Trick Training Philosophy "Train with Trust and Communication"
Trick training is a great way to foster a fabulous relationship with your horse. In order to have a great relationship, you have to have great trust, and great communication.
In order to make trick training enjoyable and achievable by all, I train with grace, rather than force.
Question: ”Good article! Can you tell us how to teach them not to mull you when you first begin & you have the clicker & treats. The very first step after relating the click to the treat? Thanks!-LM HHCC”
Answer: Hi LM HHCC, thank you for your question regarding how to stop horses from becoming pocket monsters.
As a trick trainer, I rely upon the use of treats as an EARNED reward when teaching my horses to do a variety of 'unusual' things like sit, laydown or who knows what else! Although your question is specific to using treats for clicker training, treats can be used across a broad range of training styles and disciplines, and even the old masters, like Podhajsky, recognized the importance of treats as a reward based training tool.
The misconception surrounding treats is that the treat itself is the problem and that is simply not so! It is the USE of the treats that causes the problem when it comes to pushy, muggy, rude horses, and as a handler/trainer you have total control over this. When used as an EARNED reward, the treat is a very valuable tool to communicate what you're looking for in desirable behavior however, the key here is the word "EARNED". It is important to remember that edible rewards are not owed to your horse and dolling them out like a human dispensing machine will create nothing but a bratty, ill behaved animal. Alternately, expecting your horse to earn it's reward by performing a specific task will naturally create some rules and boundaries - so long as you are prepared to enforce the rules...and this is key point number 2.
How do you establish and enforce the rules regarding treats? Imagine that you have a 2' zone of space around you and let's call this the 'zone of respect'. Anything your horse does within this 2' zone MUST be done gently, and respectfully. Now, each person has their own idea of what constitutes gently, and/or respectfully so it's up to you to determine what your personal rules are going to be. Once you determine your rules, and what your tolerance of 'respect' is, then it's time to communicate that to your horse through the consistent defense of your zone. Many horse owners have a hard time defending this zone of respect, and this occurs for a variety of reasons - the most common being that we tend to get emotional about it. When your horse enters your zone of respect, mugging and picking at you for cookies, a smart bump with your elbow, or a bop under the chin with a closed fist establishes the rules and defends your zone. NOW it is important to note that I'm NOT advocating hitting your horse in the head thus creating a headshy horse and this is where the 'emotion' part comes in. As a horse owner, if you get personally offended that your horse is mugging you, let it reach a boiling point until you explode, and then cold cock him in the side of the face with a screeching "NO" ....it may cause a problem. The elbow bump, or chin bop, should be delivered as a non-emotionally driven negative consequence that the horse discovers as a result of his own rude behavior - I like to call this 'factual discipline' as opposed to 'emotional discipline'. Delivering discipline (defending your zone of respect) means that you don't change the tone of your voice, and you don't hold a grudge, or silently simmer over the misbehavior - that would be emotional. Having the horse experience the negative consequence of your elbow as you continue to talk, or continue on with your task takes the emotion out of the discipline, and makes the discipline factual...and in the horses world, that's non offensive.
To further illustrate the concept of factual discipline vs emotional discipline let's compare an electric fence with a crabby mare. The electric fence delivers a negative consequence when the horse touches it - Case closed, rules established. The horse will freely come within centimeters of touching the fence. It will look over the fence and graze around the fence but it has learned that disrespecting the fence delivers an unpleasant consequence every time, without fail. Now, let's consider the crabby mare. The crabby mare bites and kicks and screams often inconsistently, sometimes without warning and from one day to the next her pasture mates never know if she's coming to deliver a friendly scratch or an out of the blue smack down. Her pasture mates give her a wide berth and run from her when she comes near...I think you get the idea. When using treats as a training aid for reward, your horse must learn how to EXECUTE a task while following the RULES and being RESPECTFUL within your zone in order to OBTAIN the REWARD. I like to call this the "ERROR" method.
To summarize; When you feel yourself experiencing emotion because your horse is being rude and mugging you for treats recognize the ERROR. Go back to the basics of having your horse EXECUTE a task, with RESPECT, while following the RULES, to OBTAIN the REWARD. Create a zone of respect that is defended by factual discipline and both you and your horse will experience more rewards and less frustrations.