Ep 84: Clicker training horses- a conversation with Mustang Maddy

Does clicker training work with horses? Won’t they just start looking for treats all the time? In this podcast, I’m talking with Mustang Maddy about clicker training horses. We discuss positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, staying safe, mental barriers to trying new training techniques and more. She outlines the steps she uses to safely introduce the clickers and hand feeding. She also shares a free video series and downloadable PDF on the subject!

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[00:00:03] Podcasting from a little cabin on a hill. This is the Stacy Westfall podcast. Stacy’s goal is simple to teach you to understand why horses do what they do, as well as the action steps for creating clear, confident communication with your horses.

[00:00:22] Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’m here to teach you how to understand, enjoy and successfully train your own horses. Welcome to Season eight, which I’m calling conversations with Stacy. Today, I’m talking with Mustang Maddy about clicker training horses. In March of 2015, I saw a video of a young lady competing bridles at a Mustang makeover. I wrote a blog post and shared it on Facebook. It began, “one hundred and thirty days of training. She hopes to train horses full time after she graduates from Purdue. I don’t think she’s going to have any trouble getting customers.” And I’m going to say for the record, I was absolutely right. Maddy is a three-time extreme Mustang Makeover, freestyle champion, 2017 Mustang magic champion. She’s performed with our Mustangs all over the country. She’s spoke and taught and judge all over the world. And she’s been featured in places like Animal Planet, Cowgirl Magazine and Horse and Rider magazine. I’m excited to have you listen to this conversation between myself and Mustang Maddy.

Stacy Westfall: [00:01:42] Well, Maddie, thank you so much for joining me today. I am super excited about having this conversation with you about clicker training because I’m just getting started and I’m a huge fan of yours and the work that you’ve done. And so it’s super fun to have you on and be able to go off on this in a place where I’m kind of like I’m the learner. I’m the beginner. I mean, the learner stay of, like, exploring this. And I’m so excited to talk to you about it. So thanks again for joining me.

Mustang Maddy: [00:02:09] Oh, thank you for having me. That sounds like a dream hearing you say a few years ago. I remember sitting and watching a bunch of your demonstrations like a horse fair somewhere and just like studying your work and you’ve been a role model. So to hear you say that, it was just.Thank you.

Stacy Westfall: [00:02:31] You’re very welcome. And boy, I mean, you’ve earned it. I mean that the first time I saw you was on the video that went viral. And I was like, wow, OK, she needs to be seen.

Stacy Westfall: [00:02:53] One of the things I’m excited about talking to you about is like, sometimes I feel like I have trouble putting things into words, which is sort of ironic because I’m like I’m a natural introvert. So I’ve been watching some of your YouTube videos and you mentioned, you know, yourself being an introvert. So I’m this interesting combination of being an introvert who’s obsessed with communication and language. And yet I find myself in the horse world. And one of my greatest joys is going to the barn because it’s a wordless world of feel. And so there are times that I like I want to try as hard as I can to put things into words. And yet there’s a piece of me that’s like I love what I’m feeling. And it’s not at all that I think I’m gonna rob from or hide from. I just like I just enjoy it. So what I was experiencing when I was watching and so everybody who’s listening can hear like I was watching some of your Mystic experiment videos on YouTube and what I can see you doing in there. And I’m not all the way through them, but I highly suggest them to anybody who wants to. I’m just going to say open up your mind to like ways of thinking, which is like what I’m obsessed with and what I love about it is that you’re helping me find words for the feelings and experiences I’ve already had. Which is super cool, because that’s how I know they resonate. They resonate with me to my core because it’s in my horse world, but they also resonate with me and being very true in life. And the way that you’ve structure some of those videos with, you know, kind of a life lesson at the end and not in the horse stuff, but, you know, how you’ve blended that together has been really good. But you’re literally thank you for giving me words.

Stacy Westfall: [00:04:35] Not that I sound like I have them right now, but they’re gonna come out during the conversation. Promise listeners. I promise.

Mustang Maddy: [00:04:41] Oh, I love that. I mean, I think for me, it was really hard to put together a series that didn’t touch on the human aspect because, you know, as you know, that piece is so important. I don’t think we can really separate out and compartmentalize how we build relationships with people and how we build relationships with horses. Of course, there’s differences. But, you know, the approach is so there just has to be congruence there. So anyways, yeah, I’m glad to hear that, that you like that after the show.

Stacy Westfall: [00:05:17] Yes. And you’re secretly already doing something. So years and years ago when I first saw, like, some of the different zebra crosses, maybe not exactly, but. OK.My favorite word ever, Zoni like I was slightly obsessed with ponies across it with a zoo. So people think this sounds like a terrible idea. I think this sounds brilliant.

Stacy Westfall: [00:05:41] So I so a long time ago, the first time I saw it, my husband looked at me and our kids were a little and I’m like, I promise I will not revisit this until all the kids are grown, because some of those animals, from what I hear, can be anywhere from challenging to dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Is this an accurate observation?

Mustang Maddy: [00:05:59] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, for sure. So, I mean, when you’re working with this, I worked with a zebra. Well, multiple zebras. And then I worked with resources and well I guess one could have probably been considered a Zoni, if we want to use that lingo. So with the zebras, it’s basically like having a wolf versus a dog. So you’re going to be able to train them, although there’s not many that have been trained because their instincts, their survival instincts are just so strong. But at the end of the day, you know, they’re obviously still a wild animal. And even with the, you know, wild or feral horses, mustangs that I work with. Go back to domestic breeding. They’ve got about, you know, 500 years of natural selection. And, you know, in the wild vs., you know, zebras of that, millions evolving in Africa to survive some of the harshest conditions and fiercest predators on Earth. So it’s it’s no joke working with them. And I do not think it helps to have a zorse. Like I think their instincts are pretty much just as strong as you might like, refine it.

Stacy Westfall: [00:07:10] I actually did wonder about that. So thank you for filling it in. The zony is still in the back shelf for now, but I might just watch some more of your videos and get my fix from a distance. But my kids are now graduated, so I’m now technically in my, like, less danger zone of like having, you know. And now you’re getting closer and getting closer to the possibility. So we’ll see. OK, see, this is what I said. I’m pretty sure I could go down like a hundred rabbit trails with you each an hour-long, so I wouldn’t really want. Well, OK. What I really want to do is talk to you for hours. But what I’m going to do, what I’d like to do for this one podcast is focus on clicker training.

Stacy Westfall: [00:07:52] So for everyone listening. Can you kind of give an introduction to clicker training horses and how you get started or maybe where people should start?

Mustang Maddy: [00:08:08] Yeah. Definitely. And I’ll try to keep my answers concise, too.

Mustang Maddy: [00:08:14] But basically I was led into clicker training when I was I shifted away from doing the extreme Mustang makeovers and getting new mustangs, and I started focusing on rehabbing Mustangs. So kind of like last chance. Mustangs, where traditional training was just wasn’t working well for them. And I was trying to rehabilitate them. And then I also at the same time had a really difficult young zebra colt that I was working with who just was not responding well to pressure and release his fight and saying TWA’s was super strong. And the Mustangs that I was working with, you know, they just had lifelong coping mechanisms like bolting and bucking, and that had been reinforced for them and this large reinforcement history. So. And I found myself just like with all of these animals, having to use more pressure than I felt comfortable with, like even if I was you know, we all have different ways of saying it and the horsemanship world of using, like, a sequence to use or, you know, you come on with a whisper and then a warning and then more pressure so that you know, the horses responding without having to feel that pressure with the animals I was working with to get them to that point where they were light and, you know, responding before an onset of pressure.

Mustang Maddy: [00:09:40] It wasn’t a great process. And so I started looking into other things, and I came across clicker training, which Stacy, I don’t know about you, but for me, I had so many kind of misconceptions about clicker training. Like I was always told that, you know, food was bribery and food was shooting and food is going to create, you know, this cookie monster out of your head and mugging and all these things.

Mustang Maddy: [00:10:06] So it literally for me to have like to try clicker training, I had to have these animals I was working with, particularly this Mustang named Willie and Zus, the Zebra.I had had these animals that it’s like, well, if I try something new, I literally like have nothing to lose because I can’t screw them up already, like more than they’re already screwed. So that’s kind of what led me into it.

Mustang Maddy: [00:10:32] And it’s yeah, it’s just a complete rabbit hole. But in simple terms, what clicker training is is well you have you know, if you think about the learning quadrant, you have positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, negative punishment.

Mustang Maddy: [00:10:49] Those are the four ways you can bring about behavior change, whether you’re talking about a horse, a rat, a human, whatever. And so negative and negative and positive just referred to like addition and subtraction. So it’s not medical and ethical. So negative just means you’re taking a stimulus away. So negative reinforcement, you’re looking to increase behavior, reinforce it. And if it’s negative, you’re taking something away to reinforce it. So pressure and release your taking pressure away. You’re removing pressure to reward the horse and, you know, like traditional natural horsemanship style training and then positive reinforcement. You’re adding a stimulus to reward the horse and increase the behavior. So when you add the stimulus, that is a food reward. Usually using a primary reward. And the click is away. And that’s why we call it the clicker training as a way to mark the moments that you see the horse getting the desirable behavior, because with pressure and release, you know, your horse softens a little bit to the to the rein,. You know, you’re opening your right rein,. Well, you can immediately release the Rein, and reward the horse. There’s no delay. But with food rewards and clicker training, there’s a bit of a delay from when, you know, my horse churns and then I have to stop. Get the food out of my pouch. Deliver the food to the horse. If I didn’t use a click, then it would be unclear to the worse when they gave the desirable behavior. So in very simple terms, that’s kind of what clicker training and positive reinforcement training is.

Stacy Westfall: [00:12:28] Yeah, that’s a great description of it. The now, when I thought of clicker training, I also immediately thought of dogs and I know you’ve done a bunch of research in different animals and you said it started with like dolphins. Is that correct? Or somewhere around there?

Mustang Maddy: [00:12:45] Yeah. Yeah. They said they use positive reinforcement training, so a different system. But yeah, that’s where clicker training originated. It’s the same premises and they actually would train dolphins. I think I was doing, gosh, my history is awful. World War One and World War Two, they taught dolphins to basically dove down and search for bombs in an open water. So then it kind of moved into the entertainment industry with marine mammals and then into the dog world. And the dog world has been a lot well, quicker to embrace clicker training than the horse world has, which I think there’s a lot of reasons that that is. But even in the dog world, you know, it’s taken them quite some time. And I mean, it’s just I mean, you know, the past few years, really, if you look at it especially like with search and rescue dogs, guide dogs, things like that, that they really embrace the agility, you know, different things. So I think we’re still kind of waiting for the horse world to embrace it a little bit more. And there’s a lot of things that come up when we go to apply positive reinforcement training their horses because they’re not dolphins in a tank and they’re also not, you know, medium sized dogs exist.So there are things to work out, but it just requires some creativity.

Mustang Maddy: [00:14:21] And I think people who are willing to just get curious and explore and play with new ideas like you’re doing, which is just so inspiring. So thank you.

Stacy Westfall: [00:14:31] Well, I’m so excited to have this because I’m going to ask questions that are specific to me as we as we go on. But I’m going to guess to kind of finish up this idea. I’m with you on the idea that, like, it’s probably the thought that. Mugging or being, you know, frisked by your horse or dog, basically, it looks to me like one of the biggest things that people have for a conception of that is that if you use food as a reward, it will become a problem. And I think is that do you think that’s similar between the horse world and the dog world? And do you think that’s where some of the resistance is coming from or is there something else I’m missing there? I mean, obviously, like change is hard, right or wrong like that. But like as far as like when people look at it, is it mostly the idea of the animal getting food aggressive that people are afraid of? Do you think.

Mustang Maddy: [00:15:29] Well, yeah. Thanks for bringing us up. Yes, I think that that’s part of it, because typically when we see people using food around horses, I mean, I remember back when I before I learned about postering in person, I almost had like a no treat policy because I just didn’t want them to mug me and things like that.

Mustang Maddy: [00:15:51] And when you do see people using theater on their horses, I feel like it’s those very stereotypical, like a girl or a woman, you know, just like spoiling her horses with food. And there’s no manners, like there’s no boundaries around the food. And it creates this picture of disconnect that isn’t very appealing. And I think that so I think that that’s one thing.

Mustang Maddy: [00:16:13] And I think it’s, you know, a few other things that come into play as well. One being that horses are so unique. Aside from elephants and camels, which talk about my dream animals story.

Stacy Westfall: [00:16:27] I don’t mind.

Mustang Maddy: [00:16:32] You know, it’s just like unheard of that you are basically strapping. Just talk to those animals back, and riding. And like, you have training that is super reliable.

Mustang Maddy: [00:16:45] And I think people don’t think it can be effective, maybe because it seems like a very permissive way of training. I think that that’s like a safety is just like a general concern, whether it’s when you’re on your horses back or, you know, you’re on the ground and they’re getting pushy or aggressive.

Mustang Maddy: [00:17:05] And then I think, too, it’s it’s a mindset. Stuff like. One is which this was true for me as well, that I want my words to be with me because they just want to be with me, not because they want food. Right. And I think that we have to realize that.

Mustang Maddy: [00:17:28] Were asking horses to perform on a certain level. We’re asking them to do things like they’re herd mates. We’re not ask them to go out and do like your spin or sliding and say, you know. So, like, at the end of the day, something is motivating them. And that’s either the release of pressure or it’s a treat. But it’s not like I think we just we kind of do a bit of production, like if we’re craving connection in our own lives and acceptance. We want that for our horses. So I think there’s so many layers tied up in it.

Mustang Maddy: [00:17:59] I also think there’s an element of, you know, for me, like with the clicker training, I literally had to go through a total shifting of my entire belief system and everything I knew about the world.

Mustang Maddy: [00:18:14] It’s like it’s just it really challenges you to question these, like, deep seated beliefs that you’ve had about, you know, and about leadership and hierarchy and dominance and things like that. So it’s just it’s really fascinating. But yeah. So I think those are some of the blocks to coming into the woods.

Stacy Westfall: [00:18:34] Well, yeah, I think that was a really well said. Thank you for sharing that. And I think that, you know, along the same lines, I mean, I grew up my mom, I would say is really naturally good with animals. And so that my she’s just I mean, even like her most recent dog, it’s like she’s like, I don’t want to say accidentally, but she didn’t intentionally train the dog to know all the different names. But obviously she did because she could tell the dog to go get. And she could name like ten or fifteen different things. And she’d it just kind of happens for her because she just the way she is around them. So I think that was a huge gift to me being around animals and growing up like that. So there was kind of this just a natural kind of thing that worked around a lot of the animals. So I had that going into it. And but we also grew up we would read some of the books and articles we read.

Stacy Westfall: [00:19:30] My mom and I like we to this day were like like how did this like we bought a book one time at a horse store and it said, if you have a horse that bites, then what you need to do is you need to put a hot potato up your sleeve in the area. The horse tends to bite you so that when it bites it, it bites the hot potato or both. Like, okay, just from a logical sample, how do you even get a potato hot enough that you can put it up your sleeve? And yet still, you know, and it was like crazy stuff that even back then when we neither of us really knew anything, what we did know. I mean, my mom was really good. Like, she knew kindness and she knew, you know, how to read their language. But she I mean, we didn’t know our leads. I couldn’t I told you right or left lead when I went to college. I mean, I was like I knew they had leads. And if I studied hard, I could tell you. But it wasn’t like we were highly trained. But there was a there was a level of understanding their emotions, what they were going through, being able to read their body language, you know, in in another way, we had a pony with heaves and being able to understand and and be compassionate. But we also were somewhat mixed up about the treats because it was like one article would be like it’s fine in another article, be like it’s going to create a monster and we would feed treats and, you know, and we would have some problems.

Stacy Westfall: [00:20:45] And we and it was just kind of confusing, basically. And then as a professional, when I started training, I never really tried to put it into specific time. But I was like, I don’t feed treats to my babies until they get to a certain level of training. And it’s not an age. And I’m accidentally saying the babies, because they didn’t have a lot of training when they were young and they would come in almost always in the traditional training program of like, let’s just say, young reining horses. They’re gonna come in as two year olds and they’re going to start going through training. And usually by the time they were like three or four, I was totally fine with giving them treats. And what I was indirectly saying was they had on they by then had picked up enough of the understanding of what was allowed and what wasn’t.

Stacy Westfall: [00:21:35] I’ll have to post a picture of Roxy, the really famous sliding stop video. I mean, well, the videos there, but the really famous sliding stop photo, if you zoom in on her mouth, you can actually see peppermint stains around her around it.

Stacy Westfall: [00:21:49] Because I would feed peppermints to her like I was then. She was the funniest. She was so funny because, you know, OK, this is terrible for metabolics. So I don’t follow my lead in this thing that we learn. Like, don’t don’t actually use those like those little crinkly wrappers, Starbrights I think.

Stacy Westfall: [00:22:07] Oh, my goodness. And it was so fun. And that was one of the reasons I’m going to say this here. And then I’m not going to go down this rabbit trail, I don’t think. But like when I watch your one video on intrinsic, you know, an intrinsic training, that really is a reward. It really it resonated with me because in a way. Say it was more like we were just having fun together in places. Don’t get me wrong, like we need an entire hour to talk about unpacking that whole thing. But like, it was fun to be with her and we would like it was not clicker training in the sense of. Like, you just spun really well, here’s your treat. I never used it like that, so in my world, I wasn’t using it like that. I was just using it in the fact that, like, dude, we’ve been at this horse show for five days. We’re exhausted. I appreciate you sticking with me.

Stacy Westfall: [00:23:01] You know, it was just like you’d be like give you room with a buddy that was like doing a road trip to help you move. And you’re like, you must be a really good friend. You just dedicated five days of your life to help me pack and unpack a house. Like, I just appreciate you. And that was why I said I think we could spend quite a bit of time. Because when you were talking about, like, some of that, I’m like, there’s this dance I can feel this dance of words and feelings around the whole idea of like, no, I don’t think she would have chosen me over like a green lost pet, lush pasture, but at the same time, like we were in it together. And she really was she. There wasn’t enjoyment level. And it didn’t come, as you said, purely from.

Stacy Westfall: [00:23:42] She wasn’t it wasn’t food motivated like that. But one of my favorite things to do with friends is to go out for food. So that doesn’t mean that I only have friends because we eat together, but we do eat together.

Mustang Maddy: [00:23:54] Right. Right. I love how you brought that up, like about appreciation and things and even like with people, you know, I think of positive reinforcement as just a way to show your appreciation, like of people were not necessarily going to keep feeding our kids cookies and things like that. But it’s it’s asking, you know, what does this person want and need and how can I. How can I give that to them and contribute to their needs and joy in life, basically. And so anyways, that’s a whole other a whole other reinforcement of people highly affected.

Stacy Westfall: [00:24:30] That’s right. OK, so now we’re circling back to a person listening to the podcast who has an idea of what clicker training is now. And let’s say they have a horse.And do you recommend a clicker like an actual like noisemaking clicker? Where would somebody get started here?

Mustang Maddy: [00:24:49] Ok, well, this is where we can kind of start to unpack it a little bit because, you know, going back to earlier, you know, getting mixed information is food like dangerous used on horses? Is it great, mugger’s, that kind of thing? I think the answer is yes. And now that they’re both can be true. So if you introduce food in a educated way, you’re probably not going to have any problems and any problems that you do run into you. You can you can resolve through the training. But if you go about introducing food in an uneducated way, I think you can have a lot of problems. And sometimes it can just, you know, putting it in that like I’m kind of putting it on top of the training you already have can just make the horse worse. So there’s a few different ways like that. You could go about introducing it. But and the way that I went about introducing clicker training was I just kind of started doing my normal training and then clicking, and treating on top of the release. So I asked the horse to stop and back up when they’re soft. I released by reins and then also click entry. And the problem with that, it is, first of all, I can kind of create some confliction in the horse if they’re unsure about the pressure and they’re not like under threshold. Then you have basically this conflicting thought and the horse or motivation where I want to get away from this pressure, but I also want to get the click and treat.

Mustang Maddy: [00:26:34] And what can happen with that confection is that you can get horses, you just get a really grumpy or even aggressive. So the other thing is, for the person, the reason that I wouldn’t recommend starting this way is because I had no idea how much up there was to learning positive reinforcement, because it really is like learning a new language. And I miss out so much on a great portion of that language by kind of trying to just use that cookie on top approach. In the beginning. So what I would recommend doing is when you go to start positive reinforcement, you would compartmentalize your sessions so you would have a session where you do pressure and release as normal, and then you would also have like a separate session and maybe even area that you’re training in where you’re doing a, like, just positive reinforcement session. And then once you learn both languages, you learn pressure and release effectively and you learn all that positive rein,. S office. Then we can kind of go down the path of what is it look like to integrate these? So but as far as getting started, I kind of have a series of I am very organized, actually, four steps to get started. So you want me to kind of like summarize these four steps?

Stacy Westfall: [00:28:06] That’d be great.

Mustang Maddy: [00:28:07] OK, cool. I’m really excited to talk about this because I’m we’re just releasing a course that I’m doing well on June 16th. I don’t know when they’ll be listening to this one where I finally got to, like, organize all this information. So anyways, I’m excited about that. Yeah. Yeah. But so. So step number one is just an understanding of training principles. So you need to understand just the learning theory. You need to understand. And basically, I, I kind of categorize my information into these five key principles that I call my five golden rules. So rule number one, reward by reinforcement. You need to understand what is reinforcing the horse. Look at the learning quadrant. Understand the timing of rewards, things like that.

Mustang Maddy: [00:29:04] Rule number two is empowering your horse through choice. And this is probably my one of my favorite aspects of training is how to bring more choice. And it’s just absolutely fascinating, especially with these reactive and wild horses that I work with. The more choice and control they have in training, the more that choice increases, the more fear decreases their inversely related.

Mustang Maddy: [00:29:28] I was actually thinking about this. My mom is actually you know, your mom was really good with horses. It sounds like any animals. And my mom, she loves animals, but horses. So when she was younger and they scare her and I was up riding the other day at their house and I was like, come pet the horses. And I started walking up to her and she’s like, no way. I’ll let me approach the horse. And I’m like, oh, the more the learner has control, which is my mom, the more the fear is going to decrease. So there’s that. That is another thing that I like to explore. Rule number three is just shaping. So breaking a behavior down into these little steps and approximations. You need to know you really need to understand how to put together a shaping plan. Because with positive reinforcement training, you’re going to have to break things down typically into a lot smaller steps. And so that’s really important. Rule four is just all about quieting your language by using a sequence of cues. So, you know, when you are using pressure, not going right to pressure and getting the horse to the point where they’re light and responding before the onset of pressure comes, which gives them more control over the experience of feeling pressure as well.

Mustang Maddy: [00:30:43] And then rule five for me is all about expanding your language, which actually and I’m pretty sure I’m looking at this old notebook that I had looking at watching one of your demonstrations, Stacy. And I think I think that this principle really clicked for me when, you know, you were talking, I think you did a demonstration is like teaching a horse to stop or backup’s like the sound of clapping or something, right?

Stacy Westfall: [00:31:07] Yeah.

Mustang Maddy: [00:31:07] It’s like you can literally have just this expansive language with your horse. So that’s another thing that will come into play, a positive in person training as well. We need to understand that process of like how you can maybe teach something like with a bouy target if you know that’s a positive reinforcement training tool. But then how do we face the target out and put a new cue on that?

Mustang Maddy: [00:31:31] Because we don’t want to be always carrying out on our target. Right. So so those are like the five principles that I like people to understand before we even go into it with our horses. And then from there. Step two is your environment setup. Also, this would call this your antecedent arrangements. So it’s basically all about how can we create a species, appropriate lifestyle for the horse and make sure that their needs for movement and social interaction and grazing 24, 24, seven hour grazing are met. Because if those things aren’t met, they are going to have frustration and anxiety and those will show up in the training. So, you know, you had asked, you know, before I came on here about horses who are grabbing at the food or, you know, bite at the food and things like that.

Mustang Maddy: [00:32:26] I actually want to look at the environment setup and you want to see an arrangement. See see if you have met some criteria, what a species appropriate lifestyle is, because, sure, we can train the bite out of them like we can. We can do that with the. We deliver food, but the problem is we’re not looking at the root cause, whereas this frustration coming from. So that is that’s step number two. And you can just let me know if you want me to go into more detail yet.

Stacy Westfall: [00:32:55] That one just reminded me of, like, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And almost like, you know, you can’t you know, if if humans, you know, that whole pyramid in that lower level of the pyramid is literally just needs. And if you don’t have those basic needs met, you can’t go to the top half of the pyramid, which is all about self actualization. It’s just not possible. So when you were just saying that, I was thinking, well, yeah, that would make sense. But I think it’s beautiful. You said it like that because it is a challenge in, you know, in many areas of the country when you have smaller amount of land and, you know, and people have accepted some of the I mean, I remember the first training facility we built had what I would call traditional stalls in it, you know, solid walls in between and and everything up. And then, you know, we just did that. And then even I like it. Even back then, I was like, well, now I need to just get him outside because it can’t be this guy, you know? And it’s like.

Stacy Westfall: [00:33:55] And so now, like in the second facility that we built over here where we are now, like our stalls are open in between. They can scratch, but they can escape. They still have like their turn pens in there. But but it’s different, you know, and it is that is an excellent observation on your point that.

Stacy Westfall: [00:34:11] You’re so dead on, right? You know, I see these horses that come out of like a traditional training, attritional traditional performance training situation where they’ve been sadly sometimes in isolation, I’ll just put it like that. And they’ve been kind of isolated. And there are so many of those basic needs that you’re right. They are the way that we’ve phrased it over the years. I mean, it’s like they just it’s like they need somewhere to be able to express themselves like a horse and. Right. You know, if you’re not riding that which we turn ours out in small groups or whatever works in those areas and stuff like that, you know, because of the area we have. But it does totally change. I was just telling this to someone last week, and I’m like she was like, I’ve got this horses doing all these behaviors in the stall and I know where I’m like. Get it out of the stall. Yeah, get it out. Get it. It’s got to be able to interact. It’s got to be able do that. But you, as you started out in the beginning, the conversation shifting some of these thought processes to that more natural. OK. So as the listeners can hear, you and I could go down the rabbit hole.

Stacy Westfall: [00:35:20] Yeah. That absolutely resonated with me. So. Yeah. Look, keep going. I think we’re once the get to step three. Is that right?

Mustang Maddy: [00:35:28] Awesome. Yes. We’re headed into step three. And if I can just make two comments on number two that are so important. One. You know, I love your comparison to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And that’s an important thing to realize when you are setting up your species appropriate lifestyle. You also want to take time to set up your training environment. Alexandra Kurland, I don’t know if you’ve heard of her, but she was one of the leaders in positive reinforcement for her, like when the first trainers who brought it in, she used to study with the Lyons family and she calls it your clicker classroom. So you want to have an environment set up where your horse is comfortable and they feel safe because if they don’t feel safe, they’re either in the well, usually they’re not going to eat. Right. That’s like, why are we here? Well, you can’t, you know, use positive reinforcement to load a horse in the trailer because they’re compromising their safety and comfort. So, you know, you can. We don’t have to get into that now. But you have to be working at a level where they feel safe. So when you introduce clicker training in the beginning, you need to do it where the horse feels safe. Ideally, it’s like even in their home territory, like walk off a little area of their paddock or something like that. And then gradually over time, you can start taking them into more challenging situations. But it’s something you have to plan for that. I didn’t think about coming from a background and negative reinforcement because you can just, you know, round pen, you know, even a horse on line, you get them to face up and hook on you. And now they know all these distractions in the environment just aren’t really there. They’re so focused on you now. You’re the place of safety and comfort. So that’s kind of a key difference that we need to look out for and take into consideration when we’re setting up the environment for clicker training.

Stacy Westfall: [00:37:24] Mm hmm. So, yeah, so with the clicker training. So if let’s just say it like this, like, there’s always the temptation to be like, OK, so I’m going to go on Amazon, buy a clicker, I’m going to start feeding. And and and get going.

Stacy Westfall: [00:37:45] But what I’m hearing you saying is put quite a bit more thought into that before you do it, because this is a very large animal and it’s a little bit different if the dog jumps up on you because it wants to get the treat versus if the horse starts getting. And I can see where this could go down a rabbit trail because it’s really intrigued, like people naturally want to step out of the way. If something starting to look like it’s coming, you know, or the horse is getting a little close, I step back and then pretty quickly. So, OK, I’m seeing a little bit more that. Do we have one more step?

Mustang Maddy: [00:38:18] Yes. So we’ll go on to step three, which is introducing the food and healing food feelings. And then we’ll get into step four, which is the final where we’re actually clicking and treat.

Stacy Westfall: [00:38:32] Ok.

Mustang Maddy: [00:38:34] So, yeah. There’s a lot of preparation to do so. In step three, we need to I like to do an assessment of the horse of the horses food drive with some sort of enrichment game. And with this assessment, you can see how they are around food and kind of what level of anxiety they have around food. So, for example, if you turn your horse out into a paddock and you could sprinkle some mix of low and high value reinforcers, so low value reinforcers might be like Timothy pellets and higher value might be like actual peppermints. And there are truths. And you want to sprinkle them kind of around and create little puzzles, like one thing you can do is put them on a map. And then, like, put like a mat over that map. So it’s like a puzzle that did nudge it through it and like just different games like that. You can get balls where they, you know, push the ball and then drops out. And what’s going to happen? You can also just like put some pellets, like in little piles. What’s going to happen is some horses are going to. Go from pile to pile, kind of anxiously and kind of par and or like bite at the mats, things like that. Those kinds of tendencies would tell me that this horse has. You know, they’re they’re highly food driven, driven and motivated and might have some anxiety around food as well.

Mustang Maddy: [00:40:01] And horses that just kind of are sitting there calmly. They don’t feel the need to move from one place to the other. They’re not showing as much piping or biting things. Those are horses who probably have some healthier feelings around food. And so that’s really important to take note of because depending on that assessment will actually determine what the first foundation behaviors I teach are like. It’s going to look different if I’m working with a horse who is, you know, very aroused by food almost anxiously vs. a horse who is much calmer around food, if that makes sense. So a lot of sense. Yeah. Yeah. So there’s some different things I’ll do in there too, as far as once. Once the assessment is over. I want to create an end of session signal for the horse so that they know, like when it’s time to click or train so that they’re not thinking I’m always on basically and then I want to basically just get them good with handfeeding. Like I’m just going to like stand there and feed the horse. And maybe then they say if they are OK with being pet and then create an end of session signal as well so that they understand a clear structure of when the food begins and when it ends. So those are things that I would do before I even go to introduce the actual clicker.

Stacy Westfall: [00:41:31] Nice. Yeah, nice. Now, it’s funny you’re telling me you’re talking about that, and I’m running I’m naturally running through my mind.

Stacy Westfall: [00:41:38] Like, how many assessment is going to have in the first thing that pops into my mind as last year when I was showing a one, one of those treat balls where you put the treats in and they have to roll it. Yeah. And so I put it out the round pen and, you know, through some treats in it. And it was really interesting to see all the different. Some of them were like, I could smell it, but yeah, not really worth it. And other ones would roll around in those thing. The treats don’t come out easy. But it’s they don’t just fall out like I imagined them to. I thought of mine. And so they have to work at it. But my husband’s filly, three year old, was the funniest one. I sent him a message that he was at a horse show and I was home that weekend. And I was like, your horse is a genius. She I got her. She would roll it with her nose and then trace the pattern on the dirt behind it with her nose. Roll. Roll it. Trace. And I’m like, she could stick it in a plus because not only did you figure out that the rolling, but she also knew exactly what she knew and all the other ones look like the rand is not nearly as bright about this. So you’ve never connected the whole thing. I’m like, well, you know, now I’m going back there. So anyway, off to tell my husband he’s got an excellent candidate on his mouth.

Mustang Maddy: [00:42:51] And that’s really that’s a great yeah. That’s a great thing to know, because I think that that tells us their ability to say with something to problem solve and how much candidate seeking some part of the brain is turned on. And then also some horses who are anxious around food and have a really high food drive might give up because it’s like the anxiety of trying to figure out how to get this thing to work is so aversive that they don’t even want to do it. So if that’s so, that’s why you’re going back to the learning quarter and things can get messy when we talk about the appetite of an aversive stimuli, because there’s all kinds of things that can be aversive even when we’re using positive reinforcement training, that that frustration component can be aversive in the process as well. So anyway, it’s. Yeah.

Stacy Westfall: [00:43:40] You talked about it on your YouTube series… So if you guys haven’t seen it, you should definitely check it out on YouTube. The Mystic Experiment. It shows a lot of this with the actual horse. We’re at step four now right where it’s up for.

Mustang Maddy: [00:43:55] We’re finally ready to introduce the clicker. OK. And the way that I do that is first of all, you can just stand there and click and then feed and a lot of dog trainers do. That’s called charging the clicker so that the horse makes the association. Oh, the clicker is the secondary reinforcer. That means the primary reinforcer of the food is on its way. So what happens is the food becomes the clicker sorry, becomes a signal that good things are happening and you get some dopamine releases and things like that. It’s like, you know, the little being on your phone that goes off and you know that there’s a nice little text message waiting for you. Or if you’re like me, that just gives you anxiety.

Stacy Westfall: [00:44:38] Mine is on silent all the time.

Mustang Maddy: [00:44:42] Yes. Maybe for an exercise because anyway. So I. I mean, you can do that. I just don’t really. And the horses that I worked there, that just doesn’t really seem like you need to break it down like that. You can kind of hop and do a behavior. So. So here’s the setup for is really just teaching the Ten Foundation behaviors. And that’s when you’re adding the clicker as well.

Mustang Maddy: [00:45:09] And so there’s a variety of these different foundation behaviors.

Mustang Maddy: [00:45:16] And they’re, you know, horse training is not linear. Right. So we’re wanting to go in with the horse and let the horse tell us what they need. So I’ll kind of run through some of the foundation behaviors.

Mustang Maddy: [00:45:30] And the order is just going to depend, which we can talk a little bit about on on your individual horse and, you know, going back to that original assessment you did and things like that. So one is touching a target. So this is a really important foundation behavior because targeting is is one of your main tools when you’re using clicker training. So going back to earlier to I said that it’s so helpful to, like, learn negative and positive reinforcement training almost separately, because when you go into a paddock, for example, your horse and you say Kaminis, positive reinforcement, I’m not gonna use any pressure to get these behaviors.

Mustang Maddy: [00:46:10] Wow. You’ve got to get really creative and use literally parts of your brain you’ve never used before because like think how easy it is to get a horse to move forward. Rein, Stacy like if you just step on their drive line a little better. You know, whatever it is. But like, how do you do that with clicker training if you’re not if you’re really trying to learn how to create behavior without just pressure, because pressure is just one tool.

Mustang Maddy: [00:46:34] When we enter clicker training, we have other tools, such as the target being one scanning capture where the horse just kind of offers a behavior and then we click and treat.

Mustang Maddy: [00:46:45] And then later we put a cue on it for those you know, there’s all different kinds of ways that we can also be there. So the target is just a great tool. There’s a you can teach almost anything you want using a target. So the first step is just getting the horse to touch a target with their nose and follow a target as another foundation. Behavior that I like ties. Lowering their head to a target is another foundation behavior that I like to look at. And that the head down is so important to going back to the horse, being calm around food. We can we can adjust kind of their emotions from the outside in in a way by looking at their headset. So yeah, that Don has several different purposes.

Mustang Maddy: [00:47:39] But going into another foundation behavior, this is probably like the most important one that I don’t see people doing enough of, which is calm default stationing, which I just called CPS. People have called it before, like true receiving mode. But calm defiles stationing is teaching the horses default where when they’re not being cued, they are standing still. All four feet are on the ground. Their head is in about the center of their chest and their pole is at or below weather level. So they are in this calm default unless they are receiving a cue from you. So that is such a big one. If you don’t have calm default, then of course the horse is going to be all over the place mugging you and things like that. So that’s a really important foundation behavior. Do you want me to keep going? So these are go into more detail in the ending?

Stacy Westfall: [00:48:38] Yeah, I’m kind of sitting here laughing because this is like confession time. OK, I’m going to I’m going to say that you’ve you probably have a little bit of this thinking, because when I was listening to you talk about the story with Ameera and deciding to do a complete liberty, start with her. Yeah. The mental state you were in to be able to head down that road, because it I think that’s in the very first video that you on the mystic experiment.

Mustang Maddy: [00:49:10] Correct.

Stacy Westfall: [00:49:11] And you talk about like you didn’t bring your halter, you know, you ended up doing this and you just kept going down that trail. This is this is how I’m going to give myself permission to feel like I didn’t just, you know, dove off the deep end on my own. So you sent me the one of the best parts of my life right now is that I remember being a little girl in Maine who’s considering sticking a hot potato up my sleeve, trying to figure out how impossibly. Make this work and being like this does not make any sense. I remember living that life and I’m now here where I feel really confident around my horses and I can be playful, really playful. So when I looked at clicker training, I there’s a lot of areas. I did this to dressage. I’ve done this to a lot of different areas where I look at something. But I almost don’t want to look super close to it because I want to go play. I want to play with it because there’s a piece of me that’s I’m not a beginner in this world. And so I know how to keep myself safe. I got to keep my horses safe and I know how to read both of our emotions, my own, whether I’m getting, you know, frustrated or something like if I’m if I’m feeling a way that I don’t want to be around the horses, I’m not going to do that. And I also can see my horses. But at the same time, they’ve seen me so much. They’re usually like that one that humans. Interesting. But we don’t know what she’s going to do with us. But she’s interesting. So I know this already. So when I approached the clicker train, you’re sitting down here listening and I’m like, OK, good, good. I might be getting a passing result because I started basically with very little education. I started playing with it, but I say little education, but I bring all my background.

Stacy Westfall: [00:50:56] So I did a shocking number of the steps that you just lists on, which is kind of interesting because I like so the calm default one, you know, like I ground time my horses when I go to saddle them. Yeah. So like at this barn at my previous one, it was like the cross ties were there, everything was there. You just kind of did some. I’m like we’re not even building it as an option. Like literally the saddles don’t sit anywhere near where you could tie a horse, like in in that way, you know, you lay them over your ground time. So in the way that you’re talking about having the negative reinforcement and then the positive room for it’s like my horses already know the ground type area. Right. So they already understood. And now this would be a completely different experiment if I was starting more like you were like in the total field with this horse that’s got issues. It’s like you said, I love that you’re outlining like understand where you’re starting with. So I was already starting with horses that knew a lot of, like, my boundaries, their boundaries with me physically.

Stacy Westfall: [00:52:00] So I was like I was already even though so my youngest one is a four year old presto. My little rescue horse is like he’s just hysterical. But he’s this isn’t a question I’m going to have for you in a minute. But he’s not he’s not a quick learner. He’s not gonna be like my husband’s little mare who’s like, you know, got this little genius thing going on where she rolls the ball three times, connects the dots, and that is operating at like a pro.

Stacy Westfall: [00:52:27] But he’s just because he’s not quick. He’s not a quick thinker. But I wouldn’t consider myself a quick there guy. I like to think I look so I would put myself in the category being a slower thinker. I look like a quick thinker in places I’ve practiced a lot, but I’m not quick on my quick on my feet that mental expression of that where. But a lot of our reigning horses are there like really quick. They just kind of they’re just quick processors like that. He was it’s been so fascinating to study his reaction to the clicker training, but then my other ones were also more advanced in their training. But he has really latched onto it. So, like. That default mode. You know, he’s there. But it was it didn’t take him very long. I say he’s asleep because he really is like when I’m showing him a lot of stuff, there’s a lot of stuff. He doesn’t catch on too fast. But I’m almost suspicious that the clicker training is going to be his deal, because it was like as soon as he figured out that he was like four feet like this and the head is six inches below level and the ears. Everything is here. But my eye my eye is live like the only look. He’s this little perfect little statue.

[00:53:38] His eyes were looking at me like, oh, I don’t like, perfect. I click.

[00:53:44] And I click. And he it didn’t. I was really with him. I was like, I’m going to hand feed this horse. This does not sound like a good plan. He’s like he was a nurse mirthful. So he ended up like he did. He was a bucket baby, not a bottle baby. But the next thing I use a bucket baby. So he’s got a kind of like I did it all, so I did it as well as I could. But if there’s going to be a horse that’s gonna be less about personal space. Like, I was his, you know, Standon mother for all those months. So there. And I did I did a good job. But I also know that he’s much more like comfortable in human spaces because he’s like, hey, I you’ve literally been there from day, you know, day three. So but he’s it he just it really has clicked with him. So here’s my question. Do you notice a difference? Like I know you said the really difficult horses were really, really responsive to it. And I noticed that with him he was like, I can see that my other horses I haven’t come to the conclusion yet because I haven’t done it that much. But like my my horse, that really, really understands a lot of the releases and in most situations is like really food motivated. She’s more like.

[00:55:00] Accepting of them. But I almost make a joke. I’m like, you feel like speeding a slot machine because she’s like she doesn’t like she’s not.

[00:55:10] It’s like the treats. Good. But it’s not like she’s not. It’s not like she’s living or dying for it. Like some of them just look like they’re desperate for it. But she’s just really like, oh yeah. Is that a stage. They get to when they accept it where they’re a little more.

[00:55:21] Yeah. OK. Yeah. So. So with that where, where you go to. I know what you’re talking about. You go to like give them the food and it’s almost like, they’re like I’m just gonna type like they’re not really like you kind of have to like pluck it and sometimes like they’re not really caring about it much. Is that what you’re saying?

Stacy Westfall: [00:55:41] Oh, she’s interesting because she’s like I would say, she’s more like I she just looks content. Maybe she’s not the better one to talk about. Yeah. because I think there’s something and she’s the one I think we need to talk about the intrinsic stuff with, which is a whole nother conversation like that. Like there’s I think there’s a whole bunch of layers going on there. Yeah. Let’s talk about the difference between, like, the really quick thinking one, like my husband’s, who, by the way, is also like the one undoing locks and stuff just for fun, like she’s there, you know, she’s just kind of like, oh, can I undo the locks? And then there’s presto who, you know, looks a little more like he’s like. I think the clicker training might be beneficial for the way you mentioned the beginning, it slows it down. But you have to you have to break it into little steps. Right. So it looks like it’s benefiting his thinking a lot.

[00:56:34] Yeah. So a few thoughts come to mind with that. First of all, Yeah., you’d you’d want to break it down. Which could benefit them. And also.

Mustang Maddy: [00:56:46] The reason for breaking it down? Part of the reason for breaking it down is to get a A fluent beagle like B real response basically from N, where you know what you what you’re talking about, like with quick thinking and slower thinking horses. I would like I think about that from Ireland in terms of fluency and latency. So like quick thinking would mean that they’re fluent and you give them a cue and they’re very quick to respond to that cue, which, you know, in terms of pressure and release would make sense that the reigning horses are really sensitive and light. And then this horse that you’ve Buckett said and and things like that is maybe, you know, slower to respond to those cues. That sounds right. You and. And then if they’re. Yeah. If they’re slow thinking, there’s like some latency there, basically. And so so one of the things we want to look at with other reinforcement training is the rate of reinforcement. So I think what most people, too, don’t understand in the beginning about positive reinforcement is how quick your rate of reinforcement has to be in the beginning. That’s why I actually start with just those handfeeding sessions like I talked about back, and simply because it’s just feed, feed, feed. And then and then it’s quick feed, click feed. And you actually, in the beginning, want your rate of reinforcement to be like literally every three seconds you’re clicking. Entreating. Oh no. Not every three to five seconds. Then there there’s latency there. And how can you break it down more so like if I’m presenting a target and it takes the horse five seconds to touch the target.

Mustang Maddy: [00:58:27] Well, how was I putting the target in a new area where they had to touch it? Was it a little bit more to the left? A little bit more to the right than the time before? So I want to get a high rate of reinforcement and high fluency in my behaviors. And then I start building emotional control around food where I can say I can build up, you know, for example, their comedy default or holding on a stationary target. I can build it up to five seconds and then 10 seconds and then fifteen and then 30 and then, you know, even for a few minutes having a horse station without getting a food reward. But I think people come into it with kind of maybe all that. Also this fear around why I don’t want to get them muggy. So when they go to be really about the food, I’m going to withhold the food and give them less when in actuality I will give them more and help them feel saturated. And then and then over time, it’s a more advanced skill to build emotional control. So the reason that you want to aim for fluency as well is because now this is a principle that I never really thought about and when I was using negative reinforcement. But it’s been a total game changer in the world of positive reinforcement training, I think would help your horse as well in terms of building fluency and behaviors and quick thinking, like you said, is Lupi training the Lupi training principle? And I learned this from Alexander Kerlin.

Mustang Maddy: [00:59:54] And it’s basically what the what it says is that you can think of your training in terms of loops. So you have and it’s your ABC is basically the loop. So you’re ABC, the train is your antecedent or your cue the behavior and then the consequence, such as the release of pressure, the click entry. So you think of it as a continuous loop and you want that loop to be clean, meaning that there’s not a lot of latency or frustration or unwanted behavior popping up. So if you present the target to your horse, that’s a that’s your antecedent cue. And they touch the target. That’s B and then you click and treat that C. So if if if the loop is clean, it’s basically just that there’s no latency and unclean loop would be OK. Touch. I present the target. That’s a. And then there’s like a two second or five second cause. And then the horse carries out the behavior. That’s B and then gets the click entry. And then it starts all over again. So. So just one way of getting clean loops is through fluency. And ah yeah. High a high rate of reinforcement. Sorry. Helps you get the clean loops. And then that can result in fluency as well. Because everything you have to understand too, everything becomes reinforcing when you’re talking about positive reinforcement, like everything builds on each other. So if your horse slowly touches the target, you’re gonna be reinforcing them to touch it slowly, though. So that’s something that that might come into play, too, when you’re thinking about, you know, getting the horses engaged, too.

Stacy Westfall: [01:01:34] I think you answered a couple questions there. So first of all, I did skip over even in talking. So the first thing I did was teach him to target by touching. I had sleigh bells in the barn. And so I touched I haven’t touched the. And then I was like, this would be kind of cool if I got gotten to the point where they would like ring the bell. Yes. So I started out with just like you’re saying.

[01:01:54] And then I did a high rate and I was shocked. I was so happy that, you know, because for me, this is experimental at this point because I haven’t done a lot of like it’s like I said, he would strike you as the horse. So when you walk through the barn because he’s very touchy feely and you’re thinking, oh, if we start feeding this one, this could be this could just go all wrong. Rudy actually, but that hasn’t happened. And I think it’s because it’s so clear that it’s associated. And so it was like touch that and then get a treat. And he was like, what? We’re getting treats. I mean, he was like so he quickly closed that. He quickly got to that. And because he is like he because of who is he? He was like he was the one that was like getting.

[01:02:41] He was like, well, if it’s just ring the bell. And it was like just I think I could teach. Just want to pick this thing up. I mean, he is like ragging me to bells. What I said. I’m glad it didn’t start with something like that. Could have been everywhere. Like really maybe you should study this stuff. But he was very.

Stacy Westfall: [01:02:57] But that’s what I liked about it, was he was very there was a clarity to it that he appreciated. But I think what you answered accidentally with my older mare that I’m going to do as my own experiment now is I think what’s happening is she’s so fluent in some of the other things we do that I was doing some of the overlap with her. And I think what I’m seeing is not like it is like she’s got this, like, ultra confidence in this area over here. And it’s fascinating because, I mean, when you look at her, she’s like the classic pudgy pony. You know, she’s not. She’s just not. And it’s not a disinterest in the food. And she’ll accept it. But there’s not a but she’s like in the other zone, I’m right to put it like that, like she’s in that other town. So what I think I’ll do with her is I’ll just teach her something like some random thing that has no preconceived idea and experiment with something like that and then see what happens. And you know what I didn’t do with her. I didn’t do the high rate like I did with Presto.

Stacy Westfall: [01:04:06] I accidentally did the high rate with him because I was like, he needs some help and I need to do a lot of that with her, you know, and but she already knows how to read me so well. Right. I would bet she’s performing. So here’s another question. I’m gonna have to try to wrap it up, but I’ve got so many questions for you.

Stacy Westfall: [01:04:27] So does the clicker training like so like, say you start now and I’d say a year from now, let’s just say a year from now. So at first the rate of feet is really fast. How does that does that taper off? How does that taper off? What does that look like? The rate of feeding Yeah..

Mustang Maddy: [01:04:47] So that will that will change based on a few things.

Mustang Maddy: [01:04:52] So once you are building and clean loops, your, you know. Com d fall and just building duration and various behaviors, like if I want you to try to around me, stretch long and low or try around me collect in the beginning you click and treating just like you’d be releasing if you’re training with pressure really is the very first time they take one step of the structure, one step of the collection, and then you build duration with it. Right. So as you build duration in these behaviors, then, of course your rate of reinforcement will go down.

Mustang Maddy: [01:05:26] And then the other aspect that comes into play is that you don’t always have to reward a behavior with a click entry treat. You can actually reward a behavior by cueing another behavior that was trained using positive reinforcement, because when you’re training them with positive reinforcement, like I was hinting at earlier.

Mustang Maddy: [01:05:51] It’s this process of in the beginning, it is all about the food, like the food is reinforcing and then the click and your bridge signal is reinforcing and then you are actual cues become reinforcing and then you as the person become reinforcing the whole relationship and things.

Mustang Maddy: [01:06:07] But but but your cues themselves become reinforcers. So let’s say let’s say I’ve taught my horse.

Mustang Maddy: [01:06:17] Let’s see. To lower their head. Using a target. Using positive reinforcement. Because I’m keeping the positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement sessions kind of separate and isolated right now in the beginning. I don’t have to click and treat when they lower their head. I could cue them to go touch a target.

Mustang Maddy: [01:06:39] So that’s how your rate of reinforcement will go down to is that you don’t have to necessarily reward every behavior with a click entry. You can reward it by cueing another behavior.

Stacy Westfall: [01:06:53] That makes sense because especially if it’s a behavior they’re already confident with, I’m guessing.

Mustang Maddy: [01:06:58] Yes, yes, yes. The behavior has to be something either high reinforcement history otherwise. Yeah, it’s like it’s like you just you just reward them with, like, you know, some gross peas versus it’s like a great cookie, you know.

Stacy Westfall: [01:07:12] Yeah. Yes. So that that concept that makes sense because they would you know, it’s basically like moving. And I think you alluded to it in one of the things, but it almost be like moving them into that comfort zone like you were, because at one point you mentioned, like, you know, if you’ve got the horse and you click and reward and this was something else, I was mentally out in the barn playing with, its like, you would want to be careful with rewarding a I think one of the reasons why I’m fascinated with this is because if I’ve ever had to choose between rewarding a physical reward. So like let’s just say target touch something on the ground. If I ever had to choose between a horse touching something on the ground and there and the emotional state, I always have chosen the emotional state over the physical body. I mean, ideally, I can get both at the same time. I mean, that’s what I want is I want both at the same time. But if one has to go versus the other, I’d be much more likely to accept like the barest of minimum, like the you know, like their head moved an inch towards a target that’s five feet away, like it’s in perceivable. But they were in. But they were mentally in a growth zone. That is what I value so highly is that trainable state where it’s like where they can be expressing a curiosity and. And so they’re not in fear. They’re not like if I could if rushing it and I can get them to put their head over there. But they’re in a state that’s undesirable. I’m going nowhere. Right or backwards. Long term, I’m actually thinking I’d go backwards. So what I hear you saying there, and I think you’ve mentioned it earlier, you’ve got to be careful with the clicker because if you reward touching that. But they’re anxious as they’re doing it. Your. It’s nearly I mean, you’re rewarding both.

Mustang Maddy: [01:09:03] Right? You’re rewarding that emotion. State of mind. Yeah, right. And you can start rewarding, like, frustration to it. So. So one thing that, you know, you can try to aim for in positive reinforcement training is aerialists learning, meaning that basically, if you think if you think about like, you know, you’re like learning gymnastics and every time you go to the beam, you’re failing in some way and not like you’re falling off or the coaches is on you about something or whatever it is. You’re not going to want to go to the being. Right. So it’s it’s the same with horses when we’re thinking about introducing these different behaviors and clicker training that we want to really build up a strong reinforcement history at the beam or at, you know, whatever behavior that is. Because if there’s every time I go to the theme, I’m going to you know, I can do it, but I’m getting some anxiety about doing it then. Yeah., you’re reinforcing that emotional state in the in the behavior. So that’s why it’s so important to be so, you know, so attuned like you are to their emotions, because you can absolutely bring that emotional state, you know, into the into the training in a way that will hurt you later.

Stacy Westfall: [01:10:17] Yeah. And I’m going to jump outside. Excuse me. I’m going to jump outside the clicker world.

Stacy Westfall: [01:10:21] But I, I noticed as I’m like in the performance world, I think people will accidentally do that because let’s just you know, it’s like you you like I can feel when I’m playing with some of the dressage moves with Willow that when I’m a win, like, let’s say that were like, I love to race down our trails out back. And so you can race down the trails. And Pursell, like you raced on the trails. And then there’s places where she’s like, can we raced on the trail? And I’m like, right down the trail. And we’re and we’re both in this state. And it’s not an anxious type of an up, but it’s up. And I’m enjoying the up and she’s enjoying the up. And there’s just so high there’s a high energy and I’m having fun with that.

Stacy Westfall: [01:11:04] It is an interesting thing to study how to bring the physical up and still maintain that ability to think in there. And that is what is when people rush the training in any discipline that involves any. Well, I’m sure you could do it a lot of things, but I’m just going to put it on speed. But when so when you have something that’s like physically demanding or fast the ability to separate that. So basically, to me, it feels like you’re teaching the horse how to be in the zone, how to like how good they can how they can think slow. So it doesn’t bother me at all. The press was a slow thinker because I want to I want to value that ability for him to be OK with taking a time to think. Because in the end, I want a horse that I can have this amazing relationship and they can be an extension of my body and have all the power and beauty and and and everything there, but that they’re mentally thinking slow and in the zone. Right. And so, yeah, I, I am absolutely fascinated. And we’re going to have to talk again, whether it’s on the podcast or off the podcast, because I’m going to have to know more about this. Well, I’m playing with it anyway…

Mustang Maddy: [01:12:18] This is so exciting that you’re playing with it.

Stacy Westfall: [01:12:26] Yeah. Well, is there anything as we’re closing that you’d like to leave the listeners with for a thought?

Mustang Maddy: [01:12:32] Yes. So I, I think that I would like to tell you guys who are listening that inspired by Stacy by your reflections. I just love the way you’re approaching learning about positive reinforcement from this place of curiosity and playing with it and exploring what’s possible. And it’s almost like, you know, just enjoying head of the mystery of it and figuring it out. I think that so many of us would benefit and having that kind of mindset going into exploring how to use clicker training, because, you know, for those of you to have been listening and might feel overwhelmed by, like, all of my different steps and things like that, you know, ultimately I’ve learned all of that through trial and error.

Mustang Maddy: [01:13:24] So there are definitely no shortcuts and processes you can take to figure this out more quickly. But at the end of the day, just play with it and have fun. And if you’re doing something that that, you know, maybe is from a place of just not really being educated about it and it leads to some unwanted or undesirable results, then it’s OK. Like, if you’re doing something, quote unquote wrong, which really there is, I mean, to me there is no right or wrong. But if you’re doing the quote unquote wrong, it’s going to get louder and then you’re going to have to look at it and then just use that as a learning opportunity. Rein, toso. So it’s just so freeing because like for me, I get stuck in, like, you know, analysis, paralysis. I have to know everything about something before I go start. Just go start. And if you run into problems, just know that it doesn’t mean positive reinforcement. Clicker training isn’t working. It’s just your shaping plan wasn’t working.

Mustang Maddy: [01:14:22] You know, the steps you were taking to get there. So as long as you like, you realize that and you’re willing to problem solve with it. All of those hiccups along the way are just going to be these little gold nuggets that you can collect. And it’s just so freeing to just dove in and get started and play with it.

Stacy Westfall: [01:14:41] Yes, I agree. Well, thanks again so much for joining me today. And I look forward to talking to you again in the future.

Mustang Maddy: [01:14:49] Thank you so much. Stacy me as well as well. Yeah..

Stacy Westfall: [01:14:57] I have one question for you now. Could you hear my brain kind of shorting out? I’m not even joking. When? In the interview, when I mentioned that press, those kind of a slow thinker and I put myself in that same court category. I’m actually very serious about that. And what that means to me is that when I take an information, I like to have time to process and chew on it. And then this happens to be a subject that I’m in the middle of being a active learner about, you know, in a very, you know, early on way. And for me, what that means is that there’s a dance there for me with like I want to explore it and explore it without too many concepts in my brain. And then I want to circle back around. And so it was like, oh, so tempting to keep asking questions. And yet I want to leave my brain open. And so Yeah. between that and the process of like being a slightly slower thinker myself, like, I think you could hear my smoke coming out of my ears during that conversation if you’d like to learn more.

Stacy Westfall: [01:16:04] I suggest you go to Mustang Maddy dot com and she has amazing stuff over there. She has graciously given us a link to a free PDF download that actually talks about the differences between the positive and negative reinforcement. And I think it goes really well with this podcast. So if you’re interested now, I’ll make sure to put links to all of these in the show notes, but that you can find it Mustang, Madie, MDD, Wired.com, the I’m sorry, forward slash the dash compassionate dash cowgirl dash show. And again, I’m going to put links to these in the show notes. You can also find that link on her YouTube channel under the Mystic experiment, which is the video I was referencing. Having watched some of those videos in the first video, you’ll find this PDAF download link underneath there and that YouTube. So if I haven’t totally confused you, just go to my Web site, Stacy, Westfall.com. Find this interview podcast and I’ll have all the links. Really easy for you right there.

[01:17:15] I hope you’re enjoying these interviews as much as I am. If there’s a subject you would like to have me cover, shoot me an email or leave me a voicemail and let me know. Thanks again for listening and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

[01:17:34] If you enjoy listening to Stacy’s podcast, please visit Stacy Westfall dot com for articles, videos and tips to help you and your horse succeed.

Links mentioned in podcast:

Mustang Maddy’s YouTube videos Stacy referenced: The Mystic Experiment

Link for PDF download, Key Differences Between Positive & Negative Reinforcement Training: https://www.mustangmaddy.com/the-compassionate-cowgirl-show/

Here is the photo of Roxy’s mouth showing evidence of peppermint treats:)


  1. Pam Wheeler on December 20, 2020 at 3:38 pm

    Stacy, I’m so excited you are exploring clicker training and did this pod cast with Mustang Maddy.
    I don’t have my own horse, yet :-), but I get to work with horses at a horse rescue that I’ve been volunteering at for many years. The assistant trainer at the rescue has been incorporating positive reinforcement training (PRT) techniques into her training toolbox for the past few years and has been teaching some of us volunteers the techniques. I’m having so much fun learning and growing as a trainer with PRT. About a year ago, I first used PRT with a hard to catch, head shy mini and within a few short sessions he was walking up to me when I came in his paddock and was letting me touch his ears without flinching. The cool thing is, this behavior continued even after he stopped receiving treats. I am currently using PRT with an old quirky mare that doesn’t seem to have a desire to connect with people. One interesting thing I’ve discovered using PRT is that she sometimes gets stressed without showing any external signs. I only know she’s stressed because she stops taking treats. One session I was working with her and a lawn mower came near. She seemed oblivious to it but she wouldn’t take any treats. After the lawn mower left, she went back to taking the treats. This is such a fun and rewarding training method for both horse and trainer. It can be fantastic for helping to build a horses self confidence but an unanticipated side affect has been, my self confidence has grown too. I hope more and more trainers venture into incorporating the techniques into their training programs. I’m currently learning how to start liberty work using PRT. The horse I am working with tried being a “cookie monster” when we first started with PRT but, the “funky chicken” technique (I picked up from one of your ground work DVDs with Popcorn) put a quick stop to that, lol.

    • Stacy Westfall on December 25, 2020 at 8:25 pm

      Pam- Congratulations! You are one of the winners! Please email me your mailing address so I can get YOUR NEW QUICK CATCH HALTER to you! It will be fun to use at the horse rescue…we love it around here!

  2. Christie on December 20, 2020 at 12:33 pm

    Thank you for introducing me to clicker training! I had not heard of it used for horses and it was facilitating to hear your conversation with Maddy. I love that you ask all the questions I was thinking. I’m going to do more research on these techniques as I think they might be helpful for my filly that is very similar personality type to your Presto :). I would have thought the same about giving her treats and becoming a cookie monster but so interesting that I could possibly use that to my favor in training her.

  3. fiona Brown on June 30, 2020 at 6:54 am

    Hi This couldn’t have come at better time.I have a foal i am weaning atm. I am dong things differently with him. I want to do some clicker training with him. i have done a little with my dog so have a slight understanding.I have watched Mystic Experiment and found it so interesting. When you guys were chatting, i was feeling that excitement in my belly. It was like you guys were answering all my questions and when it finished i wanted more because i want to know more. lol. I will be listening to this podcast quite a few times.Looking forward to the next one.

    • Sophia on August 23, 2020 at 7:40 pm

      That sounds great! Make sure you teach your horse treat receiving mode…otherwise you’ll create a cookie monster ?

  4. Ann Chace Rapoza on June 28, 2020 at 5:37 pm

    I really loved this episode and hope you will have Mustang Maddy on the show again to talk more about clicker training! Thank you Stacy for all you do…..really I love all the episodes but this one was extra special!

  5. Alexa Ebaugh on June 26, 2020 at 9:52 am

    I love that you explored this thought! I have been experimenting with treats and clicker training to become more interesting to my horse who, historically, was completely disinterested in engaging with me willfully. (It worked!) My horse now walks up to me with when I call to him in the pasture and chooses to spend time with me without the need of “catching” him. Now I am phasing out of treats and trying to use techniques Warwick Schiller has recently been explaining on Youtube. Will you speak with Warwick Schiller in a future podcast?

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