Oak and I (along with our new friends Jess and OneZ!!), had a lesson at our friend Kathy's farm on Tuesday morning with Karen Jones from Body and Soul Horsemanship. Karen has a background in dressage, bio-mechanics, and natural horsemanship. though she has most recently been focusing on Straightness Training and positive reinforcement (clicker training). She decided to pursue clicker training when she adopted a very troubled Lipizzaner/Andalusian named Rhett. Rhett's story has been really inspiring to me because he shares similar triggers (saddles, mounting blocks) and insecurities (everything involving people) with Oak, but Karen has really been able to make huge progress with him. I was also really geek-ed out with be able to talk to someone about positive reinforcement training with horses. If anyone has followed me over from my first blog, you already know that I started experimenting with clicker training with my last horse Bodhi, and I have continued to dabble with Oak and Gray.
The two horses that participated were OneZ and Oak. Both horses have had past abuse/neglect that have left them with a sometimes negative view of people. We started the day off by reviewing the basic concepts of why use a marker (the click), how you pair your marker with the reward, and how to shape a horse's behavior using a marker (so when to click). We started this basic lesson by teaching OneZ (completely new to clicker) how to touch a target. Teaching a simple behavior, like touching a target, is a great way to introduce clicker training to your horse -and "charge" your marker. During Karen's introduction, I noticed several bad habits that I had developed in my treat delivery. During Oak's first session we addressed those habits. We also talked about how she has helped Rhett through some of his fears of human touch with the clicker, so Oak and I have a plan to incorporate more positive reinforcement in our massages, stretches, and grooming sessions. She found that just desensitization was not getting very far with Rhett and I have similarly hit that wall with Oak, so I am really happy to have a new tool (well old tool) to use to help him relax. Same story with the saddle and mounting block. My take home was that positive reinforcement is a great tool to use on a horse like Oak. I just need to increase my rate of reinforcement and keep at it!
With OneZ we worked on many of the behaviors he has learned through natural horsemanship (backing, moving his hips, and shoulders, side-passing), but instead of increasing pressure when he did not respond Jess just paused and asked again looking for a chance to reward him and build on his initial try. Karen explained that with clicker training there is no "make." We give the horse a chance to earn a reward, and if he does not respond, then he loses the opportunity. So Jess started off by using her old cue for back and then clicked the tiniest response. Once OneZ was in on the game she was able to slowly ask for more steps (or head down, or faster) by rewarding what she liked with a click and a treat instead of an increase in pressure. OneZ has been getting frustrated sometimes with some of these basic tasks, and Jess guessed it may be a reaction to the pressure (because of his history of inappropriate handling). OneZ took to clicker training wonderfully and seemed to enjoy himself (though we learned he is not a fan of cheerios).
I think we all had a positive experience and Jess and I plan to have play dates to work together in between the next time Karen can travel down to us for a lesson. I was super proud of how Oak handled being off the farm. He is such a wonderful guy. Gray came along as a spectator only this time, but it will be his turn next!