Try It Tuesday: Clicker Training

 

horse clicker trianing

Whether you’re trying one of the new horse sports or just continuing to work on your current discipline, clicker training can help build understanding with your horse.  Long-used in dog training, Karen Pryor’s force-free clicker training  has crossed over to other animals, including horses.  

Clicker training is a science-based training method. It traces its origins back to the work of B.F. Skinner. Karen Pryor, one of the early pioneers of marine mammal training, coined the term clicker training and helped expand the work into the broader training community.  The name “clicker training” refers to the most commonly used marker signal, which is a hand held clicker. In clicker training, the marker signal is paired with a primary reinforcer (usually food).  There are several types of clicker training:

Capturing: This is what many people think of when they first think of clicker training. You wait for the animal to perform a certain behavior, and then you click and treat. This marks the behavior and makes the animal more likely to repeat it.

Shaping: This is the essence of clicker training and a clicker trainer’s main tool. Shaping is the name used to refer to the process of starting with a small piece of the behavior you want and transforming it over time by carefully reinforcing those efforts that lead to the final behavior.

Shaping is also sometimes referred to as training by successive approximations. The key point about shaping is that in shaping you are building behavior in small steps. You get from one step to the next by selecting what behaviors you choose to reinforce and allowing the horse to experiment a bit to figure out what behavior gets clicked. It is a very creative process for both trainer and trainee.

Luring: Luring refers to using the food directly to get a behavior that you can click and reinforce. Most clicker trainers use luring sparingly or not at all as part of the reason clicker training works well is that the food is used to motivate and reward, but since it is only delivered after the click, it does not become a distraction.
Molding:  The horse or a part of its body is physically put in the desired position. If trying to teach a horse to step on a mat, pick up the foot and place it on the mat. The goal is to show the horse the desired movement and then encourage the horse to initiate the behavior on his own.

Shaping using pressure and release: This is one of the most common ways that clicker training is used with horses. It is a subset of shaping, but it is a directed form of shaping where the horse gets information about what you want through standard pressure and release cues. It is combined with clicker training so that the horse is rewarded by the release of pressure AND a treat. The addition of the marker signal adds a level of precision and timing that makes the training process clearer.
Targeting: Targeting is the behavior where an animal learns to touch a body part (with horses we usually use the nose) to another object (the target). Targeting is a behavior that is taught through capturing or shaping, but once learned, it becomes a valuable tool in its own right.
Clicker training allows you to pinpoint and reward desirable behavior. As a result the horse doesn’t have to try ten ‘wrong things’ before it gets it right. The one ‘right’ thing it does is rewarded and the undesirable behaviors ignored. With positive reinforcement horses become very eager students and lessons are quickly learned.

photo credit: equilibrehorses.wordpress.com
REFERENCES:

 Karen Pryor, Clicker Training:   http://www.clickertraining.com/

B.F. Skinner, Operant Behavior: http://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.htm

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14 Ways To Use Stall Mats To Solve Common Barn Problems

a horse for elinor run in shed.jpgWhile stall mats are great to use as the base layer in your horse’s stall for comfort, stall mats can also be used in several “non-traditional” ways to make your barn safer, cleaner and more user-friendly.  Consider these alternate uses in and around the barn as well as other areas where you can use Classic Equine Equipment’s versatile and durable stall mats:

  1. Stall mats can help eliminate mud around gates, doorways and paddocks. They are especially useful in and in front of run-in sheds..
  2. Stall mats in paddocks are easier on your horse’s legs and easier to clean up manure.
  3. Stall mats in the hay room make it easier to sweep and keep clean and helps keep your hay dry.
  4. Stall mats in indoor wash racks are non-slip and easy to clean. In outdoor stall mats, they do the same thing, but also prevent mud from hose runoff.
  5. Stall mats in the shoeing area are easier on your horse’s legs when being shod – and on your farrier’s too!
  6. Stall mats on the tack room floor are easier to clean than carpeting and are softer and warmer on your feet than concrete.
  7. Stall mats in the grain room make it easier to sweep up any spills. They also provide a deterrent to mice burrowing up into the feed room.
  8. Stall mats make great walkways in a variety of areas – down the aisle over concrete to keep horses from slipping or as a pathway to the barn in rainy weather.
  9. Stall mats attached to back walls of stalls can help save your walls and the legs of a horse with a habit of kicking.
  10. Stall mats in the bed of your truck make it easier to sweep out hay carrying hay or gravel.
  11. Stall mats provide excellent padding on the floor and sides of trailers and make floors easier to clean.
  12. Stall mats are great to bring to a show. They provide a soft and safe place for your horse to stand and a clean place for you to groom or tack up.
  13. Stall mats can be used under your compost bins to prevent nutrients from seeping into the ground. They also make it easier to scoop out the finished compost.
  14. Stall mats can be used around the house. Cut into smaller pieces when necessary:
    1. Use in front of your sink to keep your feet warmer and prevent leg strain from long periods of standing.
    2. Use as a mulch in the garden or around trees
    3. Use as a welcome mat
    4. Use a place to store muddy boots.
    5. Use in the garage or workshop to insulate the floor and cushion feet while working.
    6. Use in the back of your station wagon or SUV to keep it clean when hauling wet or muddy dogs.
Mighty Lite stall mat

 

Mighty Lite mat

 

Classic Equine Equipment mats come in the traditional 4′ x 6′ style as well as our lightweight and portable Mighty Lite mats.

There are probably many more uses for the“jack of all trade” stall mat – what others can you think of?

Photo credit:  Classic Equine Equipment; ahorseforelinor.com

 

Try It Tuesday: Working Equitation

ease of handlingWorking Equitation, a fairly new horse sport, celebrates the partnership between horse and rider no matter what your preferred discipline.  And the best part is that you don’t need special tack or attire or a particular breed of horse to participate in Working Equitation. You can compete as an individual and/or as a team. There are 4 trials or tests in a Working Equitation competition.  The first three – dressage, ease of handling and speed – are required for both individuals and teams.  The final test – cattle handling – is used in team competition only.

WE dressageDressage is much like traditional dressage tests as is their purpose-to test the horse and rider as well as to service as an aid in training, whether for a dressage horse or a cattle horse. Again, you may show in either English or Western attire and tack, or in the attire and tack  specific to the traditional and documented the country, breed, or discipline. For example, riders must use footwear appropriate for showing in the tradition in which they are dressed. Heeled boots are the norm, although when a specific tradition mandates use of a different type of footwear (such as the Portuguese Ribetejo tradition), this shall be acceptable.  Qualities of impulsion, submission, quality of gaits as well as rider’s position and effective use of aids are all part of the judging. For a sample Novice Dressage Test, click HERE.

WE ease of handlingEase of Handling tests the horse and rider’s ability to traverse a series of obstacles, being scored 1-10 on each one.  The judges look for a smooth, symmetrical performance. As with dressage, submission, impulsion, quality of transitions, etc. are all considered.  A course map must be provided to competitors at least two hours before the start of the trial. In addition, the competitors are allowed to walk the course (on foot with no horses) during the designated course walk for their class. This allows riders to memorize and plan their course prior to riding it.At the Introductory, Novice, and Intermediate levels, riders may complete this trial using two-hands on the reins. At the Advanced and Masters levels, riders must ride one-handed.  For a sample obstacle course, click HERE.

WE SpeedSpeed tests use typically uses the same obstacles from the Ease of Handling test, but rather than being judged on quality and smoothness, the event is timed – the faster the time, the higher the placing.The final time for each horse and rider combination is calculated by taking their actual time on course minus any bonuses, plus any penalties, so accuracy through the obstacles is a must! Knocking over any barrel during the figure-eight between them gets 5 seconds per barrel added to your time.  Want to see how it’s done?  Click HERE.

Cow trails test the ability of horse and rider to work both individually and as a team with cattle.  At this time, most Working Equitation competitions in the United States do not offer the Cow trial. Shows will begin to offer this trial as the sport continues to grow in popularity. The Cow trial takes place in an enclosed rectangle (minimum size of 70 meters by 30 meters). On a team of 3-4 riders, the objective is for each rider to individually sort, cut and herd a predetermined cow from the herd and, as a team, put it in the designated pen.   Each combination has three minutes to cut and herd their selected cow. Combinations who fail to herd their cow to the demarcated pen are disqualified from the trial and receive zero points. The fastest individual overall time (including any time penalties added) is placed highest in the Cow trial.

Working Equitation WE United logoWE United is a member-led, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the sport of Working Equitation throughout the United States of America. They were officially incorporated as a  nonprofit in early February, 2016. They formed:

  • For the integrity of the sport.
  • For the benefit of competitors.
  • For the strength of a united team.

For more information on Working Equitation, upcoming events and rules, click HERE.

Barn Flooring Options

horse stall with matsThere are typically three parts to what’s under your barn – the foundation, the footings and the flooring.  Foundation and footings are what hold your barn up, keep it from shifting in cold and heat, and provide the stability to keep it from moving in high winds.  Those decisions are best left to the professionals.  An Extension Service engineer can take a look at your proposed building, the site and the soils and advise you on the proper footing depth and wall sizes.  You may want to hire a professional to pour the concrete walls or floors, especially when working with floors with drains or plumbing.

But flooring is what you and your horse will be standing and walking on.  The easiest and least expensive is just leaving everything dirt.  However, horses in stalls can start pawing the dirt and can eventually make quite a substantial hole.  In addition, if you have a high water table, a prolonged rain or melting snow can cause your stall and aisleways to become a muddy mess.

A better option is installing several inches of gravel, sometimes called screenings or 5/8 minus.  You want small, irregularly shaped gravel – the roundness of pea gravel can cause it to shift too much and large stones can bruise a horse’s hoof. Once the gravel is installed, compact it down.  You can rent a compacting machine, but if you just have a few stalls, you can also just spray the gravel with water, and then use a hand compactor to pound.  Repeat a couple of times, letting it settle a few hours between compacting.

Another common flooring option is concrete.  It is expensive, but easy to clean and disinfect.  It can also be hard and cold on the horses that are standing on it.  Many barn builders use concrete in feed and tack rooms to help prevent rodents from burrowing in.  Concrete is also common in aisleways and washracks where it is easy to keep dry and clean.  However, concrete can be slippery so many people opt to “score” the concrete with lines to make it less so.

The addition of stall mats (like those by Classic Equine Equipment) can help keep horses from pawing dirt floors and can add additional cushioning with gravel or concrete floors.  Classic Equine Equipment also offers Tru-Step® Pavers for a safe, comfortable and nonslip surface in horse stalls, aisles and wash racks.

Your flooring is a critical part of your barn, and one that is difficult to change once it’s done.  Be sure to install electric and water lines BEFORE putting down the flooring

Photo credit:  Classic Equine Equipment

3 Things to Consider Before Building Your Barn

classic asisleTaking a few minutes to think through these three things can help you avoid costly mistakes.

  1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

One of the most critical decisions you’ll make is where to build your barn.  You want it close enough to your living quarters for easy access, but far enough away so that you can enjoy some quiet time when needed.    You want it close to existing water and electricity so it will be easier to run them to the barn.  You also want close access to the road to make it easy for trailers and maintenance crews (and, God forbid, the fire department), but far away so that you don’t have to worry about traffic.

You  also want to consider the path to and from the barn, to the manure pile, and any potential drainage issues.  You don’t want build at the bottom of a hill as you can end up with all the rain water and snow melt eventually seeping right into your barn.  But you may not want to necessarily be at the top of a hill either.  Dragging bags of feed or rolling a wheelbarrow of shavings up a hill to the barn is extremely tiring.

Once you identify a likely site, if possible wait 4 full seasons before building.  That gives you time to see if there are any ponds that form during the rainy season, or snow drifts during winter.  Which way does the wind blow – don’t take a magazine’s word that it always blows from the north in the winter.  In the Pacific Northwest, the bad weather actually comes from the south and one barn owner had her barn facing the wrong way!

  1. GO BIG OR GO HOME

While everyone is on a budget, it is always a good idea if you build a barn bigger than you think you’ll need it.  It is much easier to “go big” initially than it is to add on later on.  Another horse owner thought she only needed a 2 stall shed-row for her horses.  Then her friend wanted to board her horse at her farm.  Soon the owner realized that she could offset the cost of her horses by boarding other people’s horses.  While it eventually worked out, the owner had to have the builder come back and build an addition.  It would have been cheaper to have built a 4 stall the first time and used the other stalls for storage.

  1. ASK FOR MORE THAN YOU NEED

You can never have enough doors and windows and storage.   Let me repeat that – you can never have enough doors and windows and storage.  If you find out later that you don’t use one of the doors, you can always keep it closed, but you’ll wish you had one when you’re carrying a heavy load all the way around the barn because you only put in one door.  I also recommend that instead of putting windows in a stall, you go ahead and put in a Dutch door.   If you don’t want to have paddocks attached to the stalls, then keep either or both parts of the door closed.  But you may find that one day you do want to add some paddocks and having a door already in place will make that much easier.  Doors at both ends of a stall can also make it easier to clean as you can sweep dirt and shavings outside the barn instead of into the aisle way.

When you are ready to start designing your barn, call the experts at Classic Equine Equipment for help making the decisions to create the barn of your (and your horse’s) dreams!

Photo credit:  Classic Equine Equipment

Try It Tuesday: Mounted Archery

mounted archeryMounted archery dates back thousands of years, and is one of the earliest forms of warfare. Horses gave humans speed, and by learning to shoot a bow from horseback, riders gained an advantage over anyone on foot. Mounted archery also served as an effective hunting practice, allowing riders to bring down large, swift game.

The mechanization of warfare soon left archery outdated, but archery enthusiasts have continued to study the craft. Modern mounted archery now continues as a martial art and a sport. It is highly popular in Hungary and Germany, though competitions are also held in the United States, Canada, and throughout Europe.

Modern archery competition challenges a horse and rider to navigate a course of targets. While the specific rules vary from one competition to another, a rider’s goal is to shoot accurately at a target from a moving horse. During some competitions, courses are designated a maximum allowable time; exceeding that time in completing the course results in penalty points. As the horse and rider proceed through the course, the rider shoots an arrow at each of the targets. The arrow’s placement on the target is scored.  There are several styles of mounted archery, each one using different courses.  These include Korean Style, Hungarian Style, Qabaq Style, Sultans Qabaq, Five Demons and Scythian. Click HERE for the Five Demons course.

Other competitions challenge a rider to shoot as many arrows as possible at a single target within a given time frame. The horse must be moving, and the rider’s skill in shooting rapidly, along with their physical endurance, can make the difference between a winning run and a losing one. 

To compete in mounted archery, a rider must first learn the difficult task of shooting a bow and arrow from the ground. The bow used for modern archery is lighter and smaller than a typical hunting bow, which gives the archer increased maneuverability while on a horse. Once the rider has mastered the art of shooting the bow and arrow, he or she then faces the challenge of replicating the skill while on a moving horse in an arena.

Perhaps most challenging of all is the fact that the horse must be controlled by the rider’s seat and legs, since the rider will be using his or her hands to shoot the bow and arrow. The horse must be sensitive to the rider’s direction, despite the excitement of moving forward at a canter or gallop. Horses must also be well-trained and desensitized to the sound of a bow and arrow. Horses with steady gaits are preferred, since this makes it easier for the rider to aim at the targets.

Here’s the equipment you need to get started:

  • Good horse-all breeds are welcome.

  • Horse bow-recurve with no shelf or arrow rest.  Estimated cost $200.00 – $1,000.00. 

  • Arrows-carbon, aluminum, or wood.  Estimated cost $100.00 per dozen.

  • Leg, hip or back quiver.  Estimated cost $50.00 – $200.00.  Many members make their own.

  • Targets, 80cm round faces.  Estimated cost $10.00-$250.00 each

If you’d like to learn more about it, visit the Mounted Archery Association of the Americas. For a quick video, click HERE.

Photo credit:  Mounted Archery Association of the Americas