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kayhmk 12-17-2012 03:53 PM

Pushy clicker trained horse and alternative rewards?
Sorry if you think this is more of a general Horse Training question, please move if needed.

So, today I got to work with a friend's horse. She's a very pushy, dominant mare who has initially been trained with NH and then clicker training. The mare's been away on a lease and apparently during that time everything's not gone all that nicely... Result: pushy, dominant, headstrong, stubborn, even aggressive mare. No clicker training while on lease.

I (more of a NH person myself) did a short session with her at liberty. She has no respect so that was my main focus. I asked her to move away from my space, move her forehand and hindquarters, back up and come (yo-yo game), follow in her place (ie. not pushing me away or going into my space/faster), stop and give her attention, lower hear head.

I was quite surprised I got her to listen and to do all of these things very lightly. Her usual "hell no, YOU do it" attitude and pushiness disappeared after first try at any task, like always.
However, I think I ran into a huge trouble with her the longer our session lasted.

She has been worked in a way that she gets a click for reward as well as "loose" (removal of pressure). Either one on their own should be ok. Usually after a series of clicks, a treat. Well I didn't have any treats with me, so I mainly let her stand and took away the pressure as a reward. A click here and there, but as I'm not a clicker training person, it doesn't come naturally. She didn't see petting as a reward (tried).

At first, she did things very well. The longer I worked with her, the more insistent she became with asking for a treat. First it was just a look "do I get the treat now?" then pawing, after that poking her nose "hey you, treat!". After a while I think it got to a point where her dominant nature took over and she was very close to biting me in an attempt to find a treat. Her attitude towards working ("yeah, let's play") didn't deteriorate.
I kept on asking her away from my space and tried to give her something else to think. At the end I had to give up on our session because I didn't want to risk her biting. This is a horse that will bite a human.

So the question is: how should I have handled the situation? How would I need to handle it in the future? Is this a problem with the horse's clicker training or her pushiness? Me? None of those things? Should I prepare her in some way to let her know "this session will offer you know treats, your reward is this"? Any other tips?

Saddlebag 12-18-2012 11:22 AM

Not sure where to begin. No more treats. To gain respect I want you to start following her around in a large paddock or pasture. If you have snow, set out an armful then back away. She will go to the hay. Come around behind her but well out of kicking distance and when she is eating, begin walking briskly and wave your arms a little to get her to move. Stand at the hay a few seconds then walk away and allow her to return. Do this until she will keep both eyes on you and it gets difficult to get around behind her. When she will do this slump your shoulders and extend a hand, fingers down and see if she will greet you. If she keeps her nose and inch away you must wait until she touches you. Don't close the gap or you've given her the wrong message. When she touches turn and walk away and let her eat. Her reward is your departure. The entire exercise has told her that you hold a higher rank than her when you move her off her feed. You can do the same if theres grass. You are beginning to teach her respect. Horses do this all the time in a herd. You've seen horses squabble over hay. Who wins-the dominant one and on down the pecking order. Try this with the horse and pm me if you have any questions.

Beling 12-18-2012 01:39 PM


Originally Posted by kayhmk (Post 1803576)
...However, I think I ran into a huge trouble with her the longer our session lasted.

She has been worked in a way that she gets a click for reward as well as "loose" (removal of pressure). Either one on their own should be ok. Usually after a series of clicks, a treat. Well I didn't have any treats with me, so I mainly let her stand and took away the pressure as a reward. A click here and there, but as I'm not a clicker training person, it doesn't come naturally. She didn't see petting as a reward (tried).

These are the problems I see: thinking of the horse in a sort of mechanical) or computerized?) way, that you do something, and you should get the same result. Every time. You push a button, the thing happens.

But horses are living creatures, living in an ever-changing world. The "session" changes as time goes on. The situtation after ten minutes is not the same as when you first start out. What makes it different?

The second problem is along the same lines, the concept of "reward"--do horses even think of it in our terms? I don't think so.

To me it's one of the most fascinating things about the human-equine relationship. We see in a narrow focus, through time; horses see nearly everything in a globe around them, in a compressed, strongly (but not absolutely) now-time. We expect food to be a "reward" because to us, predators, it is. Horses more or less expect food to be around them at all times. They graze and browse.

So what is this "reward"? I believe it's a shift in the whole circle of their now-environment: a time for pause, to taste and move the tongue, maybe to look around. They like the taste of the sweet; but we've all had horses who wouldn't take a treat. It's not a guaranteed reward.

I've been trying to work out WHY any of our training even works. I'm beginning to think it's because horses in general ENJOY the break, or mark, or poke, in their awareness; just the way we (or I, anyway) enjoy these moments when I'm entirely in One Time, or call it timelessness, and the sense I'm in connection with another species. Clicker training can be extremely effective, but like so many things, it's more effective when you allow it to happen, instead of trying to force it.

I guess my suggestion would be to ask yourself exactly WHAT you want your horse to do, and then try to think in her terms, of what would make this action seem like a good thing. If you THEN give the click, the click will still be associated with something "good."

Fargosgirl 12-19-2012 12:56 PM

I use food rewards in my training quite a bit, but what you have described is what I call: Paying more attention to the food than to what we are doing.

It is a careful balance between having your horse responsive and attentive, hoping for a "bonus reward" and having your horse demanding a reward. If I feel that my horse might not do something without a treat, I take the treats away. My horses should do things because I asked, not because they are trying to get something out of me. If they are looking to get something from you ALL THE TIME that reverses the training, they are training you to do things for them, not learning to do things for you.

The type of horse you describe actually benefits from food reward training, but like I said before, it is a fine balance. If they are using the food to dominate you, and distract you from what you are doing in a lesson, it's time to change something. I would keep on as you did in the first lesson, when she starts to get pushy go just a little longer, so she doesn't learn that being pushy is a way to end a lesson, but also don't argue with her about it. Have an "if your going to be like that I'm not going to play with you" attitude and quit even if it's for just a few minutes.

My rule of thumb about food with horses is : I'm in charge! "Sure you can graze!...when I say so." "Yes, Have a cookie!...when I think you deserve it."

kayhmk 12-25-2012 08:05 PM

First, argh and apologies on that typo ("no rewards", not "know rewards"... should focus on writing!).

Second, thanks for all your input!

On Saddlebag's advice: I don't see that helping. We were on a large paddock with snow on the ground and a few specific feeding places. One even on the ground right where we worked and after telling her "no eating, eyes on me", she didn't even try to stray away or eat.

That greeting thing sounded interesting though. I think I should really work on it with my mare. Thinking about it, it could help with our attention issues and getting her to make the initiative. Really made me realise that usually I go to my horse in the end.

Now if I could write, I think Fargosgirl's post is very much in the direction I would say.

Cherie 12-25-2012 09:40 PM

I think the only reward a horse needs is a release of pressure. It is an instant connection in the brain of a horse.

I also think food rewards only serve to make training more difficult and less consistent. I seldom have seen a treat or food reward that a horse even connected with the action that the person thought they were rewarding. A reward would have to come at the same instant as the good thing was done and the pressure was released. When a reward comes even 2 or 3 seconds after that, it only confuses the horse and distracts it from the attention it was paying to the handler or rider.

Early in my training career I tried various treats and reward systems and found none worked as well or got the good consistent end results as applying pressure and the release of that pressure at exactly the correct moments.

No one has ever been able to demonstrate to me that they made training easier by using treats. I have always been able to take the same horse and get better results AND a happier and more attentive horse using only pressure and release (usually taking less pressure). Plus, I never have had to deal with pushy horses looking for, or worse, demanding treats. They're NEVER very happy and always are applying the pressure when they should just be waiting and listening to you. [Think of the child whining for candy at the Super Market check-out stand.] That is what I see when I see a horse that has been rewarded with food treats.

kayhmk 12-25-2012 10:51 PM

Cherie, I tend to agree with you!

To tell you the truth, I'm in a bit of a positive/negative reinforcement dilemma at the moment. I guess this clicker training/food reward issue is pretty central to that...

The only thing for which I'm currently using and seeing the logic of food rewards is stretching exercises. My greedy horse will work without fighting for a carrot despite her sore muscles. :)

Cherie 12-25-2012 11:16 PM

Stretches comes under the heading of 'coaxing' to me. It can get a horse into a certain position (like the carrot stretches) and it works for some tricks. It is not very useful for actual training. JMHO

kayhmk 12-25-2012 11:57 PM

Absolutely, I think it's more physiotherapy or general muscle care, not training. I guess some tricks, like 'begging' with front feet might be easy to teach with treats but not being a trick training sort of person, those are of no use to me.

... and that maybe sheds a light on my understanding and experience of the usefulness of food rewards. :)

Foxtail Ranch 12-26-2012 01:27 AM

OP, I use both positive (CT) and negative rewards when I train. But I also keep those sessions separate and different. I like to use clicker training to teach the concept and I keep those sessions very short. I also use release of pressure in separate and longer sessions. I have only been doing this for 6 months so take this for the two cents its worth.

1. If this horse has not done CT in a long time, you should only do the CT for 5 minutes to start. As the horse shows more endurance you can increase it. You can do many short sessions in a day. Stop on a good note. Reward often. Short and sweet.

2.Once a horse show undesirable behaviors to get treats, your goal behavior now becomes the opposite of that pushy behavior. Is she in your space? You may need to just focus on backing out of your space. You may even need her behind a barrier and reward her when she looks away, for example, or is standing with head forward, ears forward, eyes forward. If you are worried she will bite, you must go back to basics and teach manners. Shortening the session may help since her pushiness may be from frustration.

3. I use pressure/release for the majority (80%)of my training time and it is to practice what they know and understand.
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