Last week we looked at the ‘no go‘ horse. So now how did this same exercise help sort out the ‘no whoa ‘horse? Once again, we discussed the plan without the horse and walked through it until the handler had the mechanics down pat. Why do we do this? It is important in training to manage the environment to ensure success. By taking the horse out of the equation the handler could focus on what needed to be done without worrying about having to deal with the horse at the same time. Much less stressful for both handler and horse, especially in the case of the ‘no whoa’ horse.
We started out by having the mats very close together, but this time we spent more time on each mat, rewarding the standing quietly before moving on. The horse had to stand quietly (yes, to start with it was only a split second!) before being allowed to move onto the next mat.
We were starting out on a very high rate of reinforcement for standing on the mat. That means lots of clicks and treats in a very short period of time. The handler would allow the horse, after the moment of stillness to move to the next mat and click and treat for landing and standing on the mat. Soon they got into a nice rhythm and the horse was waiting for the start up cue. The mats were kept relatively close together until things were going really well so that there was no tendency for the horse to get up a head of steam. The horse, now attentive to what was going on, became content to wait for the handler’s cue.
Let’s now look at why these issues might have gotten started in the first place.
Perhaps the ‘no go ‘horse had been reinforced more for standing than for going, the training had gotten out of balance. Perhaps the horse was being reinforced for keeping his feet on the ground from the timing being just a bit off and the click actually happening as the foot was going down.
Perhaps the ‘no whoa’ horse’s person was high energy and didn’t do enough chill time. Once again things were out of balance. It is always important to train opposite behaviours so that things remain in balance, and both these horses had gotten out of balance in their training. We all do it. We get so focused in our training one thing that we forget to train the opposite to keep things in balance. f you teach forward you must teach back, if you teach stop you must teach go, if you teach left you must teach right.
What had really changed in these interactions? I think the really important one here was; ‘if we think different we are different’. The mats and the exercise allowed the handler to think about the issue differently. By taking the focus of the handler off the ‘no whoa’ or ‘no go’ and putting their focus onto the mat it allowed for the focus to change, their thoughts to change, which in turn changed how they were with their horse and how the horse was with them. Each pair was focused on getting to the mat and the positive click and treat when they got there. The mat exercise was the catalyst to change the thought process of the handler and horse and the click and treat reinforced this new pattern and allowed once again for success to occur for all concerned. The balance had been restored to the relationship. he new behaviours would be stronger because of the use of the positive reinforcement and the neural pathway that the click (the marker signal) makes in the brain of both the horse and handler.
Until next time keep it positive and in balance.