Your Key to Success in Equine Clicker Training (clickertraining.ca)

Archive for the ‘Advanced Clicker Training’ Category

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:

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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 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.

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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.

verjaardag2011 022

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.
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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

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.Kyra one month after arrival

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.

(more…)

I accomplished my ‘shittiest’ goal ever!

Yes, this will be a very shitty topic. Sorry about that. The topic is… house-training my horse. In May 2015 I started house-training Kyra. I am a lazy horse owner, so I taught her some tricks to make my life easier.
You can house-train your horse too: http://clickertraining.ca

Thinking ahead

I always, always reinforce Kyra with a treat if she poops or pees when she sees me. If I call her in the pasture and she doesn’t come to me, it usually means that she wants to relief herself first. _house_training_horses_hippologicThe beauty of clicker training is that I can use the bridge signal, the click (‘this is the behaviour I want to see more of, and your reward is on the way’) from a distance and then walk toward her of simply wait until she reaches me so I can give her a treat. I also give a treat when she poops or pees in her stall before I take her out.

Time saving habit

I never have to clean up after her on in the hallway where I groom her. Kyra never has to poop or pee on the cement floor. That is also the reason why she almost never poops or pees under saddle, she already went. Win-win-win.

Other shitty goals

As you can read here, I taught Kyra to only use a specific area in the arena to poop in. The beauty of it is that she can clearly communicates when she has to ‘go’. She simply walks over to that corner and I wait until she has done her business. She has learned to poop right next to the manure bucket, even when I am not around! This is due to the clicker training. She simply made a positive association with pooping in that corner. This means I never have to walk around the arena looking for poop after a ride. I used to walk twice with the bedding fork between the manure and the bucket. It’s a good thing I don’t have to do this anymore, because I used to forget this. I used to think ‘I’ll do this later when I’ve brought Kyra back to the pasture,’ . Only to forget about it. Now scooping her poop takes me less than a minute.

Goal achieved? No…

No. Not yet… I would like her to poop in the manure bucket or wheelbarrow. Like I said: I am very lazy so this will save me another minute. Yay! I must say I had to wait over a year for the opportunity to click Kyra while she was pooping and I had the opportunity to place the bucket or wheelbarrow right behind her in order to catch it.

I accomplished my shittiest goal!

This week was my lucky week: I captured the behaviour twice! Shitty mission accomplished! I even have this on video, believe it or not! Kyra has now been positively reinforced twice to aim for the manure bucket/wheelbarrow. I hope I can ‘catch’ it again. With the wheelbarrow that is. If you want to train your horse to be house-trained, I can help you. Just contact me. Every horse, barn and set up are different so is every training. This blog is how I did it and your situation probably need tailored adjustments to help you succeed. This was my shittiest goal ever accomplished!  Sorry for the smally subject. If you’re not blessed with a visual mind, here is the video. Visit my HippoLogic YouTube channel Next time a more decent blog.

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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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Unconventional Training Solutions

Clicker training is brain training. I simply have to break out of the box of conventional ideas to come up with solutions that are ethical (pain free and force free) and horse friendly (easy to understand and rewarding for the horse). This is not always a simple task with these self-imposed regulations.

Challenge

Sometimes it is a real challenge to come up with solutions for difficulties I encounter in einsteinmy own training with Kyra. If I work for a client it’s really easy, because I am the outsider. To come up with creative training solutions for my own situation is much more challenging. That is why I like to have a mentor too.

If my mentor is not available, I have to focus on what I want and how I want this instead of ‘how I know I can solve this’. Because ‘I know how to solve this’ with coercion, negative reinforcement, punishment and other methods I am not willing to use anymore.

Training goal

Kyra is up for a new step in her training on the long reins. I want her to canter on the long reins. That means she has to learn to collect herself, otherwise I can’t keep up with her.

I started her on a circle in canter because she was too fast. On a circle I didn’t have to run. I created a problem by staying on the circle too long. She didn’t want to follow the rail on the long side of the arena, because she thought she had to stay in a circle.

Couldn’t you just use the outside rein?

_langeteugel-hippologic2012I didn’t want to pull on the outside rein. Her head moves up and down a lot in canter so the reins are already moving and causing too much ‘noise’ to be subtle with the rein aids. I don’t want to pull (force) her with the reins since I think the reins should stay a subtle aid.

Pulling on the outside reins causes her body to bend the wrong way (outside ‘Stellung’) which is a hard problem to solve later.

Why didn’t you use the whip to prevent her coming off the track?

I don’t use a whip. This would only work if she is used to yielding for the whip and/or is afraid of the whip. Using a tool that is developed to cause pain, discomfort or help motivate (in a negative reinforcement way) a horse move is not what I want. I think it can be too enticing to use it for what it is made for in a moment of frustration.
I don’t want to teach Kyra what she is NOT supposed to do (she is ‘not supposed to come off track’), I want her to teach what I want her to do: stay on the track. It is a different way of thinking. Focusing on what you want to teach instead of what you want to prevent.

How did you solve it if you don’t use rein aids or a whip?

Thank you for asking! I had to figure out a way to communicate to Kyra what it is I was looking for: staying on the track in canter.

Step 1

First I laid some poles next to the track parallel to the wall on the long side of the arena. She just stepped over them to make her circle. So I split the goal into smaller steps: I practised cantering at liberty and under saddle along the poles. That made it easier for her to understand that she was suppose to follow the track. It wasn’t fool proof and she was still confused on the long rein.

Step 2

Then I used some cones which she knows how to target. I made it really easy and asked her to touch the cone then canter a few strides to the next cone and asked her to touch that other cone. She understood quickly and so I made the distance between the cones bigger. The poles were still parallel to the track but she didn’t want to jump over them now that she was focused on the cones.

Step 3

Now we made really quick progress: she started to canter on the long side of the track. In 3 training sessions of 5-10 minutes I could take some of the poles away and start cantering on the other side of the arena on the long side.

Step 4

The next step was to fade out the cones and the two poles at the beginning and end of the long sides of the tracks. The cones were not important anymore because now I could click and reinforce for cantering on the track.

Step 5

Now I started to canter on the other side of the arena as well and it was no problem for her to understand to stay on the track.

Step 6

The next step is to change reins and practise everything she now learned in the left lead canter to the right lead canter.

Step 7

Now we are working on speed in canter. She is still a bit too fast and she has to learn to collect more so I can walk along her side instead of jogging. We already worked on this in session 4 and 5.

In this way I taught Kyra to stay on track and canter more slowly in only 7 sessions of 5-10 minutes. No frustration (only a bit of a brainteaser for me), no force, pain or threatening. I really like to come up with training solutions like this so I don’t have to damage the bond of trust I have been building so carefully.

What are some of the force free and R+ solutions you came up with in your training?

Please share this post if it was helpful. It might help other equestrians to think out of the box.

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online my online course Set Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them click here for more info

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