Guest post by Sandra from HippoLogic.
Haven’t we all experienced that a horse pulled you towards some grass in order to grab a few bites? Does he never learn not to do this?!
I tried everything and nothing gave me long lasting results until I started to clicker train Kyra to leave the grass alone. This sounds really counter productive, doesn’t it?
But after a few sessions I could lead her over grass without stopping for a bite or being pulled over to a juicier patch over there.
Grass is everywhere! With clicker training I found a force-free way to teach my horse more desired behaviour on grass (not eating!). This was training she remembered, even months later!
It worked so well that my clients started to ask me if I could teach them how to transform their grass monsters into horses that could lead over grass without eating.
My free online grass training is very popular among horse people. In this blog I tell you exactly how I trained my horse to stop grazing and how clicker training helped me do this.
I tried a few different approaches before I found one that works well, gave me a solid result and is 100% force-free.
Tip #1: Focus on what you want
It took me a while to teach Kyra to behave ‘properly’ around grass. With ‘properly’ I mean: no more pulling me towards grass, wait until I give the ‘graze’ cue and ‘stop grazing and come along’ if I asked her to.
I was tired of pulling Kyra off the grass. What helped me was to think about a definition of the behaviour I really wanted. ‘Not grazing’ … how would that look like? I came up with: Moving head away from food source and/or lips closed.
These behaviors are incompatible with grazing and are clear click criteria. Brilliant! Focus on what you want, not on what you not want. Simple, but not easy.
Tip #2: Preparation
It really helps if you do prepare well before you start and take the time to practice a lot. After all, what is more enticing than grass? Well, a click can be…
What really helps is start with a horse that has a solid history of click & reinforce.
Secondly a horse that walks with you properly and the key lessons ‘head lowering’, ‘patience’ and ‘targeting’ are required to make this challenge most likely to succeed. You can find these exercises on my blog.
Tip #3: Write a plan before you start
Science has proven that people are up to 79% more successful if they write down their goals and share them. Another reason is that in clicker training you need to get the behaviour first before you can click and reinforce.
Where you can get away with a bit more pressure and without having a plan in traditional training, you will fail in clicker training without that.
Here’s a summary of my shaping plan. A shaping plan in training is a step-by-step approach of all criteria you will reinforce with a click and treat. Every step in this process can take up several short training sessions.
· Kyra already knew click= treat
· Walk on a lead rope
· Key lesson patience
· Key lesson targeting
· Key lesson head lowering
How to train your horse to stop grazing on cue
I started to reinforce (click/treat) Kyra’s head moving away from grass during grazing. Why? Because this is the first step to move away from the grass.
I began with leading her to grass and I would cue her to graze. Then I just waited (very, very patiently) until she lifted her head by herself. That is the moment I wanted to capture and reinforce.
I can’t stress how important it is to wait until the horse moves (his head) away herself.
I tried other methods like pulling the head up/preventing the head from going down or asking Kyra to target while grazing in order to lift her head, but reinforcing her own head raise worked best.
Use high value treats
Every time she would lift her head, I clicked and reinforced Kyra with a very high value treat. One that could compete with grass and win her attention! After she ate the treat, I immediately gave her the cue ‘graze’. Here is when the key lesson ‘head lowering’ becomes a really handy training tool.
I also clicked and reinforced the ‘graze’ cue. But instead of offering a treat off of my hand, the reward was to graze as long as she wanted. Every time she would lift her head again, I clicked, reinforced and would then give her the ‘graze’ cue.
After a certain amount of training sessions, which Kyra enjoyed very much (!), I noticed that she started to lift her head more often during grazing sessions. This is a perfect time to add a ‘lift head up’ cue. The key lesson targeting helped me a lot.
My next clicker session looked like this:
· Walk to the grass
· Quickly give the cue ‘graze’ before she takes initiative
· Wait until Kyra lifts her head
· Click and reinforce
· Give her the cue ‘graze’
· Let her graze until I thought she was likely to lift her head up again, ask ‘touch’ target stick
· Click and reinforce
· Cue ‘graze’
· And so on
In this way she’s always reinforced for whatever I ask. That makes her become interested in my cues!
Raising the criterion
After several sessions I noticed that Kyra didn’t seem to mind lifting her head up anymore. She was eager to see what I had to offer her. The ‘diving into the grass’ behaviour was gone. She seemed so much more relaxed on grass.
I thought this would be the perfect time to raise a criterion. Now I wanted to lift her head and take one step forward before I gave the ‘graze’ cue again. I literally built this behaviour step-by-step.
The final step in this process was to teach her to wait for the ‘graze’ cue when we would walk on or approach grass.
Now I can ask Kyra to leave grass at any time. She is very willing to come with me. She never pulls me towards a patch of grass and I never have to pull her off of the grass. If she does takes a bite I have a cue for ‘Stop grazing and come with me’ that works really well. Grass training was a real win-win: for her and for me.
Kyra turned from a I-need-to-graze-now-and-store-fat-before-winter-comes-horse into a I-see-grass-so-what-horse. She knows she can trust me and is allowed to have her share… only when I say so.
JOIN MY FREE TRANSFORM YOUR HORSE – GRASS TRAINING
Free online grass training to help you get started.
Fun fact: Today I wanted to make a video for the FB Grass Training FB Group. Kyra didn’t want to graze, so I couldn’t show how to start walking on grass when all your horse wants to do is graze. Never thought I could be in that position: a horse that doesn’t want to graze because a click is way more valuable.
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc. is an equine clicker trainer. She specializes in helping horse owners get the results in training and the relationship with their horse they really, really want so they become confident and skilled to train their own horse. She started blogging about clicker training in 2015 and was awarded with the Top 75 Horse Blogger.