The Willing Equine

FAQ

Below you will find some of the frequently asked questions TWE receives about horse training, clicker training, equine behavior, and more!

Frequently asked questions

R+ / Clicker Training

What is clicker training?


Clicker training is a term used to describe the use of a tool (the clicker) or the use of a marker/bridging sound during training. Typically this is seen in positive reinforcement training or reward based training, where we are rewarding voluntarily offered behaviors with an appetitive (something the horse likes) to encourage the offering of that behavior again. The click (or marker sound of choice) marks the exact moment the horse does what it is we are looking for, and tells the horse that now their reward is coming. Click = That was it! Now food/scratches/something you like is coming. The clicker allows us (the teacher) to be more precise, for communication to be clearer, and for less confusion for the leaner (the horse or any animal/species you are training). It decreases confusion, increases the rate of learning and success, and allows for very precise training. Typically the term "clicker training" is reserved for positive reinforcement based training methods, but I have seen it being used during negative reinforcement based training approaches, so be aware that not all uses of the clicker are created equal or being used the same. An example of the clicker being used in a negative reinforcement program ... Click = That was it! Now relief is coming from the pressure. Or in a combined training approach... Click = That was it! Now relief is coming from the pressure, and a food or scratches rewards will follow. These are my prefered clickers.... Also check out these books... Reaching The Animal Mind by Karen Pyror Humane Science Based Horse Training by by Alizé Veillard-Muckensturm Equine Empowerment: A Guide to Positive Reinforcement Training by Jessica Gonzalez




Why is positive reinforcement something I should consider? How will it benefit my horse and I?


There is no good way to breifly explain the endless changes that come with shifting training to a positive reinforcement focused based mentality and approach. The best way to explain it is, your relationship with horses and towards horse training changes dramatically. Problems that seemed so irritating, frustrating and impossible are become easily explained and simpler to work with. Training makes sense and requires less frustration, stress, and confusion on both the part of the human and the horse. The mentality shifts from.. "This horse is out to get me and I need to be strong and dominant to show him who's leader" to "Why is my horse acting this way? And how can we approach fixing this problem for the both of us in a low stress and positive way?" The relationship changes, riding and training suddenly becomes and equally enjoyable task for both parties involved.. rather than something we are making the horse do. I've written multiple blog posts on the subject, check them out here. The Power Of Positive Reinforcement Or Else What Is R+ and How Does It Work And check out this book by Kathie Greogry .. A Tale Of Two Horses




Can I use positive reinforcement and clicker training while riding?


Absolutely! Horses learn the same when you are on their back as when you're on the ground. Everything you teach on the ground is transferable to in the saddle, much the same as R- based training. The process to achieving the cues for riding look different with R+ though... unless you're combining both R- and R+. Check out this article I wrote, with video examples and a break down of how you go about training riding with R+ Can You Ride With R+?




Where do I start? How do I even begin?


It's super easy to get started, BUT, I encourage you to do your research beforehand. Researching how, why, and what can prevent major easily avoidable mistakes.. mistakes I too have made and had to learn from the hard way. In the beginning the information is likely to be overwhelming and you're going to question whethere you have to stop everything in order to be able to train this way. And the answer is no, you don't have to give up your daily handling and interactions or riding, but I do encourage you to consider that in certain situations it will be beneficial to start from scratch and slowly work your way back to doing all those things... you'll be back to riding and going on walks and doing ground work with your horse in no time, and it will be better than ever! Some situations that may require a complete "re-start" are going to be horses that are very shut down (learned helplessness.. read more here.. ), traumatized, fearful, reactive, explosive, evasive, and/or dangerous. These horses will need a fresh start with a new look at how humans can be. For the most part though, you can begin gradually changing bits and pieces of your relationship with your horse. Here is an article I wrote on the subject... How To Improve Your Relationship With Your Horse And how to get started with clicker training.. How To Get Started Clicker Training Starter Tips And also check out my resources page for lots of recommended reading that I encourage you to dive head first into before ever picking up a clicker. ;) Resources Page




Does positive reinforcement work for every horse?


Absolutely! It doesn't matter if you're a human, elephant, lizard, orca, fish, brown horse, short horse, old horse, skinny horse... Positive reinforcement WORKS. The thing is, positive reinforcement exists in every day life everywhere around us... If a horse is nudging a human and the human whips out a tasty carrot to give to the horse, the horse was just positively reinforced for nudging the human. If a dog barks at the back door and eventually someone lets them inside, they were positively reinforced for barking at the back door. If a kid begs their parent until the parent gives in and buys them the toy they wanted, they have been positively reinforced for begging. These are all relatively annoying and undesirable behaviors to adult humans though, so alternatively we could use positive reinforcement in each of those scenarios to achieve the exact opposite... Give the horse a carrot when they are NOT nudging you. Only let the dog inside when it's NOT barking. Buy the kid a toy when they are happy and content... and so on. SO, all we have to do now.. is set up scenarios and situations where we can reward desirable behaviors and we can train almost any behavior the way we want it with positive reinforcement. Here is some more on the subject... The Power Of Positive Reinforcement What Is R+ and How Does It Work? And if you're worried about it working for horses aggressive around food or even dangerous around people.... But My Horse Is Aggressive Around Food And here's two fantastic books about training any kind of animal with positive reinforcement. Reaching The Animal Mind How To Train A ___




What is positive reinforcement or R+?


Positive reinforcement is just one form of operant conditioning. There are four forms of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is the way in which learning occurs through rewards and punishment for behavior. Through operant conditioining the learner (horse in our case) makes associations between the behavior and a positive or negative consequence. It's important to remember that the + and - signs are mathmatical symbols, not symbolic of "bad" or "good". +R happens when a reward is given to the horse after a desired behavior is performed. The horse learns that if it repeats the same behavior, more rewards will come. Food rewards, scratches and more are possible rewards used in horse training. -R is how traditionally all horse training has occured, with pressure and release. First human applies an aversive pressure of some kind (from annoying all the way to painful or frightening) until the desired response from the horse occurs and then the pressure is released as a "reward"/"relief" for the horse. The horse learns from the relief of the pressure. +P is the application (the +) of something aversive as a punisher to stop or discourage a behavior from happening again. Hitting a horse for biting is a perfect example of this. The horse bites, you hit, horse is less likely to bite again IF the punishment was effective and the timing correct. -P happens for the horse when there is a removal of something the horse wants as a form of punishment. Example, you go to feed your horse his breakfast but he kicks at you, so you take the food away. You've removed the thing your horse wanted as a punishment. For more information on operant conditioning and positive reinforcement .... Operant Conditioning What Is R+ and How Does It Work? Also check out these books... Reaching The Animal Mind by Karen Pyror Humane Science Based Horse Training by by Alizé Veillard-Muckensturm Equine Empowerment: A Guide to Positive Reinforcement Training by Jessica Gonzalez




I can't give my horse food during competitions, or even praise him, how can I continue to compete and start training this way?


Great question! I wrote an indepth article on the subject here... Competition & The Autonomous Horse And more about riding with R+... Can I Ride with R+?




How do you teach lessons while giving the horse autonomy and using positive reinforcement?


Really easily actually! They just aren't your typical large group classes with horses going round and round the arena while the trainer sits in the middle and barks orders. ;) (that's at least how I grew up taking lessons). Here are three video examples of giving lessons with an R+/Clicker trained horse that has choice. https://www.instagram.com/p/BoErGnwgV5F/ https://www.instagram.com/p/BoAtdLcgg38/ https://www.instagram.com/p/BlQ2cYzApXv/ If you can train a horse to ride and respond to cues through R+ you can teach lessons using those same cues and teach students to train with R+. Can I Ride With R+?




When can I stop using food?


In short... never! But don't let that scare you. When you train with traditional and natural horsemanship methods that are based on pressure and release, you ALWAYS use pressure and release to maintain the behavior/motivation. You may reduce the amount of pressure used, you may increase the criteria necessary for the horse to complete before the pressure is released.. but pressure and release always exist. It's no different with positive reinforcement training, there always has to be positive reinforcement of some kind. Read more on the subject here.... When Can I Stop Using Food? and here.... What is R+ and How Does It Work?




What if I run out of food?


Running out of food isn't a problem usually. You can prepare to end your session before you run out, so that you don't leave your horse hanging for something that's not coming.. or, you could offer your horse scratches as a reward in a very special spot if that's something they like. I usually recommend to people that if they want to work with both scratches and food as a positive reinforcer, to practice this before they end up in a situation where they run out of food. Start by clicking, giving food, and offering scratches for a few minutes. This will begin the process of associating scratches with food. Gradually you can decrease the amount of food offered or use scratches first then food, to continue the association building but strengthen the scratches. Also, when working with behaviors that are really well known and are no longer in the "development stage" you can begin offering scratches as the reward occassionally instead of the food. Just make sure to still give food periodically. And last but not least, do training session with no food at all and only scratches. Make sure not to have food on your body, don't give your horse food before the session starts, and start off with very very simple well known behaviors, click/scratches. If however you find your horse getting frustrated with there being no food after the click, try creating a new marker signal that signals a tactile reinforcer vs food. So if you use an actual clicker box with food, use a vocal sound with scratches kind of thing. With enough repetion and practice, it will become no big deal to your horse and they will learn to find value in the scratches. As fair warning though, some horses do not find scratches to be a sufficient enough reward for higher effort behaviors or behaviors that are just being learned.. or really enjoy scratches at all. So you will have to work with what the horse finds rewarding for the training to be based on a reward based system (positive reinforcement). In which case, you'll just need to think ahead, and be prepared.. like with any good training system you plan for the session and have the necessary tools/equipment/knowledge/experience/assistance needed to be successful. Making sure you have sufficient food rewards for your horse that prefers to work with food is just part of that preparation process.




How long do you train for and how often?


How long and how often depends on the individual horse and human, but typically sessions are shorter than ten minutes and I usually will do two in a day.. sometimes more, sometimes less. In the beginning I keep sessions even shorter, around three to five minutes to make sure I'm not taxing the horse mentally and I'm keeping their interest. I'll do a five minute session, ten minute break, five minute session, thirty minute break, five minute session. Or something along those lines. As the horse is more experienced you'll be able to stretch that training session time a little further. Sometimes around thirty minutes, as long as the horse gets water breaks and rest session. The goal though is to never push the horse past the point of frustration or mental exhaustion to where they want to stop trying or want to walk away. If that happens, we need make the session shorter and end before the horse checks out. I also do longer rides, such as trail rides, with my horses that are much longer than thirty minutes.. sometimes for a couple of hours, when the horse is ready. These are different because they are not a constant training session but more of a ... "travel together" period, with occasional small sessions built in if we come across a spooky area or we need to practice something really quick. It's just a different set up. And, when you take breaks. You need to fully remove yourself from the training area (until the horse is experienced enough to know it's break time and they can go graze and explore). Breaks need to be a complete "break" for the horse away from any requirements and expectations from the human. The Mind // Rest




Do I have to use a clicker? Can I use a word or a sound instead?


No, you don't have to use a specific clicker "box", but you *should* use a bridge signal of some kind. The clicker is just a tool that creates a consistent distinct sound with the touch of a button. It allows for the user to make the same bridge signal each and every time, reducing confusion and fluctuations that might naturally occur with something less mechanical. You could use any sound though, whether that's a word or a vocal sound you've made up. It just needs to be the exact same each and every time, clear and unique from the rest of your daily sounds and language. - No sounds that are similar to clucking a horse on or asking them to back up etc. No words like "good boy", which we use all the time when talking to our animals. It has to stand out clear to the horse. You don't have to use a bridge signal at all either, but the bridge signal (or marker signal) is a very important tool. It's what defines "clicker training" and makes it so unique. The bridge signal creates a clear communication ability between teacher and learner, marking the exact moment the behavior earned the positive reinforcer. It removes the guessing game the learner often has to go through to figure out what earned the food, or scratches, etc.




When will I start seeing changes?


That really depends. It depends on the horse, the horse's history, your skill level in training with positive reinforcement/clicker training, errors made, how dedicated you are to changing the training relationship between you and your horse, if you have assistance/guidance, your relationship with your horse, if you're dealing with possible emotional/mental/physical baggage with your horse, and so much more. Typically though people find they and their horses get almost immediate "light bulb" moments within a session or two as they see how smart and willing their horse can be! The beginning part of introducing the foundation behaviors.. like targeting, usually happen quick and it's exciting! After that though, it's really a case by case scenario. Some horses seem to really brighten up and change around pretty quick when the training approach changes. Other horses will take much longer to learn to trust humans again and to move past the days of being frightened or shut down. Again, it all really depends. I've had horses do complete transformations in a few short months, and some take much much longer. But don't let that detour you! The horses that take longer need it the most.




What are Operant Conditioning and Classical Conditioning?


Operant conditioning is the way in which learning occurs through rewards and punishment for behavior. Through operant conditioining the learner (horse in our case) makes associations between the behavior and a positive or negative consequence. It's important to remember that the + and - signs are mathmatical symbols, not symbolic of "bad" or "good". +R happens when a reward is given to the horse after a desired behavior is performed. The horse learns that if it repeats the same behavior, more rewards will come. Food rewards, scratches and more are possible rewards used in horse training. -R is how traditionally all horse training has occured, with pressure and release. First human applies an aversive pressure of some kind (from annoying all the way to painful or frightening) until the desired response from the horse occurs and then the pressure is released as a "reward"/"relief" for the horse. The horse learns from the relief of the pressure. +P is the application (the +) of something aversive as a punisher to stop or discourage a behavior from happening again. Hitting a horse for biting is a perfect example of this. The horse bites, you hit, horse is less likely to bite again IF the punishment was effective and the timing correct. -P happens for the horse when there is a removal of something the horse wants as a form of punishment. Example, you go to feed your horse his breakfast but he kicks at you, so you take the food away. You've removed the thing your horse wanted a punishment. Classical conditioning is when an involuntary association is created between two events or stimuli. For example, in the famous "Pavlov's dogs", a bell rang every time food was served to the dogs. Eventually the dogs began to associate the ring of the bell with the food arriving. The bell was no longer just a sound, it now predicted food. The dogs now would hear the bell and begin salivating in anticipation of the food. Classical conditioning can be used to associate all kinds of things with one another, bad or good. We can also use classical conditioning to change bad associations to good ones. This is called "counter conditioning" and I explain it more here.. Desensitizing // The Methods Operant Conditioning




Is it ever too late or too early to start training with positive reinforcement?


Never! If your horse is in good health, and you won't be interfering with the dam/foal relationship, you can begin working with positive reinforcement as early or as late as you want. Old dogs DO learn new tricks, and foals learn very quickly too! Again though, be careful not to interfere with the dam/foal relationship and consider working with scratches as a reward and in very short sessions during those early months. And as far as training history, it's never too late to re-start or try something new. Even with a very very "well broke" horse, a horse with a long traumatic history, or a horse with a successful career. It's never too late to learn something new or change the relationship dynamic between you and your horse.




I'm not the only one that interacts with my horse, will it confuse him and will it be safe?


In the beginning, there will be a little confusion for the horse, but horses are excellent and understanding "context cues". What this means is they are able to understand in what situations, with which people, with which cues, things do or don't happen. This is why we hear "but he never does that with me!" or "He's never like this at home..." statements. Basically, they can learn that one person works with R+ and the other does not. Also, they can learn separate cues for the same behavior, one trained via R+ and the other trained any other way. They can also learn that maybe in the round pen R- happens, and in the arena R+ happens. Or, when bareback it's R+ and with a saddle it's R-. It's never going to be as completely "clean" as using all one appraoch to training, but it is possible. BUT, and this is VERY important, the cues you use to inform the horse that you've begun an R+ session need to be clear and consistent. If you yourself are going to be the "cue", then you must only ever use R+ and everyone else can continue to use R-. If you want the location to be the cue, you need to not use R+ training anywhere else. If you want the saddle or lack of saddle to be the cue... and so and so forth. You can even use the putting on of a treat bag being the cue, BUT, nobody else should ever have on a treat bag while working with the horse unless they are using R+. I will say though, there will be a marked difference in how the horse interacts with you vs everyone else. Unless other people practice with the horse in the way you do, the horse will not be able to generalize what you're teaching them to other people. So the horse may learn to walk nicely on a lead for you, and still be "horrible" for everyone else; unless your purpose to generalize that new leading behavior, taught with R+, to other people (meaning have other people work with the horse with R+). AND, when you're working on behaviors that are also typically used during R- handling (such as asking the horse to back up), create a totally new cue for the back up that's R+ trained. DO NOT try and teach the same behavior with the same cue with two different approaches, this will be highly confusing to the horse and will likely ruin your R+ training efforts. As for the other question, is it safe, yes, absolutely. As long as you're introducing working with food rewards correctly and you don't have someone else encouraging dangerous behaviors when you aren't working with the horse, there's no reason it shouldn't be safe.




How can I use R+/clicker training to desensitize my horse or help them be more confident?


Great question, I wrote a couple articles about this subject, as I'm very passionate about using low stress, more positive approaches, to desnesitizing horses and building their confidence. Check them out here. Fear Thresholds // What & Why Desensitizing // The Methods Desensitizing // Calm & Confident




Can I use R+/Clicker training even if I have zero experience with horses? Where do I start?


Absolutely! I just recommend you work with a professional that can help you learn the mechanics and application of clicker training, as well as equine behavior, health, and care in a safe way. It's no different than getting into working with horses using natural horsemanship or any other training program. You will need help to learn how to safely be around horses and how to care for your horse correctly, as well as how to safely and effectively apply the training.




What do I do if my horse is afraid of the clicker ?


If your horse is scared of the clicker sound, consider finding a quieter clicker (I have my favorite one linked here), putting the clicker inside a thick sock or your pocket, or using a vocal sound in replacement of the clicker. Eventually they will become used to it and begin to associate the sound with positive things, and you'll be able to work back to using a regular clicker if you want.




I have more than one horse, do I need more than one clicker sound so I don't confuse them?


Nope! In the beginning they will likely be a tad confused, but horses are able to pick up on when the clicker is for them and when it's not pretty easily if it's consistent. Example, I use one clicker and have seven horses with me usually. They are all usually close by too. But if I'm not in the stall with them, standing right outside their stall/pasture, and haven't given them their start of session cue (food into a feed pan usually), they recognize the click is not for them and remain relaxed. New horses to the barn though, after the clicker has been introduced to them, tend to get excited any time they hear the clicker even if it's not for them, but they learn too. Here is a great article about this Can Two People Clicker Train At The Same Time? by Stale Cheerios




Do I have to start over with all my training?


No, you don't. You can start by just picking a single behavior you want to work on with R+ or teaching something new.. like target training or stationing at a mat, and then slowly start swapping other areas of your training with your horse to R+ as you're ready. But some horses will do better with a complete over haul of the training. These horses are typically deeply traumatized, dangerous, aggressive, or highly reactive. Here are some articles that may help How To Improve Your Relationship With Your Horse Can You Ride With R +?




Can beginner and advanced rider lessons be taught with clicker training or on a clicker trained horse?


Absolutely! The lesson program will generally look different than you might see at most lesson barns... you aren't likely to see horses going round and round and round and round the arena for 45 minutes while the trainer sits in the middle of the arena and critiques equitation etc. BUT, it's absolutely possible and I do it all the time. Even group lessons are possible. Also, just like with any other training approach, the level of the horse's clicker training knowledge/experience (their repitiore of behaviors and the duration they can hold them for) will dictate whether an advanced riding lesson can be taught. You could not teach a rider to sit the trot for a few laps around the arena if the horse isn't trained to that level yet. My advanced riders ride my advanced clicker trained horses. Here are some video examples of a clicker training riding lessons. https://www.instagram.com/p/BoErGnwgV5F/ https://www.instagram.com/p/BlQ2cYzApXv/




My horse doesn't like treats or seem to care about working for food rewards, what now?


It is possible your horse doesn't like treats, but it's not possible that your horse doesn't like food. All horses like food, but not just like.. they NEED food... food is and always will be a primary reinforcer for your horse. They may just not be wanting the food you're offering, or the fact that you are the one offering it. OR, they may not be wanting to do what it is you want them to do, because there is a conflicting motivator that is more powerful in that moment than food. Food is also not your only choice of reinforcement, many horses really enjoy a good scratch in their sweet spot; especially foals. So scratches are an option as well! Read more here My Horse Doesn't Like Treats What Is R+ and How Does It Work? My Horse Wont Go Even For A Treat




Can I keep doing all our normal stuff outside of clicker training sessions without confusing my horse?


For most cases, yes, that shouldn't be a problem. Just keep in mind it's best to separate what you're training/re-training with R+ and what you're going to keep doing the same way you always have. What that means is, don't train a back up cue with R+ one day and the next day use R- and P+ to train the back up. Pick which way you'd like to train a backup and stick to it. Consistency is key with horses, regardless of approach. Using equipment or locations to cue to the horse that it's an R+ session will help. Like, only ever using R+ in the turnout but everywhere else it's "normal". Or maybe, R+ only at liberty.. with no halters or bridles or tack. But you'll need to be prepared for the fact that by picking and choosing in such a big way when to give your horse a choice and when to not give them a choice, you're likely to develop two different sides of the relationship/training interaction. Example, if you ride and train your horse with traditional or natural horsemanship 90% of the time and then want to give them choice and train with R+ only 10% of the time, it's highly likely that the horse will spend that 10% of the time saying no.. since they don't have the option to do so the rest of the time they interact with you. Or, you might start seeing a difference in your interactions during the R+ time that don't exist the rest of the time. Such as a more eager and motivated horse.. a horse that wants to be around you and comes up to you. Or, the flip side may happen and the horse will begin to show you all the emotions they feel the rest of the time during training but only NOW get the option to express; such as the constant "no", food anxiety, anxiousness, fearfulness, and so on. The key here to remember is it's not a problem with R+, it's that R+ is uncovering underlying problems that have been suppressed during the horse's current and past training.




I want to try training my dog this way, but I'm not sure where to start. Can you help?


Absolutely! While I don't professionally train dogs anymore, here are some great resources to get you started. Reaching The Animal Mind - Karen Pryor How To Behave So Your Dog Behaves - Dr. Sophia Yin Perfect Puppy In Seven Days - Dr. Sophia Yin Clicking With Your Dog - Peggy Tillman Find A Behavior Consultant In Your Area - IAABC Find A Trainer In Your Area - Karen Pryor Academy Find A Trainer Near You - CCPDT




How do I find a trainer in my area that trains this way?


Unfortunately there are no public directories of professional positive reinforcement horse trainers available that I know of. There are however many facebook groups that can help you find a trainer in your area, or.. there are many trainers, like myself, that offer long distance coaching via email support and video coaching. We can create a lesson program for you, coach you step by step through the process, and help you begin this journey! Contact me via email if you're interested in on-going video coaching lessons with me And check out these facebook lists to see if there is anyone in your area. https://www.facebook.com/groups/EmpoweredEquestrians/ https://www.facebook.com/groups/horseclickertraining/




There are no trainers in my area that use positive reinforcement or anything even close, what do I do now?


Most trainers that now train with R+ professionally, learned from long distance resources, books, and social media. As unfortunate as it is that clicker training isn't "normal" and there are not a lot of trainers yet throughout the world, you still do have the ability to learn how to use it and to get professional help. First, check out my resources page for quite a few books that I recommend as well as other clicker training websites and articles. Blogs and other educational websites are excellent resources. I have mine of course, but there are also some linked on the resources page for continued education. Check out youtube, there are quite a few clicker training videos out there on youtube. Just be careful who you are learning from. Not all clicker training is created equal, and if you're ever in question on whether something is "good" clicker training feel free to contact me and we can talk about it. I also have my youtube with quite a few videos, and I'm constantly adding more. www.youtube.com/thewillingequine Clinics, seminars, and more. Once you find some trainers you like, find out if they have any clinicis coming up any time soon. You might have to travel a bit, again.. short supply of R+ trainers, but it's so worth it! Social media has some surprisingly excellent resources available. Believe it or not, that's how I got into training with R+ and how I learned the most. I have made a lot of connections via social media, and learned so much. Instagram has been my primary stomping ground, but facebook is an excellent resource as well. Especially the facebook groups. For instagram, try hashtags like #forcefree and #clickertraininghorses #positivereinforcement And, once you find someone you like.. check out who they are following. That will start opening some more doors. If you need a place to start, check out my instagram. www.instagram.com/thewillingequine You don't need an instagram account either to get on public accounts and see what they have to share. A good place to start might be my training video hashtag #TWEtrainingvideo For facebook.... https://www.facebook.com/groups/horseclickertraining/ https://www.facebook.com/thewillingequine https://www.facebook.com/groups/EmpoweredEquestrians/ https://www.facebook.com/groups/890424571114494/ - the evolving equestrian And then, last but definitely NOT least, consider long distance coaching! It's really easy to do and less expensive than paying a local trainer.. with about equal benefits really. You can do it from the comfort of your own home, on your own time, and all you have to do is buy a cheap tripod like this one or this one, or find someone to record you, and get recordings of about five minutes of training. You upload that to youtube usually, under "unlisted" or "public" and send the link to the trainer. Every trainer does this next part a little different, but for me I return the video back to you with a voiceover video coaching (it's like I'm there), and then I give homework for you to work on until our next lesson. Usually this is done with visual examples of my own training as well as verbal explanation. And many of us also offer other support services too, like for me I have email support whenever you need in between lessons as well as private student discussion groups where we all support each other. Contact me if you are interested in working with me, but there are also a lot of other trainers out there that are now offering this service! It's fantastic because we are no longer limited by travel distance. You can now work with the best trainers in the world right from your own home.




Won't the horse just be doing it for the food?


Yes and No. It's important to remember that regardless of the training approach we are using, the horse is always always doing what we are training it to do for a reason. There is always a motivator behind training.. that's how training works. They learn because of that motivator. They are learning to do what we want because they are.... Avoiding something or Seeking/Wanting something Every kind of training falls within those two catagories. Natural horsemanship, traditional horsemanship, liberty training, positive reinforcement, clicker training.. doesn't matter. For a horse to ever do something we want it to do, there has to be a reason.. and we have to provide that reason. When using positive reinforcement training/clicker training we are choosing to motivate the horse by offering them something they want and eliminating the avoidance/punishment aspect of training. So yes, they are doing it for the food. Just like the natural horsemanship trained horse is doing it to avoid the rope wiggling harder, or being sent around the round pen. The big difference here is that, over time, with classical conditioning, we can classically condition our presence to equal good things... meaning, if we frequently bring food or work with food, and the horse enjoys that food, then eventually the horse will begin to associate us with good things. That means our presence alone can be positively reinforcing if there's enough history there with R+. So even when we don't have food, we can ask our horses to do things and offer scratches and such.. and the horse will enjoy our company more because of that history of food giving.. even when we don't have food. Read more about it.... When Can I stop Using Food? Training Is Manipulation




What if my horse is SUPER low energy and just won't do anything, even for food?


Sometimes what appears to be low energy can actually be fear, resistance out of pain, confusion, or reluctance to do something they know is going to end up being unpleasant for them. So we have to work to eliminate any possible cause for the horse's reluctance to engage.

Here's some more information on the subject

Lazy & Resistant Part 1
Lazy & Resistant Part 2 Lazy & Resistant Part 3

My Horse Doesn't Like Treats Why Won't My Horse Go Even For A Cookie
https://www.instagram.com/p/BrS1Qk7neLS/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=6yl8020wsbm0




Whats the difference between positive reinforcement training and pressure and release (or natural Horsemanship and traditional training)?


Most horse training is based off of R- and P+ (negative reinforcement and positive punishment). What this means is that regardless of whether you're taking a lesson at a hunter jumper barn or you're actively following a natural horsemanship method of training... it's all based on applying an aversive pressure until the horse responds as desired, and then releasing that pressure to teach the horse that whatever action they just did earned the release. Also, positive punishment is very common throughout all traditional and natural horsemanship approaches to training. If the horse doesn't listen to your leg and you use the crop or spurs , you're using P+ (positive punishment.. applying an aversive as a punisher) to correct the horse for not responding to the leg.

Positive reinforcement training on the other hand is based on the effort to use as little aversive pressure and as little punishment as possible; teaching the horse through giving the horse something desirable as a reward for doing what you want. The goal is not to squeeze harder, the goal is not to use the crop, the goal is to remove as much stress from the training as possible while also encouraging a very motivated horse. Positive reinforcement is a reward based system while negative reinforcement falls into an avoidance based system.

Why I'm Not A Natural Horsemanship Trainer

What is R+ and How Does It Work Positive & Negative Reinforcement




Is this a new kind of training? Why have I never heard of it before?


Positive reinforcement is nothing new, but it wasn't "labeled" until sometime around 1938. The process of using positive reinforcement has however been around a long time before that just by natural consequences of life and learning. Every species alive experiences positive reinforcement throughout the day.. whether that's by getting a paycheck for a job well done, getting a hug from a parent after cleaning up your room, eating a delicious meal after a hunt.. We just don't always acknowledge that we are actively learning and how we are learning... And for a long time there was no known way to label it.
Operant Conditioning (R+, R-, P+, P-) became the official name as a result of BF. Skinner's work and we've continued to build on his work .. there have been incredible advancements in research in this area since Skinner.


Clicker Training first started sometime in the 1940s as scientists worked to use Operant Conditioning to train animals .. and ever since then it's slowly been growing in the training of a wide variety of animals.. and even people! (Check out TAG Teach).
The first book on clicker training for horses in particular was published in 1999 by Alexandra Kurland, then soon after Shawna Karrasch published her own book on how to use clicker training/positive reinforcement for horses. For a long time though, those were the only two books published on the subject and Equestrians utilizing positive reinforcement as their primary form of training we're few and far between.
In the dog and marine animal world though, clicker training quickly started replacing older traditional methods. And not long after, zoo keepers started experimenting with using clicker training to teach lions, elephants, tigers, giraffes , anything you can think of, to allow for voluntarily care and handling.

Horse people just haven't been quick to make the change... Though now, thanks to social media, that's quickly changing. We now have more access to limited resources.. such as professional positive reinforcement trainers and there are now also many books published on clicker training horses, podcasts, frequent clinics all over the world, and quite a few professional trainers that offer services to help people start clicker training.

So no, it's nothing "new" in the sense that we've always been able to train this way, but the knowledge of how to use it with horses is still pretty young.




What do R+, P+, R-, and P- mean?


R+ = Positive reinforcement

R- = Negative reinforcement (or pressure and release)

P+ = Positive punishment

P- = Negative Punishment

Don't let the words Negative and positive confuse you though. These are "math" type + / - signs. Positive means to "apply" and negative means to "remove".




Do horses remember the training for a long time?


It depends on the skill of the training and the individual horse, but horses do seem to retain R+ training for much longer than R- training in my experience.
I remember before I started training with R+ there were many horses that had to be worked with frequently to maintain the training, or they just seemed to forget everything. You couldn't just turn them out to pasture for a couple weeks and then get on their backs like you rode them yesterday... And then of course there were the horses you could, but they were rare. Ever since switching to R+ though all of my horses now are suddenly "like they never skipped a beat" horses, jumping right back into where ever we left off even after weeks or months of break.

In my personal experience, horses do retain R+ training longer.. and are less prone to complete back tracking of training.




What do you do if the horse doesn't do what you ask?


This question really deserves a blog article all by itself, which I plan to make and then add here, but really it comes down to...

Does the horse know what you're asking?

Does the horse have reason to do what you're asking?

Does the horse have reason NOT to do what you're asking?

There's always a reason for an "incorrect" or "non" response from the horse. And the answer to "what do you do when the horse doesn't do what you ask?" lies in one of those questions.




Horses learn from pressure and release though don't they? Using food during training seems unnatural, like bribery.


Yes, horses do learn from pressure and release (negative reinforcement), but they also learn from positive reinforcement, negative punishment, and positive punishment. These are all forms of operant conditioning, which is a way through which animals of all species learn, how they teach each other, and how the environment teaches them. But just because someone CAN learn through the naturally occurring positive punishment when they touch a hot stove, does that make it the best or least aversive way to teach someone they shouldn't touch a stove? Just because a horse can learn to avoid the spur (P+ or escalating R-) by responding to the leg, does that make it the least stressful or most effective form of training?

The long and short of it is that R+ is no more unnatural than R-. As trainers, we have to choose how we wish to teach our learners what we wish them to do... And the way we choose to do that should be as humane and low stress as possible; whether that's R- or R+.


Training Is Manipulation

Horses May Not Give Each Other Treats...

When Can I Stop Using Food?

Why I'm Not A Natural Horsemanship Trainer

Why I Don't Use Treats




Do I have to use food/treats?


No, but you do have to use something the horse enjoys/wants/likes/ and is willing to work for. Sometimes scratches in sweet spots will work for certain horse's but food is typically the preferred positive reinforcer for a horse.

What Is R+ and How Does It Work?




Can you explain some of the terms used with positive reinforcement training? Like "primary reinfocer"?


Absolutely! So instead of creating my own glossary, here are some EXCELLENT resources that explain everything you will ever hear me reference, and maybe a little bit more ;)
Clicker Training Glossary

Brief Glossary Of Terms

R+ Terms




Can I use R+ with feral horses and horses that can't be caught or touched?


Absolutely! But targeting is probably not going to be the place to start, and you're probably not going to be hand feeding treats like you might with most domesticated horses. Instead, you're going to need to set up the environment to be as low stress as possible and start where the horse is comfortable and find a way to offer a reinforcer at a distance.

Here's some excellent resources on working with feral horses with positive reinforcement, but unfortunately the resources are still limited on this area.. though there are many positive reinforcement trainers that focus on training feral horses, so it's absolutely possible... just may take some digging and help from them until we can have better documentation freely available to the public. (Anyone want to sponsor a feral horse at TWE? ;)
How To Train A Wild Horse or Burro Advanced & Retreat, or the Clicker





Behavior

Won't the horse become pushy or mouthy around food?


When introduced correctly and when the lifestyle and health of the horse is taken into consideration, clicker training and positive reinforcement is safe for all horses and humes, and won't create a mouthy or nippy horse. In fact, clicker training/R+ is one of (if not THE) most effective ways of undoing food aggression and nippiness. Read more here... But My Horse Is Aggressive Around Food bite, aggressive, biting, kick, kicking, mouthy, pushy, rude, disrespectful, dominant




What if my horse is aggressive towards me and other horses when food is around?


Food aggression and resource guarding is common issue domestic horses suffer from due to the lifestyle we keep our horses in and the training methods used to try and make them safe around food. Whether it's towards other horses or towards humans, food aggression is not "normal" and is should not just be passed off as "how the horse is". We need to work to find the source of the aggression and then work to repair the root cause, not just suppress the symptoms. Read more about this issue here... But My Horse Is Aggressive Around Food And also, please contact me for training support if you're working with a horse with extreme aggression or feel the online resources provided are not sufficent for your needs. I'd be happy to help! www.thewillingequine.com/training




My horse has a terrible attitude and behavior issues, will R+/clicker training fix that?


Yes and No. It depends. All behavior (even the behavior we don't like) serves a purpose. Whether that's the horse trying to communicate something is wrong, trying to recieve some kind of reinforcement, doing what they've been previously trained to do, or just doing what they are born knowing how to do... there's a reason for it all. Your horse is NOT out to get you and make your life miserable on purpose. So, first we need to find the root cause and repair that... whether that's change their day to day routine, change the diet, change how you're riding, change their pasture companions, seek medical attention/advice, have the saddle fitted... whatever it is, we need to find it. With that being said though, sometimes methods based on punishment and pressure/release to try and resolve these issues are either not enough, or.. the horse has too much history with those methods and needs a complete change of training approach... And this is where R+/Clicker Training comes into play. I suggest reading the below linked articles... Eliminating Problem Behaviors The Downside To Positive Reinforcement The Power Of Positive Reinforcement




How can I use R+/clicker training to desensitize my horse or help them be more confident?


Great question, I wrote a couple articles about this subject, as I'm very passionate about using lower stress more positive approaches to desensitizing horses and building their confidence. Check them out here. Fear Thresholds // What & Why Desensitizing // The Methods Desensitizing // Calm & Confident




I'm not the only one that interacts with my horse, will it confuse him and will it be safe?


In the beginning, there will be a little confusion for the horse, but horses are excellent and understanding "context cues". What this means is they are able to understand in what situations, with which people, with which cues, things do or don't happen. This is why we hear "but he never does that with me!" or "He's never like this at home..." statements. Basically, they can learn that one person works with R+ and the other does not. Also, they can learn separate cues for the same behavior, one trained via R+ and the other trained any other way. They can also learn that maybe in the round pen R- happens, and in the arena R+ happens. Or, when bareback it's R+ and with a saddle it's R-. It's never going to be as completely "clean" as using all one appraoch to training, but it is possible. BUT, and this is VERY important, the cues you use to inform the horse that you've begun an R+ session need to be clear and consistent. If you yourself are going to be the "cue", then you must only ever use R+ and everyone else can continue to use R-. If you want the location to be the cue, you need to not use R+ training anywhere else. If you want the saddle or lack of saddle to be the cue... and so and so forth. You can even use the putting on of a treat bag being the cue, BUT, nobody else should ever have on a treat bag while working with the horse unless they are using R+. I will say though, there will be a marked difference in how the horse interacts with you vs everyone else. Unless other people practice with the horse in the way you do, the horse will not be able to generalize what you're teaching them to other people. So the horse may learn to walk nicely on a lead for you, and still be "horrible" for everyone else.. unless you purpose to generalize that new leading behavior taught with R+ to other people (meaning have other people work with the horse with R+) AND, when you're working on behaviors that are also typically used during R- handling (such as asking the horse to back up), create a totally new cue for the back up that's R+ trained. DO NOT try and teach the same behavior with the same cue with two different approaches, this will be highly confusing to the horse and will likely ruin your R+ training efforts. As for the other question, is it safe, yes, absolutely. As long as you're introducing working with food rewards correctly and you don't have someone else encouraging dangerous behaviors when you aren't working with the horse, there's no reason it shouldn't be safe.




What if I die or something happens to me and I have to sell the horse?


Of course this would be unfortunate and not something we want to think about, but it's reality and should absolutely be prepared for. Every horse should be trained with the expectations that they will at some point be handled/trained/ridden/worked with by another human that may or may not have our same approach to training horses. At the same time though, we shouldn't let the reality that R+ is still a minority in the horse training world stop us from making a change in how we work with our horses. Most performance horses are not barefoot, but many horse owners feel barefoot is a better choice for their horses.. knowing full well if their horse somehow ended up in the hands of someone else they may put shoes on them. Should we be shoeing our horses in preperation for this possibility? No, BUT, we can do our best to help the horse cope with a situation like this should it become reality for them. And we can do this by training them to be able to accept hammers on their feet, holding their feet up for longer periods, etc. It's the same with clicker training and R+. We can train our horses in such a way that all of their cues are "normal" cues, that they can cope with some pressure, that some of their cues ARE tactile cues that are "pressure" but were not trained with R- (pressure and release). Example of this might be... my riding horses are trained to walk forward on a leg touch/gentle squeeze. This is the exact same cue as an R- cue, but it was trained with R+. A rider who doesn't understand R+ would in theory be able to ride my R+ trained horse without issues and I wouldn't be putting that horse at risk of escalating R- cues and possibly P+ as the confused R- trained rider squeezed harder and harder then brought out a crop. The horse would respond as any other horse would, so I've saved it from confusion and punishment. Another example, leading. A horse needs to learn how to step forward when it feels contact on the lead and halter. I don't use lead rope pressure to teach my horses to lead, but they do know what lead rope pressure means... through R+ training I have taught them to respond to a very light touch of the lead to walk forward, just as any other horse would. For this reason, my horses are all able to be handled by traditionally trained vet techs, students still learning R+ ways, body workers, and more. So while yes, it would be unfortunate if that were to happen, you can prepare your horse to be "desirable" and "safe" for anyone and everyone just by choosing the cues you train with R+. And.. if worst case scenario happens, horses still do learn from R- and if your horse were to end up with an R- trainer... they would learn through R-... R+ horses are functional horses in the equestrian world and don't suddenly become incapable of working without food and suddenly become unable to understand R-.




What if my horse kicks, bites at me, or rears?


I hear this question a lot, "What if my horse bites me though? (or does anything else I don't like) What do I do? How can I resolve this with positive reinforcement?"and I wish there was as simple and easy of an answer as the positive punishment answer is (smack the horse, make it wish it had never even considered biting you), but it's a little more complicated than that. Don't worry though, I DO have a very practical answer for you that is very effective and should resolve the biting or kicking once and for all. We just need to ask some questions. What If The Horse Kicks Or Bites?




My horse won't even acknowledge my presence or let me catch them, how can I use positive reinforcement?


It can be trickier to utilize R+ when working with feral horses or horses that are avoiding human contact due to past negative experiences with humans, but it can absolutely be done. Check out these videos to learn more. And here some some links to some social media posts done on the subject... Equine Apprentice 1 Equine Apprentice 2




What are calming signals and displacement behaviors?


Calming signals, and appeasment or displacement behaviors are all forms of body langauge that the horse uses to communicate with others.. including humans. Sometimes they are releases of stress or self soothing behaviors, sometimes they are forms of communication trying to defuse a possibly stressful situation. Watch and read more about it here... Language Signs and Calming Signals of Horses




I've started clicker training but my horse seems frustrated and is even a bit dangerous now. Does clicker training not work for him?


Clicker Training is just like every other kind of training in that it can be done poorly and mistakes can be made. In most cases, frustration and dangerous behaviors during training with food/clicker training stem from underlying physical issues, errors in the training, and/or frustrations stemming from lifestyle/environment... But are not a reflection on "clicker training" as a whole or an indication of whether or not clicker training will work for your horse.
If your horse is acting dangerously or in a frustrated way during training, please contact a professional for assistance and also check out these articles on the subject.
R+ Works For All Horses (coming soon)
But My Horse Is Aggressive Around Food

Killer Horses

What If My Horse Kicks Or Bites

The Downside To Positive Reinforcement

Think Smaller





About TWE

What type of training do you do?


My training is based on the humane hierachy and LIMA. My goal is to train horses using the least invasive minimally aversive approach first and then progress down the humane hierachy as necessary for specific situations. What this means, is when presented with training new behaviors or working through problem behaviors, I first look at the environment, diet, and health... then I look to training. When I train horses, I also train the people, focusing on primarily positive reinforcement and low stress behavior modification to achieve a harmonious relationship with horse and human. Here is a prime example of the type of work I do when presented with a behavior issue or training problem. And for more articles on how I train, check out my Blog Here is more information on the humane hierachy and LIMA Position Statement LIMA Position Statement Humane Hierachy




Do you have YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter...?


I do! All of them are under "The Willing Equine" or @thewillingequine, except twitter which is @willingequine Instagram Facebook Twitter Youtube




I need help with my horse, can you help me?


Absolutely! For training support, go to my training support page and for all other inquires email me directly.




Do you teach lessons?


I do! Both locally and via video coaching. If you're interested in lessons, contact me via email and I'll be in touch shortly.




Do you take horses for training?


I do, but I provide a very unique and specalized service with limited availability to owners/students that are dedicated to continuing the work begun with their horses while at TWE. If you're interested, please contact me and I'd be happy to provide more information.




Do you do video/online coaching?


I do! I offer an online coaching program through my Foundation Course and the TWE Membership. I also offer periodic video reviews which is a great way to get the help you need when you're just starting out, or maybe you're more experienced but just want a fresh perspective on how the training is going. These options are designed to be as close to having a live personal training instructor on site.




Can I come visit?


TWE is not currently located at a public facility, so we don't have public visitng hours, but we love to welcome people to come observe lessons, watch training, or schedule a consultation. Contact me and we can discuss further.




Do you teach clinics? How do I find out where and when? How can I host one in my area?


I do! Contact me if you're interested in hosting a clinic in your area, or check out out calendar to see if there are any scheduled in your area already.




Do You Only Use R+/Positive Reinforcement/Clicker Training?


Being an R+ trainer doesn't mean you ONLY ever use one aspect of Operant conditioning; though with great effort and with a certain set up and with enough experience and knowledge I *do* believe it's possible. Typically though, training of any kind involves varying amounts of different forms of operant conditioning (positive reinforcement, positive punishment, negative reinforcement, negative punishment), just some training approaches involve more of some and less of the others.
A trainers skill level, education, and experience will dictate how much they are able to achieve with positive reinforcement alone, and also their dedication to using positive reinforcement will of course impact how much they use in their training.
To me, what being a positive reinforcement trainer *means*, is the trainer is already using positive reinforcement for the majority of their training and is constantly working towards training with the least aversive approach possible. It doesn't necessarily mean that we will never use anything else or that we are using 100% "pure" positive reinforcement 100% of the time... It just means we are trying to get as close as we can to that goal.
It's a never ending journey though! Any (good) trainer will be constantly evolving as their skill level and education improves, which means... A "positive reinforcement trainer" (like myself) will be constantly looking for new and better ways to use positive reinforcement, and how to further wean out the use of aversives and punishers in training. It doesn't mean I will never ever use pressure or punishment, inadvertently or intentionally, but it DOES mean I don't want to and I look for every opportunity not to.




How do you work with other professionals that don't use or agree with positive reinforcement training? Such as vets, farriers, barn owners, etc.


It can be a challenge sometimes, as often positive reinforcement (and working with food rewards) is very misunderstood or brings out very strong opinions in other people, but it is possible. Typically when other owners and professionals can see that the person training with positive reinforcement is being safe and is educated, they will give them space, and other times... not so much. I just tell my people to be respectful, let your actions do the talking for you, and let very pushy people know that you appreciate their suggestions and offers to help, but that they have chosen to train in a little bit different way. How To Work With Others





Liberty Training

Are Clicker Training & Positive Reinforcement the same thing as "liberty training"?


Yes and no. Liberty training is a very broad spectrum term that is typically used to refer to any tackless type riding, but that doesn't mean the horse is actually "at liberty". At liberty STARTS with the horse knowing they have a choice.. So TRUE liberty training has to give the horse a choice in the training.. which means much of what you see on social media and such is not actually training "at liberty", they are just defining themselves as "liberty trainers" to associate with a certain image of tack-less riding, when in reality the catagory should be "tack-less riding" not "liberty training". Many liberty trainers do ACTUALLY train at full liberty though, and typically these trainers do use positive reinforcement training as well. But, to make things more confusing, that doesn't mean all clicker training and positive reinforcement training is "at liberty". You can use clicker training in such a way that you're continuing to ride and train without giving the horse a choice, but are just adding a click and food reward to the process. So, not true "liberty". Whether a horse is truly "at liberty" dictates whether the person is actually "liberty training". I personally do not consider myself a "liberty trainer" because like I explained, that label tends to imply tack-less riding and doesn't define the type of training used to achieve that. I personally ride with tack quite often, but my horses DO still have a choice even with tack on, so I tell people I train "at liberty".. meaning the horse has a choice. Read more here on the subject... Competition And The Autonomous Horse Training At Liberty My First Lessons At Liberty With Tiger Videos




Can I give my horse a choice and autonomy without using food/clicker training/positive reinforcement?


That's a tough question... because all training occurs through a form of motivation. The animal has to be motivated to do xyz... and so without using food, clicker training, or positive reinforcement... what are we left with to motivate the horse to learn something new? We don't have to use food, and we don't have to use a clicker, but I do believe training has to be based on a primarily positive reinforcement approach in order to truly give the horse autonomy/choice. Read more about this here.... Can We Train At Liberty Without R+? (coming soon) Bonding With Your Horse Training Is Manipulation




How do I start training at liberty/with autonomy?


It's really easy actually. Just go to a large open area, such as your horse's pasture or the arena, take off all equipment, and leave the whip, clucking noises, ropes, and arm waving behind. Training at liberty requires starting at liberty for the horse to understand they have the choice to participate or not.
From there, it depends on the horse. If the horse really cares to stay near you, you can probably start clicking and rewarding behaviors that you'd like to train right away. But keep in mind, the horse is allowed to walk away and you can't correct mistakes. Also, make sure your horse is already properly introduced to working with food reward safely, or just try working with scratches at first.

At Liberty With Tiger playlist

Training At Liberty
First Lessons At Liberty

Or Else Let Them Go (coming soon)

Also, keep in mind you can plan to have certain sessions be at liberty and others not. I always encourage giving the horse as much choice as possible during training and life in general, but don't feel like you can never put a lead back on your horse or ask them not to walk off. You can, but if you really want your session to be "at liberty" I suggest removing all equipment that could accidentally become a way to control the horse.




How can I show my horse he has a choice/he can say "no"?


In short, by allowing the horse to not respond or to do something else instead. If you ask them to stand at the mounting block (which they may usually do) and this time they swing their butt away or walk off, that's them communicating they do not want to be mounted. Respecting that and practicing something else instead (that doesn't involve getting on your horse) will quickly communicate to the horse they can communicate to you.

Of course we need to problem solve *why* the horse isn't standing at the mounting block.. is there possible pain? Perhaps they could sense you were short tempered or anxious? Maybe they don't feel well... Or, maybe they just didn't understand what was being asked. You can always go back and break down the desired behavioral (standing at the mounting block) into much smaller pieces and make it a positive experience for the horse to be sure the horse does know what you're wanting ... But always make sure not to correct the horse for telling you no.
Remember, training at liberty means the horse is "at liberty" to make their own decision.. including no doing what you asked.

Or Else Let Them Go (coming soon)





Diet / Health

The vet has said my horse can not have treats and has to have a very restricted diet, so I can't work with food.. what now?


Whether you're dealing with a horse that has metabolic issues (like cushings, EMS, IR, etc) or perhaps your horse just needs to loose a few pounds... you can still work with food reward, just maybe not "treats". Don't worry though, I don't work with treats either. I have quite a few horses that are SUPER easy keepers, some have EMS /IR too, and some are pre -cushinoid. They seem to gain weight on air, so I understand completely. The trick is balancing out their diet with the training with food, and making sure the horse is eating food appropriate for their body's needs. Horses are designed to forage 17+ hours a day, even with metabolic horses this is critical. I'm not a big believer in long periods of fasting and dry lots, even for easy keepers and metabolic horses. It causes insulin spikes and drops, which are not healthy and can cause serious issues like ulcers and sterotype behaviors. Everything just has to be fed in moderation, with low NSC, and exercise is critical! ( This website is an excellent resource on the topic) But regardless of what your horse's normal diet is, you can still work with food rewards. You can use part of your horse's daily feed (if they get a scoop of ration balancer, take a 1/4 or 1/2 of it for training for example), and timothy/alfalfa or timothy pellets are another great low NSC food reward to work with as well. You can even work with just plain regular hay, though it's a bit cumbersome and messy.. but it can work! Of course, talk to your vet, but if your horse eats any kind of food at all during the day (which... every horse needs some food to survive) you can work with that! I also talk more about this and what kind of food rewards I work with in this video.. Some suggestions for "treats" for insulin resistant or overweight horses could be.... Alfalfa/Timothy Pellets by Dumor Alfalfa/Timothy pellets by Standlee Timothy pellets by Standlee Timothy Pellets by Dumor Flix by Horse Guard Smart Cookies by Smartpak Hilton Herballs by Hilton Herbs Beet-e-Bites NutriGood Low-Sugar Snax (fat, overweight, heavy, easy keeper, chunky, thick, obese)




I'm worried my horse will get fat or gain too much weight if I train with food. How do you work with easy keepers/EMS/IR/Cushings/PSSM horses with clicker training?


I have quite a few horses that are SUPER easy keepers, some have EMS /IR too, and some are pre -cushinoid. They seem to gain weight on air, so I understand completely. The trick is balancing out their diet with the training with food, and making sure the horse is eating food appropriate for their body's needs. Assuming you've found a diet that has helped maintain your horse's condition at a healthy level, you can use part of your horse's daily feed (example.. if they get a scoop of ration balancer, take a 1/4 or 1/2 of it for training for example), and timothy/alfalfa or timothy pellets are another great low NSC food reward to work with as well. You can even work with just plain regular hay, though it's a bit cumbersome and messy.. but it can work! Of course, talk to your vet, but if your horse eats any kind of food at all during the day (which... every horse needs some food to survive) you can work with that! There's also a great website with more information on healthy diets for insulin resistant horses that you may find helpful... Diet For The Insulin Resistant Horse Some suggestions for "treats" for insulin resistant or overweight horses could be.... Alfalfa/Timothy Pellets by Dumor Alfalfa/Timothy pellets by Standlee Timothy pellets by Standlee Timothy Pellets by Dumor Flix by Horse Guard Smart Cookies by Smartpak Hilton Herballs by Hilton Herbs Beet-e-Bites NutriGood Low-Sugar Snax You can also use scratches, for horses that enjoy scratches, to break up how much food you're working with. So that's an option as well! Now on to the exercise portion! Here are some excellent resources on exercise with positive reinforcement. https://anchor.fm/thewillingequine/episodes/Ep-20--Fitness-and-Easy-Keepers-e8307s/a-a10esci https://discoursewithdeejay.wordpress.com/2017/10/03/how-to-exercise-your-horse-with-positive-reinforcement-training/ https://www.instagram.com/p/BqK_STbhvyq/ https://www.instagram.com/p/BqQNYPOBawb/




Do you stall or pasture your horses?


Except for in extreme weather conditions, or if a horse is injured or sick, my horses remain out at pasture day and night. Occasionally I bring them into the barn before lessons or training, but the bulk of their time is spent with their companions, in spacious pastures with 24/7 access to forage.




How old should a horse be to start them under saddle or even sit on them?


A young horse shouldn't be sat on until around four.. and even later is better. The process should be gradual, beginning with just light sitting in the saddle, and progress to casual walking every so often with a rider, then a little trot work, and so on. Horses should be given ample time to grow before being expected to carry a rider and the weight of tack, and we know that doesn't happen until the 6 at the earliest and sometimes as late as 7 or 8 for very long and tall horses.

Read more here...
Time and Rate Of Skeletal Maturation In Horses Equine Growth Rate Fusion Chart




Are all your horses barefoot? Why? And how do you keep them sound?


I'm passionate about being as minimally invasive in my horse's care, and the horse's hoof is one of those areas that we tend to artifically impact with nails and metal when it's usually unnecessary. In most cases the horse's hoof is perfectly designed to support and carry the horse even over the roughest of terrains, but there are some cases where the hoof is weak due to health or poor genetics, and in those cases I would consider composite shoes or boots.. For the most part though my horses are barefoot. An excellent low NSC diet, access to movement over varying terrain, and working with a barefoot specialist are the keys to keeping a barefoot horse sound. The Mythical Barefoot Horse The Essential Hoof Book Locate A Professional Barefoot Trimmer Barefoot Trimmer Listings




What do you feed your horses or do you have any recommended supplements?


I have a couple Instagram and blog posts on the subject, where you can see what I'm feeding currently. I modify the diet per the individual's needs , but here is the base..

The Underweight Horse

My Current Base Diet




My horse is on stall rest, what are some things I can do with them that are relationship building and useful for later?


The list of what can be achieved training/relationship wise in a stall is nearly endless... I actually really enjoy the times when my horses are on stall rest or the weather is bad and everyone comes into the barn. It helps bring us back to the basics and introduce new behaviors that will improve care/maintenance, polish up known behaviors, and spend time on the "little" things that tend to get pushed aside when the weather is nice and we get focused on riding and other "big" activities.

Here are some resources with ideas...
Winter Exercises Fun Exercises To Start Clicker Training Teach Your Horse A Useful Trick Clicker Training Horse On Stall Rest Equine Enrichment





Products/Equipment

What are the sticks with the funny things on the end that you use and how do they work?


They are called Target Sticks and they are used as a tool to guide the horse to a specific area, or in a specific way. Here are two resources to explain more. Why Use Target Training




Why do you work with horses on the other side of a fence?


This is called working in "protected contact", and it's a set up used in the beginning of introducing training with food rewards, and also sometimes used periodically throughout the rest of training as needed. I explain it more here... Starting at 14:45




Where can I get treat bags, clickers, target sticks, and everything you use in your videos? And how do I use them?


Everything I use is explained and listed in this youtube video, but also on my Resources Page.




I see a big floor mat in a lot of your videos and photos, what purpose does it serve and where can I get one?


I have a video that explains the mat more thoroughly, but in the meantime... it's a giant balance mat that is useful for helping strengthen horses' cores, establish stabilizing abilities, to awareness of the body, and for the rehabiliation of neurological horses. I use the mat during a wide variety of training exercises and for all of my horses, young to old. You can get your own by following this link. Make sure to get the 4'x2"x8' size. Big Floor Mat




Do you ever ride in a bit? What do you think about saddles, bits, spurs, crops, whips, side reins etc?


I typically do not ride in a bit, as I feel they are unnecessary and do not offer any benefits for the horse or rider except in very unusual situations where a horse dislikes having rein contact on the nose. Even then though, I feel that's a result of unfamiliarity and needing to be gradually introduced to the new cues via a bitless bridle, or.. it may be indicative of a pain/physical issue that should be addressed by a qualified veterinarian.

With that being said, I have one or two types of bit I can use if needed that I feel are milder and less aversive options to the horse. (option one) (option two) I do however almost always ride bitless and I transfer all my students and training horses to bitless as well.

And for bitless, not all bitless options are created equal. I prefer a plain side pull with a very padded nose band and a soft leather chin, with enough space for the jaw to freely move. My preferred bitless option at the moment is an Orbitless Bridle

Orbitless Bridle

Saddles are a useful piece of tack necessary to protect the horse's back, if the saddle fits correctly. A poorly fitting saddle is far more damaging than no saddle at all. There are also some more modern "in between" options such as flex tree saddles, tree-less saddles, very very padded bareback pads, and so on that can be excellent options.

As far as spurs, whips, crops, side reins, and all other training "aids" I believe to be entirely unnecessary when training is correct, methodical, patient, and positive. If a horse won't go, you don't kick him harder or put on spurs. You problem solve possible causes for him not wanting to move forward and you re-teach him the necessary cues for moving forward. If a horse won't lower his head or "collect" a pair of side reins or a pessoa system will only force an "image" at the cost of your horse's long term health and mental state.. but won't actually develop collection or softness; it may actually make him more dull.

Tack And Auxillary Equipment

I do however have two training aids that I have used in more recent years but really I don't even find them necessary anymore. I did write about their purpose and how to use them in this blog post though.

Long and low aids




Do you have any sponsors or recommended products?


I do! And I am! I have them linked on my resources page. For more recommended products, reading, and educational material... go to my Resources Page. If you're interested in sponsoring TWE, contact me!