R+ Movement Training for Overweight Horses

Teach your horse in 3 simple steps forward movement at liberty. Use positive reinforcement (R+), so that moving becomes appetitive! Stop struggling and running along when you exercise your horse at liberty! Let your horse do the movement! Show him that it pays off. Teach him to love it, so he’ll offer active walks, trots and canters.

Step 1

Teach your horse to move around a cone!

Advantages are plenty:

  • No need to build a Reverse Round Pen
  • No lengthy set up and clean up time
  • No running along with your horse (after all, he’s the one that needs the exercise, right? ;-))
  • No target stick that becomes a crutch and difficult to fade out

How to do it

Reinforce the slightest try. In this video you’ll see, that the start won’t look anything like the goal behaviour at all! Be patience! This is not negative reinforcement where you can almost see the end goal behaviour immediately!

Step 2

Teach your horse to Leave the Cone Alone. Not only teaching him to ignore the cone, but also to leave the cone. And be good with this!
When you taught him that, you can teach him to go to the next cone, and the next.

How to do it

Reinforce the slightest try. Don’t be afraid to click and treat plenty. Especially in the beginning! Until your horse gets the idea.

You’re building Confidence with your clicks! And you give your horse Clarity with your clicks! Both very important to build a bond with your horse in the process. Win-win.

Step 3

Add cones: two cones, three and then four.

Once you have 4 cones you can shape your square into a rectangle. I call it the (HippoLogic) Reverse Rectangle. I took the Reverse Round Pen idea just one step further. This makes it easier for the horse, and … no clean up time!

Advantages of working your horse in a Rectangular shape:

  • Creating straight lines to move along, are much easier for your horse than to keep moving in circles (which is very hard and unnatural)
  • When it’s easier for your (overweight) horse, it’s probably way less aversive as when the exercise (going around in circles) is hard
  • The short sides gives you plenty of opportunity to reach your horse to feed him
  • Corners will help make your horse use his inner hind leg and balance him
  • Corners will help teach your horse to use his body well
  • Alternating a corner with a straight line will allow your horse to relax after a bend. This makes exercising easier and more appetitive than working on a circle or small square.
Train Your Horse to OFFER movement with R+

Join R+ (movement) Training for Overweight Horses Program

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet recommended: No more treats!” or “More exercise” to get your horse in shape? Join my R+ for Overweight Horses program. We’ll address your biggest struggle in getting your horse to move with positive reinforcement. You can only join after a personal conversation, so I can tailor this 2-week online coaching program towards your horse, your situation and your needs! You can book a call here.

If you want to get better at things like:

  • Building duration in exercising your horse with R+
  • Getting your horse in shape and lose weight without a crash diet
  • Creating fun in movement training so you don’t have to keep running along

This is for you. Check out the information page here!

Sandra Poppema, BSc

Founder of the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Sandra Poppema BSc HippoLogic Clicker training coach

Do you really need to stop giving treats in training when your horse needs to lose weight?

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet tell you to STOP FEEDING TREATS!? You know your horse needs to lose weight and get back in shape, but How to do this without treats?

Why stopping giving Treats is a good idea

It seems like a solution to stop offering your horse treats when he’s overweight, right? If you’re giving your horse lots of dense-calorie treats without asking him to burn them off, it’s probably a good idea to stop giving those.

Take a good look at what you consider a treat: Is it calorie rich? Is it nutrition value low? Or is this just the common human approach of “treats”?
We -people- usually mean candy or other low nutrition value/high calorie foods. Right?

If you’re using real treats like peppermints (although how much calories would all the peppermints in one training contain?) are they really having that much impact on your horse’s obesity?

Or can you influence his weight with changing his management? Usually decreasing hay or grass intake and minimizing dinner grain portions have a much bigger (pun intended!) impact on your horse’s weight!

If your horse turned into a Mugging Monster, you can turn that around quickly!

Why stopping giving Treats is a bad idea

When we train horses (R- or R+) we still need to reinforce the desired behaviour from time to time. If we don’t, and the behaviour is not intrinsically reinforcing, the behaviour gets extinct.

Traditional trainers need to use their whips, sticks or ropes once in a while (depending on how much of a threat the aversive still is) to keep their horses in line. ‘The horse needs a little reminder,’ is what they say.

Same goes for positively reinforced behaviours: we also do have to remind our horses (with a treat!) what we want from them (movement).

We need to do that to keep motivation high! Whether that’s in R- or in R+. Or we’ll lose it.

When we clicker trained our horses to exercise and offer movement (walk, trot, canter, jumping, gallop), we still have to offer a treat with enough value, once in a while to keep their motivation high. That’s why it’s a bad idea to stop giving treats to (overweight) horses in training.

If you’re a clicker trainer and you suddenly stop giving treats as reinforcement, you’ll disappoint your horse. He’s expecting food rewards. When he doesn’t get them he can get demotivated! That’s another big reason why stopping with treats is a bad idea.

You can experiment with other reinforcers: things your horse will value. When you get more behaviour (movement) you’ve successfully reinforced your horse to move. When you get less behaviour or sluggish movements or a slower response time to your cues, you know you weren’t actually reinforcing the behaviour and you need to find a better appetitive!


Read my blog about How to Move Your Horse with A Click

Healthy Treats for Horses

Most of my clients find it a challenge to find healthy treats for their overweight horse. Part of it is our own mindset. We usually value “healthy treats” way less, than unhealthy snacks! That’s human thinking! We need to shift our minds!

Start thinking how a horse thinks and how he sees the world. Horses eat about 16 hours a day. That’s their nature! Therefore they will always be hungry (to a certain extent). They love low calorie/high fibre foods! That’s another huge difference between us and a horse!

Ideas to keep training with treats (the smart way)

  • Training a horse with treats, means we can use (normal, healthy) foods to motivate them in training!
  • Take the amount of food (calories) you use in training, out of their daily ration. That way using treats in training won’t contribute to weight gain
  • If you’re horse doesn’t get dinner grain/pellets/ use, alternatives. Here is a list of over 30 options for treats in training.
  • Add interesting options to the low calorie/high fibre foods in training, like cinnamon added to soaked beetpulp, r adding a few sunflower seeds in the low calorie food rewards etc
  • Balance the calorie denseness of the treats with the amount of movement (calorie burning) you ask your horse to do.
  • The more you train (and the better your horse understands what he needs to do), the less food you need! So when you train your overweight horse to move and you need a lot of food reinforcers, knowing that this won’t be lasting forever helps!
  • Once movement/exercising gets intrinsically reinforced (‘runners high’), the less external reinforcement (treats) your horse needs!

Join R+ (movement) Training for Overweight Horses Program

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet recommended: No more treats!” or “More exercise” to get your horse in shape? Join my R+ for Overweight Horses program. We’ll address your biggest struggle in getting your horse to move with positive reinforcement. You can only join after a personal conversation, so I can tailor this 2-week online coaching program towards your horse, your situation and your needs! You can book a call here.

If you want to get better at things like:

  • Building duration in exercising your horse with R+
  • Getting your horse in shape and lose weight without a crash diet
  • Creating fun in movement training so you don’t have to keep running along

This is for you. Check out the information page here!

Sandra Poppema, BSc

Founder of the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Sandra Poppema BSc HippoLogic Clicker training coach
https://mailchi.mp/a0a07dd3228d/rplus-training-for-overweight-horses

Milestones in Clicker Training with Rita the Unapproachable Mule

After a bit of plateauing in our clicker training last week I felt I needed a different approach. Usually there is always something to get excited about, and when I don’t get that it’s time to change my approach.

It can be quite challenging to think Out of The Box and come up with a totally different approach, if what you’re doing doesn’t bring you success anymore.

Plateauing could be a sign your learner might not be learning anymore (in the environment you provide),needs more repetitions or that -in Rita’s case- it’s too difficult or too stressful.

Because of that Rita wasn’t in ‘thinking mode’ anymore and no real learning was taking place. She might ‘learn’ I’m trouble, and that’s not my aim!

Repetition can be really beneficial but when you notice you’re getting the same result (instead of ‘better’ or ‘more’ or ‘longer‘), the repetitions have the opposite effect: learning stops. It also can get boring and predicable. As was the case with Rita. Learning stopped (I can see that in hindsight, but at the time it was difficult to accept that thought). She still wanted to go to the food bowls and (sometimes almost resultantly) ate her food rewards.

Food puzzles

When I asked a good friend, who is also an excellent positive reinforcement trainer for advice, she told me how food puzzles helped her. She and her fellow clicker trainsters were training pigs, but they where highly stressed and didn’t want to interact with humans. Just like Rita. That made it difficult to train them.

She told me food puzzles helped the pigs learn, get used to their attendance and their voices. It took two months. After that, they could easily clicker train other behaviours and made great progress.

I must admit I was a bit disappointed when she told me about the two months of food puzzles…. I’ve been training Rita for 2 months and although I made great progress so far, two months of (what almost seemed to me as “non-training”) sounded like ages…

A cheerful thought

On the other hand; LEARNING takes place! That thought really cheered me up again! And, when you can entice a mule (or other animal) to learn with appetitives (something they LIKE and want to have), you greatly enrich their lives and enhance their welfare.

Now, I could see how a simple food puzzle could reduce stress. Letting Rita discover the puzzle IS the reward, and no trainer (human) involved! And solving the puzzle leads to a food appetitive. Double bonus! I decided to try this! See video at the bottom of this blog.

My next Challenge: What makes a suitable puzzle for Rita

I decided to make the food ‘puzzles’ so easy, that it would be just enough challenge, without stressing her out. I wanted to ask my friend about her food puzzles, but then realized that food puzzles for pigs would be very different than food puzzles for a traumatize mule. Simply because they have different natural and species specific behaviours.

The food puzzle must be solvable by just using their natural foraging behaviour. Burying food would work as a nice puzzle for a pig, whos natural behaviour is to dig, but for a grazer/browser like mule, it would probably be too challenging…

I decided to keep my puzzles easy and low stress. I made different puzzles using items that she had seen before: food bowls, a target, a part of a bottle, a cone. Let me know in the comments if you’re curious about my food puzzles.

Milestone 1: Less Stress

The benefits of my puzzles are diverse:

  • No bridges involved, that stressed her out
  • No human that needs to approach her, to offer food rewards
  • No anticipation stress
  • PLUS: Learning was stimulated and immediately rewarded with appetitives
  • PLUS: Trainer keeps a large distance and isn’t involved in the process (other than set up)

How this will greatly benefit our further training

Now Rita is getting used to the food puzzles, and my attendance and my voice, learning takes place again. I keep talking to her while she’s exploring the food puzzles. The idea is that she’ll make a positive association with me, now I lowered her stress levels due to the changes I made.

Too much stress will inhibit learning. I noticed lots of calming signals and stress relief signals before I used my food puzzles. These behaviours have decreases significantly!

Biggest takeaway

My biggest takeaway from this experience is to Trust the Learning Process (one of my favourite quotes that my clients hear all the time). Thinking out of the box to benefit your learner (How can I make this more fun for RIta and less stressful for her) brings the trainer what she wants, too. Even when it doesn’t seem that way at first glance. Relationship before Results and the Results will follow!

That’s where a second pair of eyes or brain comes in so handy! Having someone to ask for advice was invaluable! It helped me get ‘unstuck’ in my training and make a turnaround in my dead end street I was in. It saved me lots of time and Rita lots of stress! Thank you!

Relationship before Results

At first, I had to let go of the idea of me getting Results. The results I was focused on were Key Lesson Targeting (since we made a good start with that) and approaching her (her personal bubble shrank from about 15 meters in the first weeks to about 3-4 meters)

The benefits of Key Lesson for Trainers #1: Principles of Learning and Motivation. When you understand what inhibits and what stimulates learning, you can change your approach accordingly. When learning takes place, you get (the learner offer!) different behaviours, which unlocks new approaches and ideas for training!

Other Milestones my ‘Relationship before Results-approach‘ brought me

The next blog I will elaborate on the other mile stones that the food puzzles brought us! I can’t wait!

What is your experience with plateauing in training?

Share your story how a different approach lead to better results in your clicker training. What happened that forced you to think out of the box and how did it help you? I would love to hear about your Out of The Box solutions that helped your horse learn better.
Did you need to put the Relationship first in order to get (better) Results?

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogicre you inspired and interested in personal coaching in a group or do you want to have access to online clicker training courses and a fabulous, upportive R+ community, then join our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Apply today!

Move Your Horse with a Click

How often are you adjusting your training in order to make it easier for your horse? If you want to avoid frustration for your horse, I bet this is on your mind all the time! But…

You can make it easy the wrong way and the right way.

Read on to discover if you’ve fallen into the pitfall of doing it ‘for your horse’.

Biggest mistake

The biggest mistake you can make in positive reinforcement training is that you reinforce “not offering behaviour”.  People do this often by ‘doing the behaviour for the horse’ in the hope the horse gets (copies) it.

Let me explain… This is a common pitfall I see many, many clicker trainers fall into. We often do this unconsciously because we still think like a traditional trainer. That’s what makes clicker training sometimes seems to give slower results. Or that it takes longer to teach a horse something new.

Fallacies in Horse Training

In traditional training (R-) you almost always ‘get’ the goal behaviour instantaneously: you give pressure and when your horse yields, you release.

Clicker training needs adjustment in the way of Thinking about training

You wiggle your training stick closer and closer and more forcefully, until your horse moves forward. Voila! You immediately get your end goal results: walk, trot or even canter within minutes.

It’s a fallacy to think we can use the same approach without force. We’ll show the horse what he needs to do and then click for it. If you’re one of those people, you’re not the only one. Go on YouTube and search for ‘reverse round pen’ and find dozens of clicker trainers that move as much or more(!) than their horses, when exercising their horses.

How to get movement with R+

The biggest difference is that in R+ (clicker training, positive reinforcement training) you only can reinforce the DESIRED behaviour when (or immediately after) it’s happening.

Therefor we need to get the behaviour first, so that we can offer the horse an appetitive to strengthen the behaviour. Something he wants to have and is willing to work for.

It’s a thinking mistake that when we tell the learner the right answer (trot), he’ll learn quicker. What you want to do is to help the horse figure out what you want and reinforce his decision to trot.

Teach your horse to move

Next time you teach your horse to walk, trot or canter or you’re watching someone teaching a horse to exercise with clicker training, pay close attention. Often, we want to make training easier by doing it for them, instead of teaching them to offer walk, trot and canter.

When a horse doesn’t start walking, trotting or cantering right away, people often try to ‘help’ their horse by showing them what they want. They move, their horse moves and click! They click the horse for walk, trot or canter, right?

Place yourself into your horse’s shoes

 I can’t tell you how often I see people make the mistake to click for ‘following’ (a target or the trainer), instead of clicking for offering walk, trot or canter. That’s exactly what you’re teaching the horse if you do this: you’re teaching him to follow the target or trainer. And this becomes the cue!

It’s the opposite of what you want. It’s very similar to what people do in traditional training: teaching the horse to stay passive and re-act only of the trainer is doing something. To me “training” is teaching, not simply “reacting”. It will take a bit more effort in the beginning of the training, but it will pay off tenfold later on when your horse starts to enjoy his exercises!

Who is successful? You or your horse

If you think you don’t do this, or haven’t done this, watch your training videos. It might surprise you what you’ll discover, now you know what to look for.

It can be very obvious or it can be most subtle: You might be the one moving first, just before you click. So you can be successful! Think about that: who do you really want to be successful? You or your horse? Most people don’t realize that they are setting themselves up for a pitfall that is hard to climb out of.

If you want to teach your horse to move by himself (building distance) or for longer (duration) you’ll run into trouble if you’ve clicked too many times for ‘follow the trainer/target’. The pitfall is that we’ve done the behaviour for them (we or our target stick moved), so they haven’t learned to take initiative when it comes to moving. Now your horse simply thinks that he needs to do what you do, because that’s been clicked and reinforced. How to reverse it?

Solution

In other words; we haven’t taught our horse to ‘make the decision’ or to ‘take action’ to move forward. Instead, we’ve fallen into the pitfall to ‘let us trainers/our target sticks do the moving and our horses do the following’.

If that happens you’ve taught your horse to stay passive during exercise training. This mistake can slow down your future training tremendously.

Recovering from this pitfall

We can fall into this pitfall in training almost every behaviour: we push our horse gently over so that we can take his leg up (and click) instead of teaching our horse to lift his own leg. We’re touching their legs with a target, instead of setting our horses up so that they will touch the target (and lift their leg in the process!).

Instead of teaching the horse to move on his own, we (or our target) moved and we reinforced our horses to ‘follow’ , instead of offering trot. Sounds familiar? (Go here if you want to learn to teach your horse to offer movement)

When you know better, you can do better

Instead of training your horse to follow you, you can start teaching your horse to walk, trot and canter without you running in front of him with a target. Then you’re teaching what you actually want him to learn. That will be a skill that your horse will enjoy the rest of his life.

Offering the right baby step!

Instead of making the behaviour easier by ‘doing it for your horse’, you have to think about a solution to make it easier for your horse ‘to make the decision’ so he will offer the behaviour (walk, trot, canter). You can use a target or mats to help you. Just don’t let these training tools turn into crutches you can’t do without. These are just tools for training. Your cue needs to become your most important communication tool.

Overcoming fear of punishment

Keep in mind that this (making decisions and taking imitative in movement) often has been punished in the past if your horse has been traditionally trained. They are not supposed to make decisions on their own or start walking. Therefor we need to encourage our horses for the slightest try to ensure them that this is what we actually want in our setup.

Teach your horse to think

When you reinforce taking initiative and making decisions over and over, clicker training will go faster than ever. You’ll get better results and you get the engagement of your horse that makes working together so pleasurable and fun. Win-win.

Need help or have a question how you can teach your horse to listen to your cues? Come and join the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy.

In the Academy I teach you the Principles of Clicker Training so that you can become an autonomous clicker trainer, enhance the friendship with your horse and do the things you really want to do with your horse.

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy 

If you want access to many DIY online clicker training courses, free Clicker Challenges and get weekly personal feedback on your training videos join the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Send in your application today (click the link) so you can enroll the next time the doors open. Only once a month I open the doors, and only for 2 days! Don’t miss the opportunity to join a select group of R+ enthusiasts!

Exercising Your Horse With R+

Interested in learning more? A few times a year I offer courses and teach equine clicker trainers to exercise their horses with positive reinforcement. Most courses are online with personal coaching and feedback in a group, so everyone gets the best results possible. Contact me and we’ll have a chat.

Sandra Poppema, BSc

Go-to person for online equine clicker training

Teaching horse people to make training a win-win and bond with their horse so they can enjoy their time together.

Visit my website

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Join R+ (movement) Training for Overweight Horses Program

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet recommended: No more treats!” or “More exercise” to get your horse in shape? Join my R+ for Overweight Horses program. We’ll address your biggest struggle in getting your horse to move with positive reinforcement. You can only join after a personal conversation, so I can tailor this 2-week online coaching program towards your horse, your situation and your needs! You can book a call here.

If you want to get better at things like:

  • Building duration in exercising your horse with R+
  • Getting your horse in shape and lose weight without a crash diet
  • Creating fun in movement training so you don’t have to keep running along

This is for you. Check out the information page here!

Sandra Poppema, BSc

Founder of the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Sandra Poppema BSc HippoLogic Clicker training coach

What goes on in Grass Training for Horses?

The blog you’re looking for lives now on my own website: https://clickertraining.ca/faqs-grass-training/

Don’t forget to subscribe to the new location! I will be adding blogs about equine clicker training weekly!

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, BSC

Get my free Clicker Training course on my website!

Teach Your Horse to Behave on Grass (Grass Training)

This article has moved to my own website: https://clickertraining.ca/teach-your-horse-to-behave-on-grass-grass-training/

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, BSc

PS if you’re going to visit my site, why don’t you join my FREE Clicker Training course!

4 Ways to Calm Your Horse Down

Do you think it’s impossible to teach your horse to relax? If you imagine it being like a “relax-button” that you simply have to press and your horse instantly relaxes like a ragdoll? No, not like that!

However, you can teach your horse to calm down and relax more, that he is in that moment that you need him to be relaxed! How? Training!

What is training

Training is teaching your horse to respond with a specific behaviours to a specific stimulus (cue). If you’ve trained ‘relaxation’ into a specific behaviour/context, you can recall that state of mind on cue.

We, horse people, do it all the time. Mostly the opposite of relaxation. Think of how most horses all respond and behave, just before breakfast. They are excited! They’re energetic and sometimes frenetic! That’s part of the behaviour that have been reinforced with a jackpot (their breakfast).

Reinforce calm behaviour

If you can excite them with food, you can calm them down with food. I have to say that before I used positive reinforcement I didn’t believe it could be done: teaching your horse to relax. On cue.

The only tool I had to calm down my pony was my voice. That’s what people told me to do. Oh, and to restrict his movement. How many times I’ve heard instructors shout: ‘Shorten your lead rope/reins/lung line!!’

When I was in a clinic with Shawna Karrash Kyra was very nervous, I was nervous and it was hard to calm myself down, let alone my horse. Shawna helped me to teach Kyra to calm down. That’s what we did for two days. I was looking forward to learn very advanced things and at first I was a bit disappointment we mainly focussed on calm and relaxed. I was looking forward to ride Kyra in this special occasion.

Key Lesson Patience promotes relaxation

Shortly after the clinic I moved Kyra to another property. It had a huge automatic metal gate at the driveway, which slides open with quite some noise and rattling sounds. It was there that most horses and dogs always spooked.

I decided to use my newly acquired relaxation skills to calm Kyra down when the gated opened and closed. I was glad I filmed the whole process because it only took 3 sessions to associate the rattling and moving of the gate with calmness!

It was then that the full potential of calming my horse really sank in! This was a powerful tool I now had, like a safety device!

Power of Key Lesson Mat training and Head lowering

Other examples are the self soothing power of mats (Key Lesson Mat Training) and Head lowering. I’ve seen that when clicker trained horses spook they often run to their mat. As if it’s a safety blanket. I’ve seen that they immediately calm down.

Key Lesson Head lowering also helps to calm your horse down and is an excellent way of measuring your horse’s state of mind. If he won’t lower his head, he’s might not be able to due to his state of mind.

Look what happens at 1:18 when Kyra spooks. Where’s she’s going! Now I use training deliberately to teach relaxation.

You can also help your horse to calm down by clicking and reinforcing calm behaviour and associate it with the object that scares them.
Watch these videos:
Kyra spooks at the giant ball
Kyra overcomes her fear for the mega ball (part II)
Fun and Games with the mega ball

4 Ways to use clicker training to teach your horse to relax

  1. Bridging and reinforcing calm behaviour
  2. Key Lesson Patience
  3. Key Lesson Mat training
  4. Key Lesson Head lowering

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
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Use Target Training for Horses two times more effectively

Find the blog you’re looking for, here: https://clickertraining.ca/how-to-use-target-training-for-horses-2-times-more-effectively/

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Join HippoLogic’s Facebook group

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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 make training a win-win.
Get your free 5 Step Clicker Training Plan.

 

How to Teach your Horse to Lie Down

How to teach your horse to lie down

PS Make sure you subscribe to our new blog location!

Happy Horse training!

Sandra

Rehabilitating Horses with Clicker Training

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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crunches clickertraining hippologic

Tips to Measure the Value of Your Reward

I mean reinforcer. Not ‘reward’. It just sounded better. 😉 There is a big difference, let’s take a look at the definitions:

Reward
noun

A thing given in recognition of one’s service, effort, or achievement.
“the holiday was a reward for 40 years’ service with the company”

Synonyms: Recompenseprizeawardhonordecorationbonuspremiumbountypresentgift,
payment;

Informal – payoffperk;
Formal – perquisite “a reward for its safe return”
Reward
verb
Make a gift of something to (someone) in recognition of their services, efforts, or achievements.
Synonyms:

Recompensepayremunerate, make something worth someone’s while;

Reinforcer

A stimulus (such as a appetitive or the removal of an aversive) that increases the probability of a desired response in operant conditioning by being applied or effected following the desired response.

The purpose of a reward is a gift (end of story), the purpose of a reinforcer is to stimulate behaviour! Big difference.

Determine a Reinforcer

_Hippologic_rewardbased training_receiver_determinesFirst you need to know that it’s the receiver (horse) that determines the reinforcer, not the trainer!

Your horse will tell you if something was reinforcing.

There are only 3 possibilities:

  1. You get more behaviour: the appetitive or aversive was indeed reinforcing
  2. You see no difference in desired response:the trainer did not give an appetitive or aversive stimulus but a neutral stimulus
  3. You get less of the desired behaviour, your reinforcer was not a reinforcer but a punishment for the learner. The behaviour decreased.

Low value or high value reinforcers

Low value reinforcers will still increase desired behaviour (they are not neutral) but they don’t over excite or over arouse your horse. Your horse stays interested in your training and keeps paying attention to you.

_treats_in_training_hippologicHigh value reinforcers can help your horse to increase his own criteria of a certain behaviour because the value of the treat excites him.

The downside is that high value reinforcers can cause over excitement and/or overarousal. You want to avoid that because it will distract the animal from the behaviour you want him to offer.

Choosing the Right Value

In general you want to use the lowest value reinforcer possible, that still get you the desired behaviour. It’s still worth it for the horse.

Low value reinforcers will help keep your horse in ‘learning mode‘ and pay attention to the behaviour, not the food.

You can alternate low value reinforcers with higher value reinforcers or you can mix them to up the value and keep it interesting.

_carrot_reward_reinforcer_horsetreat_tips for treats_horsetraining_hippologicHigh value reinforcers can be well used when your horse is nervous, in pain or if something else (a distraction) is also highly reinforcing.

A better ‘pay’ can help him decide to offer the desired behaviour despite of his emotions or other attractive motivators that going on.

It can help your horse to choose to perform better if he knows a high value reinforcer will or might come his way.

Tips to Measure the Value

When your horse grabs the treat off of your hand, bites, moves his head very fast towards the hand that offers the treat or eats the treat very fast, the reinforcer is of high value. Other signs can be over excitement or arousal and concentrating on the food instead of the cues of the trainer.

When your horse sniffs the treat first or slowly eats it, it can be an indicator of a low value reinforcer. If your horse starts to refuse the treat during training it has lost it’s value and you need to stop the training session or switch to a higher value reinforcer.
If the quality of the desired behaviour will not increase (your horse doesn’t try other behaviours/increase criteria) your reinforcers aren’t high enough value.

When your horse stays engaged in your training, keep offering new behaviours and doesn’t show frustration or overarousal/overexcitement the balance of high/low value reinforcers is perfect. That might change over time or when your clicks get too predictable.

Behaviour is not static!

What are some low and high value reinforcers for your horse? How can you tell? Please share your stories in the comments and inspire us!

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If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from or if you want to share this on your social media, please use one of the share buttons  below. I also love to hear your view on this subject, so please add a comment. I read them all!

If you don’t know what to say simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

Happy Horse training!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the relationship with their horse they really, really want and I teach them how they can get the results in training they dream of in a win-win way for horse and human.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula.
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Two Tips for building ‘Duration’ in Behaviour

There are many ways to built on ‘duration’ in behaviours you train with positive reinforcement. I will give an example of building duration in stationary behaviours and building duration in moving behaviours.

General Training Tips

Set your horse and yourself up for success:

  • Make sure the horse understands the goal behaviour before adding the criterion ‘duration’
  • Minimize the distractions in the environment when adding duration
  • Make sure your horse is focused on you and interested in learning

Key Lesson for Trainers: Timing

In clicker training there is a saying You get what you reinforce. In practise it is often quite hard to recognize what behaviour you are actually marking with your click.

Only after a while -when you get a certain amount of the reinforced (marked) behaviour- it shows what you’ve been clicking for, according to the horse. If that was not what you intended, you have to change your timing.

Is your timing right?

If you have difficulties training for duration or other criteria ask yourself: What am I clicking for? A video will help you discover it.

Building duration in stationary behaviours

With stationary behaviours I mean behaviours when the horse is not suppose to move. Examples are: Key Lesson Patience, Key Lesson Mat Training, Key Lesson Head lowering.

Building duration in stationary behaviours can be done with increasing your Rate of Reinforcement (RoR): as long as your horse displays the desired behaviour you keep clicking and reinforcing. When the horse moves out of the desired position you stop clicking and reinforcing.

Timing of the click

The click must be timed when the horse does not move.

timing is everything_hippologicExample 1: when your horse is standing on a mat and it is difficult to built duration, are you really reinforcing ‘standing on the mat’? Describe your criteria and focus on what you want. Standing on a mat: hoof or hooves are touching the mat, horse has weight on his foot/feet.

If your timing is not correct, you might have clicked more often for ‘moving towards the mat’ or ‘moving away from the mat’ than ‘touching the mat’.

Both movement behaviours are present in pawing. If your horse paws the mat, are you really only clicking for the moment he touches the mat or is your horse already moving his leg and are you actually reinforcing the movement of the leg? If that is too difficult to time, start focusing on another criterion: ‘putting weight on the hoof that touches the mat’.

This is an example of the horse doesn’t yet understand the assignment. You need to teach him first to really stand on the mat (not just touching briefly) before adding duration to the exercise.

Example 2: as long as your horse stands ‘Patiently’ waiting next to you, you click, give a treat and when he hasn’t moved, you click and reinforce again. You keep doing this until your horse decides to try out another behaviour, eg moving forward one step and you stop clicking. Once he offers the desired behaviour again you start clicking and reinforcing.

Most horses will learn quickly that ‘not doing anything (else)‘ is very rewarding.

Next step is to withhold the click to built duration

When your horse offers the desired behaviour, wait 1 second (counting out loud can help you and your horse) then click and reinforce. Then you count to 2 before clicking and reinforcing.  Don’t train this in a lineair way and go from 1, 2, 3, 4 to 5 seconds.

Instead, alternate the duration and go from 1 second before you click to 0 seconds (click right away), to 1 and then 2 seconds before you click. Then do 1 second, click, 2 seconds, click, 1 second, click, 2 seconds, 3 seconds click, 1 second, click 4 seconds, click and so on.

Keep Going Signal clicker trainingYou horse learns that as long as you are still counting he must do whatever he is doing. If he moves before you can count to 2, you start counting from 1 again.

If you already have an established ‘keep-going’ signal, you can use that instead of counting out loud.

Building duration in movement

With building duration in movement I mean the behaviours when the horse is is suppose to keep moving. Example: Key Lesson Backing.

Timing of the click

The click must be timed when the horse does move._timing_hippologic.jpg

Make sure you click and reinforce the movement itself and not after the movement stopped or before the movement is happening.

Example: in Key Lesson Backing you want to focus on the movement. You start clicking for weight shift while that movement is going on. Then of one step with one hoof, one with two hoofs and so on. Once your horse understands the behaviour, you can build duration by clicking for the movement only.

Click ends behaviour

Please remember that click means also ‘end of behaviour’. So when the horse stops after hearing the click that is OK. He was moving when the click was happening. The click marks the behaviour.

Add a stop-cue

Once your horse has learned to keep moving, you need a cue to ask him to stop, because you won’t always keep clicking to break the pattern of movement.

_stop_cue_hippologic

You can ask for a incompatible behaviour in order to stop the movement you’ve been training. Don’t forget to reinforce that behaviour, too! In backing you can ask for ‘halt’ (cue ‘Whoa’) or ‘go forward’ ( cue ‘Walk on’).

More ways to built duration

There are many more ways you can built duration in a behaviour. What works for you depends on the animal, the situation and on your level of expertise.

This blog has no room to share all possibilities, I usually keep the word count around 500 and this one is already more than twice as long.

If you want to share your approach or training tips about building duration add them in the comments for everyone else to read.

Please share

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from or if you want to share this on your social media, use one of the share buttons below. I also love to hear your view on this subject, so please add a comment. I read them all!

If you don’t know what to say simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners create the relationship with their horse and get the training result they really, really want.  
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula.
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Smart strategy to train a halter shy horse

Let me start by telling you that there are many ‘wrong’ ways and many right ways to rehabilitate a horse that has a halter or bridle trauma. Here is my story in which I share the wrong and the right strategy.

Problem_Haltering_haltershy_horse_hippologic

This is Punky. His problem was that no one, except the owner, could halter him.

You can see how that can be a daily stress for both horse and humans in a boarding facility, right?

Solution

The wrong way is to go straight to problem solving. That is what we humans like to do, it is natural to us and it has been reinforced all our lives that this is the way to do it.

That is exactly what I did…

dealing with problem beahviour_hippologic1

I started the ‘wrong’ way, which was pretty much what most horse trainers would do.

When I was training Punky, I thought I could skip my own Key Lessons and ‘just teach the horse to be OK with a halter’.

I thought just teaching Punky to target the halter would be the one and only step to desensitize him. I envisioned that the next step could be the haltering. Easy-peasy.

It was a bit more complex than that and I learned how valuable the HippoLogic Key Lessons really are. For all trainers.

We can’t skip steps because it is the horse who determines how many steps are needed, not the trainer.

solving problem behaviour_hippologic

How Key Lessons helped me train a halster shy horse

When I started out teaching Punky to target his halter, he became really excited about all the treats he was (in his mind!) ‘suddenly’ receiving.

Key Lesson ‘Table Manners for Horses’ (safe hand-feeding)

I needed to teach him Key Lesson ‘Table Manners for Horses’ in order to keep my fingers safe and to teach him that a food reward only can be expected after the click.

Key Lesson ‘Patience’

He started to mug me more and more. Again, I had to lower my criteria about his learning curve. I realized that I should have taught him Key Lesson ‘Patience’ (move his head out of my space in order not to mug me) before I taught him anything else.

Then, when I thought I was ready to work on ‘desensitization of the halter’ I noticed that he wouldn’t even wanted to come near a halter. Every time I wanted to halter him he put his head up to prevent me from haltering him.

Key Lesson ‘Targeting’

I decided to teach him Key Lesson ‘Targeting’ (nose and ears) so I could bring the halter near his body and ask him to touch the halter with his nose.

This wasn’t enough to halter him. Now he was OK with touching the halter with his nose and even putting his nose into the nose band, but he was still putting his head up and backing up when I wanted to pull the halter over his ears.

Key Lesson ‘Head lowering’

Therefor I needed to teach Punky Key Lesson ‘Head lowering’. Asking him to lower his head on cue turned out to be super helpful in giving Punky clarity about all I wanted from him:

  • Keep your head near me
  • Put your nose in the halter
  • Lower your head
  • Target the crown piece with your ears
  • Keep your head low so I can bring the crown piece over your ears and…
  • Keep your head down until I close the snap.

Lumping a common pitfall in training

In other words: I was lumping instead of splitting the goal behaviour. A pitfall all trainers need to beware of.

_hurry slowly_festina lente_hippologic.jpg

This was a valuable experience for me. Now I start all horses I train, teaching them my Key Lessons. No matter what I think they already can do or what I ‘think I can skip’. Building a solid foundation first, speeds up training instead of slowing it down!

Here is a video of haltering Punky, training day 4:

Here is a video of day 11, after I taught all the necessary Key Lessons:

Read more

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. Read part III to learn how you can use Key Lessons Head lowering and Backing for advanced training purposes.

Please share

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! Comments are good reinforcers.

Or simply hit the like button so I know 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 gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online 8 week course ‘Ultimate Horse Training Formula: Key Lessons, Your Key to Success’ that will change your life.

Benefits of Key Lessons in Clicker Training (3/3)

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 Lesson Hippologic

Key Lessons for Horses

HippoLogic’s 6 Key Lessons are:

  1. ‘Table Manners’ for horses (safe hand-feeding, waiting for food reward)
  2. ‘Patience’
  3. Targeting
  4. Mat Training
  5. Head Lowering
  6. Backing

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.

__keylesson_head_low_clickertraining_1

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.

_ keylesson backing hippologic clickertrainingIf 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.

 

Read more

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.

Please share

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! Comments are good reinforcers.

Or simply hit the like button so I know 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 my online 8 week course ‘Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training’ that will change your life.

Benefits of Key Lessons in Clicker Training (1/3)

Not too long ago I wrote a blog about the ‘boring basics‘ which appeared not to be boring at all!

I realized that maybe some equestrians still consider basic exercises as ‘exercises’ or ‘basic’ while they are so much more. I consider HippoLogic’s Key Lessons (Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement training) not as basic exercises but as tools. Important and powerful training tools.

In this series I will explain how you can turn exercises into valuable training tools.

Key Lessons for Horses

The 6 fundamental exercises in clicker training that can become your most valuable tool are:

  1. ‘Table Manners’ for horses
  2. ‘Patience’
  3. Targeting
  4. Mat Training
  5. Head Lowering
  6. Backing

From exercise to training tool to success strategy

At first the Key Lessons are goals in training, but once you master these exercises you can start using them as tools. They will help you get 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 8 week online course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training. 

1. ‘Table Manners’ for Horses

This exercise starts out to teach your horse what humans see as ‘desired’ behaviour around food and food reinforcers.

HippoLogicThis exercise starts out to teach people to train their horse not to mug them and to be ‘polite’ around food. With ‘polite’ I mean the food always goes to the horse, never the other way around. Treats need to be carefully taken off of the hand with their lips, not the teeth. Only the treat is eaten, not the fingers and so on. Basically you just teach your horse not to forage for food. You train them to suppress their natural exploration behaviour.

Once your horse knows the fastest way to the treat (wait for the marker/click) you can teach your horse more complex behaviours, like going to his target when you arrive with hay or a bucket of grain.

2. ‘Patience’

In the exercise ‘Patience’ you teach your horse to stand next to you, with his head straight and his neck in a comfortable horizontal position. In this way your horse can’t ‘mug’ you (explore/forage).
‘Patience’ changes from a ‘simple exercise’ to a valuable training tool once you make this your horses’ ‘default behaviour’._keylesson_patience_hippologic

Default behaviour

Normally you put a cue to a behaviour once your horse masters an exercise. You will raise the criterion from ‘Well done: click‘ every time he displays the behaviour to ‘You can only earn a click after I gave a cue‘.
In a default behaviour you don’t use this criterion: you will reinforce the behaviour also when it is on the horses initiative.

Once ‘Patience‘ becomes a default behaviour and your horse is a well seasoned clicker trained horse, he will use this exercise in his communication to you.

He will display his default behaviour when he doesn’t know what to do or doesn’t understand your assignment or when he gets frustrated. He does this because he knows this behaviour will never be punished. He also learns it will almost never be ignored. So this becomes his tool to communicate with you.

In the next sequences I will explain the other Key Lessons for Horses. Read part 2 here and here is part 3.

Check out my webinar about this subject:

Please share

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! Comments are good reinforcers.

Or simply hit the like button so I know 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 my online 8 week course ‘Ultimate Horse Training Formula’ in which we cover all 12 Key Lesson that will change your life and help you become the best horse trainer you can be for your horse.

Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

The safest way to bring a dangerous horse to the pasture

When I was young and learned to ride in the local riding school, we sometimes were allowed to bring the ponies to the pasture. This came with a simple warning: ‘Always turn your horse to the gate before you take the halter off, so they don’t kick you.’

I still use that advice and teach it to others but there is more to learn about safety. Some horses run off, kick or bolt when released. How to handle those horses?

Horses that run off, kick and bolt

Some horses like to run off immediately and kick or bolt in the process. If you stand ‘in his way’, there is a chance that you get hurt. I’ve seen people deal with this problem by taking the halter off and shooing them away with it! I think the idea is to get them as quickly as possible out of their personal space.

I don’t think shooing away a horse that already has a tendency for bolting and running away will make a horse behave more safely.

On the contrary, it will add to his stress and he might anticipate the next time by shooing you away from his personal space. That is the last thing you want him to do, right?

Solution

There is a simple way to prevent horses from running off when you take the halter or lead rope off. You have to teach them that:

  • They won’t get chased or shooed away by you, and there is no need for them to run off or defend themselves
  • It’s safe and fun to stay a little longer with you
  • They can leave in a calm way, there is no need to rush

Incompatible behaviour

When a horse displays undesired behaviour, in this case dangerous behaviour, the simple solution is to teach them incompatible behaviour and reinforce that behaviour more.

An incompatible behaviour is a behaviour that simply cannot be displayed while doing another behaviour.

Step 1: What is the undesired behaviour?

  • Running off immediately with the chance of you getting hurt in the process
  • Turning around quickly and bolting when leaving
  • Keeping their head up and/or walking backwards so you can’t take the halter or lead rope off safely

Step 2: What is the cause?

Knowing what causes these behaviours is a huge step towards preventing them.

It can be learned behaviour: the horse has learned that the person will shoo him away and he anticipates by trying to get away before that happens. This creates a dangerous vicious circle that is hard to break when you don’t realize what drives the behaviour.

It can be a lack of education. I always teach my horses to turn around every time we go through a gate. One day I was leading a young stallion pony out of the arena. I didn’t realize that he had not yet learned to turn after walking through a gate. I wasn’t prepared that he simply walked straight out the gate, directly towards the barn.  I expected him to turn around or at least wait for me, but he didn’t, because no one had taught him that. I tripped and was dragged on my belly in the mud for several meters. When he finally stopped to see what made walking so hard, I could get up quickly and reinforce him for stopping. It was not the smartest idea to hold on, and I was lucky he didn’t panic.

It can be fear: the horse is afraid of the other horses or one horse in particular that approaches him. If he feels trapped because he is still on a lead rope that can cause him to panic and flee.

It can be impatience: maybe the horse is super excited to go to the pasture to have a good run. He simply can’t wait to stretch his legs.

Step 3: Work on the cause

If the horse hasn’t learned to stay with you until you cue him to wonder off, you can teach him to wait. If he hasn’t learned to turn around, teach him that this will be reinforced and that it’s worthwhile for him. Simply offer him a treat before you take the halter off and one after. He will learn to wait for his treat before he leaves. Better even is to use a bridge signal (a click) before you give the treat to mark the desired behaviour.

If he is fearful for the other horses, you have to find a way to distract or prevent the other horses from coming too close and crowd you.

If your horse is super excited you have to keep him calm and keep his excitement low so he won’t run off and take you with him in the process. You can train this easily with positive reinforcement training.

Step 4: Teach an incompatible behaviour 

In order to prevent undesirable and dangerous behaviours you can work on an incompatible behaviour and reinforce that more. Punishment the way we apply it, is usually not very effective. Teaching and reinforcing an incompatible behaviour is and will give you quick results, too!

What is an ‘incompatible behaviour’? A behaviour that cannot be displayed at the same time as the undesired behaviour. It takes a bit of thinking out of the box to master this skill, but it will bring you so much clarity once you can!

Incompatible behaviours: a horse can’t run off or kick when he is standing still (focus on reinforcing ‘4 hooves on the ground’), a horse can’t lift his head if he keeps his head low, a horse can’t bite with his mouth closed or when his head is turned away from you. He can’t be excited and calm at the same time! Teach him to be calm and focused on you.

Summary

Teach you horse to stay with you until you give him the cue that he can leave now. I do this by simply creating the expectation that there is something in it for the horse. I use high value reinforcers: super yummy treats or if a horse loves scratches and attention more, I will use those.

I start by reinforcing incompatible behaviours and work on the cause of the dangerous behaviours. I reinforce turning around after entering the pasture, standing still, keeping head low and after I take the halter off. Then I get out of the pasture before I give a clear signal that the horse can’t expect any more treats, my ‘end-of-training-signal’.

Then I fade out the treats slowly. I never totally quit forever with the treats because I want to keep us safe. A treat can also be just a bit of grass that you plucked just outside the fence, where the grass always is greener….

Related posts:

How to bring your horse to the pasture safely

How to get your horse out of the pasture effortlessly

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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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    Teach your horse confidence

    Are you tired of your horse repeatedly spooking over the same things? Are you getting impatient that he is still scared of object X while he has seen dozens of times? Do you think you and your horse’s lives would improve if you could teach him to just ‘get over’ it? Here is what you can do.

    Responsive animal

    First of all I would like you to realize that your horse is a responsive animal and when he is fearful he wants to survive and get away from the scary thing. He is not testing you, he is not acting as if he’s scared or pretending. He is not, he just responds to his environment and ‘acts’ accordingly to his instincts. The same instincts that kept the species alive for thousand and thousand of years. Watch the video below of Kyra and you can see she is not pretending. She wants to run away, but she also wants to explore what scared her. If she knows it is safe she doesn’t have to run away and use energy that she might need later.

    Train your horse to have confidence

    With positive reinforcement you can easily teach your horse to target an object with his nose, that is called targeting.

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    Targeting new objects

    Once your horse knows how to target and he has experienced over and over again that he is getting something wonderful when he does, he wants to target more objects. He now knows from experience that targeting brings him good stuff: a click (the marker to pinpoint his exact behaviour that gets him the treat or another positive reinforcer) and the reinforcer itself (the treat).

    Practise in different contexts

    Once your horse knows and likes to target you can ask him to touch other objects too, like a plastic bag, a cone, an upside down bucket or a huge horse ball.

    Click and reinforce every tiny step towards the desired behaviour. This can be literally that you have to click and reinforce every step towards the object you want him to target. Even when your horse is still 30 steps or more away from the object!_flag_training_hippologic

    Tip for building confidence

    When your horse wants to leave, let him! Make sure you practise this in a safe environment like an arena or his paddock, where your horse has the opportunity to run away if he needs to.

    Never punish or ‘correct’ scared behaviour or force your horse to walk towards it, this just adds to his stress and he might associate you to the scary object. That is the last thing you would like to happen!

    Try the 15 second rule

    Most horses need a maximum of 15 seconds to examine a new, potentially dangerous object and decided that it is safe. If they think it is not safe they usually run away before the 15 seconds have passed by.

    Count while your horse is exploring (looking at the object or listening to something in the distance that we don’t hear) and deciding. Once your horse has given the 15 seconds to decide what he thinks of it, the fear often metls away. For good!
    Don’t be mistaken! Waiting for 15 seconds when your horse is tense feels like a really, really long time! It feels like eternity! That is why you have to count, so you know if the time is not yet up. It really helps!

    I have tried this with my own horse Kyra and she usually needs 8 seconds before she trusts the unfamiliar object. Then I ask her to touch it for a click and treat. She always does! After this she is not scared anymore. I might still need to train confidence with the same object under different circumstances (time of day, maybe it sounds different when rain is hitting the object or it looks different at night or when its wet and so on) but the amount of fear has always diminished after that first positive encounter.

    When your horse has done many repetitions of targeting unfamiliar objects you can also ask him to pass by and ignore the object, in order to earn a click and treat. In this way you reinforce and teach him to walk by calmly, even when he is not allowed to examine or touch the object, animal or other horse.

    Curiosity

    KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAHorses are curious by nature and when you let him run away, he will feel safe and find the right distance that feels safe for him to inspect the object. Then he wants to come closer and see what it is. If you can encourage your horse with positive reinforcement to examine the new thing, his curiosity is triply rewarded. First of all because he satisfies his own need to know that it is safe, second because you reinforced him to be curious and third by giving him the freedom to run away to lower his stress. Instead of pushing him to move towards something scary while he is not yet ready to do so.

    Kyra

    Look how fearful Kyra was for a big ball and how she settled nicely after a few minutes of clicker training. She doesn’t pretend to be fearful, she is really anxious and runs for her life. Can you imagine how stressful it would have been if I had kept her on a lead rope and forced her to come closer?

     

    Horse-time

    Let your horse decide if something is safe. Give him as much time as he needs! This might only be 15 seconds, but it will save you many scared hours in the future! It is up to him to decide how much time he needs. If you force him to approach the scary thing ‘in order to let him see/feel/undergo it is safe’, it can take longer to get the confidence. This is called ‘flooding’ and if you ‘flood’ your horse, you might create a bigger problem instead of solving it and building confidence in him and you as his trainer.

    Success tips

    • Start with familiair objects that already evoke positive emotions in your horse, like a bucket (often associated with food)
    • Start with silent objects that don’t make noises when they are moved, pushed over or blown away
    • Build his confidence in tiny steps and let your horse decides if it is safe for him or not
    • Reinforce your horse with a click (marker) and something he desires, like a piece of carrot or some pellets
    • Keep horses that are already confident near the object close by so your horse can see that it is not so scary as he thinks it is
    • Slowly introduce bigger, newer objects or moving objects.

    KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

    Click and reinforce often!

    Reinforce often! Let him know what you want by bringing clarity: towards to new object results in a click and treat, but moving away from it is OK too! This is how you build confidence in your horse. Let him figure it out in his own pace at his own terms!

    I spend a lot of time training ‘calmness’ and ‘relaxation’ in Kyra in new and unfamiliar circumstances. It always pays off, once Kyra is confident to touch an object she is fine with it in the future. Sometimes it takes a while, before she is totally fine with it but when she does I can count on her confidence forever! That is why it saves me time in the long run and it makes me feel safe too!

    _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.
    Follow me on Bloglovin

    How training horses can change your life!

    How Horse Training turned me into a Pollyanna

    Before I started my positive reinforcement journey I used to be bit of a Negative Nancy. I could always find something to criticize. I was most critical about my own accomplishments. I couldn’t feel satisfied about anything I did, especially when it involved riding. The only positive thing about my negative attitude was that I had a really keen eye for details. This made me a really good editor.

    Negative Nancy

    I really and truly believed that if I criticized myself it would help me become a better rider, horse owner, friend and so on. Sometimes I wondered why I wasn’t yet a better rider… but I could always think of something that wasn’t yet good enough to classify myself as ‘good rider’.

    negativenancy2I  didn’t understand that I made it impossible for myself to be satisfied, proud and happy about my achievements when I was only criticizing myself… I didn’t understand that what I was focusing on (my faults, mistakes and failures) grew. I couldn’t see that I was pushing myself forward on a downward spiral which was not at all uplifting or supporting.

    This slowly changed when I started clicker training my first pony. In positive reinforcement training you want to reinforce a (tiny step towards the) desired behaviour in order to get more of that behaviour. In other words you have to be focused on the things that go right.

    Focus on what you want to grow

    When you need to be ready for every ‘clickworthy‘ (positively reinforcing) moment, you start to focus on all behaviours that go well and are improving. It took a long time before this life changing attitude seeped into other parts of my life, but when it did it changed my life for ever.

    First I changed my language. I was lucky that I had a riding instructor that studied a lot and one of her favorite subjects at that time was neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). NLP describes the fundamental dynamics between mind (neuro) and language (linguistic) and how their interplay affects our body and behavior (programming) (source).

    The words you use tell a lot about how you think: I can’t…, I never could…, I always…, my horse always…, my horse never…, I will never be able to… and so on. Those were phrases I used a lot. Elma helped me change my wording and my attitude towards my own riding skills. Thanks Elma!

    Challenge

    Every time I was using a negative phrase or statement about myself I was encouraged to phrase it differently. It became a wonderful and challenging game. I decided to use it in my training journal as well.

    Up until then I always (well, almost always… ) focused on my faults (I wasn’t a good enough rider), my mistakes in training (too short, too long, not good enough and so on) and I often summarized my training as a failure. It was no fun to read back and I didn’t learn from it!

    Shift from self-criticism to self-motivation

    Things changed when I started to keep track of my accomplishments in clicker training. I wrote down what my criteria were and how I changed them over time. I was focused on what went right, improvements and our progress. I also learned to rephrase my common negative statements. I still  focused on what I could improve, but I phrased it in a a way that was encouraging.selfcritism cycle vs self motivation cycle Hippologic

    See, how I just said ‘was focused on what I could improve’ instead of ‘I was focused on my faults‘. Faults became ‘learning points’, failure became ‘experience’ and so on.

    How did positive reinforcement horse training change your life?

    _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.

     

    Preparing your Horse for the Farrier with Clicker Training

    Kyra one month after arrival

    Being a farrier  is a high risk profession. It is not only a physically demanding job, but also the clients can be very opinionated. Or worse become defensive and kick, bite or rear. With clients I mean horses, of course. How can you help your farrier be safe working with your horse?  How can you prepare your horse for a farrier treatment? My answer is of course: with positive reinforcement.

    Positive reinforcement for the professional

    The first thing reinforcing the farrier to come back is that he gets paid! I like to offer a cup of tea and some cookies too, if he is really good with my horse. But the best way to reinforce your farrier to come back and do a good job is to have your horse well trained and prepared.

    Continue reading