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This is a continuation of a series of Articles. 

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven
Part Twelve

Horse Training - Communication 101
Part  Six
By Beverly Whittington

What about the horse that has been TRAINED to misbehave or perform incorrectly? First you want to eliminate the possibility that you are causing the behavior. Make sure you have a bond with the horse that will allow you the leadership position. Are you sure that the horse is not reacting from fear or pain? Is it a communication issue? Are you giving cues that do not work with the horse’s natural zones and instincts? Remember in training you have to understand what works FOR the horse and then WITH the horse. What works FOR the horse is to develop training communication skills that already make sense to HIM. What works WITH a horse is applying these to accomplish the training goals you have set.

Horse that have been trained to an undesirable behavior or habit, through poor training skills or through intentional effort, have to be UN-trained, then RE-trained. 

Behavior modifications can be as simple as setting the horse up to perform correctly. A good example I can think of is a friend of mine who had trained her horses to urinate PRIOR to being put in their stall. Have you ever notices that if you clean a stall, put down fresh bedding and then put the horse in the stall THE FIRST thing they do is urinate? Infuriating isn’t it? Well my friend was an ingenious sort, she had read of Pavlov’s dogs as a kid in school. You may remember them, the ones that were taught to salivate when a bell rang? Pavlov, a renowned Russian psychologist, won the 1904 Nobel Laureate in Medicine for his work. His now accepted methods of Pavlovian conditioning are used worldwide today. My friend remembered the dog salivating at the ring of a bell and reasoned that since salivation was a completely uncontrolled response, and urination was not, if those dogs could be taught to salivate on command, then her horses could be taught to urinate on command. 

First the set up:
She had 6 stalls and 5 horses. All horses were pastured during the day and brought in at night. While the horses were out, the stalls were cleaned. 

She cleaned out and heavily bedded the “extra” stall. When she brought the first horse in, she tied it in the extra stall, until it had urinated. As soon as the horse began to urinate, she rang a bell and praised the horse profusely. When the horse had completed urinating, she gave it a treat and moved it into it’s own stall.
She repeated this for each horse. Once all 5 had been through the process, she mucked out the extra stall to leave it to air till the next day.

After about a week of this, she would stop at about 10 feet from the barn and ring the bell. If the horse did nothing she waited a moment, then rang it again. Now you have to remember, these horses were on a schedule, they knew it was time to go in, and for the last week they have been urinating to the ringing of a bell. 2 of the 5 horses urinated prior to entering the barn. The other 3 had to be placed in the extra stall before they would cooperate.

Within another 2 weeks, she had all 5 urinating outside. She now moved the “spot” to urinate back further away from the barn each day. By the end of another week they were still in the pasture urinating. NOW she just rings the bell as she heads out to get them and they all urinate wherever they are in the pasture. Her stall work is reduced by 5 “pee spots” every day!

Maybe where your horses urinate is not that important to you, but understanding how important setting up a procedure to work with the horse’s psychological make up is, it can be invaluable to you!

Did it occur to anyone that “clicker training” is just a spin off of Pavlovian conditioning? It is just being well marketed! You can buy clicker training supplies, clickers in bulk or singles, books, videos and more. You can even put your business logo or slogan on your clickers.  Clicker training is a method of behavioral training, which uses conditioned reinforcement. But then again so is almost ALL TRAINING!

You can use a clicker to let a horse know it “got it right” or a bell, or your praise. The important thing is timing. You have a split second to reinforce the correct response. But then again the same thing is true of an incorrect response, you have only a split second to correct or discipline the horse.

Clicker training does have one big benefit though, the consistency of production of the "yes" signal or conditioned reinforcer, to tell the horse precisely when it has done something right. It has a big negative too though, horses often become equine “exhibitionists” offering bits of behavior over and over again to earn reinforcement and their follow up reward.  If you reinforce desired behavior, regardless of the method, with pressure and release of pressure your horse will learn quickly when the response is desired.

Horses learn best in bite size pieces of information. This is also true of people. The success of the clicker training programs is primarily due to the simple steps incorporated in the training. This allows both the horse and the HUMAN to learn the process of training. You do not need a clicker to train your horse, you need consistency in your use of praise, correction, pressure and release of pressure and keeping the lessons to small steps that build on each other. 

If a clicker makes this process easier then use one, but if you do not establish and use the other aspects of training through communication you will be no better off than Pavlov and his drooling dogs. I never have figured out why anyone would WANT his or her dog to drool on command anyway!




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