list for most horses is food.  I’m going to take that information and transform food from a distraction into a powerful teaching aid.  I do this by teaching the “grown-ups are talking” lesson.  Once a horse understands that treats come when he shows me good emotional self-control, I can use food as a reinforcer to help teach other things.  That’s what you’re seeing in this series of videos.

In Part 2 Cindy is using grown-ups.  First, she asks Scout to look straight ahead so her head is out of Cindy’s space. Click.  Normally, Cindy would feed Scout so her head continues to be centered between her shoulders.  But to teach her how to turn so she doesn’t crowd forward into Cindy’s space, Cindy is instead stepping into her and extending her arm out so Scout has to look to the right to get her treat.

Once she does, Cindy again asks for grown-ups.  Scout’s head is still bent to the side.  To earn a click and a treat, she needs to keep her head away from Cindy.  When she does – click! – she earns another treat.  Again, Cindy extends her arm out to the side so Scout has to bend her head even more.  As she does, she discovers that she can move her feet.  That simple realization lets her straighten out into a more comfortable position.

So, while it might look as though Cindy is simply feeding Scout treats, and that’s how she is getting her to turn, the treats are in fact reinforcers that come after Scout has been clicked for keeping her head away from Cindy in the “grown-ups are talking” lesson.

When she does, she not only gets clicked and given a treat, she also gets to walk forward to a mat.  In previous lessons Scout has been introduced to mats.  She’s not only comfortable standing on them, the mats have become conditioned reinforcers.

This means that there is such a deep history of reinforcement that’s been built up around the mats, Scout regards them as a great place to be.  They are a predictor of good things – easy requests and lost of treats.  So Scout likes going to mats.  We can use them to reinforce previous behavior. We’re going combine the strategic use of the food delivery with her eagerness to go to mats to help her find her own balance through these leading turns.

Part 3 continues to develop Scout’s balance.  Not only will this teach great leading manners, but it also opens the door to lateral work.  So many good things come out of lessons that are taught with positive reinforcement.

Part 4 begins to introduce the lead back into the equation.  We don’t want to have to rely forevermore on food delivery to get turns.  Now that Scout understands the pattern we want, Cindy can begin to ask for the turns from the lead.  She may encounter some old history when she slides down the lead.  Scout’s old pattern was to push through pressure, so Cindy goes back and forth between the food delivery and the lead to set up the turns and and change Scout’s expectations.

You’ll see some beautiful rope handling in these videos.  Cindy is very light and tactful on the lead.   She is familiar with the rope handling techniques which I teach in my books, DVDs and on-line course.  If you aren’t familiar with this type of rope handling, refer to my web sites: theclickercenter.com and theclickercentercourse.com.

The lessons I am presenting here are built around this style of rope handling.  The lead is taught as a clicker-compatible tool.  The horses trust the information it gives them.  It is not used as a correction tool.  I don’t want my horses to be afraid of the lead or to be worrying about what might happen if they make a mistake.  That would poison the cues the lead is giving.  If you are using a style of rope handling in which escalating pressure is at times used to enforce behavior, you will undermine the intent and the power of this lesson.

Part 5 takes us into the second day of the clinic and shows us steady progress in this lesson.  You might want to refer back to Part 1 as a reminder of the starting point.

Up to this point Cindy has just asked Scout to turn away from her.  In this lesson I have her ask her to turn in her direction, as well.  We’re following a basic principle of training: For every exercise you teach, there is an opposite exercise you must teach to keep things in balance.  These two turns are part of creating beautiful leading balance.

Part 6 continues the process of adding in the lead.  Again, I’ll refer you to my books, DVDs, clinics and on-line course for details on this rope handling technique.

Cindy and Scout are learning how to dance together.  Each small step is part of a larger flow that will let them move in balance one with the other.  This is the final video of this particular lesson.  Scout had been doing wonderfully well, but she was beginning to get a little slower in her responses.  That’s a good indicator that she might be getting tired.  So rather than push beyond what she could do, we noted this early sign of fatigue and brought the day’s lesson to a close.  Both Scout and Cindy had learned a lot.

This is a glimpse into the future.  This clip was taken during the fall 2015 clinic.  Scout and Cindy have made great progress in their dance together.  Lateral work is one of the many good results that comes out of teaching good balance.

The fun of teaching in this way is you always get so many good things popping out of simple lessons!

Have Fun!

Coming Next: Chapter 3: The Time Has Come the Walrus Said To Talk of Many Things: Premack, Asking Questions, Mats, Airplane Runways and Creativity

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 “Joyful Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via kurlanda@crisny.org

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

 

 

 

 

 

One thought on “JOYFull Horses: Using Environmental Cues

  1. Pingback: ::Click:: Seeing the Boys in a New Light | catself

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