Clinic with Margrete Lie

I haven’t posted anything for a while, we have had a break since we went to the clinic with Margrete Lie (Hesteglede). This is quite the long read, but here’s a video that shows our progression throughout the weekend, and in the end of the post there’s a bunch of pictures 😉

Before we left, my expectations were very low. I told myself that I would be happy if we even got all the way there, and that we would probably spend the whole weekend working on being calm in a new place. I was convinced something terrible was going to happen with Frøya on the transport, that she would kick out the door or something like that.

I was so wrong! Everything worked out wonderfully!

Friday:

My aunt came to pick us up, and I loaded Frøya in the trailer. She was very keen to get in! It was a new trailer, much smaller and darker and bumpier than the ones she’s used to. So the first half of the journey she pawed a lot with her front feet. After that she stood like a champ! I, on the other hand, was so nervous I could hardly speak to anyone while we drove xD

When we got there, Frøya was quite sweaty (horses who are stressed tend to sweat a lot), although some of it was because of poor ventilation in the trailer – it was pretty hot.
I put her in her paddock, and she seemed to kinda settle in a little when I gave her some hay. Her neighbor arrived shortly after, and they became instant friends!

Right next to her paddock (behind solid fences) was a train track. The train ran past her 4 times an hour. The first day she thought this was really exiting, and tried to run towards it. But after a while she stopped caring about it at all, which makes it a great example of habituation!

We didn’t do anything on friday, because the clinic didn’t start until saturday. Me and my boyfriend spent the night in a tent in the woods!

Saturday:

We were the second equipage saturday. I collected Frøya from her paddock, and put her in the outdoor riding arena. I expected her to just go around checking it out and eat the grass in the edges, but she was very keen on doing some training! She was perfectly calm 😀 Before the clinic I had taught her a cue to move her hind quarters towards me while I stood in front of her (as preparation for haunches in), but she didn’t know anything else. We worked on moving forward while moving haunches towards me, and she did SO well! The only problem was me, of course. I have to learn how to walk backwards xD

We also introduced shoulder in, by trying to capture moments where Frøya mirrored me. This was SO hard! I tend to only watch the shoulders, but I have to learn to watch the back feet instead. I therefore missed some of the moments where I could have clicked. But Margrete said I did well!

The hardest thing this day, was the fact that I have rewarded Frøya very much for doing haunches in. Which means she offered it allllllll the time xD She needed to learn to only do it when I asked. This is called stimulus control, and is essential when doing clicker training. We haven’t done this a lot, so it was a good lesson for us!

By the end of saturday, we were able to do a few steps haunches in, followed by a few steps shoulder in, followed by halt and weight shift backwards! This is called a behavior chain. Instead of clicking and treating for every behavior, you ask for several behaviors before clicking. This way you can build long chains! Every new behavior you ask for becomes a reward for doing the previous behavior (if you are good at making the behaviors fun and rewarding individually).

I started developing some cues for the different movements:

  • Weight shift:
    For this I have to stand by Frøyas shoulder, facing the same direction as she is. Then I rock my weight backwards. Frøya mirrors me, and rocks her own weight backwards. I click just when she starts, because if I wait, she will eventually take a step backwards. I don’t want that, I want only the weight shift. I will change the cue for this so that I can ask for it while standing in front of her.
  • Halt:
    If I want her to stop, I stop myself. If I’m walking beside her, I give the vocal cue “prrrrt!”. I tend to also lift the hand closest to her, and moving it backwards while also stopping myself.
  • Haunches in:
    I lift my inside hand in the air while facing her. I want to fade this cue soon, and only use my body position and how I move my feet as cue. Mainly turning my body slightly to the inside, and putting more weight on my outside leg.
  • Shoulder in:
    We don’t yet have a solid cue for this, because this was our first time doing it. The cue is pointing at her inside leg just when it’s in the air, and also turning my body slightly to the outside and putting more weight on my inside leg.

Apart from the actual lessons, we practiced some patience. I sat watching another lesson, with Frøya standing beside me. She was quite fuzzy, so I rewarded her often (every 5 seconds or less).

Sunday:

We only had one lesson this day, but it was enough. Frøya was really tired, so we only did a short one. We continued with combining walk, haunches in, shoulder in and weight shift. We did several different combinations.

What we are going to work on:

  • Haunches in:
    Her head disappears to the outside, so I need to first ask her to target my hand before asking her to move her haunches. Perhaps doing target —> haunches —> target etc, so she will start combining them.
  • Shoulder in:
    Getting a solid cue, and make sure the outside shoulder doesn’t disappear outwards. Her outside leg should move towards me.
    I’ll work on this along a fence, so I can see what’s happening.
  • Halt:
    I have to teach her to halt while I stand in front of her. This should be quick.
  • Weight shift:
    Add a cue I can use while standing in front of her.
  • Walking backwards!!!:
    It’s not so easy to teach a horse to stay in an exact position all the time without halter or rope or anything. Her nose should always point towards my belly button, and her shoulders should be aligned with my hips (I think!). For starters I must teach her to walk like this without crowding me or walking past me. Then I have to be able to move her shoulders and hips so that she bends her body the right way. I haven’t tried moving her shoulders from this position, so we need cues for that as well. I can move her hips by asking for haunches in or shoulder in.

The road ahead:

Our short term goal is to walk backwards in different shapes (without asking for anything), do haunches in and shoulder in along a fence (at least a couple of steps) and weight shift backwards while I stand in front of her.

Our bigger goal is to be able to ask for combinations of haunches in, shoulder in and weight shift while walking backwards in a circle.

Our even bigger goal is to do the same, but refine the cues so that I only ask the movements using body position.

Our biggest goal is to transfer these things to the lunge!

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PHEW! Shit is getting real

How I taught Frøya …

… to move her haunches towards me.

Since I am a sucker for tutorials myself, I thought I’d write some too! This is only how I taught Frøya to do it, other people have other methods.

The only things that needs to be true before teaching this behavior is:

  • The horse knows what the click means (food/scratches is coming)
  • The horse is comfortable around food and treats, no stress or frustration

If these criteria aren’t met, I strongly advice that you work on this before starting to teach your horse any behavior.

Step 1:

Stand beside your horses hip. Find somewhere on your horses bum that she likes being scratched. Most horses like this, especially around the tail or on the onside of the thigh.

Step 2:

Stop scratching your horse. This will, if you did a good scratching job, make your horse try to get you starting again. Mainly by moving towards you.

Step 3:

When you see a slight weight shift towards you, click and either give your horse a treat or start scratching again. I usually teach everything using treats, but this I taught Frøya mainly using scratches. It was only after the behavior was taught that I started rewarding it with treats.

Step 4:

Repeat steps 1-3 many times. After a while, your horse might raise her own criteria and move her hips towards you by moving either leg. In the beginning, any hind leg will do, and if she moves her front feet too that’s ok. You can fine tune this later. If your horse doesn’t move, you can withhold the click a little, asking for more movement. You will probably get it – but don’t expect too much. Horses are different, and some might give up if they don’t get it right when they have tried a couple of times – especially if they’re new to clicker training.

Step 5:

When you can be very certain your horse will move towards you when you stop scratching her, you can add a cue. This can be anything. I used a “come here” sort of hand motion in the beginning. You do this either just before your horse moves, or as your horse moves. The important thing is that the horse associates this cue with the movement. So: scratch, stop, cue, movement, click! It is important to note that the click needs to happen while the movement is happening, and not when the horse has stopped. The behavior you reinforce is the behavior that happens just as you click! We want movement, not standing still.

Step 6:

Depending on how clicker savvy your horse is, you can fade the whole “scratch, stop” thing after a while. With Frøya, it takes only a couple of repetitions before she has a cue pretty much down. With horses that haven’t done much of this kind of training, it will take longer. But after a while you can start to give the cue and wait and see. At this point it is important to give the horse time to think! Sometimes it can take many seconds before the horse does anything at all. She might be afraid to try, out of fear of getting it wrong (it is sadly common practice to punish horses for doing the wrong thing).
If it takes too long, try to go back a step and repeat step 5. Your horse will get it in the end!

Step 7:

Now you have a horse that knows the cue to move her hips towards you. Now is the time to fine tune! Only click for outside leg crossing the inside leg, only click when the front feet aren’t moving, add duration (ask for several steps) and so on. It is also a good idea to work on stimulus control. This is making sure your horse only performs the behavior when you give the cue. This way your horse won’t throw the behavior at you all the time!
It’s pretty simple: reinforce your horse for standing still, calmly facing forward MORE than you reinforce her for doing stuff. When training hips towards you, alternate between giving the cue and reinforcing your horse for standing still. Also, reinforce her for standing still when you do stuff that kinda looks like the cue to move her hips. For example: reinforce her for standing still while you stand facing her hips. etc.

Tada! Again, this is only how I taught Frøya to do it. We have advanced a little bit in the past weeks, now I have taught her to move her hips towards me while I stand in front of her. The new cue is to raise my hand in the air. This is in preparation of eventually teaching her haunches in.

I recommend checking out this page for more information on … everything clicker related! Empowered Equines

 

 

15/5-17

Today I wanted to test how Frøya would cope with walking around on the big yard outside her field. I brought a couple of cones, a small tarp, clicker and lots of treats. The plan was to help her stay calm by giving her stuff to think about – small tasks. I threw cones and asked her to touch them, put the tarp on the ground and asked her to step on it/do whatever she wanted with it, I asked for turning hip towards me and away from me, and same with shoulders, and a little lunging. We walked around the whole yard, but rarely by just walking normally. I gave her tasks all the time. This really kept her calm and focused! It was so cool! Sometimes she would tense up a little bit, when she saw something move or heard a noise, but simply asking her to move in different directions calmed her right down. When I say I asked her to move in different directions, I don’t mean with pressure. She knows the cue for changing directions which I taught her with pure positive reinforcement. So I’m not talking about the “horsemanship” way, of moving the horses feet. Just so that’s clear!

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In the end of the session, I let her “loose” (threw the rope over her back) and let her graze for a while. This gave me the chance to work on some “head up from grass”. I walked around picking lots of grass, and then returned to her. I have done this before, so she knows that when I return I usually bring grass with me – so she lifts her head to see what I’ve got. I click when she lifts her head, and give her the grass. Then I give the cue to continue to graze. This works a treat (pun intended)! I don’t yet ask for anything else, but I will eventually ask her to for example touch a target before clicking and giving her the grass. In the beginning I must make it really simple in order to make it worth her while. So just touch the target in the beginning – and then after a while, I can ask for following the target one step before clicking. And so on.

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Anyway! We were just heading back to the field, when we were really put to the test. Two huge tractors came in the drive way, and drove right past us. Last time this happened, Frøya totally lost it and headed home at a brisk walk. This time, she stayed with me and was quite soon ready to listen to my cues. We followed them a little bit until they stopped, and we walked up to one of them. I tried parking Frøya next to it to take a picture, but she only wanted to investigate it xD

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Later in the afternoon, me, Maria and another livery named Hilde went for a ride. I borrowed a horse, ofc, Frøya is still not old enough to be ridden. We were out for 2 hours or something, and I got to see some really beautiful trails! The horse I borrowed, August, was just wonderful! I have really missed riding, so I hope I can borrow him again sometime.

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When we got back, I did some trailer loading with Frøya. We are going to a clinic with Hesteglede this weekend, so I wanted to make sure Frøya was fine with the trailer. And she was! She was a little bit hesitant at first, because the trailer was very different to the ones she has traveled in previously. It’s a little dark and cramped. But I rewarded every step, and in the space of 2 minutes she was all the way inside. Maria and Hilde closed the trailer while I stood with Frøya. I had a cone with me, and asked her to touch it a lot. She loves the cone so it really helps her relax. She had no problem what so ever with them closing the tailgate behind her. The next step was me climbing out of the little door in the front. At first I stood there with the door open, and rewarded her for being calm. Then I closed it for a second, and clicked just as the door was shut. She was so cute, tried to open the door by booping it from the inside with her nose xD She was just so calm with everything!!! I took her out, and then back in once more. This time we just stood there for a minute before walking out again.

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(Sorry about the horrible photo! Also, August had borrowed her halter before this, and I forgot to adjust it to her. So it’s waaaay too big, but then again I don’t really tighten the rope at all)

It went SO well! She has traveled in a trailer before, and she has always walked right in (after we started working on it, that is), but you never know. Especially when the trailer is different and she has been a little scared of everything for a long time. It’s not always the trailer that is the problem when a horse doesn’t want to load – sometimes it’s the destination. Horses can start being trailer shy if the for example always change stables when the travel in a trailer. So they start to associate the trailer with leaving their friends and uprooting their lives. The best thing to do to make horses love the trailer is to often take them for short drives where they end up in a big field of grass or something else they love. I hope to be able to do that too.

 

9/5-17

After an awesome clinic with Margrete Lie ( Hesteglede ) this weekend, I’m very motivated to train! Even though I wasn’t participating with Frøya, I got lots of good tips as to how I can help Frøya with her anxiety.

I have been thinking that in order to help Frøya stay calm when we walk from field to stable, I should just reinforce every step, stop often to keep her calm and stop before she gets over threshold. This is probably the best way to do it with most horses, but Margrete said that with Frøya the best thing to do would be to give her a task to keep her mind off the scary situation. She told me that often, only focusing on being calm can be much more difficult than focusing on doing a job. It’s like telling someone “don’t think about elephants”. “Don’t be scared”. It’s much better to tell them “think about pigs!”. Also, since my emotions affect her even though I try to act cool, I need something to focus on too. So by giving Frøya tasks, I keep myself busy too!

Yesterday I decided to try it out. The plan was to take Freya out of the field, throw cones all the way to the yard (20 meters or so), and then continue to throw cones and have her go and touch them.

The horses were on the other side of the field, so I abandoned the plan. Instead I brought only clicker and treats (LOTS of treats) and went to find Frøya. All the horses were quite distracted by noises outside the field, lots of busses blasting loud music drove by. In the beginning of the session, Frøya was distracted. She often stopped to look at something or other. First I tried to wait her out, to reward her when she came down (like I’m used to doing). This took forever, and didn’t seem to help. I tried to ask her to do some lunging instead, and she responded immediately! Within minutes she walked around me beautifully, very relaxed!

We also started working on haunches in (or shoulder in because she bent the wrong way xD). Before, I have asked her to move her hips towards me by standing facing her hips and make a hand sign. Now I started moving further and further towards her shoulder, and changed the cue. In the end of the first session she moved her hips while I stood in front of her, raising my hand in the air! 😀 It was awesome ❤

In the second session, we started to implement this while lunging. She did SO good!!! I figured out that I had to position myself carefully so that she would continue moving forward while crossing her hindlegs. Or else she would stop and move her hips towards me while her shoulders disappeared outwards. This is only the beginning, but it was awesome! The best thing was that even though she misunderstood me sometimes, she never got frustrated. She was VERY calm.

I was just starting the third session, but this time we only did one repetition. I called her to me, and when she was 2 meters away, I lifted my right hand in the air. And guess who responded immediately by giving me two beautiful steps of (some kind of) haunches in ❤ We have never gotten so far in two sessions before! It was crazy! 😀

We are attending another clinic in less than two weeks, and I want Frøya to be able to walk one circle around me at liberty by then. And if we can do some haunches in too, that would be soooo cool! But I won’t expect anything, I’ll be glad if we even get Frøya in the trailer (although she’s never had any problems with it). Anything else is only a bonus!
Can’t wait!!!

 

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Some counter conditioning

I should probably explain the difference between desensitisation and counter conditioning, it can be a bit confusing at first.

Desensitization is the process of making something feel/mean less. You can desensitise your horse to grass by letting your horse have free access to grass. The grass won’t matter so much to the horse after a while. It will mean less. You can also desensitise your horse to something he dislikes/fears by exposing him to it a little at a time until he stops caring about it. Of course the process is much quicker when using treats 😉

Counter conditioning is the process of changing how the horse feels about something. Or rather change what the horse associates something with. You can either take something the horse dislikes/fears and make him like it, or you can take something the horse likes and make him dislike/fear it.

Alizé Paris V.Muckensturm just published a great video that explains it all, with a view example! Watch it HERE!

When I try to make Frøya comfortable with walking around the property, everything we do is a mix of these two. But mostly I use counter conditioning (at least I think so!).

Today we walked from the field to the stable, into the stable, half way back to the field, back to the stable, into the stable, in front of the stable and another way back to the field.

When we first walked from the field, everything was going really well. We stopped a lot, and I reinforced her for staying calm. When we were aaaaaalmost at the stable, she reached her threshold and didn’t want to walk any further. I should have walked back with her, but instead I persuaded her to come with me. I didn’t pull her, but the lead rope did get tight and I feel awful about it. But this is something I’m working on.
Anyway, we went inside the stable, where she feels quite safe (safe enough to explore and eat from her bucket). This really helped her calm down, and when we got back out she was no longer over threshold. We started walking back to the field, but I almost ran out of treats, so we had to go back to the stable again. Now she was SUPER CALM, and could stand outside there while I groomed her a little bit ❤

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We didn’t stay long, and walked another route back to the field. She got to eat lots of grass on the way.
We ended the day with some nice mutual grooming out in the pasture.

Some desensitisation

Today my friend Maria came with me to visit Frøya. I had made some desensitisation equipment earlier from empty bottles and soda cans, a little upgrade from the plastic bags.

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Wow, what quality!!!

First I introduced it to Frøya. I let her sniff it and poke it with her nose (which I always do when introducing new things), and then I shook it slightly in front of her.
When doing desensitisation you can make it more “difficult” for the horse (at least) three ways: escalate what you’re doing (shaking harder, making more noise etc), prolonging what you’re doing (shaking for a longer period of time etc), and change your position in relation to the horse (shaking in different places around the horse).
When I work on this, I try to never do two or more of these things at once. Either I work on duration, escalation or position. Often, if one tries to do more than one at once, it becomes too much for the horse.
So when Frøya is comfortable with me shaking the bottle thing with a certain amount of force right in front of her, and I want to take a step further, I choose one of the three ways in which to do so. Either I can shake it with the same amount of force for a longer period of time, or I can escalate the force with which I shake it (but a shorter period of time), or I can change where I shake it but lessen the duration and force a little.

Anyway!
After I felt comfortable she wasn’t scared of it when I worked with her, we tried something different. I parked Frøya, walked away a little, and Maria walked around her while shaking the thing. We started out with really low shake force, and only a few seconds at a time. By the end of the session Maria could almost walk an entire circle around her shaking it with a LOT of force. She also walked towards Frøya from both sides, and even touched her with it while shaking it. They did so well, and Maria was a natural when it came to adjusting the difficulty 😀
You can watch a video of a part of the session HERE.

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BFFs

Motivation all around!

When training an animal, there is always two individuals that need motivation. The animal and the human. I, as a trainer, am motivated a lot by results. Also by a lot of other things, but in a training session I want results. Results can be a lot of things, but in all cases results are progress. Big or small.
When I don’t get progress, maybe things even go the other way, I can feel punished. This is not a good feeling. And since punishment makes behaviors less likely to happen, well, maybe I won’t attempt the same thing again. Maybe I will even resent the thought of it. For example: I want to train Frøya to stand in cross ties in front of the stable. But when we get there, it is a little windy. The sheep next door are making noise and that car over there looks very suspicious. This results in a Frøya that is suddenly over threshold, can’t stand still, and just walks away from me paying me no mind at all. Firstly, I feel punished because my plan went to shit. Secondly I feel punished because Frøya wasn’t the calm horse I am used to. Lastly I feel punished because Frøya walked away from me (major hit to my ego) ignoring me completely.
PUH! That’s a lot of punishment! 
The next day, I am probably a little less likely to try the same.

Another example is to try to train a horse when there’s grass nearby. It can be SO punishing to watch the horse not giving two shits about you. The more you try to train something on grass and not succeed, the more you hate the grass and resent your horse for ignoring you.

My point is: horse training is no fun if both horse and human is motivated and feeling successful! Which means that it’s important to make sure you feel good and have fun when training.

The solution to this dark circle (no results = no motivation = even less results) is to lower criteria and make sure you succeed. Try to be content with less, and if you get more, look at it like a bonus. If you want to walk your horse from A to E, be happy and don’t expect more than walking from A to C.
This way you will feel like a success! And if you get more than this, that will feel extra good!

This is my approach anyway. Before I understood that my feelings affect our training just as much as Frøyas, I couldn’t understand why I started to hate training. I dreaded going to the stable, got a high pulse and was sick to my stomach just thinking about Frøya. I was constantly thinking about how much we had to do and how little we could do. It was horrible! Now, on the other hand, I make sure that our sessions are fun for both of us.

Lots of people use negative reinforcement when training their horse. Negative reinforcement is VERY rewarding for humans; it is so easy to get a behavior using pressure because you can always escalate pressure to get what you want. And every time the horse complies, you feel rewarded because it did what you wanted.
When I train Frøya, I feel rewarded every single time I use my clicker. This is because when I click, that means Frøya has (hopefully) learned something and is a little step closer to a behavior. Or that behavior has gotten a little bit stronger. Depending on what we’re doing. This means that the more I click, the more rewarded I am, and the more successful I feel. Pretty great, isn’t it?! So imagine the two following scenarios:

  1. I am asking Frøya to do something difficult, something she isn’t ready for. Maybe I have gone too fast and heightened criteria too much. We get very little of the behavior I want, which means I can’t click very often. This results in a very low rate of reinforcement (amount of clicks per minute). None of us feel rewarded, and both feel frustrated. This frustration will probably latch itself onto the behavior.
  2. I am asking Frøya to do something easier, something I know she can do. If I want to teach her to touch something with her nose, I hold that something in a place where she can easily see it and reach it. I click every time she touches it. This results in a very high rate of reinforcement. We can almost get one click every other second. Both of us feel very rewarded, and this feeling will be a part of the behavior.

Which scenario is the best one to keep both you and your horse motivated? The second one, obviously. This doesn’t mean that I always click Frøya every other second. But when we are doing something new, or an old behavior in a new environment, I tend to use a very high RoR (rate of reinforcement). If I have gotten a very bad feeling about an exercise, and really dread to do it, I simply ask for less, and reward more often! It is just fabulous! Frøya doesn’t want to lift her back leg, or walks away if I try? Reward touching her back, bum, thigh, knee, fetlock, hoof. Reward her for staying still while I bend down a little. Reward a slight weight shift away from the foot I’m asking her to lift.
By doing this I have dodged a session that would consist of Frøya walking away from me and me feeling punished, and instead gotten a fun session with lots of clicks. I would probably be able to lift that foot after approximately 2 minutes of this.

So when you struggle and progress isn’t happening, try to ask for less. Keep sessions short, reward more, laugh more, and don’t take it all too seriously. Invent ways of getting something worth rewarding, because reinforcement is AWESOME for everyone!

(Here follows picture spam from our day)

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