When you start clicker training your horse you might want to start with something fun and exciting. I call my basic clicker exercises ‘Key Lessons’. HippoLogic’s Key Lessons (Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement training) are not basic exercises, they are actual training tools. Important and versatile training tools.
In this series I will explain how you can use a basic exercise into a valuable training tool.
Key Lessons for Horses
HippoLogic’s 6 Key Lessons are:
- ‘Table Manners’ for horses (safe hand-feeding, waiting for food reward)
- Mat Training
- Head Lowering
From Exercise to Training tool to Success strategy
When you start teaching your horse the Key Lessons they are simply your goals in training, but once you master these exercises you can start using them as tools. They will help you train other, more complex behaviours.
Once you are using them as tools you will notice that they become your success strategy. That is what I teach in my online course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training.
Key Lesson Head lowering
Head lowering is a very simple exercise to teach your horse to do, yet it is very helpful in so many situations. It can be useful in haltering and bridling tall horses, asking your horse to inspect a scary object on the ground or to help your horse to calm down.
Head lowering can also be a valuable tool if you have to lead your horse under something like a horse agility obstacle or a doorway.
It is helpful teaching your horse your cue to give him permission ‘you may graze now’ (Key Lesson Targeting comes in handy to teach him to stop grazing) or to let him stretch his neck under saddle or while driving.
A calm horse has no problem lowering his head or keeping his head down. This head position is associated with behaviours like grazing and exploring. Both pleasurable experiences.
One of the first behaviours a horse displays when he is in distress or gets nervous is to put his head up so he can see, hear and smell what is going on. If your horse doesn’t want to bring his head down it can be an indication he is not relaxed. Asking your horse to lower his head can help him calm down. Especially when it is taught with positive reinforcement and the horse has to decide himself to lower his head!
Key Lesson Backing
Backing might be less versatile than all the other Key Lessons, but it isn’t less valuable. Backing certainly deserves its place in the list.
Backing can make all kinds of situations more safe. For instance if you have to lead your horse though a gate that opens inwards it is very handy if your horse knows to back up on a simple hand or voice cue. What about unloading your horse from a trailer? I’ve been in situations where a horse didn’t want to or couldn’t back up and it makes it very hard to unload a horse, I can tell you.
If a horse mugs or bites backing helps create space immediately between you and the horse. Then you can make a plan how to address the undesired behaviour. Backing also can be helpful in behaviours like teaching your horse to align with the mounting block or ask him to lift his hoof if he is standing on your lead rope.
Last but not least backing can be used as an agility exercise to strengthen his muscles under saddle or in groundwork.
How you can turn basic exercises as ‘Table Manners’ for Horses and ‘Patience’ into tools is discussed in part I. Read here part II where you can learn how to use Key Lessons Targeting and Mat training to train complex behaviours.
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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect horse women with their inner wisdom and teach them the principles of learning and motivation, so they become confident and skilled to train their horse in a safe and effective way that is a lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
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I love the backing tool and found many uses for it. One you didn’t mention was calming down. My girl is a little stresshead and I often find taking control of her feet by backing her up and circling, puts me back in the position of leader. She (mainly!) let’s go of the scary thing and starts to concentrate on how I’m asking, calming down in the process. Love the post…going to practice lowering as another tool for the toolkit!
Thanks Nat412014 for sharing that with us. Head lowering is a great way to ‘measure’ their worry level, almost like a barometer. If the head goes down all the way the horse is in a beter mental equilibrium than when a horse just ‘bobs’ up and down. Often leading your horse away from the scary thing and positively reinforce her for making the decision to move closer herself, will make a horse more courageous and trust you more.
Yes, add the Key Lesson Head lowering to your tool box and let me know if that one works for your horse too.
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