Thursday, June 17, 2021
Two Things that We Love to Use Clicker for:
I asked Ellen, if there were only 2 things that you could use clicker training for, what would they be.
It turns out we are in agreement.
The first is for cleaning feet. Cleaning feet is a very important thing to do, but it isn't always easy. Horses aren't always very cooperative--and even if they are--they might not cooperate for long. You might even have a very good horse, but after a long ride on a hot day...it's just not a pleasant job.
With clicker training, it can become a very easy job. You just have to decide how you want to do it--and then train your horse to do it that way. Over time, I have gotten Cole to the point that I only need to stand by his leg and touch it ever so lightly. Sometimes, I don't even have to do that.
He lifts his foot up and holds it there on his own. I just steady it with my hand. I can do both back feet from the same side without ever having to stand up to get to the second foot. For the price of 3 treats, I can get his feet done easily and quickly. (One treat for each front hoof and one treat for both back hooves.) I can even do it with him standing outside the barn; unheld.
Clicker has turned an unpleasant chore into a joy.
The second thing is applying bug spray. After years of torturing our other horses with it, we have horses that don't like it, but they will tolerate it for a few clicks. They stand still and the only way we know that they don't like it is by the expression of their faces. It not only makes it easier for us, but we like that they don't mind us doing it to them as much as our other horses did.
What unpleasant chores can you make better with clicker training?
Thursday, June 10, 2021
Clicker Trained Horses Don't Ask for Treats by Becoming Nippy
Most people are hesitant to train with treats because they are concerned that their horse might become nippy. They are right. Training with treats can cause a horse to be nippy, but training with clicker doesn't.
Clicker horses are trained to do a specified behavior, and when they do, they are clicked and get a treat.
They don't get a treat for begging, mugging or being nippy, so most horses don't even try those things.
If Cole wants to beg for a treat, he will do a trick without me asking him to. He knows that might work, but he knows that nipping won't.
For the horse that doesn't figure that out and tries to nip or is too pushy when you are giving him his treat, you just need to change your treat delivery. In the early days, I experimented with Ranger. I clicked him and had the treat in my hand, but my hand was closed. Nibbling on my hand didn't give him the treat, so he tried other things. When he turned his head away from me, I gave him the treat. We practiced it, so he knew he would only get the treat when he turned his head.
It only took one lesson.
He wasn't nippy, and most of the time when we gave him the treat, he didn't have to turn his head away--but he always remembered the lesson. When he wanted a treat, he didn't nip us or grab at the treat bag--he turned his head away. If we didn't give him a treat--he would just do it again.
By teaching a horse that they won't get a treat by nipping, but will get it by doing something we want them to do, in theory, it could actually teach a nippy horse not to nip.
It was one of those days for Ellen. The planes were landing, the river was cloudy and she had a lot on her mind that had nothing to do with horses. The last time she crossed the river, it was cloudy, too, and it took Dante 10 minutes before he would cross. He is fine when the planes take off, but he tends to spook when they are landing.
It isn't like they are always landing where they fly right over our heads, and we can practice. This was only the second time this year that we had to contend with it. Ellen's biggest worry was that a plane would go over us right as she was crossing the river.
Kevin had already crossed the river and started down the trail. I was just about to cross when Ellen said she couldn't do it. It was just too much for her. I asked her if she would like to switch horses, and she looked too worried to even do that. Cole walked up to her, looked her in the eye and said, "Please..." How could she resist?
We switched, rode down to the river and Ellen rode Cole across. I wasn't going to put up with any of the games that Dante plays with Ellen at the river, so when we reached the edge, I told him to walk in. Once he got all of his hooves in, he wanted to stop, but I touched him lightly with the whip and he went right across. Ellen was amazed.
By now, Kevin was nowhere to be seen, and Shari had caught up with us. I told them to go in the lead, and we would just follow. Since we didn't plan this ahead, Ellen's stirrups were too short and mine were too long. We both felt a little awkward, so Shari said we would just "Do the Dante." That is what we call going slow enough so Dante could keep up.
They trotted off, and I braced myself for the "Lambert Leap." Dante is a Lambert Morgan, and when he is excited, he leaps into his trot--then settles right down to a slow, easy trot. He gave me the leap, and I chuckled. Out of habit, Ellen was expecting Cole to leap--and she did the whole ride, but he never did leap for her.
The ride went great. After a while, we got used to our new mounts and the trot got faster and faster. Dante is very smooth and hard to post. At first, I had to stand in the stirrups until I got the rhythm. Cole has a good spring to his trot. Ellen said she could feel herself getting sore. I said I could feel myself not getting sore.
Eventually, we caught up to Kevin and headed home. By now, Cole started to play games with Ellen. She said she was having some trouble figuring out which buttons to push. I warned her not to click him every time she asked him to stop, but she didn't listen. On the way home, I was ahead of her, so she had a new challenge; one she isn't used to on slow Dante. She had to slow Cole down to match Dante's speed. Cole figured out if he rushed to catch up to us, she would have to stop him--and then he wanted a treat. Ellen had to work through that, and then she had to figure out how to slow him without stopping him--and she did.
I was just enjoying my smooth ride home.
We were nearly too the river crossing, and I told her we could trot up to catch up with Shari and Kevin. She trotted off--and then I heard an airplane, so I stayed where I was. It was time for the big test.
Dante likes to spin to the left, so Ellen said I should bend him to the right. He was standing well as the plane passed over us. (We are right by the airport, so when they land, they are so low that sometimes I wonder how they don't hit the trees.) Just as the plane passed, the shadow went over us. Dante tried to spin and I was able to keep him from taking more than a couple steps--but when he saw his friends up ahead--he tried to bolt forward to get to them. I quickly spun him the other way and made him stand until he quieted down.
When the planes are landing, they usually come in 3's. I caught up to everyone and Kevin and Shari started crossing the river when the second plane came over. Once again, I held his head to the right and he stood until he saw the shadow and then he tried to spook. He was tough to hold him, but I did it.
The real challenge was crossing the river. I could wait around for the third plane, but what if it didn't come? My other option was to hurry across and hope I made it to the other side. The bottom of the river is slippery, uneven slate. It is just not the place to have a dancing or spinning horse.
I decided to cross. Ellen went first on Cole. Just as he got across, I sent Dante in. Ellen got Cole up to the top of the bank and out of the way. I just got across and was on the shale island heading up the bank when I heard the plane coming in the distance. I wanted to get up to the top because sometimes Dante tries to bolt up the bank. I was determined that that wasn't going to happen. The plane hit when we were almost to the top of the bank , and I asked him to stop. He kept walking, and I could feel his power gathering up to spring up the rest of the way--so I spun him twice. He then walked up like nothing happened.
At that point, I got off and we switched horses. Ellen led up the hill, but I thought it was too warm for that, so I hopped on Cole and rode up.
We both had a lot of fun on our horses. I got to enjoy a smooth ride and had the airplane challenge. Ellen got to be with her best buddy, Cole. He always seems to know when she needs him, and I think he would do anything for her.
I can't help but wonder--was this just a ploy so she could ride Cole? She denies it, but they seemed like they were having such a good time...
Wednesday, June 2, 2021
Clicker Training Makes It Easy to Train the Little Details
This is one of the things I really like about clicker training. A good clicker student is always listening to you and trying to figure out how to get the click. I like to use clicker training to improve the quality of Cole's movements.
If I am working on a behavior that Cole is really good at, I ask him to get better. Let's say he is parked out, but he isn't parked out perfectly. I want all of his feet square. In the early days, sometimes he would have one foot further in front of the other. He would look at me; waiting for his click. Instead of a click, I tapped my foot on the ground. He didn't know what it meant, but he tried a few things and finally he evened out his feet--and got the click.
With a little practice, he now knows that if he isn't square and I tap my foot, that squaring up will get me to click him.
The details can even get smaller than that. I won't click him when he is parked out unless his ears are pointing forward, and I will wait until they are. These days, they are nearly always forward. Of course, he can't turn his head to the side if he wants a click, either.
There are more practical things you can train the details on. Sometimes we will be practicing our walk/trot transitions by doing a series of them with clicks. If he swishes his tail on the transition, he doesn't get a click. He doesn't get reprimanded for it, either. He just doesn't get a click. The swishing just fades away...
When we aren't practicing transitions but just riding around, I certainly don't click him for every single one--but if he does a perfect one, he will often get a click. I like perfect, and I want it to happen, again. The most likely way to get a repeat is the click it.
Clicker trainers just have to decide what is perfect and keep working to get it.
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
Capturing Behaviors with Clicker Training is Fun
People wonder how I taught Cole his tricks. I didn't. He just taught himself, and I rewarded him for it. That is called "Capturing a behavior."
Cole's signature move is his silly walk. It is his version of a Spanish walk.