Emotions in Horse Training

Emotions are an important part of being with your horse. You have a horse because that makes you happy or that is how you’ve envisioned it, right?

In reality your horse does make your heart sing, and it can be difficult at the same time have a horse:

  • You enjoy your horse if he’s happy and healthy
  • You love watching your horse in the pasture
  • It’s great to ride your horse
  • You feel proud of what you’ve accomplished with him or together
  • You love the relationship you built with your horse

There are also other emotions:

  • You want your horse to behave in a certain way and if he doesn’t live up to that expectation you might feel anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment
  • You worry about his well being if he’s sick or that he might become sick or injured
  • You worry about the way you (can) keep your horse and if you’re doing the right thing to move him (or not)
  • You worry about being accepted by other horse people
  • You worry about not getting respected due to the way you train, keep, ride your horse
  • You feel overwhelmed as (new) horse owner: so many ways to keep your horse, so many kinds of hay, pellets, bedding, training, trainers, opinions of everyone else and so on

Equine emotions and feelings

Then your horse has and expresses emotions and feelings, too.

  • Fear in your horse
  • Play
  • Happiness
  • Depression and unhappiness (hard to see and accept as owner!)
  • Horses that are in pain

Pay attention

How do you handle those, the emotions and feelings of your horse? Do you recognize all of them or only some of them? Most of us never learned to pay attention to them.

When I expressed fear in riding lessons, I was quickly shut down. ‘Get over it’, ‘Just do it’ (jump over the jump, canter whatever I feared) and ‘Don’t be a wimp’, are things I was often told. I learned to suppress or at least shut up about my fears, frustrations and other negative feelings. What about you?

  • How do you handle fear in your horse?
  • Frustration: in your self and in your horse?
  • Fear of failure?
  • How can you turn this into a positive thing and grow?

That’s what this month theme is in the Clicker Training Academy. “Emotions in training’ is one of the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in horse training. If you can recognize, accept and deal with them, you’ll be a better trainer. I would love to share a few of the insights here, too.

Frustration

Frustration is an easy one to prevent and to handle. Do you have a way to recognize this quickly (it all starts with awareness) and handle it?

What do you do when your horse is frustrated?
What do you do when you are frustrated in training?

These are questions that traditional training never answered but positive reinforcement comes with the solution almost instantly.

What do you do in order to prevent frustration in your horse when you load the clicker/bridge? You break it down and you encourage your horse to keep trying to find the answer by reinforcing him.
What is the jargon for it? This is called thin slicing or making a shaping plan What is that called in normal language? Take baby steps.

This is also true to prevent frustration in yourself. If you have a clear goal for today’s training and thought of what would be reasonable then you can think of the baby steps you can take to set you and your horse up for success.

A Shaping plan consist of enough small steps for your horse to be successful in your training
Break up your clickertraining so every step leads to success

My pitfall used to be that I had no clear goal (only a vague one) and then instead of feeling content if I (almost) reached my goal, I raised the bar! This is one way to create a feeling of failure and cause frustration, I can tell you!

It was only when I started to set a (small) goal and made a clear plan, that I really got results. I started to feel good about myself and my accomplishments. This is what I want for all my clients too. I see so much frustration and fear in horse owners. Yes, fear! This is a taboo, too: to feel afraid of your own horse. Even if it is sometimes or just briefly. It’s not accepted as equestrian. Well, I have strategies for those, too and I will be happy to share them with you.

Do you need strategies?

Let me know if you need strategies to handle fear in your horse or yourself, frustration, anxiety and other emotions that keep you from doing what you want to do or want your relationship with your horse to look like. You can ask for a strategy in the comment section or contact me directly. I am here to support you.

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If you have answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of the above questions look into one of the online programs HippoLogic has to offer.

Join the Clicker Training Academy for online positive reinforcement training tips, personal advice and support in training your horse.

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!

Get your FREE 5 Step Clicker Training Plan on HippoLogic’s website.

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Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse
Key to Success in Horse Training
Your Key to Success

Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

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5 Benefits of using a Shaping Plan in Horse Training

In positive reinforcement training we need our horse to think about what we want and to make a conscious decision to do it.

We don’t push, pull, force or threaten our horse in the right direction and release the pressure, force or take away the threat when he performs the desired behaviour. No, we have to create an environment in which he can use his brain, so that he can choose to do what we want.

In order to learn, your horse needs to be in thinking mode.

This self-imposed challenge to ask the horse to use his brain, demands proper preparation from the trainer:

  1. We need to think about we want in advance, in order to
  2. Set our horses up for Success.

How do you Set your Horse up for Success?

You only have a marker (to mark the behaviour), a reinforcer (to strengthen the behaviour) and your brain to make it happen.

Shaping plan_hippologicYou have to guide your horse with your clicks from where he is to where you want him to be, the desired behaviour. In order to do that successfully you need a plan. This is called a ‘shaping plan’. You need to shape the behaviour step by step.

Shaping Plan

A shaping plan is your written approach to train a specific behaviour.

It describes every little step (criterion) in the process to train the desired behaviour. This process is called ‘splitting’ behaviour.

When you split the behaviour in small enough steps, it is easy for your horse to understand what you want (and what he will be reinforced for).

It gives in detail an objective description of the desired behaviour, your goal behaviour. A good shaping plan also contains a description of the circumstances of the training: where you train, the date, the name of the horse, the trainer, what reinforcers will be used and how many good tries will lead to the next criterion.

With a good shaping plan you can guide your horse with clicks to the desired behaviour.

If you split the behaviour in small enough steps, you create enough stepping stones to go from A to B to C to D (Desired behaviour).

If you don’t have enough steps, you get stuck. That is called ‘lumping’ behaviour and your horse can’t make the jump from behaviour A to C. He gets stuck and doesn’t understand anymore where you want him to go.

If you go back to your shaping plan you can see that B is missing. It is easy to come up with an extra stepping stone if you already have a direction of where you want to go.

Purpose of a Shaping Plan

  1. You know what your criterion for a click is
  2. You know after how many successful tries you go to the next criterion
  3. You know what the next criterion is (for what behaviour you will click and reinforce)
  4. You know what reinforcers you are going to use and which ones you’ve used in the past
  5. You know when to give your horse a break.

Training without a shaping plan

What happens if you don’t make a shaping plan? You set yourself up for failure and frustration.shaping lumping hippologic

  • Without a plan of approach it is much harder to recognize if you are making progress.
  • Without a written plan you easily forget what your starting point was and you might not celebrate your successes enough
  • You will miss ‘click-worthy’ moments because you haven’t set parameters what is click worthy and what is not.
  • It is harder to raise your criteria
  • It is also harder to be flexible in your training and adjust as soon as frustration in you of your horse occurs. You don’t have an alternative ready and it is harder to go back to the step where your horse still was successful. As you get more experienced in writing shaping plans, you will notice that you become way more creative in finding solutions to challenges that occur in training.

5 Benefits of a Shaping Plan

  1. If you get stuck you get yourself unstuck way faster because it is easier to see where you need to add an extra step, need to change your reinforcer and/or go back to where your horse was still successful.
  2. The more you practise the more experience you get in splitting behaviour. You will ‘lump’ less and prevent frustration and other undesired emotions and feelings in training
  3. Once you’ve written a good shaping plan you can re-create your training successes with other horses. Even years later, just because you’ve written it down.
  4. It is easier to be flexible in training and come up with an alternative step if you get stuck because you’ve given your training approach already so much thought.
  5. A good plan will speed up your training.

One of the Key Lesson I teach is how to write and use a shaping plan. Shaping plans are your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement training.

Read this blog too: Key to Success is Making a Shaping Plan

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If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below this post. Please share your thoughts and questions about the use of a shaping plan in the comments, I read them all!

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_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners create the relationship with their horse they really, really want and teach them how to get results in training.  
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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5 Benefits of Teaching Your Horse to Stand on a Mat

When you start clicker training your horse you might want to start with something fun and measurable. Key Lesson Mat training is an excellent exercise to start clicker training your horse. It’s a very simple exercise to train and easy to understand for your horse.

What does Key Lesson Mat training look like?

mat_training_hippologic2Your horse steps with his 2 front hooves on a mat. Soon you can train for duration and teach your horse to stay on the mat.

Purpose of Key Lesson Mat training

  • Safety: It creates distance between horse and handler. If he is standing on a mat he is not in your personal circle
  • Practising sending your horse away from you, towards the mat
  • Practising asking your horse to come to you, towards the mat
  • Groundtying with feet
  • Clarity: horse knows what to do, where to go and where to stand
  • Great foundation: ideal stepping stone to train other behaviours

5 Benefits of teaching your horse Key Lesson Mat training

  1. Horse pays attention to the mat, not your hands or your pockets
  2. Horse learns he has to do something in order to receive a click and reinforcer (C&R). He also learns that he can influence the C&R with his own behaviour
  3. Makes it way easier and quicker to teach your horse other useful behaviours
  4. Teach your horse to move towards something, instead of moving away from something which is so common in other training methods
  5. Mats can become ‘safety blankets’ because of their positive reinforcement history. If the horse spooks there is a huge chance that he will look for the mat to stand on to give him comfort.

In this video you can see what happens when Kyra spooks: she doesn’t run to me or run me over. Instead she runs to the mat for comfort and safety. Super powerful benefit, wouldn’t you say?

 

Advanced Mat training ideas

  • Put 5 or 6 mats in a circle and teach your horse to go from mat to mat
  • Exercise your horse without riding by sending him from mat to mat with a few poles or low jump in the middle
  • Teach your horse to stand on other (unfamiliar) objects like tarps, pedestals, trailer ramps, wooden bridges, hoof jacks, into a bucket of water and so on.

 

 

 

 

 

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons below. I’d love to read your comments about this topic, 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 they really, really want.  I do this by connecting them 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 course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

Join HippoLogic’s Facebook group

Join our group on Facebook where you can ask questions, interact with like-minded people and get support on your clicker journey. In the last quarter of 2019 I will do weekly LIVE videos in the Happy Herd. Don’t miss out!

Join the Clicker Training Academy if you want personal support

What is the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy? It’s an online place where you can learn to train every behaviour you have in mind with R+. We have a small, all-inclusive community in which students can thrive and develop.

  • Professional, personal positive reinforcement advice on your training videos
  • Super affordable
  • Student levels are novice to very advanced clicker trainers

Join the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy and become one of the 25 ‘founding members’ (those who receive extra
The first 25 founding members get an additional 90-minute coaching session with me for free (value $150 CAD).

5 Benefits of Teaching Your Horse to be ‘Patient’

The word ‘Patience’ is between quotation marks because this is not really patience. It is ‘just a learned skill’ that looks like the horse is patient.
We often tend to think horses have ‘to know by now’ what we want them to do, but in reality we simply have to teach them.

In my business the Key Lessons are my Key to Success in Equine Positive Reinforcement Training. One of my ‘keys to success’ is Key Lesson ‘Patience’. In this blog I will share the purpose and benefits of this basic exercise.

What does Key Lesson Patience look like

Your horse aligns himself next to your shoulder, stands with 4 feet on the floor, keeps his neck straight and he has a relaxed body posture, as if he is ‘patiently waiting for your next cue’._keylesson_patience_hippologic

Purpose of this exercise

This Key Lesson has many goals, to summarize it has three:

  1. Safety This exercise is incompatible with potential dangerous and/or annoying behaviours like rubbing against you, mugging, biting, stepping on your feet, pulling you towards juicy patches of grass, walking away from you, impressing you with unexpected behaviour like Spanish walk and so on. ‘Patience’ is a super safe exercise!
  2. Creating a solid foundation for other behaviours
  3. Creating a safe ‘default behaviour’

Benefits of teaching your horse to be ‘Patient’

  1. Your horse learns to pay attention where he is in relation to you and he learns where you want him to be: next to your shoulder, standing with 4 feet on the floor, neck straight and a relaxed body posture, as if he is ‘patiently waiting for your next cue’.
  2. This exercise increases safety and therefor makes a great default behaviour. A default behaviour is a wonderful communication tool that only you and your horse will understand, but is also safe for other people. In case of frustration, insecurity, nervousness or when your horse doesn’t understand you, he will offer his default behaviour: ‘Patient’.
  3. Helps create trust between horse and handler because it keeps everyone safe
  4. Provides clarity for horse and handler. While your horse is aligning you can think about your next cue or what to do if you feel frustrated. (When the trainer feels frustrated that is usually a sign of ‘lumping‘)
  5. Key Lesson Patience is Your Key to Success in teaching your horse many other useful behaviours like standing for grooming, ground tying, standing for mounting, staying calm in stressful situations, waiting for cues, mat training and so on.

Read more:

Key Lesson Patience

Benefits of the HippoLogic Key Lessons

Please share

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below (under the video!). I’ also would love to read your comments, 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!

HippoLogic.jpg
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to help equestrians create the relationship with their horse they’ve always dreamt of. I do this by connecting them 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 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 courses that will change your life.

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Watch the video:

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.

More about Mat Training

One of the key lessons in my positive reinforcement course is mat training. In mat training you teach your horse to stand on a mat with the two front feet. Once your horse knows what is expected of him, you can turn this exercise into a powerful tool to teach new behaviours.

 

 

Applying Mat Training

Once your horse is happy to stand on a mat you can:

  • Build ‘duration’. This will help to teach your horse to ground tie.
  • Use the mat as indicator for your horse where to stand, aligning next to the mounting block
  • Teach him to step onto other objects like a pedestal, tarp or trailer ramp. You can start placing the mat on or next to the new object first if your horse doesn’t respond to the cue for ‘step up’ or if he is nervous
  • Teach him to put one foot on a stool as preparation for the farriers hoof stand
  • Place mats in the arena and use them to send your horse from mat to mat.
  • teach your horse to go over bridges or step into water
  • Send your horse from mat to mat with a pole or small jump in between
  • And so on

If you want to know how to start mat training with your horse, read this post.

_advanced_mat_training_hippologic

Every horse has a different learning curve

At the SPCA barn were I teach the horses with positive reinforcement, I work with 5 horses. Last week I introduced the mat (a foam puzzle mat) to four of them. It was really interesting to see how each horse reacts in a different way to the mat.

Horse #1

Horse #1 tried to avoid the mat in the beginning and did everything not to step on it. He didn’t even sniff the mat at first. So my first criterion with him was clicking for ‘moving a hoof closer to the mat’. It didn’t take long before he figured out that the mat had something to do with the clicks and he started pawing the mat. Well done!

Horse #2

Horse #2 sniffed the mat right away. It could be that she had seen that the mat had something to do with earning a click and reinforcer or maybe she just has a different personality and training history.

After sniffing, she started touching the mat with her nose. She knows how to target a target stick and a cone with her nose. My first criterion is always ‘interact with the mat’, so I reinforced the sniffing and touching with the nose.

Then I raised the criterion to ‘touch with a hoof’ and I had to ‘set it up for success’ by manipulating the environment a bit. I put the mat in front of her feet and asked to touch the target stick which I held far enough for her to do one step. Indeed she touched the target and stepped onto the mat with one hoof. Then I faded out the target stick and she figured out quickly that touching the mat with her hooves was the way to earn clicks and food.

Horse #3

Horse #3 started pawing the mat right away. This horse has a habit of lifting her legs in order to ask for attention, during feeding time or if she is stressed. If she doesn’t get what she wants, she often alternates legs.

Mat training is a good way to teach her to ‘keep her 2 front feet on the floor’ since this is incompatible behaviour with the leg lifting she does. She is amazingly smart and was the first horse that stood properly with both of her feet on the mat within the first session. It seemed to ‘click’. I have clicked for ‘4 feet on the ground’ many times during previous training sessions. The mat clearly helped her to focus on ‘standing’. I can’t wait until our next sessions to build duration.

Horse #4

Horse #4 stepped on the mat right away as if he wasn’t aware of it. Of course I clicked and reinforced for stepping onto the mat, even though it really looked like he didn’t see the mat. After reinforcing stepping onto the mat a few times I placed the mat a bit further away and he immediately walked over there to stand on it. Bravo! He did step on the mat on purpose.

_428kg

Mat training was an excellent preparation for stepping on a horse scale. Our clicker trained horses were the best behaving clients that day

Each horse reacts differently to a mat, depending on his character, history, experience with new objects, clicker experience and so on.

How did your horse do in the first session with the mat? How did mat training helped you in other situations? Please share your story in the comments below. Thank you.

Join HippoLogic’s Facebook group

Join our group on Facebook where you can ask questions, interact with like-minded people and get support on your clicker journey. In the last quarter of 2019 I will do weekly LIVE videos in the Happy Herd. Don’t miss out!

 

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!
Get a free 5 Step Clicker Training Plan.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

 

Join the Clicker Training Academy if you want personal support

What is the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy? It’s an online place where you can learn to train every behaviour you have in mind with R+. We have a small, all-inclusive community in which students can thrive and develop.

  • Professional, personal positive reinforcement advice on your training videos
  • Super affordable
  • Student levels are novice to very advanced clicker trainers

Join the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy and become one of the 25 ‘founding members’ (those who receive extra
The first 25 founding members get an additional 90-minute coaching session with me for free (value $150 CAD).

 

Key to Success: make a Shaping Plan

In shaping the trainer splits the goal behaviour into easy achievable steps for the horse. Each step is rehearsed and reinforced until the animal fully understands what is expected. Then the criterion will be raised and the next step towards the end behaviour is trained. And so on, until you’ve trained the desired behaviour.

In this way you can train very complex behaviours and put them on cue.

Pros and cons of shaping
Shaping a behaviour can be very difficult if you don’t know how to split the behaviour into small enough steps for your horse to understand and be successful. Become a ‘splitter’ and practise dividing every behaviour into tiny steps. Everyone can learn it.

Timing
Shaping behaviour also requires good timing and a keen eye to see and bridge the subtle nuances of a behaviour. Each small change that brings the horse towards the end behaviour must be bridged and reinforced.

If the trainer doesn’t ‘guide’ his horse enough through that process, both can become confused or frustrated. They might even end up giving up.

The opposite of ‘splitting’ is lumping. If you’re a ‘lumper’, you make the steps too big or you raise your criterion too soon. Don’t be a lumper.

Making mistakes
Shaping isn’t easy or quick for inexperienced trainers. You have to be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them. A shaping plan will help you.

Shaping isn’t easy for horses that are afraid to be punished if they try new behaviours or simply aren’t used to it. But once you overcome these hurdles it can be a very quick way to train your horse new things.

It is a process
Shaping teaches the horse to use his brain and will encourage him to experiment. In other words he will ‘learn to learn’ and try out new behaviours. He has to learn to search for the right behaviour that will be bridged and reinforced. Once horses have learned how they get reinforced, they will never forget and this really speeds up their learning process. So be patient.

Step-by-step
Shaping requires a lot of creativity of the trainer. Knowledge of the natural behaviour of horses also helps tremendously in splitting the desired behaviour into little steps and in predicting how the horse will react in training. Think out of the box in order to create ‘extra’ training steps. The more steps, the better.

Don’t forget to write the steps down your horse already masters, but are still an important part of the process. Maybe your horse already has looked at the target or approached it. Still write it down, so you can tick it off already. This gives your brain the feeling of a head start and you already feel successful immediately.

Training steps in training plan by Hippologic

Shaping plan for targeting

Be flexible
The trainer also needs to be very flexible. He needs to adjust his plan according to the horse. If the horse learns slower than expected, the trainer has to think of extra steps, changing rewards, adjust the circumstances, give the horse a break a little bit sooner and so on. Also if the horse learn quicker than expected, be prepared to skip steps in your shaping plan.

Shaping plan
The key to success in shaping is to make a plan before you start and write it down. Writing your steps down will help you:

  • to think in advance about every detail you have to be aware of
  • to get a clear picture in your head of clickable criteria
  • to give you a guideline if things go different then expected
  • to become aware of skipping steps while you are training
  • to go back to a previous step if your horse gets frustrated or confused
  • to know where to start next time you are training
  • evaluate your training more easily

Make notes in your shaping plan of the training circumstances that can be an influence on your training: are you training inside, outside, working with or without a barrier, time of day etc. Don’t forget to write down what your criteria are for going to the next step in your plan, for instance after 3 well performed actions.

_zw_touchtarget

Step 3: touching the target

Evaluation
After your training write down immediately all the things that went well and the things you have to keep in mind for next time. This will speed up the whole learning process for both you and your horse.

Experience
Making a shaping plan will also help for a next time you have to train the same behaviour with another animal. You will soon notice that different horses learn at different speeds and that a lot of circumstances can influence your training sessions. This will make you more alert next time and you can anticipate the variables that you encounter and set your horse and your training up for success.

The sky is the limit
Shaping has an endless scala of possibilities and therefor it is a very powerful technique. The only limits are the horses’ physical limitations and the trainers skills and creativity.

_collage_targetstick

Using a target to get your horse out of the pasture

Read more: 5 Benefits of Making a Shaping Plan

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I do this by connecting you with your inner wisdom (you know what is good for your horse if you look into your heart) and sharing the principles of learning and motivation so you become confident and knowledgeable to train your horse in a safe and effective way, that’s FUN for both you and your horse. Win-Win!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website.

 

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Key Lessons for Horse Trainers

Earlier this year I wrote about the key lessons (your keys to success) for horses. Not only the horse needs to be set up for success, but also the trainer. These three Key Lessons are for Trainers*). They will help you reach your goals quicker and enjoy the journey more: a training plan, a shaping plan and a training diary.

*) This was written in 2015, meanwhile I kept developing myself as R+ horse trainer and as positive reinforcement coach. I found three other indispensable skills or traits for Trainers that help you become successful quicker, communicate clearer and help you avoid struggle and falling into common pitfalls and I added them to HippoLogic’s Key Lessons for Trainers.
6 Key Lessons for Trainers are 1) Training plan,  2) Shaping plan (and splitting behaviours), 3) Training journal, 4) Accountability partner, 5) Learning theory (principles of learning and motivation. Not only for horses but for humans too!) and 6) Emotions in Training (not only equine emotions, but also human emotions). I teach them in my online programs and also in my R+ accountability and support group.

Training plan
If you know what it is you want to achieve, it is easy to distill a step-by-step plan from your goal. The difficulty is to determine: what are your goals and how important are they?

Goals
Ask yourself: is my goal really my own goal or is it more or less influenced by others? It is harder to achieve a goal if you lack intrinsic motivation . You can’t always influence the extrinsic motivators so if they disappear what’s left?

If your motivation is to get compliments or approval from your fellow equestrians and nobody notices it, it can be a real disappointment. It will be much harder keep going. Or maybe you are working on something your instructor wants you to do and you don’t see the value in this particular exercise.

If you’ve been teaching your horse something because you like it and you enjoy the process of teaching it, you will feel the satisfaction of your accomplished goal much longer. Therefor you will be looking forward to working on your next goal.

_dream_goals_ HippoLogic

Intrinsic or extrinsic motivation
So, think about your equestrian goals. Ask yourself if it is really you that wants to achieve it, or is it someone else’s goal? Think about what it feels like when you’ve accomplished your goal. Do you want it because you like it, or do you want it to get approval of an outsider or maybe you think you are supposed to do it.

I know a lot of people who don’t ride their horse for various reasons. They all feel more or less pressured all the time to defend their choice to outsiders. I know some of them will ride because ‘it is expected’. As you can understand this kind of motive will not give pleasure. Riding can become a real struggle.

Letting go 
Sometimes you have to let go of goals. That can be painful. Keep in mind that is is OK to change your mind and your goals. It is easier if you understand why you want to let go of your goal(s).

If you don’t like to ride your horse because you’ve discovered that you have a fear of riding (a real taboo for equestrians) you can choose to work on your fear with a trustworthy instructor who respects your boundaries. Or, you can choose to let go of your riding goals. If you know what motivates your choices it is also much easier to ‘own your story’.

Sometimes you discover that your goals or motivation have changed and that it’s time to redefine your goals. It is much easier to work on a goal that you really want, than a goal that has been expired.

Keep track of accomplishments
One way to keep yourself motivated is to keep track of your achievements by keeping a training journal.

Most people have a tendency to compare themselves to others, which is almost never a fair comparison. I’ve heard someone once saying: “You always compare the best of others, to the worst of yourself.” Yes, sometimes this is true. Better compare yourself with… yourself. The only fair way to do this is to keep track of your own journey and to realize often how far you’ve already come.

It is your journey and as long as you are making progress you are doing a good job! Keep that in mind.

Next time I will write more about shaping plans.

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what you think is a valuable skill in clicker training and why.

HippoLogic.jpgSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I do this by connecting you with your inner wisdom (you know what is good for your horse if you look into your heart) and sharing the principles of learning and motivation so you become confident and knowledgeable to train your horse in a safe and effective way, that’s FUN for both you and your horse. Win-Win!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Key Lesson: ‘Patience’

In this key lesson the horse learns to stand next to you in a relaxed way and keep his head straight forward, not too high and not too low. The goal is to reward the horse for his ‘patient’ behaviour. Of course the horse is not really ‘patient’ when he stands with his neck straight and his head on a comfortable level, it is a ‘learned behaviour’. A very safe behaviour!

Benefits of this Key Lesson are (this makes it my favourite exercise to teach):

  • It teaches your horse relaxation
  • Responsiveness to cues
  • And it reinforces calm behaviour
  • Bonus: it’s incompatible with ‘mugging’, stepping on your toes and other unwanted behaviours

Focus on what you want
It is really important that you communicate to your horse what it is you want or expect from him. If you don’t think about this, you will end up with a horse that is always asking your attention when you are busy with something else. In this case you want your horse to ‘stand with four feet on the ground, relaxed, neck straight forward and horizontal’.

Asking attention
I think we all know horses that will show their whole repertoire of tricks if people are around to get attention, kick their stall doors in order to ‘call’ people over, push a person, sniffs pockets and try to get the treats out when the person is talking to someone. Or horses that pull their handlers to the juicy patches of grass as soon when they want to check their her phone for messages. Wouldn’t it be great if your horse just stood there ‘patiently’ and waited for you to be ready to give the next cue?

This is why the key lesson ‘patience’ is an important exercise to spent some time on. The time you spend on this exercise is really a good investment. It looks like the horse is ‘patient’ but it is just a learned behaviour, just like the behaviours described above. The difference is, that the key lesson patience is desired behaviour and you can put it on cue.

Default behaviour
Just like head lowering you could choose to make this behaviour the default behaviour. It is a very practical behaviour. It prevents the horse from mugging you, pushing you, sniffing your pockets or asking your attention when you are doing other things, like talking to a friend, adjusting your tack, braiding his mane and so on. It also calms your horse down if he is excited. This is a behaviour that the trainer always should reinforce, even when it is displayed without cue. That is the way you can make it a default behaviour. A default behaviour is a behaviour a horse can fall back on when he is getting frustrated, anxious or wants your attention.

Useful
Teaching a horse to be ‘patient’ is also a useful exercise under saddle, with ground tying, waiting in line on competition grounds, during a bath/hosing him down, brushing, saddling and so on. Ask you horse to be ‘patient’ if he can’t wait for your next cue and randomly shows behaviour. It will help him become relaxed. This can help prevent frustration. Then teach your horse to wait for cues.

Reinforce what you want to see

It is just that most handlers forget to reinforce this simple behaviour of seemingly ‘doing nothing’. The handler has to be aware of this behaviour and reinforce it and put in on cue. Once you have learned to recognize it in your horse, keep it in his repertoire by reinforcing it.

__keylesson_patience_clickertraining_1

If the horse has a tendency to mug you or invade your personal space, you can start teaching the horse to ‘look away’. Later you can shape it into standing straight forward with his neck.

_keylesson_patience_hippologic

Kyra ‘s head is still a bit high in these pictures. I shaped my ‘Patience’ now more into a combination of ‘Patience’ with ‘Head lowering’. It is such a great tool and helps calm the horse down and makes everyone safer!

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what your favourite key lesson is and why.

Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Success 

_key to success_hippologic1

  • Want to get the results in training you really, really want?
  • Want train your horse with confidence?
  • Want to learn all there is to know about training your horse with positive reinforcement?

Join this online course: Click here

_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!
Get your FREE 5 Step Clicker Training Plan on HippoLogic’s website.

Take action. Start for free!

Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

Simply check the best time for you in my online calendar and click to reserve your free call today.

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Key lesson: Mat training

In this series about the key lessons (the key to successful clicker training) I’ve already talked about five important exercises. There are two more important basic lessons for the horse: ‘patience’ and ‘mat training’.

Standing on a mat
The purpose of mat training is to teach your horse to stand on a mat with his two front hooves. It is basically targeting with hooves. If your horse learns to stand on a rubber mat, he learns to trust you and standing on new surfaces. Horses have a lot of ‘feel’ in their hooves and therefor it can be scary in the beginning to stand on a item that is soft and squishy, like a puzzle mat.

_key_lesson_standing_on_a_mat_hippologic

Other behaviours
Once your horse has learned to stand on a mat on cue, you can build ‘duration’. Just like in targeting. If you train for duration in easy exercises it will be easier in the future to train duration, like in exercises under saddle. Your horse can learn to generalize. You can introduce a keep-going signal to make it more clear what you want to train.

Train opposite behaviour
Always reinforce the opposite behaviour of what you are training as well. You want don’t want teach him to stand on the mat only, but you also want him to step down on command. If you don’t do this, you will create a horse that always runs to whatever mat or similar surface he spots. And expects a treat!

After introducing a mat, you can ask your horse to mount other surfaces like a piece of plywood. Or ask your horse to walk over it. The sound of his hoof beat might scare him at first, but if you reinforce every little step (literally!) or even weight shifts he will soon gain the confidence to walk over it. This is a really good preparation for walking up ramps or entering trailers or walking over (wooden) bridges. It makes it easier to teach your horse to mount a pedestal.

Mat training also helps to make clear where you want your horse to be. If you want this to teach him to stand next to a mounting block, the mat can help indicate where you want your horse to stand.

Slow horses
If you have a horse with more whoa than go, it can help to teach him to walk from mat to mat in the arena. First at walk, then trot and finally in canter. It can make energy-saving horses really enthusiastic: it is clear that they have to go from mat to mat. So they know when to go and where they can stop. It can give them a feeling of control and makes it predictable for them. It can also help the trainer to be happy and content with little progress because the mats make the criteria and progress ‘visible’.

_Keylessonmatwork2

Fast horses
If you have a horse that has more go than whoa you can also teach him to go from mat to mat. Place the mats close together at first until your horse knows what is expected. You can teach him to slow down, walking over a mat, but keep going. Or you can ask him to stop. Experiment!

Jumping at liberty
Mats can help send a horse over a jump by himself, without chasing him with a whip over a jump. Simply place two mats on either side of a pole and ask your horse to go to the other mat. Place the mats a bit further apart each time,then you can raise the criteria by making a low jump and built from there.

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what your favourite key lesson is and why.

Read more

Read the blog about advanced mat training and 5 Benefits of Key Lesson Mat Training

Happy Horse Training!

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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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Join the Clicker Training Academy if you want personal support

What is the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy? It’s an online place where you can learn to train every behaviour you have in mind with R+. We have a small, all-inclusive community in which students can thrive and develop.

  • Professional, personal positive reinforcement advice on your training videos
  • Super affordable
  • Student levels are novice to very advanced clicker trainers

Join the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy and become one of the 25 ‘founding members’ (those who receive extra
The first 25 founding members get an additional 90-minute coaching session with me for free (value $150 CAD).

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Key lesson: targeting

In my previous post I talked about the key lessons safe behaviour around food ,  equine emotions during training, head lowering & backing.

Another key lesson I want to encourage all clicker trainers to teach their horse is ‘targeting’.

Targeting
In targeting you ask your horse to touch a target with a body part. You start this game simple and the goal is for your horse to touch a target on a

_targetstick_

Target stick

stick with his nose.

Once your horse knows the target is meant to be touched with his nose (not lips or teeth), you can start experimenting. Hold the target a bit lower, higher, more to the left or to the right. If the horse is touching the target a solid amount of time you can put a verbal cue to this new behaviour, like ‘touch’.

Versatile
Targeting is a very versatile exercise and therefor a really good tool to have in your training ‘tool box’. Once your horse can target his nose to the target stick, you can shift the context: practice in other surroundings, use different objects, teach your horse to target with different body parts, et cetera.

Basics
Targeting is an excellent way of starting positive reinforcement training with any horse. If you use a target on a stick you can create a distance between you and the horse. Therefor it can also be used to train (potentially) dangerous horses. With a target on a stick you can train your horse to move away from you, you don’t have to bend through your knees or stretch to ask your horse to touch low and high targets.

I  suggest working with ‘protective contact’, a barrier, when you start, especially with potentially dangerous horses.  Then the horse can’t enter your personal space while you are still getting used to the mechanical moves of presenting the target, bridge, take the target out of the horses’ reach and present a treat.

Teaching other behaviours
Once your horse knows how to target and you’ve put it on cue, you can use it to train other behaviours. If you hold the target stick a bit closer to the horses’ chest you can elicit a weight shift which can be shaped into backing up. Also the opposite can be achieved and targeting can be used to teach a horse to follow you or being lead. You can teach a horse to lower his head.

verjaardag2011 022

Kyra targeting helium balloons during de-spooking training

If your horse can target different object with different body parts the uses are endless: medical (targeting the mouth for oral medication, eyes to your hand in order to treat infections, ears etc), dressage exercises, de-spooking, hooves for trimming and so on.

Read here my post Targeting for advanced uses.

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what your favourite key lesson is and why.

Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Success 

_key to success_hippologic1

  • Want to get the results in training you really, really want?
  • Want train your horse with confidence?
  • Want to learn all there is to know about training your horse with positive reinforcement?

Join this online course: Click here

_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!
Get your FREE 5 Step Clicker Training Plan on HippoLogic’s website.

Take action. Start for free!

Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

Simply check the best time for you in my online calendar and click to reserve your free call today.

Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

Key Lessons: Head Lowering & Backing

In my previous post I talked about the key lessons safe behaviour around food and taking the horses’ emotions into account during training.

Today’s two key lessons are natural behaviours and therefor easy to put on cue: head lowering and backing.

Head lowering as key lesson
Although it is not proven that lowering the head calms a horse down, it still is an indicator if the horse is relaxed or not. How? A nervous horse keeps its head up, if a horse is startled the first thing he does is lift up his head, if a horse hears a strange sound he will… yes, lift his head up to listen. Horses always lift their heads up just before they run. So in a way it is an indicator for nervous behaviour.

__keylesson_head_low_clickertraining_1

Teaching a horse to lower his head on cue comes in handy if you have a tall horse to halter or bridle. If a horse is scared by an object on the ground, you can ask your horse to lower his head in order to invite him to investigate the object. If a tall horse has to lower his head in order to prevent bumping it, it is handy if you have this on cue. There are so many situations in which it is handy to ask your horse to lower his head.

Head lowering can also help during medical care, like eye care or inspecting ears or during deworming. Head lowering is also a good exercise under saddle in all gaits. Head lowering can also help in teaching your horse a specific cue to graze during a trail ride or while hand grazing your horse.

Head lowering as default behaviour
Head lowering is a good behaviour to allow as ‘default behaviour’. A default behaviour is a behaviour you can teach your horse to do whenever he doesn’t know what to do or if he wants your attention. Head lowering is a safe behaviour. You can establish a default behaviour by reinforcing the behaviour with and without a cue.

Key lesson Backing
Backing is a behaviour that helps increase the safety in many ways. If you can ask your horse to back up he can’t reach you, so he can’t bite, step on your toes or push you around.

_ keylesson backing hippologic clickertraining

Backing is a valuable exercise in safe food handling skills: if you teach your horse to backup if you (hand) feed him, he can’t get the food out of your pocket or dive into the bucket your holding.

If you teach your horse to backup first if you open the stall door, he will wait for the bridge and reward instead of pushing you over and walking out of his stall. What about unloading your horse from a trailer? Backing is essential in some trailers.

Last but not least, backing is also a good exercise to help your horse become more athletic, in hand and under saddle.

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what your favourite key lesson is and why.

Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Success 

_key to success_hippologic1

  • Want to get the results in training you really, really want?
  • Want train your horse with confidence?
  • Want to learn all there is to know about training your horse with positive reinforcement?

Join this online course: Click here

_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!
Get your FREE 5 Step Clicker Training Plan on HippoLogic’s website.

Take action. Start for free!

Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

Simply check the best time for you in my online calendar and click to reserve your free call today.

Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

Key lesson: Horse, stay in learning mode [emotions in training]

In my last post I wrote about the importance of teaching horses safe behaviour around food and food rewards. Another key lesson that helps keep training safe and fun for all parties is managing the emotional state of mind of the horse during training. You want the horse to use his mind and stay in his learning mode.

Reinforce wanted behaviour
In positive reinforcement training we reinforce the wanted behaviour in order to get more of that behaviour. As trainers we have to pay close attention to the behaviours we are actually rewarding. In other words: you get what you reinforce.

In clicker training, as well as in every other training method, it happens that trainers are not paying attention to the horses’ state of mind during training.

Every trainer can unconsciously reinforce undesired behaviour, due to a lack of timing, lack of knowledge of behaviour or misreading body language. Common examples are horses that express (over)arousal, fear, pain or frustration during training.

If the horse is experiencing arousal, frustration, anger, pain or fear the brain can prioritize these over a state of mind in which learning can occur. The horse goes into ‘survival mode’. He gets out of his ‘thinking mode’ and he can’t learn anymore. That is why these emotions and behaviours that can go with them are undesired in training. It is the trainers responsibility to pay attention and prevent or if necessary re-train these emotions and paired behaviours as soon as possible.

It can be hard to detect the early signs of these emotions. Sometimes it is only recognized when it is already escalating in the horse. Then it is much harder to deal with it.

Two reinforcing moments
There are two moments in training which you have to pay extra close attention to the horses’ emotions because those are the most reinforcing moments.

The fist is the time of the bridge signal, the click. The click means ‘this’ is what I want you to do, it pinpoints the desired behaviour.

The second important moment is the moment you actually deliver the reward, since the reward is reinforcing the behaviour at that moment.

Example
Imagine a horse is in a relaxed state of mind and happy and eager to learn. He pays attention to the trainer and is trying different behaviours and his behaviour soon meets the criterion of the trainer: he touches the target while he is happy and the trainer clicks.

Then the trainer isn’t able to deliver the food reward as quick as the horse expects it.  The horse becomes a bit impatient. He pins his ears, moves to the trainers hand with the treat on it and in his hurry he uses his teeth to take the food off the hand. This happens several times in a row. The trainer doesn’t pay attention or isn’t aware of this little change in the horses’ behaviour.

Emotions_in_training_hippologic2015

Can you see what emotion/behaviour is reinforced during the delivering of the treat? Can you imagine that after a few repetitions this behaviour will become a habit for the horse? He is, after all, reinforced over and over by the trainer to behave this way.

The horse can even think he has to ‘try harder’ in the way he takes the food off of the trainers hand and can change into ‘threatening the trainer for treats’.

Prevention
It is better to pay attention to the horses emotions right from the start and prevent behaviours and situations that can escalate.

Make it a habit to watch a horses’ behaviour closely and change your criteria or training context as soon as you see the first signs of undesired emotions or behaviours.

Keep your training fun and safe for everybody.

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what your favourite key lesson is and why.

This blog doesn’t have enough room to tell you everything I know about emotions in training and how to prevent and deal with undesired emotions. Do you want to learn more about ‘Emotions in Training’ and how to coop with them? Join HippoLogic’s 8 week online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula. In this course is a whole module about Emotions in Training. Not only equine emotions and how you can recognize them, but also human emotions, like dealing with frustration, feeling like a failure, fear and more.

Here is another blog about it.

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Happy Horse training!

Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Success 

_key to success_hippologic1

  • Want to get the results in training you really, really want?
  • Want train your horse with confidence?
  • Want to learn all there is to know about training your horse with positive reinforcement?

Join this online course: Click here

_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!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

Key Lesson: Table Manners for Horses [safe hand-feeding]

One of the key lessons I like to promote as a really good foundation to start with and to keep working on, is safe behaviour around food, ‘table manners for horses’ so to say.

Why is this one of the key lessons?
If you are working with horses you always want to be as safe as possible. You certainly don’t want to create problems, which can easily happen if you train with food as a reinforcer without having clear ‘rules’. Rules are alle about expectations:

  • When can your horse expect a treat: only after a click
  • When can’t he expect treats: no click, no glory, no treat
  • How he can earn clicks that lead to treats: paying attention to the cue and answer the question right

Your Key to Success in using food as reinforcer is to teach your horse safe hand-feeding or Key Lesson Table Manners.

Ground rules
People who, in the horses’ eyes, reward randomly with food will have horses that are always expecting the unexpected: a random treat. That leads to impatient horses: they want it now! 

Therefor you have to start making clear your horse has to know he has to do something in order to get a reward. He also has to know what it is he did, that made him earn the treat. He has to learn to pay attention to your marker (the click). No click, no (food) reward.

What to do if your horse is mugging you? Using a marker makes it easier for your horse to understand that ‘mugging’ is never reinforced. There is no click, so no food will come his way.

Mugging is annoying for the handler and can trigger frustration in the horse. Especially if he sometimes gets rewarded for this behaviour (with attention, a pet or even food) while other sometimes he gets punished for it or ignored. It is this various ‘reward’schedule that strengthen this undesired behaviour even more. How to handle this?

You want to reinforce the opposite behaviour of mugging. A behaviour that is incompatible with pushing your arm or sniffing your pockets. This will make your training sessions more safe.

Table-Manners for Horses

  • Teach your horse to move his head (read: mouth) away from you, your pocket with food or your ‘money belt’ full of goodies.
  • Teach your horse to keep his lips closed
  • Teach him to gently take the treat off of your hands
  • Teach him an ‘End-of-Session’ signal that means: no more clicks, no more treats

Table manners around dinner time
If you want your horse to behave around feeding time, you have to communicate clearly what behaviour you expect from him:

  • standing with four feet on the floor while the food cart is coming
  • back up when the stall door is opened or when the hay is delivered and so on.

Use a marker signal to pinpoint the wanted behaviours. Read more here.

Polite behaviour
With ‘polite’ behaviour I mean safe behaviour. The horse must wait ‘politely’ until the food is delivered to his lips, after the marker. He shouldn’t move towards the treat, he has to learn that the treat will come to him. The horse must (learn to) take the treat carefully off of my hand and only use his lips and no teeth.

When I click and when I deliver the food, I pay close attention to the horses state of mind. Those two moments (click and the delivery of the treat) are the reinforcing moments, and I do want to reinforce safe behaviour, so I pay attention to the horses state of mind.

_keylessonsafehandfeeding1

Trainer
Present the food in a safe way to the horse and ‘prove’ to your horse that you are trustworthy. You will always deliver a food reward after a click and you will deliver it (bring it to his mouth so he won’t have to ‘search’ for it). If you drop it on the ground,simply give another one.

People who are easily scared by a horse that moves towards the treat in their hand and proceed to drop the food, need to work on their food presenting skills. You want the horse to trust you on where the food is presented (to their mouth) and that it will arrive. Be consistent and reliable in the way you present treats.

Before you click, always check if you still have at least one more treat to offer. It doesn’t have to be food, but if you’re working with food, make sure you have something left in your pocket to give.

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The value of the reward, the size and the chewiness can all influence (un)desired behaviours around food. If the size of the treat is too small, it can easily fall on the floor and get lost, if it is too big it can be hard to eat quickly. Is the reward a high value treat, the horse get frustrated if it’s not delivered quickly enough. If the horse has to chew very long it can distract him from the training.

There are many aspects to take into consideration when you reinforce your horse with food. Please don’t let this long list scare you away from working with food rewards.

Food is such a powerful reinforcer that once your horse understands how you want him to behave around food and treats in training,you can have a lot of fun with it!

Links to other key lessons

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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!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
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1 Ridiculously Easy (and Rewarding) Thing to Do For the New Year

This is one of the best ideas I learned from Pinterest in 2014. I found it on a website meant for Moms. Since I live in Canada, I am now officially a “Horse Mom” **), so I tried it out. This year I started in September, but next year I will start on January 1st. That is tomorrow.

It is called The Good Things Jar and it said: (I quote from http://momscholar.net/2012/08/16/good-things-jar/ sorry the link doesn’t work anymore.)

“Start the year with an empty jar and fill it with notes about good things that happen. On New Years Eve, empty it and see what awesome stuff happened that year.”

[End of quote]

Since I am really an advocate of emphasizing positive things in horse training and riding, I bought a little notebook with cheerful coloured pages and a pencil. I choose a pencil because they never fail to write on damp paper, and my tack locker can be damp in winter.

Then, whenever I achieved one of my training goals and every time I had an awesome training session I took a minute to write it down on a paper and put it in my jar. My jar is now only filled 1/4, but next year…. it will be very full!

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Hershey clearly fascinated by this idea

Tomorrow, on January 1st, I will read them and I will look back on 2014. Then I will take the time to make a new training plan for 2015.

Happy New Year everybody!

Update: I wrote another post with tips to start a training journal: 4 Easy Ways to Start a Training Journal

*) In The Netherlands people with horses are referred to as “owners” or “boss” or in a cute way “little boss”, never “Mom”. As visual thinker I can’t help thinking about how painful it would be to give birth to a horse. 🙂 Only my wallet thinks it is painful.

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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!
Sign up for my newsletter (it comes with a gift) here: HippoLogic’s website.

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