Phase Two of Ellie’s Positive Training Journey – Emotional Control

Posted in: Clicker Training, Equine Training, Lessons, Positive Reinforcement Training, Young Horse Training

Introduction to Working with NoveltyBy jove, she’s got it!!

Little Ellie is really going great guns on learning fabulous emotional (impulse) control. Frustration induced by appetitives (most especially food) is one of the emotions that we can often see in our horses and the emotion can very easily end up getting included within external behaviours we train them if we are not careful. The behaviours themselves then trigger the frustration as a result of the classical associations to all other things paired with that emotion; the clicker or bridge signal, the behaviours cue, the behaviour itself and often the mere visual sight of us. (My How Horses Learn course covers all of this theory of learning in depth).

Its a very easy concept to overlook resulting in grumpy faces, ears tipped back, tight facial muscles, tension throughout the whole horse and if left unchecked can quickly escalate to frustration induced aggression – biting, kicking etc. If we don’t make teaching them the concept of emotional control and calmness in ALL of our interactions (especially those that involve training with appetitives (food, scratches, pleasurable things) since I always have food on my person when I am around them, even if I don’t give them any), we can easily create horses who simply can’t switch off and relax, genuinely and fully relax, when we are around.

20141011_144344_resized_1I have done so much active systematic desensitisation and counter conditioning with Ellie since she arrived because that was my focus for Phase One of her development – turn her into the boldest, most confident horse in the world. Tick, that’s well and truly achieved now. So much so that a good couple of months ago she believed it was her God given right to have me become her slave! Not one iota of fear to be seen – perfect! This incredible confidence and lack of fear meant we moved so far up the spectrum in the other direction it was time to move to Phase Two; emotional control and a focus on relaxation and calmness.

When you have anxiety, stress and fear, the focus first needs to be on freedom of choice, building confidence through removing aversives as far as possible from daily life and working through a structured SD&CC plan to change any aversive associations. I needed a bold, confident Ellie before I could introduce some boundaries through developing her emotional control.

I don’t want to use aversives to punish unwanted behaviour and because of this extreme confidence, we have had quite a bit of unwanted behaviour! Mostly born out of frustration and a lack of being able to remain relaxed and calm when I have been moving trained behaviours on to variable schedules of reinforcement and introducing varying reinforcers such scratches instead of food mixed in.

Thus we entered Phase Two – emotional control and learning to remain calm at all times. I’ve finally been able to return to actively training her the foundation basics in specific training sessions again including a calm stand.

I’m so proud of her – this first year with me will have included a lot of training – some very active (ie teaching specific behaviours and putting on cue as well as tonnes of SD&CC) but a lot of it has been inactive with a huge focus on her emotions, her ability to think logically through things, deal calmly with the flow in and out of training with food, learning to be able to switch off and calmly return to grazing after a training session with me still there next to her, accept and be relaxed when behaviours during training are being moved from continuous schedules of reinforcement to variable schedules as well as accepting the move to a variety of different reinforcers to maintain behaviours initially taught with a clicker and food.

20141223_115004_resizedI can honestly say she we have achieved Phase Two now, although it will be a focus for us always with everything we train in the future. I can cue her a behaviour in the middle of the field now, reinforce her with a treat, cue it again and give her a scratch. I can turn walk away and she will drop her head and carry on eating. I can pick up a shaping session, with a high Rate Of Reinforcement (ROR), jackpot, end the session, carry on standing there and she will return to grazing. AND she will also just spend loafing time with me, relax around me when we are not actively training, when my pockets laden with food yet still happily and calmly respond to cues whilst being motivated by scratches.

What a long way she has come from the horse who I couldn’t even touch, onwards to the horse who gently kicked me a couple of times out of frustration and now to the relaxed lady she has developed into.

Read about Phase One of Ellie’s Positive Training Journey