What can the horse give you NOW?

As a trainer I’ve had my share of wake-up calls. By that I mean either the delightful “ah-ha” moments when an idea or concept suddenly makes sense, or the other type of events based on experience, so called “learn burns” or near misses that changed my views.

One of these wake up moments came out of a very frustrating behavior from Buckwheat. From the day I got him at three, he was a pocket horse, complete with mugging and nipping. At that stage in my process (mid-nineties) I was not using food as a training tool, so many of my tools were based in negative reinforcement or some punishment (P- or P+).

When I did start to use food, the click and positive reinforcement, I was surprised at the effectiveness of a few simple lessons of turning away from the treat pouch and feeding him while his head was forward. I made some good progress in a short time, but Buckwheat still had an annoying habit of bumping me with his nose if I was near him and not paying attention.Buckwheat learns to wait

To add insult to injury, I was still of the mistaken mindset that this was a “respect” issue; I had not yet learned that it was solely a training and behavior issue. This added frustration to the whole process because I labeled him as a “disrespectful” horse that was not getting better.

I remember the moment that changed me and it really was a total light-bulb moment. I was standing on one side of a fence speaking with a friend who was, herself, a clicker trainer (of rabbits mind you) while Buckwheat was on the other side of the fence.

I was complaining to my friend that the clicker training wasn’t working with this behavior when she said, “But look at him, what is he doing now?” At that moment, I had to stop and realize that he had been standing for about three minutes (an eternity in Buckwheat time) without bumping me once. I also had to stop and realize that much of my mindset was on how he did it WRONG instead of how he did it right.

I was so wrapped up in how the behavior wasn’t improving enough and how he was disrespectful, that I failed to see how the behavior HAD improved. That moment felt like the proverbial forehead slap – I had been so blind.

From that moment I have kept my mental focus on what the animal COULD give me. No, I’m not perfect.  Sometimes I’m still downright stingy with my reinforcers, but the paradigm shift from within was profound and changed my training as well as my life.

Buckwheat has also made a lot of progress. He even shows amazing self control around other horses, even when food is present.

Buckwheat shows how patient he can be.

Buckwheat shows how patient he can be.

So through this learning process I can share with you a helpful insight “What can your horse give you NOW?”

Peggy Hogan – the best “whisper” is a “click”


About clickertraininghorses - Peggy Hogan

I teach people and train horses using positive reinforcement. The horses I work with are given choice, the freedom to volunteer behavior. The joy is that they strive to volunteer what works for both of us.
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5 Responses to What can the horse give you NOW?

  1. HippoLogic says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Peggy. It is what a lot of (novice) clicker trainers encounter, including me. I had similar wake up calls when I started. I have removed a lot of common used ‘labels’ out of my equestrian vocabulary since, like ‘disrespectful horse’ and ‘disobedient’ is another label I don’t use anymore. Life is so much better now. Just ask my horse. 😉

    • Thank you for posting. There’s another term I rarely use, and only do so with careful description to the physical manifestations of what I want to convey. It’s a term that can be as insidious as “respect” as we see it used in some training crowds.

      The term to which I refer is “attitude” and I see it a lot in clicker training crowds.

      Less labels, I agree with you, we need less labels.

      • HippoLogic says:

        I like “attitude” instead of “respect”. Thank you. For me it is sometimes a bit tricky to come up with other labels (…), no descriptions that are better suitable because English is my second language. 🙂

      • Susan Friedman recently reminded me of the whole issue of labels. They are human constructs to be certain, and I’m so much more effective as a trainer if I keep focusing on the behaviors I want instead. Thanks for the opportunity to dialogue. 🙂

    • I’ve walked down that path tii 🙂

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