Your Key to Success in Equine Clicker Training (

Archive for the ‘Riding’ Category

You’re not too old and it’s not too late for your Equestrian Dream to come true

“You’re not too old and it’s not too late.

~ Lori Deschene (Tiny Buddha)

bareback riding, fun

You’re never too old! (Source: Pixabay stock photo)

This week I rode my born-in-the-wild mare Kyra for the first time tack less: no bridle, no saddle and not even a neck rope! It was very exciting and so much fun.

Watch the video

Fulfilling my childhood dream

I felt completely confident and safe riding without a bridle and saddle because Kyra is a clicker trained horse. I know her very well and our relationship is build on trust which feels really safe.

While I was doing it, I realized that this was one of my childhood dreams! I made a list of all the things I ever wanted to do as equestrian. Lots of things I have fulfilled now and that feels really good! I encourage you to do the same!


In my childhood and teenage years I did many cool and dangerous, risky things with horses. ‘Nothing would happen to me’ and it turned out to be true!

tack free riding bridleless bareback

Tack free riding was one of my childhood dreams!

The older I get, the more I know. Therefor I also know more of what can go wrong. That makes me plan more, prepare better and take less risks. This takes out a bit of the care-free spontaneous actions in riding.

This week I decided to have a bit of both: spontaneous and prepared action.

The spontaneous, carefree action was to do ride tack free despite my fear. The feeling of “not having something in my hands” makes me feel uncomfortable and out of my comfort zone. That is the only thing, not the tack free riding, it is really the “empty hands”.

Proper preparation

The preparation part lies in the fact I used clicker training for many years for everything: from starting Kyra under saddle to riding her. We have a really good relationship.

I know I have the best and most trustworthy ’emergency break’ you can imagine in a horse. I have a click. I never used it to stop her, but I know she will stop as soon as she hears it. So that feels very safe.

Two tack free rides in one week!

First time I did have something in my hands: a target stick to help communicate where I wanted to go and a clicker, so that felt comfortable.

The second ride this week I didn’t bring any of those two training aids. I decided to rely on my seat, tongue click and previous preparation to ride her around the arena.

It went so well, above all expectations! That is also when I realized it is the “empty hand-feeling” that feels uncomfortable to me.


I made a video (Watch the video) because I always want to anchor my achievements deeply in my body and brain. I am a big fan of teaching my students to celebrate their successes.

Making a picture or video of a mile stone is a great way to celebrate and remember. It’s easy and normal to forget your achievements and focus on what we still can’t do or still want to learn. Now I have a two questions for you:

What is your childhood dream?

How do you celebrate your successes in order to remind yourself about your achievements?

Please share

If you think this is a blog that can inspire a friend to fulfill their equestrian dream, please share it on your social media. You can use the share buttons below.

I also love to hear your dream and if you achieved it or still want to achieve it! I read all comments and all dreams!
Don’t want to comment? Simply hit the like button so I know you read my blog. I would appreciate it. Thank you!

Happy Horse training!

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get results in training they really, really want. Getting results with ease and lots of fun for both horse and human is important to me. Win-win!
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PS In November, December and January the online course Ultimate Equestrian Dream Formula, turn your dreams into reality

Improve your clicker training from the saddle

Many equine clicker trainers ask me: ‘How do you start clicker training under saddle?‘ and ‘Do you have a video of clicker training while riding?‘ They expect something spectaculair in a video.
In this blog I explain one of the biggest struggle points of taking my clicker training from the ground into the saddle.
I didn’t know this then and I did find a way to coop with it, but if I had know what the ‘forces’ were that I was fighting it would have been so much easier.

Recently I dedicated a blog about starting/using clicker training under saddle, read it here. I was wondering what makes it so difficult to clicker train from the saddle? What is the difference between clicker training from the ground and clicker training while riding? This is one of the reasons why it is hard to start clicker training from the saddle:

Your brain is wired to 'complete' an action

Riding: Traditional/NH vs Positive reinforcement


Tips for Clicker Training from the Saddle

It seems complicated to use positive reinforcement during riding. Most common struggle points are: ‘It’s hard to hold a clicker and the reins in my hands’, ‘Clicker training is useful on the ground, but I don’t know how to use it from the saddle‘ and ‘If you use clicker training in riding you have to stop all the time to give a treat‘. How to address these issues?


Keep it simple!

Positive reinforcement is positive reinforcement, whether you apply it from the ground, standing next to your horse, or when you sit in the saddle. Therefor you have to apply the same rules to set you and your horse up for success: (more…)

How to drop the crop

We all like to hold on to our beliefs and our familiair training aids. I know I do, even when I already know I never will use it. Here are some ways to drop your crop.


Holding on to your riding crop (carrot stick, training stick or lunge whip) gives us a feeling of safety and empowerment. We need our crop, just in case…

But what if you don’t have a crop anymore. What would happen? Would you die? Yes, it can feel that way, but you (probably) won’t. (more…)

Riding after a stressful day: beneficial or not?

What do you do after a stressful day: are you going to ride or not? Enjoy my video.


Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to

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The 5 Essentials for Good Riding lessons (4-b/5)

This article is a sequel on the Positive Reinforcement (+R) for Horses during riding lessons (The 5 Essentials for Good Riding lessons (4-a from 5)). +R doesn’t have to be used solely to improve the performance of the horse.

+R for riders

I would love to see more positive reinforcement in riding lessons applied to the rider. Why? I don’t recall seeing a rider ever improve after he or she was shouted at by an instructor. Yes, they sit straight or with their shoulders back right away, but this causes a lot of tension. Due to the tension in their body they loose their ‘feel’ immediately and it destroys their independent seat instantly.

Not only do horses have to be in a learning mode in order to learn a new skill, it also goes for the rider. If the rider is bombarded with too many instructions at the same time or instructions that seems contradictory he or she can become frustrated.

Splitting behaviour as instructor

In my education as Centered Riding instructor I learned to split the riders tasks into tiny steps. We started to ride on a yoga ball and did all kinds of exercises to improve our feel on the ground before getting into the saddle. Something nobody had taught me in my education to become an ORUN instructor ( official Dutch certification for riding instructors).

Make the rider feel successful

For instance, when I had to teach riders the riding trot by one or two steps of trotting at a time. And I had to make them successful, too. I was taught to instruct them to transition to the walk before or just when they were about to lose their balance. It also gave me the opportunity to tell them about their improvements and listen to their feedback about the experience. Then I gave them time to practise on their own. Only after they mastered this tiny step would I raise my criterion for the rising trot._reinforcing_rider_hippologic

With this method of teaching I have seen riders improve their seat within an hour of riding. Even when they have had lessons for over ten years! I also noticed that their confidence in themselves grew and a lot of riders got rid of their fear of falling of.

I remember when I had to learn to trot myself. That was more like: trot until you find your balance. Which- of course- never happened while I was uncomfortably bumping up and down on a  fast trotting riding school pony… Trotting scared me so I was even more afraid to learn to canter.
Sandra Poppema
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website and book a free intake consult!

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Read more in this series The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons

Part I: Independent seat
Part II: Schoolmasters
Part III: Facts about horse behaviour
Part IV-a: Positive reinforcement (horses)
Part V: Attention for the horses emotions

The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons (4-a/5)

Often when I watch people ride I see struggle. I see a lot of frustration and it seems so difficult to learn how to ride. Truth is, part of it is in the way riding is taught (in general), but it doesn’t have to be like this. Riding and learning to ride can be relatively easy and effortless if the following prerequisites are met. Riding certainly doesn’t have to be the struggle it seems to be for most riders.

5 Things I would like to see more of in today’s riding lessons are:

  • Independent seat
  • Schoolmasters
  • Facts about horse behaviour
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Attention for the horses emotions

Positive reinforcement (+R)

Positive reinforcement is adding something pleasurable in order to get more of the desired behaviour. Example: in riding lessons most of us are taught to pat the horse on the neck in order to reward the horse for their effort. Why don’t we get more enthusiastic horses from this commonly used ‘reward’?

First of all: this is not reinforcing for horses! They don’t like it (…) and therefor it isn’t a reward. Horses have learned that the patting on their neck indicates the end of a certain exercise, for instance trotting around.

If it was reinforcing, they would like to show more of the behaviour in order to earn another reward. I haven’t seen one horse in my whole life that was eager to go back into trot after being patted on the neck. I must admit I have seen green horses occasionally go more forward after being patted on their necks, but that was only because they were turned into flight mode because of it.

Secondly, the timing of this kind of ‘reward’ sucks big time. For instance riders are in general taught to pat the horse on the neck and give it a long rein after a downward transition. Have you ever seen someone being taught to use this ‘reward’ after an upward transition?

I remember I was being told to pat the horse on the neck and giving him a long rein ‘for giving me this good (10 minute long) trot’. It doesn’t make sense scientifically… not to reward during the desired behaviour and often more than 3 seconds after the behaviour. Since riders are not taught to use a bridge signal, the horse doesn’t even know what it was for…

If you pay close attention you can see that it doesn’t cause eagerness in horses, they just ‘endure it’.

A reward has to be reinforcing the behaviour

In order for the horse to connect the behaviour with the reward the reward has to reinforce the behaviour. In other words: the reward has to be rewarding for the horse. A pat on the neck is not, a food reward usually is. And the reward must be given during the desired behaviour or announced with a bridge signal during the desired behaviour.

Reward the riding horse

Why not using a (real) reward to encourage the horse to give us more of a certain behaviour?

I have used a clicker during my riding lessons and it worked amazingly. The rider offered the food reward after each time I clicked. Even riders who never had heard of positive reinforcement or clicker training were open to try it.1_treat

None of my pupils ever said ‘Let’s stop rewarding my horse during your lessons’. On the contrary: they were all pleasantly surprised about the leaps of improvements their horses showed once we introduced a bridge signal and a real reward!

I used positive reinforcement to help improve things like the right head position during transitions, stepping more under their center of gravity with their inner hind leg in bends, teaching smooth transitions walk-canter-walk, ‘duration’ in lateral gaits, standing square and so on.

Adding a reward helps to cummunicate clearly what it is you want from the horse.

Good side effects

The best thing was the side effect of using the clicker on the horse: it helped the rider to develop their feel during a certain exercise. As soon as they heard the click, they knew the horse was doing it right. Which meant they were doing it right! After all, the horse can only do something right if the rider is helping him to perform.

As soon as the riders learned what ‘feel’ they were looking for, they could reproduce it on their own too! I didn’t have to explain anymore what it would feel like in words, but I could  just let them experience it themselves.

Rewarding works so much better than releasing (accumulating) pressure to teach a horse something new. A reward is something the horse looks forward to and engages him in riding. A release on the other hand is often more of a relief and not a reward at all.

[To be continued….]

Sandra Poppema, BSc.
Are you struggling with applying clicker training under saddle? Visit my website to book an online consult. I will be honoured to help you and your horse out. I’ve 2 decade experience with teaching equestrians to ride and train their horses in a horse-friendly way.

Read more in this series The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons

Part I: Independent seat
Part II: Schoolmasters
Part III: Facts about horse behaviour
Part IV-b: Positive reinforcement (riders)
Part V: Attention for the horses emotions

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