I am reading a very interesting book. It is called Before Happiness and is written by Shawn Achor. You can look it up if you want. In this book you can find ways to improve your succes rate. The thing I like most is that I have already been using a lot of these strategies in my lessons and in my own horse training and riding.
One of the success strategies is creating mini goals, so you can feel good about accomplishing steps towards a bigger goal. In positive reinforcement we call that a shaping plan or it can refer to your training plan. In the shaping plan you write down the stepping stones towards a goal behaviour. Your training plan contains your ultimate goal, ten year plan, five year plan or (just a ) one year plan.
A good shaping plan creates clarity for the horse (the desired behaviour) and he can also feel successful after each click and reinforcer. It is like saying ‘yes’, ‘yes’ to your horse, so he knows he is on the right track.
Giving yourself a head start
One of the brilliant strategies in the book is giving yourself a head start. I used to skip this part, because it felt like ‘cheating’. Studies have proven that giving yourself a head start doesn’t feel like cheating for your brain. Instead it gives your brain the feeling that you are already half way there.
In horse training you can do the same thing. In a shaping or training plan you write down your goals and you divide them into smaller goals.
What I used to do is start writing down the first step I have to accomplish or teach my horse. I never thought of giving myself a head start by writing down a few steps that are necessary in the process but that I already have accomplished.
For me, a shaping plan to teach a green (non-clicker trained) horse would look like this:
Now I would give myself a head start and write down:
- Safe hand-feeding (check!)
- Trust in handler and not scared by introduction of a new object (check!)
- Standing still behind a barrier and paying attention to handler (check!)
This would be my head start. The fourth step would be ‘looking at target’ et cetera. In this way the trainer can already feel successful because s/he can tick off the first three mini goals.
Try it and I would love to hear how this works out for you.
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
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