Achieving my equestrian dreams, using horse friendly training methods. Sharing my experience with you

It is already November, almost December. This time of year I like to reflect. This way I can see what my accomplishments were in 2016 (and feel good about myself), figure out what my pitfalls were (if I had any) and use this information to improve my training approach in 2017. Do you want to join me? You can sign up for free at HippoLogic’s website.

Reflecting on 2016

When I read in my training logbook of 2016 I smile. I see so many small improvements we made, but all together it is a big improvement. Here are just a few of the achievements I found, reading back. The list is really too long to summarize here.

Husbandry skills

  • We worked on the ‘Carpet of Motivation‘ (I taught Kyra to ignore grass and also to stop grazing on a light cue and even leave a juicy patch of grass when I ask her to come along)
  • We worked on her behaviour during hoof trims. We practised to keep her legs longer up in the air without losing balance, don’t pulls the leg back, lift legs before the farrier starts using R-techniques like squeezing chestnuts or tendens. This seems like an on going training goal, but this year I really see a lot of improvement.
  • Haltering skills. I retrained another horse and taught him to put his head in the halter. This was such a nice little touch that I came up with the idea to teach Kyra too to ‘halter herself’. Now I hold the halter in front of her and she puts her head in there herself.
  • Improved positioning at the mounting block. Now we can do this even at liberty (thanks to the hip target), watch the video here.

Trick training

  • Hug (from this book Horse Trick Training)_tricktraining_horse_hug_hippologic.jpg
  • Simple bow
  • Score‘: Kyra picks up take an object on cue and puts it in a bucket
  • Hip target: move towards the target with her hip. She can do the hip target left and right. If I would have known that this exercise would be so easy to teach I would have started this years earlier. I thought it would be very complicated so I procrastinated starting. It comes in handy in all kinds of situations.
  • Confirm and polish Spanish walk at liberty, under saddle and on the long reins. It turned out to be very simple to transfer this exercise once she understood it.

Riding

  • Practised riding with other horses/riders in arena. Kyra acts scared and defensive towards other horses if they come too close. She has improved, but with a new horse it starts all over.
  • Improved cantering: transition trot-canter and we worked on duration of the canter successfully.

Long reining

  • Made a start with cantering on the long reins

At liberty:

  • Jumping at liberty
  • Jumping at liberty over a double jump

This is just a small selection of things we worked on. I really like to read back in my journals because it makes me realize how easy we forget the good things and all the improvements.

Goals in 2017

My goals for next year will be simply building upon the achievements from this year. I will start on lateral gaits in canter and improve the lateral gaits in trot under saddle and on the long reins. I also want to add some new tricks like catching a cloth, levade and kneeling on one knee.

My 2017 To do-list

I will also write down some fun things I want to do that aren’t real training goals but things  I like to do with my horse such as trail rides, a photo shoot, participating in _cooperative_horse_hippologica horse agility competition and practice riding a pas-de-deux. Riding a pas-de-deux is on my goal list since Kyra’s behaviour under saddle and being close to other horses could stand improving.

Do you want to join me?

Are you inspired yet? I know I am!

December will be HippoLogic’s Goal Setting Month. I am thinking hashtag #decembergoalsetting. Do you need some help to set some goals and stick with them?

Sign up for my free course at http://clickertraining.ca (Please check your email/spam folder to find the confirmation link.)

If you want to get inspired or become an inspiration to other equestrians join my Facebook group Happy Herd and keep in touch! Clicker trainers welcome!

Happy goal setting!

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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Since I was a little girl, I was fascinated by horses. Every year on my birthday and every Christmas I asked for a pony. I dreamt about riding and training horses at liberty. Of course in these fantasies the horse and I were one.

We could communicate in a way that the horse would do everything voluntarily and with ease. I never needed to use force, or use training aids like a bit, a whip or spurs. I dreamt about being friends with my horse and that he would trust me in every situation. That we really could rely on each other…

When I was older I chose to study animal management. A study in which animal-human relationships and animal welfare were key subjects.  After my bachelor degree I became a certified riding instructor. I trained horses, but I still had the feeling there should be something else out there, something better…

The traditional and classical ways of training and riding horses were too focused on getting results. There seemed no place to spent time and effort on the relationship between the horse and the rider. Something I was still longing for. I wanted to train and ride my horse, but wanted to have a solid foundation of trust and friendship first. No one seemed to teach this…

Move away from pain or move towards pleasure

When I started studying learning theory, I learned that there are basically two ways to train behaviour. We all have this in common. We either want to move away from/avoid discomfort or pain or we want to move towards pleasure.  This was when it hit me:  I was still using discomfort to train my horse. Even though I was told I was playing a ‘game’ with my horse, he was still learning by moving away from discomfort (which was called ‘yielding to pressure’ to make it sound more humane).

Apparently you can also do the opposite in order to teach behavior and use ‘pleasure’ to teach your horse new skills. Horses are like humans: we share the same emotions. Like us, horses also like to move towards pleasure.___clickertraining_hippologic

Change the foundation of your relationship

What really amazed me when I started changing my ways is that the relationship with my pony also totally changed. I used to think that I had a good bond with my pony because I trained him from the day he was born. We spent 18 years together. After changing my training approach and using positive reinforcement, I noticed that my pony was also changing. He became eager to work with me, he started whinnying as soon as he saw me coming and he even started to canter to me in the pasture. Something he normally didn’t do. He didn’t walk away, but I always had to come over and get him. In a short period of time we became really good friends and developed a partnership based on trust, which is an excellent basis for all training.

Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t easy to throw out all the equipment that I used to force a horse into doing things. It was a process. A long process with lots of ups and downs.

_carrot_or_stick_hippologicAre you ready to change your ways?

If you are ready to make the change to a more ethical approach of horse training and improve your bond with your horse and have more fun together, let me know by sending me an email.

I offer personal coaching in which I help you train your own horse. I believe that you know your horse best. I think there is more value in you training your own horse than sending your horse to a stranger to get trained. I want you to gain the knowledge and the experience so you become the best friend you can be for your horse.

I wish for every equestrian to have a click with his or her horse.  Visit my website http://clickertraining.ca if you want to learn more about me or my training method.

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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A training diary can be a valuable tool in achieving your training goals if you know how. A logbook is not ‘just a diary’ where you describe what you did that day. In order to get the most out of your training diary keep these tips in mind.

Purpose of journaling
The reason to keep a logbook is to keep track of your achievements and learn from it. Therefor you need to write down your goal(s) and your progress. If you don’t write these down, it is hard to remember them correctly. You can get the feeling of ‘never achieving’ because your mind will adjust your goals and your achievements like a horizon. You will never arrive… As soon as you write some of your goals down, your subconcious will start looking for ways to get there. Keeping a logbook can help you keep motivated.

Learn from experience
If you want to learn as much as possible from your experience you have to be honest and write down the things that you can learn from.

Keep it positive
Practice writing everything down in a positive way, so it is nice to read back. Instead of writing down ‘I was impatient and lost my temper’ phrase it like this ‘I became frustrated because my steps were too big. My horse didn’t understand what I wanted and I became impatient.’

In this way you will find a solution to handle the situation in the future: you ‘lumped’ your criteria. Next time you can decide to stop your training and take a moment to figure out how to ‘split’ the criteria in smaller steps or adjust the context of training so your horse will understand quicker what you want. In this way you set yourself and your horse up for success.

Read here to read 4 easy ways to start a  training journal (opens in a new window).

Training_logbook_journal_diary_hippologic2016

Lessons learned
It is also a valuable to write down all the things that went right. This makes you aware of the lessons you’ve are already learned. It also makes you aware of your strengths as a trainer. After updating your logbook for a while you will see a pattern: the points of learning have turned into things that went right. This is very motivating.

Keep it balanced
Make sure the points for improvement are not outbalancing the things that went right. We all have the tendency to focus too much on things that went ‘wrong’, but that won’t help you form a realistic picture of you as a trainer. There are always a lot of thing you have already mastered. They are important, too.

If you write down three things to change in your next training, also write down three things you are content about. This may feel uneasy to you in the beginning, but positive reinforcement is all about focusing on the things that go (in the) right (direction), in order to get more of it.

You can also split it between the things your horse did well and the things you, as trainer, did well. Example: ‘my horse was interested in my training for half an hour’, ‘my horse made progress in exercise X’, ‘I have set my horse up to succeed by keeping my criteria clear’, ‘I kept my training sessions short and sweet by counting the treats in my pocket before I started’.

Goals achieved
Celebrate achieving your goals: make a picture or video to remember, share it with friends, your coach or your accountability partner. Enjoy your achievements big and small!

Timeline
A training diary also helps you to keep track of your timeline and practice hours. Did it take as long as you expected? You can write how long your training sessions are. Maybe you are used to thinking in ‘weeks or months’ to achieve something, I think it is more useful and realistic to think in the amount of training sessions or training days.

Example: Instead of ‘It took me 3 months to teach my horse to lift his legs for the farrier’ a logbook can help you see ‘it took 12 weeks: each week we practiced 4 days. Each day consisted out of 5 training sessions of 6 minutes max.’ Now you know you only practiced 28 days (not three months/ 90 days) and each day you practiced a maximum of 30 minutes a day. The training took 14 hours in total to achieve your goal. That sounds different than ‘three months’, right?

A training diary is all about making yourself conscious. Keep it motivating and phrase things in a positive way so it will be pleasant to read back.

 

Tell me about your training logbook!

Here is the clicker training logbook I use and give away for FREE:
Free Clicker Training Logbook – Word version: free_training-logbook-made-by-hippologic-2016-word
Free Clicker Training Logbook – Pdf file: free_training-logbook-made-by-hippologic-2016

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

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The first thought that comes to my mind when a person tells me ‘Clicker training doesn’t work for my horse’ is ‘Why not? Is he sleeping?’ Just kidding. (Klik hier voor de Nederlandse versie van dit artikel).

Listen to this blog on YouTube:

Horses can be trained either by using an aversive to reinforce behaviour (negative reinforcement, -R) or using an appetitive to reinforce behaviour (positive reinforcement,+R).

What does the statement ‘Clicker training doesn’t work for my horse’ mean, when someone says that? Does it mean that:

  • The trainer doesn’t understand the concept of +R and therefor is not applying it properly?
  • The horse doesn’t respond to the marker, the clicker?
  • The horse is not interested in the reward the trainer offers?
  • The horse is not paying attention to the trainer and therefor doesn’t respond to the cues and/or clicker?
  • It only seems to works part of the time (with some behaviours)
  • The horse (sometimes) performs ‘worse’ during clicker training

What_if_Clicker_training_does_NOT_WORK_hippologic

#1 Trainer doesn’t understand the concept
A lot can go ‘wrong’ if the trainer isn’t conscious of what he is doing or doesn’t understand what he is doing and expects a different result. The basic terms to understand are: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcementmarker or bridge signaltimingshaping behaviourproper hand-feeding, cues, reinforcer and learning theory.

#2 The horse does not respond to the clicker
Can your horse hear the marker (the click)? Does he knows what your marker/bridge signal means? It usually takes 30 – 50 repetitions (marker+reinforcer, marker+reinforcer etc.) before the animal has learned that the marker is an announcement of an appetitive.

Does your marker sounds the same every time? A clicker always makes the same sound, therefor it ‘travels’ the same pathways in the brain. If you use a special word, it can take longer for your horse to generalize the marker sound, so it can take a little longer for your horse to respond and repeat the behaviour you’ve marked. If you use different markers make sure your horse has been introduced properly to each of them.

The marker is not (yet) paired associated with an appetitive or the trainer has not yet figured out what the horse considers a reward, see #3.

#3 Horse is not interested in rewards
The key is that the reward must be reinforcing the behaviour. ‘The receiver determines the reward’. If the behaviour is not getting stronger, the reward did not reinforce the behaviour so it wasn’t a real reward.

Pay attention to your horses needs and wants. A reward can also vary in value: a tuft of hay can be reinforcing in winter, but not in Spring when you keep your horse in a field full of juicy grass. It is the trainers responsibility to find out what the horse wants to work for at that moment.

#4 The horse is not paying attention
Why not? Is there something more urgent going on for the horse than the trainers cues? Can the distraction be removed or the horse taken somewhere else to train? Does the horse think he’s in danger? It doesn’t matter if the trainer doesn’t see the danger, for the horse it is real. Is the horse in ‘learning mode‘? Is he relaxed and engaged enough to learn?

Does the horse responds to the marker, see #2? Are the cues clear and fully understood by the horse? Does the trainer keeps the horse involved or is he distracted himself? Is the horse frustrated or maybe has mentally shut down for one reason or the other? Are the rewards reinforcing? Is the proper behaviour reinforced? It is all about timing: you get what you reinforce.

_clickertraining_hippologic_reinforce

#5 It only seems to works part of the time
The horse is not interested in the ‘rewards’ you are offering that day, see #3. He might be distracted, see #4.  The cue is not yet established in a different context. The horse doesn’t respond well because the training steps are too big, the criterion has been raised to quickly (also known as ‘lumping’). Or your rewarding schedule is too predictable, see #6.

#6 The horse performs ‘worse’ during clicker training
The rewards have lost their value or the reinforcement schedule is too predictable for the horse and therefor the behaviour becomes extinct. In other words: the click doesn’t motivate the horse anymore.

Of course this is only the tip of the iceberg for the many reasons that positive reinforcement aka clicker training doesn’t work for you(r horse). Can you name another reason? Please share!

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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One of the key lessons in my positive reinforcement course is mat training. In mat training you teach your horse to stand on a mat with the two front feet. Once your horse knows what is expected of him, you can turn this exercise into a powerful tool to teach new behaviours.

Applying Mat Training

Once your horse is happy to stand on a mat you can:

  • Build ‘duration’. This will help to teach your horse to ground tie.
  • Use the mat as indicator for your horse where to stand, aligning next to the mounting block
  • Teach him to step onto other objects like a pedestal, tarp or trailer ramp. You can start placing the mat on or next to the new object first if your horse doesn’t respond to the cue for ‘step up’ or if he is nervous
  • Teach him to put one foot on a stool as preparation for the farriers hoof stand
  • Place mats in the arena and use them to send your horse from mat to mat.
  • teach your horse to go over bridges or step into water
  • Send your horse from mat to mat with a pole or small jump in between
  • And so on

If you want to know how to start mat training with your horse, read this post.

_advanced_mat_training_hippologic

Every horse has a different learning curve

At the SPCA barn were I teach the horses with positive reinforcement, I work with 5 horses. Last week I introduced the mat (a foam puzzle mat) to four of them. It was really interesting to see how each horse reacts in a different way to the mat.

Horse #1

Horse #1 tried to avoid the mat in the beginning and did everything not to step on it. He didn’t even sniff the mat at first. So my first criterion with him was clicking for ‘moving a hoof closer to the mat’. It didn’t take long before he figured out that the mat had something to do with the clicks and he started pawing the mat. Well done!

Horse #2

Horse #2 sniffed the mat right away. It could be that she had seen that the mat had something to do with earning a click and reinforcer or maybe she just has a different personality and training history.

After sniffing, she started touching the mat with her nose. She knows how to target a target stick and a cone with her nose. My first criterion is always ‘interact with the mat’, so I reinforced the sniffing and touching with the nose.

Then I raised the criterion to ‘touch with a hoof’ and I had to ‘set it up for success’ by manipulating the environment a bit. I put the mat in front of her feet and asked to touch the target stick which I held far enough for her to do one step. Indeed she touched the target and stepped onto the mat with one hoof. Then I faded out the target stick and she figured out quickly that touching the mat with her hooves was the way to earn clicks and food.

Horse #3

Horse #3 started pawing the mat right away. This horse has a habit of lifting her legs in order to ask for attention, during feeding time or if she is stressed. If she doesn’t get what she wants, she often alternates legs.

Mat training is a good way to teach her to ‘keep her 2 front feet on the floor’ since this is incompatible behaviour with the leg lifting she does. She is amazingly smart and was the first horse that stood properly with both of her feet on the mat within the first session. It seemed to ‘click’. I have clicked for ‘4 feet on the ground’ many times during previous training sessions. The mat clearly helped her to focus on ‘standing’. I can’t wait until our next sessions to build duration.

Horse #4

Horse #4 stepped on the mat right away as if he wasn’t aware of it. Of course I clicked and reinforced for stepping onto the mat, even though it really looked like he didn’t see the mat. After reinforcing stepping onto the mat a few times I placed the mat a bit further away and he immediately walked over there to stand on it. Bravo! He did step on the mat on purpose.

_428kg

Mat training was an excellent preparation for stepping on a horse scale. Our clicker trained horses were the best behaving clients that day

Each horse reacts differently to a mat, depending on his character, history, experience with new objects, clicker experience and so on.

How did your horse do in the first session with the mat? How did mat training helped you in other situations? Please share your story in the comments below. Thank you.

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question toinfo@clickertraining.ca

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HippoLogic

We can’t always choose to keep our horses the way we would like, but there are some simple improvements you can make to make life nicer for your horse.

Friends
Horses are herd animals and for them belonging to a group means safety, companionship, play,  grooming, mates and more. So being among other horses is a must for them. We humans are herd animals, too. If we want to punish someone we lock them up and if we want to KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERApunish a person severely we put them into solitary. Maybe horses experience the same feelings if they are being locked up alone in a stall. See if you can make a change to let your horse spent more time amongst his own species. Look for a boarding facility where they provide group housing.

Exercise
Horses are animals that by nature are used to move around a lot. They need to…

View original post 350 more words

Recently I have received the same question from several people. Why do you need a clicker when you could just use your voice as a bridging signal? What are the advantages of a clicker?

Why a bridging signal is needed
If you want to reinforce certain behaviour one has to reward the horse at the moment the behaviour is still going on or within a few seconds the behaviour has stopped in order for the animal to associate the behaviour with the reward he is receiving. It is almost impossible to give the horse his reward during the behaviour, which is why positive reinforcement trainers use a bridge signal.

_hondenclicker

Bridge 
A bridge or bridging signal is a specific signal for the horse that connects the moment the reward is given to the behaviour he was doing. Most clicker trainers use a special device named a clicker as bridge. The clicker makes a click sound.

When the horse has learned that a click is always followed by a reward, the horse starts to pay really good attention to the behaviour he was displaying at the time of the click. He is smart and he wants to train you to give him more clicks. This makes the bridge signal a powerful tool in horse training: it is a simple but clear way of communicating what you want.

Animals like it when they have the feeling they can control the environment (you and the reinforcer).

Advantage of a clicker
_secret_horsetraining_hippologicA clicker always makes the same sound and therefor it ‘travels’ the same path in the brain. The horse understands quickly what the sounds means. A click is not influenced by emotions of the human voice. It doesn’t matter who presses the clicker, it still sounds the same. So other people can ride and train your horse without confusing the horse about the bridge signal. The click of a clicker can be delivered instantly. Timing is everything. The more accurate your bridge is, the easier the horse learns what you want to reward him for.

Other bridges
As long as the bridge signal  is a specific sound it can be used. I taught my horse to respond to different bridges. I use the high pitched and long stretched word “Good” as bridge and Kyra also knows that my tongue click is a bridge.

Advantages of other bridges
The main advantages of a verbal bridge and a tongue click are obvious. The first is that you always have it with you. No matter where you go you can always use your bridging signal.

The second is being able to keep your hands free. Using a clicker always requires a hand to click with. In some situations being able to use both hands can have be a huge advantage.

Disadvantages of a vocal bridge
A vocal bridge always has a little delay, because before you can speak you have to inhale fist. Your voice also can differ according to circumstances: a cold may effect your voice, but also your emotions. When I am excited or annoyed the pitch can change, for us it means the same thing because we know the meaning of the letter of a word. A horse knows the meaning of the sounds of a word. Because your voice sounds only “generally” the same every time, it makes a different, wider pathway in the brain. This sound means: a reward is coming. And this one too. And this one means the same thing. The horse needs to decide every time he hears your voice: was this a bridge or not? Therefor it can take a little longer for the horse to become “clicker savvy” with a voice bridge.

When I introduced the word ‘Good’ I still lived in The Netherlands. They generally don’t speak English to horses, so it was a safe word to use. It was a unique sound. I was the only one who used it and my horse was never trained by someone else. The difficultly with the word “Good” in Canada is that other people use it as praise (reward) instead as bridge signal. That means it might not always be followed by a reward. This can confuse the horse.

Another reason to teach your horse the click of a clicker as the bridge: other people can train or ride your horse and communicate clearly. The click sounds the same every time.

Related post: Introduce your horse to the click

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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