The Steigerwald.T New Year’s Eve Challenge
For almost four weeks now, people have been making funny, strange and creepy noises in the presence of their horses. They often attract incredulous shaking of the head or even criticism. I would like to explain once again what this challenge is all about.
In learning theory, the phenomenon of generalization is described by the fact that conditional reflexes and behavior arise not only from the original stimulus that triggers the reaction, but also from triggers that are similar to it. The Pavlovian dog, for example, also begins to salivate when the tone of the bell has a different frequency range.
In order to prepare our animals for New Year’s Eve, we can work with various noises, smells and visual stimuli so that they remain more relaxed during the fireworks on the critical evening – in some areas days before. When horses have stress, when there is a fireball and we don’t want to ignite rockets for training purposes, generalization helps us and them to cope with this task.
Cow bells, dog barking, tools of all kinds (hairdryer, cordless screwdriver, welding machine, compressor, circular saw, jigsaw, mixer, blender, drill hammer, etc.), engine noises (car, tractor, wheel loader, Bobcat, yard loader, moped, motorcycle, harvesting vehicles), the human voice or musical instruments are possible acoustic stimuli that we can use in training.
Optical stimuli have a stronger effect on flight animals in the dark than in the light and the factor smell/smoke is also an element that we can approach step by step during training.

Applied practically, it can look like this: “Behavior is driven by its consequences”. If my animal behaves calmly during the presentation of the corresponding stimulus, the consequence of this behavior is something pleasant. Stimulus – stop – Click+Feed. Thus it combines the actually aversive stimulus with a tasty affair. But how do we get there that this stimulus is answered by standing still? By getting closer and closer from a feel-good distance. A squeaky balloon right next to the horses ears often put them on the run. A distance of five metres, may be good to endure. Squeak-stop-click-feed-one step closer- squeak-stop-click-feed-one step closer- squeak-stop-click-feed-one step closer- etc. At some point there comes the point where my horse raises his head strongly, widens his eyes very much or snorts. At this position I repeat the stimulus until my horse can show a calm behaviour again. In the ideal case it starts to grumble when perceiving the sound and tells us that the stimulus is so positively connected that it triggers joyful expectation.
Distance, stimulus intensity, direction and predictability are the keys with which we gain access to the horse and pick it up where it can still be quite relaxed. This is important because it is the only way to strengthen the calm that we ultimately need on New Year’s Eve. So find the right stimulus to pick up your horse and amplify any desired response to noise, flutter or glow.
It is not for nothing that behavioural therapy is a popular and frequently used tool in psychotherapy to treat phobias. Some horses may not have a “real” phobia, but I see it as my task to give even those candidates who “only” walk around with their eyes open and don’t dare to touch their hay a more relaxed turn of the year.
In our Facebook group “Horse-Agility and Clickertraining” you will find many creative examples of the Challenge participants. Of course I’m also there with Wolfgang, who is much more relaxed now.
On Tuesday, December 17, at 7 p.m. you will get a free webinar with a detailed overview of the training methods and special features. The link to the webinar will be added here on Monday.