How to Teach Your Horse to do Crunches with 100% R+

The body worker/chiropractor came by for Kyra a few weeks ago. She wasn’t walking well and her back is swaying (sags). In this blog I share my shaping plan and point out most common pitfalls in teaching your horse to do crunches.

The equine body worker/chiropractor did great work by helping Kyra’s body relax and getting rid of some blockages. Our home work was belly lifts (abs). He showed me how to do it: by placing your fingertips (using your nails) at the sternum and pushing up.

Of course that worked… He explained it was a reflex. I believe it’s a response to an aversive, not a reflex in the biological sense of the word.

I don’t work with aversives in training, therefor I had to figure out another way to communicate that I wanted belly lifts from Kyra and I did.

I thought of which behaviours we already have on cue (standing square, backing) and used those as foundation for the belly lifts. Kyra now lifts her back about 2 cm on verbal and body language cue and she is getting better at it every day.

This video is session 4 and Kyra totally rocks! She even offers duration: she flexes her abs a split second longer, and that’s all it takes to start building duration, see video below.

Shaping plan

Kyra already mastered standing square (which is part of Key Lesson Patience) and also backing up (Key Lesson Backing). The Key Lessons in the HippoLogic program are the basics you can built all other behaviours on.

Here is the basic step-by-step plan (shaping plan) I used to train Kyra to free shape belly lifts (back lifts):

  • Standing square, weight on both hind legs equally divided (vertical balance)
  • Minimal weight shift to hind quarters
  • Add: flexing abs (belly lifts, back comes up)
  • Reduce: moving backwards
  • Add: head/neck position (Feeding for Position is a great help)
  • Add: duration
  • Add: repetitions

As with all shaping plans, each step can be divided into multiple steps and have to be trained over multiple sessions. Depending on the horse and trainer more steps can be added.

Pitfalls

Training without a system is setting yourself up for failure. Before you start, think about these common pitfalls and prepare yourself.

Shaping plan: Not making a plan before you start. What does the behaviour look like? What are my criteria? When do I stop? How long do I train? If you don’t think before you start, you have to think a lot more after you started. Reshaping a trained (reinforced) behaviour can be way more complicated and more difficult than training a brand new behaviour. A shaping plan prevents frustration in trainer and horse.

Timing: if you click too late, your horse thinks he has to back up. Click too early he thinks he just has to stand or do whatever he was doing (moving his head, tail, legs). Important to click the instant he starts shifting his weight backwards. It’s almost for clicking for ‘thinking to step backwards’.

Reinforcers: if you give your horse verbal praise or a treat he doesn’t value, you don’t get more of the marked (desired) behaviour. Find out what your horse loves to work for. If the wanted behaviour increases, the reinforcer was valuable.

Criteria: make sure you have small enough steps for your horse to understand what you wants. Make the criteria as clear as possible for yourself. Reinforce micro-movements in teaching crunches. Make criteria as clear as possible: eg don’t click for weight shifts while sniffing your pockets (go back and practise Key Lesson Table Manners first. This will safe time later. Don’t wait too long to click or you’ll have ‘too much behaviour’ (a step backwards, instead of weight shift). Goal is to lift the back, not (only) shifting weight!

Benefits of doing crunches

I think you don’t have to wait for your horse to get a swayed back before teaching your horse to do crunches (Pilates for horses, back lifts, belly lifts).

It’s a great way to strengthen your horse’s core muscles that will help him under saddle. Not only for riding but also to help him use his body in the best way he can. It keeps him healthy and strong and is a great way to create horizontal balance. It’s fun too! They learn to use their body’s in a way that benefits them and makes them more body aware.

In this video (session 6) you can see how much Kyra’s back lifts and how much it straightens.

If you need a bit of help with teaching your horse to do crunches, don’t hesitate to contact me.  That is what I do: helping equestrians get the results in training they really, really, really want.

Do you want to teach your horse crunches and don’t know where to start?

Book a free discovery call and I will help you figure it out!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the results in training they really, really want with joy and easy for both horse and human. I always aim for win-win!
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