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Archive for the ‘Key Lessons’ Category

Fun Friday: 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.

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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.

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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.

 

_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.
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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.

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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.

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Using a target to get your horse out of the pasture

 

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

 

 

Key lessons for 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.

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 basic in clicker training and why.

Sandra Poppema
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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!

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.

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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.

 

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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.

HippoLogic.jpgSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve Human-horse relationships by connecting equestrians with their inner wisdom (you know what is good for your horse if you look into your heart) and sharing the simple principles of learning and motivation. I offer online horse training courses to give you the knowledge and experience you need to train your own 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) or visit HippoLogic’s website.


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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’.

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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.

Here is a blog about advanced mat training.

Happy Horse Training!

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

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

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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.

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

 

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.

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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 backup 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.

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult today!

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