The Art of Natural Dressage

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 01, 2012 6:55 am 
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And that's still not what I mean. Sorry if I can't explain it properly, but I did not mean to talk about a goals versus play distinction, or about producing a mechanical robot horse versus building a relationship. 8)

I can't check out the links you posted because I am not on facebook, that's why I can only talk about the clicker trainers I know, either from a German clicker forum or from youtube videos. Most of them seem to be lovely horse people, focusing a great deal on playing and having fun with their horses. I guess many of them go with what the horse offers as well.

What I really meant to say is that I perceive many of them to focus more categorically, on the exercise as such. Let's take a simple example like stepping under and bending on the circle. The prototypical clicker trainer ;) as I see him would mainly reward for the horse's movement to become better and better, until that particular exercise looks like it is supposed to. In contrast, in my training the main focus would be on the fit between the horse's movement and my body language, or vice versa. That does not only mean that I would go along with the horse if he offered something else, but also that I would reward the horse for doing the exercise worse than before if this is in response to a move from me that - perhaps unintentionally - suggested such a change.

So what I am trying to express is that whereas I see many clicker people being relatively passive and rewarding their horse for doing better, I am rewarding most when I feel that our actions are more aligned. Of course this is a bit less precise and often hard to judge, because I don't now about all the effects I am having on my horse's behaviour. So I have to rely on certain heuristics, for example rewarding when it simply seems to me that there is a good fit between mine and the horse's movements, rewarding when I get this feeling of fluency, or rewarding when my horse clearly asks for it (because often they know much better than me when they were right). Often I reward without actually knowing what I am rewarding for, simply because I feel good. Probably something that would make some clicker trainers wonder if I am a bit crazy, but my reasoning is that it means that the horses must have created a situations in which I got this feeling, so whatever they did, I want to reinforce it.

As I have said several times before, just to make sure: I also do lots of exercise training, and I do not see this as a black and white thing, just a slightly different focus. More understandable now?


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 01, 2012 3:11 pm 
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Yes, I think I'm clearer on what you are describing. It does strike me as very behaviorally classical - in that you influence the milieu (from the horse's perspective) more toward being a nice place to be.

I joke, or it looks like I do, about "play and fun," being important to me, but the truth is I'm quite convinced learning of the kind I value happens in play and fun.

Best wishes,

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 01, 2012 4:33 pm 
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I agree with Romy. Although I can not say that I do reinforce the way Romy does, I try to develop myself in that direction. ;)
I try to click for synchrony, harmony, good flow, good vibes - all that hippie stuff! :colors: Of course I also do a lot of classical shaping things and tricks, but usually when I focus on timing, progression, click frequency and those things, my connection to Mucki gets all lost. It feels to me like the best sessions - also in terms of progression at a certain task - are those where I can lose myself perfectly in the connection and where I do reinforce very fuzzily and off-beat so to speak.
In the clicker forums I often read that timing is paramount - for me the connection is top priority and for me, applying CT by the book, often does not help my connection. But I know that CT is as multifaceted, as there are people using this technique...

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 Post subject: Re: Titum
PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2012 3:06 am 
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Donald Redux wrote:
If I were teaching CT I'd teach a strict regimen of mechanical clicker and very precise application. Since I'm not I can appreciate and use myself more informal methods. Creating a positive environment is more important to me, but the precise click can have it's place in that ... especially in reminding the horse we have a language we can speak to each other when we need to.


Donald, this is a good point, and one that I am just coming to today. I don't get out to the barn more than 4 or 5 times a week, so I have a lot of time (for better or worse) to ruminate on methodology. I can get very serious when I have training goals in mind, and I'm seeing that it's super detrimental to progressing with horse-human relationships. It's good to be reminded that having fun, building trust and being compassionate are far more important to me than drilling cues. :cheers:


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 Post subject: Re: Titum
PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2012 4:17 am 
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Adair wrote:
Donald Redux wrote:
If I were teaching CT I'd teach a strict regimen of mechanical clicker and very precise application. Since I'm not I can appreciate and use myself more informal methods. Creating a positive environment is more important to me, but the precise click can have it's place in that ... especially in reminding the horse we have a language we can speak to each other when we need to.


Donald, this is a good point, and one that I am just coming to today. I don't get out to the barn more than 4 or 5 times a week, so I have a lot of time (for better or worse) to ruminate on methodology. I can get very serious when I have training goals in mind, and I'm seeing that it's super detrimental to progressing with horse-human relationships. It's good to be reminded that having fun, building trust and being compassionate are far more important to me than drilling cues. :cheers:


You drew your quote from comments I made just before I made the happy discovery that one of my students had secretly taken up the clicker. Fortunately she told me in the same week she began so I could give her more guidance. She is young but very experienced with years of riding in traditional ways.

She is, to say the least, stunned at the horse she has now, and has ridden for some years, and watched other ride for many years before she bought him. As she said to me, trying to hold in her excitement, "He comes to me."

Imagine seeing a horse for years that had never been seen to come to his owners or those leasing him, and the first day she tried clicker, when she returned he saw her and eagerly came to her.

It's not the food treats. She has been a barn worker and fed him for years, and as her own now of course she feeds him daily. No, it was the horse discovering that FINALLY a human spoke to him in a way he could answer back. We are going to have a great deal of fun, I'm sure.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2012 5:12 am 
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Donald, your student's experience reminds me of my own with Phresca. After years of grudgingly obedient behavior and relative dullness to aids, my introduction of positive reinforcement has dramatically affected The Matriarch's attitude. She immediately walked up to me in the pasture the other day and happily stuck her beautiful, chiseled warmblood head into the halter. She also comes to me when I call her from the opposite end of the indoor arena. Every time this happens, I'm surprised, grateful and flooded with joy. Clicker training - what a phenomenal way to jumpstart a renewed relationship. :sun:


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2012 2:06 pm 
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As joyful as those first experiences are using behavior event marking (the click), following up wiht postiive reinforcement, I have to wonder if you had the experience similar to mine - though joyful still humbling, and with some sadness and sense of loss for all the years doing traditional work, and believing in things we have just discovered are not true about the horse.

That I used threat (the most reduction of pressure one can do) leaves me with a sense of shame. That I used force to correct is not a happy thought, or feeling. Yet I was by all standards of the time, a very gentle horse handler.

Still I dealt with the horse as a different creature than the horse I deal with today. This makes it more difficult at times to see around me how horses are still treated under negative reinforcement systems. Ah well.

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 Post subject: Re: Titum
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 2:57 pm 
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Adair wrote:
I can get very serious when I have training goals in mind, and I'm seeing that it's super detrimental to progressing with horse-human relationships. It's good to be reminded that having fun, building trust and being compassionate are far more important to me than drilling cues. :cheers:
Well the really cool thing about clicker training is that you can now get very serious in following your training goal of having fun, building trust and being compassionate. :funny:
No, seriously, the fact that CT gives me such a powerful tool to work on these "meta-lessons" in a step-by-step way is just wonderful. You have to know that I too, am a very goal oriented person ;).

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PostPosted: Sun May 20, 2012 3:22 am 

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For anyone interested in an online week of clicker training, Lesley Pavlich is offering a course in basic clicker for FREE.

http://www.clickhorse.info/free-course/ Her webpages have video and I particularly enjoyed the three videos of clicker with the unhandled filly.
I sometimes listen to Lesley's show on blog radio.

Cheryl Glen is another trainer who uses clicker with all animals, she is mostly on the facebook community page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Reinforc ... 4142539116

Shawna Karrasch is California based http://www.on-target-training.com/ Shawna is well known in clicker, like Kayce Cover of Syn Alia, Shawna first trained dolphins for a living then used clicker for everyone. I know she was in Northern Ireland recently at a convention Jenni Nellist Phd attended (Jenni's base is Swansea in Wales, equine ethology full time clicker and behaviourist)

Helen Spence is also a good clicker trainer UK based and has training dates in many areas. http://www.helenspencehorsesense.co.uk/index.htm

Peggy Hogan is again a lovely person and her mini McKee is a real advertisement for clicker http://www.thebestwhisperisaclick.com/

Alexander Kurland is the best known horse click trainer http://www.theclickercenter.com/ as so many of us have her book Clicker Training For Your Horse published 1999 and covered in stable marks.

Lets not forget Karen Pryor - the author of Don't Shoot the Dog and one of the founders of clicker training.
http://www.clickertraining.com/karen

Hats off to all who followed Karen's path, they all believe in finding a way to communicate and to train without fear or abuse, they seem less ego centred than some trainer types and willingly share on forums, blogs, etc.

One who inspired me was Karen Clouston with her lovely Cisco and then Tam of course. xx

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 3:37 pm 
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Last week I took part in a clinic with Marlitt Wendt - a German ethologist and clicker trainer. Since it was a really very interesting experience for me, I'd like to share what I learned from her. It was not so much the novelty of things she said, but she kind of filled the blanks I had in some spots of positive horse training. For instance, she connected for me two different applications of reward based training that are very dear to me - default clicker training and Romy's style of interaction with horses.
The following is my interpretation of what I've learned and I would be very interested in your opinions about it...

Since the clinic was on an intermediate level, Marlitt didn't talk about the clicker basics, but rather emphasised on alternatives to operant conditioning, or at least a broader view of it.

Since clicker training was developed by experts, training mostly exotic animals in zoos, their work is characterised by a highly controllable environment and sessions with a clear timeframe. Clicker training as one can learn from most books, is therefore reflecting those ideal conditions and the requirements to train one precise behaviour at a time.

Horse owners though usually find themselves in a totally different position. They interact with their horses in environments that are not under their control (like on a walk, or in a barn together with other people and horses) and their interaction expands far from short training session in the arena. They interact while grooming, leading, walking, riding, feeding, and so on.
Also the emotional involvement is much more intense than when working with an animal in a zoo. Horse owners usually want to have a sound every-day relationship and not just a set of behaviours.

Those concepts that are so important for horse owners - like friendship, respect, harmony - are very fuzzy states of interaction and almost impossible to split up into distinct behaviours that one could mark and reinforce by operant conditioning. So to reinforce those states as a whole, one would need a more fuzzy method of reinforcing.

Marlitt suggested to have different marker signals for instance. Like a sharp clicker sound to mark a precise criterion of a behaviour, and another, longer marker (a word for example) to mark more fuzzily, or even omitting the marker signal completely to get even more fuzzy.

With a horse's growing history of operant conditioning, this mode of interaction is so well trained, that problems may arise. Some horses get very excited (or stressed) by just the expectation of being clicker trained. This kind of interaction is based on a question being raised and expectations to be fulfilled. It can be actually quite demanding for the animal.
Another problem can be that some horses (like our Lily ;)) have very holistic view on an interaction. It seems they receive so much sensory input which they feel is relevant to the trained behaviour, that there is a high potential of frustration and/or training of superstitious behaviours.

A remedy for those problems can be to shift the emphasis from operant conditioning to classical (Pavlovian) conditioning for certain tasks. The advantage is that not a specific behaviour is reinforced, but more a state. Like "being together", or "moving in synchrony", or "just relaxing". It's possible to clicker train every little sign of relaxation, but that requires a high level of proficiency and timing for the trainer and a high level of abstraction and generalisation for the horse.
If I just feed my horse in a casual way while we are standing together quietly without expectations, that would reinforce the whole situation and probably lead in the long run to a classical conditioned response of relaxation every time I am present and behave as I did in that situation.

To clearly differentiate the classical from the operant conditioning "mode", I think it would be best to try and avoid all kinds of markers, like a snappy move to the treat bag, a meaningful timing in relation to certain behaviours, or even the anticipation of behaviours that could be marked. What would be helpful instead is a fuzzy focus beyond the horse, soft flowing movements, casually giving out rewards and a general appreciation of the situation as a whole.

I've seen lot of things I've mentioned at work when I watched Romy interact with our horses and I've already started to experiment with our horses myself - to great effect I believe. I will write about it in my diary...

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 25, 2013 4:33 am 
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i wrote yesterday a long reply, but the universe (and the computer) ate it up.
the process though was good for me too since helped me digest better my thoughts.

but the important thing i didn't want to be deleted was to thank you Volker for sharing :f:
this is lovely that you have such available learning opportunities (interesting clinics) near by and that you take the time & effort to participate and then write all about it and share it with all of us. :kiss:

we just had my dog clicker trainer friend over to play around with us (learning colors - in Pia's footsteps) and again i had some interesting observations on the differentiation in the way we approach training. so, as usual, your notes feels very very relevant and helpful for me... :yes:

i will try to rewrite and write more on our diary.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 25, 2013 7:47 am 
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Ah, what a pity! I really would have liked to read your thoughts about it... With longer texts, I always copy them to the clipboard before I send them. That way I can always paste it in again when the post gets lost while submitting.

Anyway, I hope you find time and leisure for another posting on that topic :f:

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 26, 2013 6:19 am 
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Thanks from me as well for writing such a detailed and thoughtful post, Volker! I can relate to many things you wrote, and as you know, I am all for fuzzy interactions. :funny:

However, I have waited with my reply for some days, because I first wanted to see whether my intuitive reaction to the classical conditioning aspect would change. But it did not. Donald also referred to my training as classical conditioning in the past, but somehow that never sat right with me, because I don't actually think that this captures what I am doing. I don't feel like I am pairing a stimulus with a positive stimulus as you would do during classical conditioning. Well, sometimes I do, giving a treat when it just feels nice (although in these situations I think about classical conditioning only as much as I would when smiling at a friend becaue I am happy with him ;)). However, during most of our interaction, the treats are for actions - even when these actions are more abstract than single movements.

In my own training, I prefer not to differentiate or even switch between some classical and operant mode. Quite the contrary, I want to give my feedback, including the treats, in a way that fits with the current situation on a micro level. That is, if I notice that my horses are careful with me, I just hand out a treat to say thanks, whereas it can happen in the very next moment that they are doing a particularly nice movement, and then I am rewarding in a very snappy way, perhaps even giving a verbal maker signal. Accordingly, for me the fuzziness is adjusted to the behaviour at hand. For me, that's not a qualitative difference (e.g. classical versus operant), because I see things like "being careful" as actions as well. Just not actions that can be easily chopped up in single movements but are more like a "way of acting", regardless of the particular movements you make. However, for me that's merely a difference in grain size and not a fundamentally different mode.

Additionally, the way in which I reward also depends on the way I choose to interpret my horses' actions. This isn't fixed, and for example my way of rewarding Summy for moving backwards while arching his neck can be very different depending on whether I see it as an exercise (just backing up) or a comunicative act (telling me that he urgently wants me to do something with him) or an expression of his current state (telling me that he feels very excited and powerful). In the first case, I may give the treat to him in a precise or more casual way, depending on how interested I am in the exercise at the moment, in the second case I give it to him in a more immediate way, expressing "Yes, I hear you and I will be there for you in a moment", and in the last case I am giving it in an admiring way, with no tension in my movements and perhaps even handing out several portions in a row, as it is appropriate for a king. ;)

Thus, for me treats are part of a communicative feedback (by the way, we have a parallel discussion about that in this thread). Therefore, I want to tailor their use to the situation at hand: I want to hand them out in a way that is congruent with the action level I am after (ways of acting versus tiny moves, and everything in between). Luckily, this isn't as complicated as it may seem, with hundreds of little decisions about which action level to choose or which method to apply at any given moment. Instead, I feel that it becomes super easy and natural once I forget about methods and techniques and modes and all that, but just bind the treats to the rest of my interactional feedback so that they merely are part of a compound signal, a simple reply that fits with what my horse was communicating to me.


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 14, 2015 7:53 pm 
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I am copying a post that I wrote in Panti's diary, because it also fits into this topic. If anyone is interested, I'd love to discuss the process of setting and changing goals, and the way in which this determines how systematically you train, or what being systematic actually means for you.

Romy wrote:
jaz wrote:
I really love the huge range of interaction that you perform in so short a while


Thank you! For me this range is a logical consequence of what I said when we were talking about your riding video, that for me interaction is a process of optimization on different dimensions, or with regard to different goals. On Tuesday my goal was not just that Panti goes into the scary corner, but also that he is attentive, that all three of us have fun, that we learn from each other, that we improve his way of moving, that we improve my ways of making myself understood, and so many other things that I could fill a whole page with text and still this would not describe it exhaustively. I guess some people are really good at picking one goal at a time and then tailoring their whole interaction to it. Some even say that this is necessary, or at least that's how I understand it when I hear clicker trainers say that you should pick one criterion at a time. But I cannot do this. I want all of it, and although I have all the time in the world, just like you said, I cannot split this time into orderly pieces and then work on them in any systematic way.

Another reason for my variability is that I tend to go with the horse's initiative. What Nelly does so wonderfully in terms of movement, I do in terms of motivations and activities. For example, when I am working on movement with Panti and then suddenly feel a huge urge in him to go for grass, I automatically adjust to this and follow him, I do this with him, and then we shape this activity into something that hopefully makes sense for both of us. In a way you could say that I am lacking something that is often said to be very important in horse training: clear intent. Yes, there are some moments when I feel very strongly that I want a particular thing, but most of the time my intent is being shaped by the horse's intent, so that it becomes a joint goal. This sure makes me a bit unsystematic, but an advantage of this is that I usually don't get into conflicts of interest with a horse as he continuously transforms my interest and then in turn this makes it easy for me to transform his, because we are on the same line.


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