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Why are NH and traditional horse training methods still popular? This is why

You would think that if one knows better, they will do better. Right? I think it is a bit more complicated than that. Here is why.

Natural horsemanship (NH) and traditional horse training are based on negative reinforcement. Negatieve reinforcement is strengthening behaviour by taking away an aversive (= something unpleasant). Pressure-release is an example of negative reinforcement. The pressure (aversive) is taken away to increase or strengthen a behaviour.

__hippologic_beautiful_thing_about_learningClicker training is based on positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is strengthening behaviour by adding an appetitive (=something the horse wants). After the marker signal (the click) the horse receives a treat.

Learning through negative reinforcement (R-)

If you sit on a pin what makes you stand up? The pain? Or the release of pain? Would you sit down on a pin next time if you see one lying on a chair? Or would you have learned to avoid it and check your chair before you sit down? This is how an aversive works: you learn to avoid or escape.

Learning through positive reinforcement (R+)

_moneyIf you find money on the street, you will be checking the streets or wherever you found the money the first time more often for money, until it wears out.

Positive reinforcement is strengthening behaviour by adding an appetitive, something pleasurable. In animal training we make use of a bridge signal, to ‘bridge’ the time gap between the desired behaviour and the appetitive. This is also called a marker signal, to ‘mark’ (click) the desired behaviour.

Downsides of using positive reinforcement

The difficulty with the use of positive reinforcement in training is that you have to let go of all traditional ways you’ve learned to train horses in the past. If the horse doesn’t perform the desired behaviour, more pressure is applied or even coercion until the horse does what he has to do.

When a trainer uses positive reinforcement, he has to stop and think when a horse doesn’t perform the desired behaviour. He can’t simply ‘click louder’ or ‘give a bigger reward’ before the desired behaviour has happened. R+ is not bribing. Bribing doesn’t give long lasting results.

A trainer has to investigate why the horse doesn’t do the exercise he was cued for: Is it physical? Can the horse perform the exercise? Is it a psychological reason? Is he fearful, does he have a negative association, is another behaviour more reinforcing, is he performing self reinforcing behaviour and so on.

Investigate the motivation of the horse

In other words; a positive reinforcement trainer is always investigating the horse’s motivation. Is it internal (eg hunger) or external (something outside the horse). He wants to understand the reason the horse isn’t cooperating, so he can solve it.

This takes takes skills: you have to have knowledge of the natural behaviour of the horse, his natural needs (how his body works) and recognize his physiological state (interpret body language). On top of that you have to have patience and know how you can motivate a horse with appetitives (things a horse wants to have and is prepared to work for).

Skills

Training a horse with positive reinforcement takes more skills than training a horse with negative reinforcement. If a horse doesn’t respond with the desired behaviour, the first reaction of the trainer is to apply more pressure, make the signal aversive in order to motivate the horse to move.

If you have been told over and over again to apply ‘more leg’ or ‘a light tap of the whip’ you have not learned to think about the reason the horse is not motivated. You just do as you’re told and that is what you keep doing.

Only if you run into real problems with the horse you are ‘forced’ to think about another solution.

Why are people are still using negative reinforcement?

1. The most obvious reason is that riders in general still are not taught about positive reinforcement. The horse world is still very set and traditional.

 

2. Another reason is that negative reinforcement used on the horse, is positive reinforcement for the handler/trainer.

Let me explain. Every time a rider applies an aversive leg aid (one that is trained traditionally with pressure-release until the horse reacts in the desired way) and the horse responds with the desired behaviour, the rider is reinforced positively.

negative reinforcement horse is positive reinforcement rider

Photo: Nelda Bogado

The word ‘desired’ behaviour already tells you. It is the outcome the trainer/rider/handler wants. So every time a trainer applies pressure-release and the horse responds positively it is the trainer that feels rewarded and reinforced by the outcome of his action.

It is only when the trainer has to apply so much pressure that it becomes uncomfortable for him/herself that people start to question negative reinforcement. That is the moment training is not positively reinforced by what the horse does, that is the moment people start to search for ‘other ways’.

Hopefully they find positive reinforcement and discover that developing a relationship with a horse and training him can go hand in hand. Training can be a win-win situation!

Positive reinforcement for the horse is also positive reinforcement for the trainer: the trainer gets the desired behaviour from the horse and (s)he gets to feed the horse. Feeding an animal from our hand is something we all love to do!

_Rplus is Rplus_hippologic

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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.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my *new* online 8 week course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training.

 

 

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How to Start Setting Your Goals and Achieve them in 2018!

Last week I took my notebook and I sat in Kyra’s paddock to meditate. It was really relaxing and suddenly I thought of some brilliant additions to add to my horse training plan for 2018. I am always on the look out for good ideas about planning or training animals.

This time I found it in a business strategy.  The planning for the business is based on a theme, a vision and also on values. I never deliberately used a theme in my yearly training plan, but I’ve heard about it for personal planning.

Pick a Theme

Now I moved Kyra to a barn next to the dyke and to access to the beach it was obvious _beach_hippologic_goal.jpgthat my theme of 2018 will be ‘trail riding‘.

I have been preparing Kyra since she was a yearling: taking her out on the road to get used to traffic, taking her out of sight of her herd (literally one step at the time) to give her confidence to be alone. She was really herd bound in the beginning, but now I can offer her so much, she likes to go with me too. I think she knows she will always get back to her equine friends._despooking om the road_hippologic.jpg

What are your Values

The business strategy plan I read was based on values.  When I thought about my own values in the context of horse training I discovered I have a lot of (non negotiable) values.

The things I always keep in mind during training are: welfare of the horse, clarity, natural behaviour of the horse, safety, fun, learning, trust, positive reinforcement training, control of environment (for the horse), choices, challenges, developing and motivating (in a pleasant way)._give an appetitive HippoLogic

They might not all be considered ‘values’ in the strict sense of the word, but those are my pillars of every interaction with horses. When I thought of my values in training everything became so clear. It was an epiphany!

Eureka!

Wow, suddenly I could just see in front of me what fits in my training plan and training methods and what doesn’t. It was if everything that fitted my values was clear and with a golden aura and everything I don’t value looked dark and in the background.

Now it was clear why we aren’t ‘dressage level 4’ yet. This goal isn’t supported by what I value in training and in my relationship with my horse! It was so easy to let that goal go, it was amazing! It gave me such a good feeling. I didn’t have to swim upstream anymore!

What is your Vision

The business strategy also was based on a vision. I do have a clear vision for Kyra so that was easy to write down. I’ve been writing that down for the past 8 years and it almost never changes. Well… some things drop out such as turning Kyra into a level 4 dressage horse in the usual sense of the word. We already mastered some of the requirements and we will be working on the others.

I thought of my vision for my horse before I got Kyra and it was quite a process to get it clear as a bell. It helped me find the right horse for me!

_HLhippologic_listening to your horse_clicker_trainingI wanted Kyra to be an all round horse. A calm, comfortable and agile trail riding horse to feel safe where ever we go, a wonderful demo horse to give demonstrations positive reinforcement training or give an exciting show with. I wanted her to be strong and prepared to carry a rider, so there is where the dressage exercises (long reins and later under saddle) come in: to help her carry a rider in a comfortable way. I  also would like her to be a lesson horse to teach riders to use subtle cues instead of commands. Above all I wanted a horse to connect with.

What are your Dreams

I also added my dreams into my plan, my long term goals are all based on my equestrian dreams. the things I would really like to accomplish with Kyra.

Many of them already are reality. I know this because I kept al my plans and my training logbooks from the past 8 years and I made pictures and videos of all my accomplished goals: from walking on the street for the first time, until the first trail ride.

Write a Training Plan

Every year I make a training plan for Kyra. I use groundwork (work-in-hand, despooking, horse agility and so on), husbandry, riding, long reins and trick training as pillars. In each column I put a goal that serves my theme (‘trail riding’ in 2018) and is in alignment with my values. I write down what I will work on every month for each of those pillars, so I always have something that I can focus on.

Plan Your Dreams

Do you make plans? Do you have dreams that you would like to turn into reality? What are those? Please share them in the comments, I would love to know what you want to accomplish with your horse. Thank you and Happy Horse training in 2018!

Related posts

This is how I plan my Equestrian Year 2018

It’s December start planning for next year

How to Achieve Your Equestrian Goals

And I have written many more. I like planning because it helps me to be successful.

HippoLogic.jpgSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I improve the human-horse relationship. I do that by reconnecting you with your inner wisdom and teach you the principles of learning and motivation, so you become confident and knowledgeable to train your horse in an effective and FUN way. Win-win.
All my programs are focused on building your confidence and provide you with  a detailed step-by-step formula to train horses with 100% positive reinforcement.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.

 

 

How to Solve Problems with Your Horse once and for all

Often when there is a problem in the horse-human relationship people are looking for answers that help them. They want a solution, for their problem.

In most cases it is the horse that has a problem, with the way he is housed, fed, handled, tacked or trained. I see most people are looking for human centered solutions which often focuses on symptom management, not a cure.

I like to solve problems with the horse in mind.

Human Centered Solutions

In Human Centered Solutions the human gets what he wants:

  1. If the horse is putting his head in the air the solution is often a martingale.

    martingale

  2. If the horse is ”lazy’ (I don’t believe that label is applicable to animals) the rider gets a whip or spurs.
  3. If the horse doesn’t want to walk into a trailer, he is forced into it either by putting a lunge line behind his butt or he has to ‘learn what the sweet spot is’ and is chased around and around until the horse ‘chooses’ the right thing and that is entering the trailer.
  4. If the horse eats or chews wood, the solution is to put a bad tasting substance (sometimes even sambal) on the wood or I also have seen that a horse in his own stable was surrounded by hot wire in order to prevent nibbling on the wood.
  5. If a horse injures another horse, he gets ‘solitary confinement’ as punishment or as ‘solution’.

Unfortunately I can make this list very, very long. I think we can all think of at least 20 examples, right?

Short cuts

Human Centered Solutions are short cuts. They may seem to give a solution because they deal with the symptom(s), but they don’t change or solve the root of the problem. In the long run they might even worsen the problem for the horse.

I like to look at the cause of a ‘problem’ and resolve that. My philosophy is for every problem is a solution. It takes a bit more, and sometimes a lot more to choose this way. In the end it is better and it saves time, pain, frustration for both horse and handler.

HippoLogic’s Horse Centered Solutions

HippoLogic works only with Horse Centered Solutions. Solutions that work on the root of the problem, not the symptom.

Head tossing

In cases where the horse throws his head in the air, let’s find out why:

Is he in pain?

  • Does the rider have harsh hands? Teach the rider how to balance and take the reins away until he has an independent seat.
  • Does the rider bump in the saddle or is unbalanced? See above
  • Are the horses teeth causing pain (hooks on his molars)? Let a vet or equine dentist take a look at his teeth.
  • Does the saddle fit? Call an independent saddle fitter (not a sales person).
  • Is the horse physically OK? Ask the vet to check him out.

Is he anxious?

  • Does the horse try to flee? Give your horse confidence with training.

    hippologic

    hippologic

  • Does the horse try to bolt or rear? Why? Find out if he is in pain, if he does get enough exercise, gets too much grain and so on. Change what he missed into what he needs.

Is it learned behaviour?

  • Does the horse get reinforced by throwing his head up in the air? Change the training and reinforce him more for the opposite behaviour.

Lazy horse

If a horse is labeled ‘lazy’ I want to find out why. What does he do to get labeled as ‘lazy’? Does he not walk, trot, canter fast enough or doesn’t he react (fast enough) to the riders cues?

Does the horse know?

  • Does the horse know what is expected from him? That he is supposed to go faster or react faster? Does your horse know what the leg aid means? Teach the behaviour first, then put a cue on it. Reinforce the desired behaviour with something the horse wants!

Why is the horse not motivated to go faster or react quicker?

  • Is the horse tired? Does he gets his REM sleep (the only get REM sleep when they lay down to sleep) or is he sleep deprived? Take a look at his housing and check if he is laying down at least once every 24 hours.
  • Is the horse tired because he spent his energy on something else? Is he nervous, does he have to guard the herd, is it a stallion and is it breeding season?
  • Is the horse in good shape? Does he have the stamina that is asked? Is he overweight? Is he physically able to move better or faster? Let the vet check him out and ask a equine nutritionist (not a sales person!) for advice.
  • Is the horse not motivated enough? I like to use positive reinforcement to motivate a horse and a marker to mark the desired behaviour (increased speed or faster reactions to the handler cues). That is a bit of a puzzle, but once you figured it out you have solved the problem for the rest of the horses live (if he lives another 25 years that is worth your time investment)!

I can go on and on. This is only the tip of the iceberg of possibilities you can try.

Trailer loading, wood chewing and dangerous horses 

_trailer loading_hippologicIn these cases too, I focus on the cause of the problem: is there fear, pain, misunderstanding, physical needs or welfare issues that are at play?

It takes time, effort and knowledge to understand what the problem really is. Sometimes it takes even more time, effort and trial and error to figure out a sustainable solution. But if you do, it is worth it, because you know it is a horse centered solution! Therefor you encountered the real problem and you are now understanding your horse. Who doesn’t want that? What is a better base for a relationship?

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below. Or post your comment, I read them all!

Or just hit the like button if you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

HippoLogic.jpg
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.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover what else I have to offer.

 

 

Questions that may change the way you think about Horse Training

I loved horses as long as I can remember and according to my mom I saw horses everywhere. After years of asking my parents for a pony and riding lessons, I got riding lessons. I found a free lease pony just a block away. In the city! wasn’t that a wonderful coincidence that the only pony’s in the city were 500 meters away?

I loved my weekly riding lessons very much, but  I had many questions that no one could answer. Some of them I still haven’t found an answer to. Questions like:

1. How come spurs are meant for ‘refinement’ and ‘lighter’ cues?

sporenI still don’t understand it. If you look at spurs scientifically you know that if the point of pressure/surface decreases (spur versus leg), the pressure increases.

It does make sense that you don’t have to use as much pressure (if you choose to use pressure/release to communicate) with a spur than with your leg, but how does this ‘refine’ the aids for the horse?

How come the rider suddenly need to use more pressure when he gets more advanced?

2. Why do you have to learn to ride with ‘your seat’ if when you are advanced you get spurs?

The spurs are not attached to your seat but to the foot of the rider, a body part that you’ve been told for many years not to use on your horse. Honestly I have seen spurs more used on ‘lazy’, unresponsive horses than on sensitive, well trained horses that are willing to work for the rider.

3. Why do you get twice as many bits when you are riding higher dressage?

dressage_bridleHow is more bits, less? How can more bits be ‘more refined’ or give ‘lighter cues’? When you start to ride, you learn that you have to ride with your seat, not with your reins. When you get ‘advanced’ you suddenly need two instead of one bit? How is that possible? The bits I am referring to is the curb bit with lever action in combination with a bradoon.

Again, I see that the more lever action you have on a bit the ‘lighter’ you can be as rider, but how does this make the horse better? How does this contribute to the ‘Happy Athlete’ so many people call a dressage/performance horse? I just don’t get it. Unless, it (horse riding) is not about the horse…

Speaking about athletes…. I
f you want your horse to be a Happy Athlete, don’t you want him to be truly happy? Don’t you want what is best for your horse?

4 Why do people call a dressage horse a ‘Happy Athlete’?

happyathlete_or not

They take away their freedom and lock them up 22 or 23 out of the 24 hours. How can that be a happy horse? I have only seen once in 40 years a ‘Happy Atlete’ in a pasture with other horses (Grand Prix level horse). Roomy group housing is #1 priority if you want to encourage natural behaviour and welfare. In other words: to make him happy. It is in the 3 important F’s: Freedom, Friends and Forage.

 

Speaking about forage: why don’t we give Happy Athletes a diet that is natural and suited for the horses digestive system? ‘Happy’ Athletes are usually given a starch rich (grains) and oil rich diet and without enough roughage (his natural diet). How can feeding  a horse something his body isn’t really adjusted to, make him feel good and happy?

Most of the ‘Happy Atletes’ I have seen (except for the ones I saw in The Netherlands in a field) suffer from all kinds of stereotypical behaviours. How are they ‘Happy’ Athletes?

What questions do you ask?

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer online horse training courses to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that is FUN for both you and your horse.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.

 

 

 

3 Tips to Turn Your Training Journal into your most Effective Training Tool

The other day I was reading back in my training journal. I was in a bit of a rut and I realized how important my journal really is and what it brings me. I have accomplished more in horse training in the past 8 years, thanks to the use of my journal, than in the 25 years before that.

I used to have a ‘diary’ in which I wrote about my training, but it wasn’t helping me. My training journal became a very effective training tool when I changed how I was using it. Here is a little blurb based upon January 9th 2017,  ten months ago. It shows why I like using my journal. You will understand why I recommend it to all my clients.

 

Why writing down your goals is so important

The short term goal I wrote down in my journal in January this year was ‘cantering on the long reins over one long side of the arena‘.
_traininglogbook hippologic sandra poppema.JPGMy pitfall is -and maybe you do this too- is that I have a tendency to move the criteria of my goals all the time. The more progress I make, the more I ‘stretch’ my goal. I keep adding tiny details to it when I almost accomplished it.
The result is that I never feel ‘successful’ because I keep changing (adding to) my goal. Sounds familiar?
This doesn’t set me up for success, at all! I feel like a failure because I can never reach my goal. It is like the horizon: you can always see it, but never reach it.
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Pitfall #1 in horse training: people feel like a failure and give up.

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Success tip #1 Write. It. Down.

Is important to set your destination (not be the ‘horizon’) and divide it into smaller, achievable steps. It is important to describe it in detail. In other words: set clear criteria that you can measure. Suddenly it will be clear when you can check off your goal!
Write it down! That is so important! You won’t remember, you will add things to it if you don’t write it down. Believe me, I am doing this for 8 years and I never been so effective in my training!
I teach my clients this all the time and I see how much it helps them to look back at their goals from three weeks earlier. Then they see that they did make lots of progress and they start celebrating and patting themselves on the back and feel good! It’s awesome to see when that happens.
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Write down your goal and criteria for that goal before you start training!
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Quote from my training journal:
“When I practised long reins last Friday, Kyra cantered along one side of the arena! I didn’t realize how awesome this was. Instead I caught myself thinking: ‘This is not enough. She has to canter more collected.’ I also caught myself thinking: ‘She tried to get off the rail. I still haven’t reached my goal.
Then I stopped myself and thought: ‘This was not my short term goal: collected, and in a straight line and…, and… and…’
My goal was: Cantering along one long side of the track. Well, mission accomplished! We can do this now! Yeey us!
It was weird to realize that I reached my goal! Indeed, it was not yet a whole track in canter, but I did reach an important step towards that bigger goal!”

Success tip #2: Celebrate!

When I read back in my training journal I realized that cantering on the long reins on a straight line had been a struggle for us for over a year! So I decided I could use a little celebration to motivated me to keep going.

In order to celebrate I made a video and shared my success with my best friend, I dedicated a blog post on it and I shared it with my accountability partner. I got lots of praise and checked off my goal with a big green check mark in my journal! Wow, that felt good!

Time for the next step

My next (short term) goal is to work on ‘a collected canter along one side of the arena’ so I don’t have to run along. I will be satisfied with one stride, then two and so on, until be can do one long side of the arena. That is what I wrote in my training plan.
Another goal is to do this at the other long side of the arena (context shift), a separate goal is the other lead in canter and so on. Until everything comes together in a collected canter for minutes and including exercises as a circle.
Watch the video here:

Be specific!

Writing goals down before you start is so important. The more specific you are the better. I tell myself that the criteria I didn’t wrote down or added later don’t count as criterion to celebrate!

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Make it a habit to write your goals down first!
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By working on this one goal (‘catering on the long reins’) I provided many smaller, short term, goals for myself. That is what I like best about training: one thing leads to another.

Success tip #3: Keep track

Another important thing is that helps me succeed in my training is to keep track of my accomplishments in my journal. I do this by making videos and pictures of our accomplished goals. I tend to forget what our starting point was, which is very human. My videos and photo albums with our accomplished goals are very tangible and keep track of our journey: Kyra, from feral filly to success story.
Training journalThe feeling of accomplishment is MUCH bigger and more satisfying when you see where you really came from (your starting point) than when you only look at your latest achievement, which is always only a small part of the total of your bigger accomplishments.
When I am frustrated that things aren’t going as fast as I wish I have to remind myself that Kyra was a real wild horse and the first horse I started under saddle with positive reinforcement. I have to remind myself that I emigrated halfway the process and that this influenced our flow.
When I am frustrated the best thing is to take a look at my training logbooks, videos and photos of all our accomplished goals in order to feel better. When I do this I become always are very eager to go to the barn immediately and work on our next (tiny) goal.
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It's always the tiny goal that leads you to your biggest achievements!
- Sandra Poppema

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Read more about using a training journal successfully:

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicSandra 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.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

Important values in the horse-human relationship: Trust

Personally I think trust is one of the most important values in a horse-human relationship. Without a foundation of trust you don’t have much to built a good relationship on.

It’s easier to love someone you trust, than someone you don’t. That ‘someone’ can be a human as well as an animal. If you trust someone, you can relax in his or her company and rely upon him/her to help keep you safe and not to hurt you.

We can’t learn when we are in fear and our flight-fight response is triggered. The same goes for horses.We learn best when we feel at ease and are relaxed. In other words; when we stay in learning mode.

Trust is not something you can buy (with treats), force (with pressure) or gain quickly. You have to build trust, over time, with your actions. Not with words.

we_trust_actions_hippologicYou want all your actions (handling, training, riding) to contribute to building trust, not to take away trust.

In Dutch we have a saying: ‘Trust comes by foot but leaves on a horse’ which means that trust is built slowly but can be destroyed quickly.

Take this question with you every time you spent time with your horse: Are my actions contributing to building trust or not? If you don’t know the answer, place yourself in his shoes. Observe your horse’s body language, mimic it and see what emotions get triggered. Are you relaxed or tense? Can you still breathe? Do you feel safe or not?

How do you build trust in your relationship and how do you measure it?

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
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.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.

 

 

What is so exciting about the boring ‘basics’ in horse training?

When I started horse riding I started like all novice riders. My instructor taught me The Basics. I learned how to adjust the stirrup leathers and get in the saddle, to sit straight and what I had to do to transition from a halt to a walk and how to turn. Later on I learned how to do a raising trot and how to canter without falling off.

The ‘Basics’ in the past

I remember one of the standard phrases in the riding school was that the ‘basics are the most important in riding’. (more…)

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