September 11, 2015

Clicker Training Myths (and a bit of Beezie too)

"Horses aren't dogs.  Clicker training will just cause mouthy behavior and aggression." -Most people
Whenever I mention clicker training, the majority of people scoff, roll their eyes, and proceed to lecture me about how I am going to ruin my animals. There seem to be many misconceptions about the method, and people tend to approach it with a bad attitude. Before you say, "she's just some granola yahoo" and exit out of this, I just have to say one thing: Beezie Madden has used clicker training. Do you consider her to be a granola yahoo? I'd say not!

Myth 1: Only Weekend Warriors who cry "horse abuse" at everything use clicker training.

This is not the case at all! Judgement ISF, one of Beezie Madden's jumpers, used to have huge issues with jumping water. Beezie used clicker training/target training to help overcome his fear issues. The pair actually won the $1,000,000 CN International back in 2005, so I think it is safe to say that clicker training did not ruin Judgement. 
"After positive reinforcement training, Judgement’s aversion to water was permanently eased. Since then, Mary Alice Malone and the trainers at ISF use clicker training not only for day to day riding and training, but also to make the more challenging movements, such as tempi changes and half-passes, easier and fun for the horse to learn." (SOURCE to prove I'm not lying)
Miniature donkey jumping
Jethro the Judgement Wannabe
Myth 2: Clicker training will cause horses to become mouthy.

This is the myth that really grinds my gears. Just like with anything, even something as small as feeding treats has to be properly trained. Aggressive behavior is a result of improper training, and you need to head back to the basics. 

That being said, when you first begin clicker training you may notice mugging behavior. This is simply because they have not been properly treat trained. While Jethro never had issues taking treats, Ypke was absolutely awful and I thought the clicker had ruined her. What I did to combat the issue was tie her to the hitching post, take a couple steps back, and wait. At first she tried to reach over and bite me, so I turned around and waited again. She soon lost interest and looked away. That moment was precisely when I gave her a click and a treat. By doing so, I reinforced that she doesn't get treats because she is being mouthy or because she wants a treat right then and there, she gets one when she is being respectful and I think she deserves one.

After about a week's worth of short 15 minute sessions each day, the mouthy behavior disappeared.  I don't even remember the last time that she has tried to bite me!

She bites pastures, not people
 Myth 3: Your horse will not behave unless you have the clicker 24/7.

Wrong!! The whole goal of clicker training is to wean your horse off the clicker. 

For example, Ypke used to have a terrible habit of blowing past the bit and racing around at the trot as fast as she could go. I wanted a slower, almost Western pleasure jog. At first, I asked for a couple strides of the jog and gave a click and a treat. Gradually, I began expecting more and more steps of slow jog in between each click. Now, I don't even need to use the clicker for her jog — she just does it no matter how many laps around the arena we do.

Clicker training a horse
Another benefit: their necks get super flexible.
Myth 4: Clicker training is solely for tricks.

As you probably figured out from the Beezie Madden paragraph, this is also simply not true. The clicker is just an interesting, concise way of telling your horse, "YES, that is what I want." That's it.  Really. It is just a reinforcement tool. Whether you do eventing or barrel racing, you can integrate the clicker into your training program. It doesn't matter if you do natural horsemanship or use traditional methods — the clicker is just a reinforcement tool.

Jethro's latest work-in-progress trick: "Donkey Brain Teaser: can you put the hoop over the cone?"
Posted by The Moody Mare on Tuesday, August 4, 2015

**Disclaimer: I'm not a pro trainer and this post is just based around my own personal experiences.  I can't guarantee you will have a positive experience, so don't sue me if this completely ruins your horse.**

September 4, 2015

Dreadful Donkey Takes on Showmanship

I came into the barn at 6:30am and Jethro had already begun striking his stall door and braying his head off.  We began prepping for showmanship after he ate breakfast, and he wanted to GO. Halt meant walk quickly, walk meant trot, and trot meant bolt-and-cause-Hannah-to-sprain-her-ankle.  Unlike last year, I had the pattern memorized and felt quite confident, minus having to handle an out of control donkey. 

miniature donkey showmanship
At least he is adorable
The judge was very tough and kind of reminded me of a western George Morris. Jethro was the only yearling, and at the judge's discretion he was mixed in with the green horses. Right off the bat, people were called out for this and that, but the judge did compliment how "nicely groomed that mule is," (how to offend a donkey person 101: call a donkey a mule). The pattern was simple: trot halfway to the judge, trot circle right, halt upon completing the circle, back five steps, trot to the judge, halt, set for inspection, do a 180* haunch turn, and trot back to the line up. 

miniature donkey showmanship
This was the moment where he grabbed the lead rope in his mouth and wouldn't let go.
There was one key problem: once in the ring, Jethro adamantly refused to trot halfway through (though, ironically, he really wanted to trot after we exited the ring). We did a nice job trotting the circle, halting, and backing. He fell apart when I asked him to do the haunch turn and pulled back as we were supposed to be trotting away. Once in the line, ants filled his pants, and it took all of my strength to hold him back.

miniature donkey showmanship
Note how only one of us is trotting.
According to the judge, our back was resistant and slow (90% disagree, I watched the video and his back looked great except for a small head toss on the last step), but our haunch turn was nice (100% disagree, it was nowhere near a correct haunch turn, his back leg wasn't even close to being planted, he took a couple steps forward, and he tried to drag me). He liked my use of the quartering system and said Jethro was very well groomed. We ultimately came away with a grand champion ribbon by default and a white ribbon. For those of you who are not familiar with 4-H, white means "at least you showed up and paid the entry fee." From his other comments, it sounds like he was unimpressed that someone my age would have such a resistant animal.

While I definitely don't approve of this misbehavior and take the blame for it seeing as how I hadn't been working with him much, I actually found it quite hilarious. He was a huge character and definitely let me know what he thought of showing that day! Plus there is something comical about an adorable, defiant 30" tall animal misbehaving in a ring with huge horses.

At least he was nice to the judge
The judge got a lot of hate throughout the week, but while he wasn't my favorite, I thought he was alright. While I thought a couple of the comments I received were incorrect, I actually quite liked him and will definitely work on a couple of things he suggested... but as much as I love mules, it was rather disappointing to have someone think Jethro was one. He's 100% miniature Mediterranean donkey, and I take great pride in how huge his ears are. 

Let's talk about satin now. Rosettes from left to right are: 6th place in groom squad, Grand Champion in yearling showmanship, Grand Champion in public presentation, Reserve Champion in photography, and 6th place in horse bowl. I qualified for state with my public presentation, "Clicker Training Your Equine," so I will be competing at the state fair on September 13th.