The start of positive reinforcement training


While I have learned a lot from horsemanship, I have been dying to add positive reinforcement to the mix.

Aslan is nothing like the previous horse I worked with. She learned right from the start not to mug and a slap on her lips reminded her. She eventually learned to turn her head away when she heard the click. Aslan on the other hand.......the mugging drives me up the wall. He has a face like a rock and while he doesn't appreciate a smack, it hardly deters him either. I finally had to google the solution because I didn't want to train a monster.

This isn't necessarily disrespect as it is excitement. This may cool off as he realizes the game works a certain way.

Actually clicker train head forward as if it were any other behavior; i.e. not mugging you, click, mugging you, nothing!

Give the horse a treat when his head is straight, not turned or sideways toward you.

Worse case scenario, walk away. Don't get frustrated, just give them a time out, then try again.

Train the horse in a stall or other place where they can't advance on your space and you can stand back.

Lastly, it was advised to really start with this behavior first, rather than targeting. Clearly I didn't do that but I'm going to back up a bit and reinforce head straight. Then I read to get the touch on cue before advancing too far.

This session went well, but I really need to have a lesson plan rather than work helter skelter. Oh and he is still a bit muggy.

Target - pretty decent, he just doesn't like to stretch. I'm trying to get him to take a step or really reach and he gives up if I go too far away. I would like to get it on cue; but I need to research more on when and how.

Pick up feet - not too bad. He did try to paw a bit which I nipped in the bud. I'm just sticking to his front legs for now. The "kickers" still intimidate me a bit. He doesn't need me to use too much pressure (like tapping on his toes) to get him to lift.

Head down - didn't do anything with this

Walk beside me - it's ok. I'm trying to work on up and down transitions but there are a lot of distractions and other riders. He isn't use to this yet. I also have to stop and let him look at jumps - I don't really want him to get scared of them later either.

Back up - he is still pretty resistent and slow. He is not responding at all to stages 1-3. I might try this in a different way so that I don't have to keep escalating. If I can teach him some other way and then come back to rope wiggle, maybe he will catch on faster. I also noticed a tail swish, so I don't want to poison this cue either.

Walk under - still a struggle for him; more butt turning this time but this may have to do with the treats - he wants to face me to eat them. I can usually turn him back the right way with a slight look or tap. A couple of times he tried to paw the ground instead of move. I got after him severely.

I can get about half way down the neck, though he wants to turn for the treat or back up. I may have to wait longer for the click. I don't need a lot of pressure or pull to get him to go forward, he has the idea. But it's clear by his hesitation and baby steps that he doesn't fancy this exercise.

I tried this exercise in a later session and he did make some improvements. On his left side he is hesitating less and I can get almost half way down the neck, just about to the withers. I then tried on the right side to change things up. He pawed/struck at the mounting block. It alarmed me but I ignored him and he didn't do it again. I can only get his head in front of me on the right, but that's ok for the first attempt!

By the end of October, this is how far we got.

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