Can We Train Horses to Problem Solve ?
Clicker training our horses can be so much fun, for both horse and handler. And the more we clicker train with them the more we see simple behaviours evolve in to something that we had not conceived.
The horses learn the behaviours so well that you can see them really learn the meaning behind the behaviours and can start to use them on their own. I’ve watched both of my horses develop and grow through the clicker training and have seen them not only understand the behaviours, but know how to use them to tell me how they are feeling.
Going in to Scary Places
I’ve watched this phenomenon when the horses are scared and just playing and its equally as impressive. The first time I saw this phenomenon, Classic was learning about the new field shelter that I had bought. It was one of the arch frames with a heavy canvass over the top of it. The canvas could get quite noisy in the wind so I had to teach him about going in the shelter.
We built up to having a pattern of going in to the field shelter, stop in the middle and Classic would touch the side with his nose, then walk out the other side of the field shelter. We had done this a few times when I was running out of treats, so I gave Classic a big handful, made a huge fuss and headed off to the barn to get more treats.
As I came back out of the barn I saw Classic practicing the routine on his own ! The first time he went through the shelter I thought it might have been a coincidence, but when he repeated it again and again (he still didn’t know I could see him) I knew that he had learned this behaviour so well that he ‘owned it’. It may even have become a self reinforcing behaviour.
Communicating using Head Lowering
The next time I saw a similar thing was not long after this first incident. I was working with Classic in the arena and we were doing really well. Then Classic started to head lower off cue. It was not like him to do this and as I noted what he was doing I re-set and asked him for the behaviour we had been working on, and got more head lowering.
I started to think that my stimulus control (putting a behaviour on cue) was not great with head lowering, but then had to wonder why that would have changed. So I looked at what had changed for us and, unknown to me, the mares in the next field had appeared at the fence line. Classic, still entire, was telling me he needed to head lower to calm himself down.
Not only that, but then I noticed that he used something that he had first learned at his first Alexandra Kurland clinic (and had not used for months)…he started to move so that we were moving out of sight of the mares, with each step he would head lower.
To find out more about Classics story and how he used backing out of view of the thing that elevated his emotions, you will find it on Alexandra Kurlands MicroShaping DVD.
He was showing me with each of these behaviours that he was able to problem solve and use the behaviours I had taught in they way that they were intended to be used, without guidance and he knew I would listen and react accordingly.
To train with Amanda, check out the clinic dates on our calendar (the dates for 2012 are just being finalised) or email Amanda at firstname.lastname@example.org.