Oh the eternal question.. how to get the energy efficient horse to WANT to exercise.. Hehehe!
I use a combination of pressure and reward with some of mine.. I find that reward alone is not enough to motivate some of the more "pie and a pint" kind..while for the more energetic often just the offer of a game is enough. So.. I reckon.. it depends.
You don't have to have a helper to clicker train for forward movement. You can do it really easily alone, and you don't need to feed the treat in motion for the horse to understand that it's the MOTION that you're rewarding for.. That's where the sophistication of the "marker" signal comes in.
Whether you use a click, a whistle, or a word (we use "yes") as the marker, the point is, the horse must first be able to understand that the marker = treat , therefore means correct, good, well done, right! The marker always comes before the reward, and it marks the EXACT moment that the horse performs the behavior that you want.
So, if I wanted to teach a horse to move off in a straight line forward to my cue, first I would "charge" the marker signal.. that is, I would teach the horse it's value, it's meaning.
I would choose a simple exercise, like touching my two fingers, and at the exact moment my horse touched, I would MARK, and then, at my leisuire, get out the treat and give it. I wouldn't try to be too hasty to get the treat into their mouth, because I want them to focus on my Marker, not watch for my hand going to my treat pouch as the marker.. because that's too late. After a few trials, the horse should be getting the idea that when they hear this word, the reward is coming soon, and if they want to hear the word, they can perform a certain behavior. Cool! Operant conditioning.
Okay.. once the horse understands the MARKER, you can move onto using it for ANYTHING that you want to let the horse know that you like. These can be things that the horse does naturally, spontaneously, things that you lure him to perform, things that you demonstrate and encourage him to copy, or things that you apply pressure for to get a response. The very instant that the horse is DOING the thing that you wanted him to do, you MARK, then go over and reward at your leisure. Don't wait til he's STOPPED doing it to mark, this is the key point.... or he will interpret that as "Oh, my person says I'm good when I STOP doing this thing, stand still, etc etc. " (which MAY be what you want sometimes!
) So.. you can Mark different things at different times.
So, for example, when I"m teaching my young horses to walk forward on cue, I give the cue (whatever is most likely to be the most effective at first, usually walking with them) and the moment my horse leans forward and goes to lift his foot to step, I MARK! The horse stops, and I give the treat.. but he knows it was the intention to move forward that I marked.
I'll do this a few more times, then I'll raise my expectation and tell myself that I'm going to tell him he's correct when he takes a whole step forwards.. then two.. then make it easier again, then harder.. then ask him to walk ten steps, then go back to rewarding immediately for a snappy response..
So what I"m doing is constantly changing the criteria, and going back and brushing up on old criteria. So sometimes the criteria might be walk ten steps .. and then I would reward the moment he's doing the right thing, that is, beginning to take the tenth step.. and I wouldn't worry too much about whether he makes a nice snappy departure.. and sometimes the criteria would be snappy departure, and then I wouldn't worry how many steps he takes, but I would reward the moment he steps off.. and over a few trials he will get snappier. When he can perform both criteria, I can combine them.. I want him to make a snappy departure and take three steps for example.. so I would prime him up by rewarding snappy departures.. and then perhaps on the third trial, instead of marking, I'd say good good good while he took two more steps THEN MARK and give him a big Jackpot.
I'd vary what I ask to make it more and less.. so he's never going to know how many steps he has to take before I give him the reward.. and sometimes I make it really easy to keep his interest up, particularly if I'm making something more difficult, or teaching him something new. Pretty soon I'm going to be able to ask him to walk a whole circuit of the arena before I give him a big whopping jackpot. And I'm going to be able to start on trot.. once again, going back to marking for the MOMENT that he just THINKS about accepting my invitation to trot. It's EASY!!
Once I've got good forward movement on the ground from various positions ( I like to be able to walk from horses barrel, back where I'd be if I was riding them,) I introduce a bum tap with a light twig cue. I don't start with this one, because I prefer to teach the horse by having them mirror me at first, not through pressure (although as said, I will use pressure if I feel a horse is being held back by being so fat and lazy that they're not motivated to even try...get their fitness and motivation up a bit and then they begin to feel a bit better and be motivated by the reward.
(Oh, and I do all this loose, so if for any reason a horse objects to having their bum tapped, they can just walk off, and there's no punishment. But there's also no reward, so they usually come back pretty quick for another try! )
So I give a slight bum tap, followed immediately by my normal voice and body language cue... then mark immediately the horse responds. Gradually I reduce other cues and get horse moving forward from tap.. and vary the criteria again so I get snappy responses and longer periods of walking.
I also throw in some alternative criteria.. no longer mark for walking... just say good... good ... good.. then give the cue for stop and MARK! So now I"m reinforcing the stopping part.. then swap back to marking the walk again..
This way, all the different components that you're going to want to put together get worked on and polished up.
Then.. when I'm ready to ride.. I mount up with bag of treats.. and use the voice cue "WALK" and the little bum tap and MARK immediately my horse responds with any thought of forward movement. Gradually working up to a few minutes of walking before marking.. and then asking for stop before marking.. then a stop and another "walk" before marking.. mix it up and shake it around. PERFECT! REcipe for happy willing forward horse, however fat and lazy they were!
When the voice and bum tap cue is working well, I introduce the leg cue.. So first give the leg cue, then immediatly follow with voice and tap..allow more time between leg cue and voice and tap.. till horse begins to move off from leg cue.. and MARK and JACKPOT reward when he first gets it without the tap.
So.. that's how I do it without a helper. If I have a helper, I walk beside the horse and get my helper to ride and give the cues just slightly before I do, so horse can gradually transfer over.
We start all our horses riding outside.. on a road.. with cars and bikes and motorcycles and a train line! If the relationship is good, and the horse is tuned into the treat bag it's really easy!
We have a little trick we call "LOOK!".. that means, whenever horse stands and LOOKS at somethings.. as they do when they see something potentially scary.. we say "LOOK" and then MARK and reward! This has many beneficial effects.. First, simply eating calms horse down. Second, they become focused on us even when they're nervous, and look to us for our response. Third, they become conditioned to offer to standstill and expect a treat whenever they see something potentially upsetting, so they don't startle first. Fourth, we can spot potential scary things before horse does and direct them to "Look".
Longer term the effect is that they no longer get scared of things, and instead feel like it's a game when they find something "scary". We encourage this with "touch the scary" game. All these things are fun if you're not in a hurry to get anywhere. And makes starting a green horse outside so much safer and saner. AND it gives the less than energetic horse more things to get motivated about.. so riding becomes something to look forward to, rather than a chore.
We also play "PICNIC" to motivate them for rides outside. Ride them out till they reach the end of their comfort/willingness zone. Stop and give them a picnic (either whatever can be found in the environs, or a packed treat of chopped carrot etc". Go home. Next time, push them just a bit past their comfort zone for the picnic.. and gradually extend it. We never take the horses out for a ride without letting them either graze or picnic at the furtherest point from home, and we've found that it's made a huge difference in their motivation. They just think we're totally crap leaders if we go out for a walk and neglect the whole point of it!
We're just starting our four year old Harlequin. The day before yesterday, my daughter rode him out PAST where the other horses had gone to their grazing field, out to the road, and down the road half a km.. He was MOST upset! HEY!!! The other horses have gone to graze! I don't want to go out here! I'm going to buck if you tell me I have to! We decided today was the day to meet this argument.. up til now we've just avoided all confrontation.. but now the trust is good and he's understanding her cues and feeling fine. so...Ells insisted just a bit, ignored the little shenanigans.... got two hundred meters further, turned into to a side road, and threw out handfuls of cut up carrot pieces on the ground. WOW! Harlequin couldn't believe his eyes!
Yesterday evening, in the dark, we took all the horses back over to the grazing field. Harlequin was at the back, Ella riding in just a halter. At the turnoff to the field, seven horses turned and went down the hill to the gate.. one horse walked straight on, alone down the path, heading out towards the road!
It took quite a bit of persuasion for Ella to convince him that they weren't going to go carrot hunting again at that time.
(And of course, he got his carrot in the paddock instead.) I'm sure he won't argue next time she suggest a ride out on the road.
The fitter they get, the more pleasure they take in the actual exercise itself. So for us, it's always a delicate balancing act between putting on just a bit of pressure to increase fitness, and rewarding and making it fun and their choice. And if we do it well, even the fatties begin to enjoy their outings.
Good luck with Danny!