It starts with a helmet and a whip

The first two items parents have to buy for their kids who start horseback riding is 1) a helmet and 2) a whip. Why?

Helmet
I can see why parents want to buy a helmet for their kids. Falling off of a horse or pony can be dangerous. After all, horseback riding is a high risk sport. Parents want the best for their kids. They want their kids to be as safe as possible and want to protect them the best way they can. That is why they send their kids to an instructor or riding school, who can teach them about safety and riding. The second item they buy their kids is usually a whip and after a while some proper riding boots to replace the muck boots.

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Photo is used with permission from Empowered Equines

Whip
Why the whip*)? Isn’t it strange that you would give your kid a whip to do … what? Inflict pain to an already potential dangerous animal? Weird, if you think about it. But parents don’t think about it, they don’t know, so they just buy whatever they are told to buy. By the riding school or their kids. Which is perfectly understandable.

The kids have no experience either, all they know is that everybody starts with a whip right away. They want to be like everybody else. So we can’t blame them. They are just starting their wonderful adventure: connecting and riding a wonderful gentle and graceful animal, a horse or a pony.

*) or training stick in groundwork

The horse
Isn’t it strange that parents who don’t hit their kids, seems to be OK with their kids hitting an animal with a whip. An animal that is not allowed to defend himself. Picture a horse that fights back after a child had to whip it on advice of the instructor.

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Cartoon is used with permission of Fed Up Fred

If you ever experienced how painful a tap with a whip or encounter with the string on a training stick is, it is unbelievable that grown-ups are OK teaching their kids to inflict that much pain on an animal.

Language
Of course it is a taboo to speak about the serious pain one inflicts by using a whip. It is always the horses fault, he ‘deserves’ it, because he ‘didn’t listen’ or ‘he knows better’.

If we do have questions about the whip, the instructor tells us ‘it is an extension of our leg’. Or our arm, if we do groundwork. What they mean is: ‘If you can’t kick a horse hard enough to go forward you have to punish it and use your painful whip. That will make him go. You get immediate results’.

Of course you can’t sell it to the kids while their parents are watching, so they say: “The horse has to know that he has to listen” or “He has to know who’s boss” or “Don’t let him win”.

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Results
People do want immediate results. That’s why trainers /riders stick to hitting a flight animal: it works (mostly) instantly. Immediate results give people often a feeling of control and power. Immediate results also give the impression of being an expert.

You might have to give that up if you change your ways to positive reinforcement to teach the horse what is expected of him. No immediate results, but a better relationship instead. One based on trust and rewards, a relationship in which it is OK to make mistakes and in which the learner is encouraged to grow. Wouldn’t that be valuable lessons for novice riders?

It is the other way around
Ask yourself: who is the one who’s learning? It is the child, right? I assume that the horses in riding schools are already taught what riding aids are and how to respond properly.

So why aren’t children being taught friendly ways to make the horse move? Very often the horse can’t or won’t move because the rider hasn’t learned how to move with the horse and the horse is getting mixed signals from its unbalanced rider. I have also seen unbalanced riders that are afraid to go faster and the horse picks up on that.

The instructor is a powerful person and tells the unbalanced, frightened rider to use the whip. So the rider does, because he is more afraid for the instructor or doing something wrong. After all, what would happen to the rider if (s)he doesn’t listen ….. Horses are punished with a kick or a whip. What kind of message does that send to the kid?

Not that I was thinking of that consciously, I just felt fear for my instructor as she shouted at me to use the whip. At the same time I felt very sorry for the horse, so I often slapped my boot. That scared the horse and made it move faster. The sad thing was that I made the instructor proud, because she thought I was hitting the horse hard enough to make it move.

I was torn. I liked riding and being around horses so much, I didn’t want to give it up. So I stayed and kept on riding. I often asked myself why girls in books could ride their (rescue) horses always in a friendly way…

Carrying (and using) a whip is often played down with the phrase: The whip is just an extension of the arm.

Fear
I was very afraid of most of my riding instructors. I was there to learn how to ride. I didn’t know that they would teach me negative reinforcement methods and punishment ‘to make the horse listen’. In my memory there was always more attention for the horse ‘being wrong/stubborn/lazy’ than for my mistakes (my unbalanced seat) or my lack of communication tools and knowledge.

I thought horses liked to be ridden… I honestly thought that riding aids ought to be invisible and as small as possible. (I still believe that.) I thought I would learn to ride with my mind, like telepathically or at most very subtle aids.

After seven years at the riding school I quit my riding lessons. I realized that I would never get to that point of using lighter aids or learn to develop a meaningful bond with a horse. On the contrary: if you where ‘good enough’ you were rewarded by riding the more ‘advanced’ horses. The horses who needed to be ridden with spurs. Literally you had to earn your spurs at this riding school.

Let me tell you, by the time I was 15 years old I realized that spurs were not meant as “more subtle” aids. I already noticed that they made it easier for the rider to kick the horse forward. Not what I had in mind when I started my lessons.

fedupfred_kick_horse

Cartoon is used with permission of Fed Up Fred

Sad
It is just so sad and unnecessary that many young boys and girls learn to ride this way. That they are told to ‘dominate’ the horse instead of ways to show them how they could cooperate with the horse. That they are not told how they can motivate the horse with rewards and that they are not shown how they really can build a wonderful relationship and even a friendship with a horse.

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Dream
I think children need that bond with animals, especially teenage girls. My dream is of a future in which all children and adults are taught how they can respect the horses’ point of view, their needs and how to motivate them in friendly ways.

It is my dream that people learn to ride on well trained horses that don’t need to be kicked or whipped to move. It is my dream that people learn to ride without fear and it is my dream to have horses that enjoy teaching people how to ride. I know there are already people who teach this. All I want to say is: keep up the good work!

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!

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 connect horse women with their inner wisdom and teach them the principles of learning and motivation, so they become confident and skilled to train their horse in a safe and effective way that is a lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training and learn how to train your horse so you can ride without aversives.
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Related posts:

Attitudes to let go off… when Clicker Training Horses

Natural Horsemanship vs Clicker Training

Keeping an Open Mind is a Challenge

Recipe for a Magical Bond

More Tips for Training for a dressage test

In another blog I gave tips for riders who are visual learners. If your learning style is more kinesthetic/tactile you may benefit by practising the test by ‘riding’ it. You can practise without your horse.

Kinesthetic/tactile learners

You can learn the test by ‘riding’ it by yourself to get the feel. Make a little arena by printing the area letters and put them in the right order on the floor in your living room. Or, if you like to be a little more crafty or don’t have enough space inside, tape them on wooden BBQ skewers so you can practise on your lawn. If you want to practise a Caprilli test you can make jumps out of (broom) sticks

Now you can ride the test by ‘walking’, ‘trotting’ and ‘cantering’ in your living room arena or in your garden. If you have to memorize a quadrille test this would be a fun thing to try with your group. It is a very efficient way of learning._indoor_arena-hippologic_tactile_kinesthtic_learners

Auditory learners

If you are the type of learner that is more auditory you can record yourself or your instructor reading the test out loud.

You can also try out a combination of the visual, tactile and auditory ways of learning to see what works best for you.

Have fun and good luck riding your next dressage, Caprilli or quadrille test.

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

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DIY learn-a-dressage-test board

Memorizing a dressage test can be difficult. You can read the test over and over, but if you’re a ‘visual learner’ it helps to ‘see’ the test. In that case a dressage-test-board can help you.

With a dressage-test-board you can ‘ride’ the test on the board and make the exercises visual. I used to practise my tests on (many sheets of ) paper, but nowadays there is the white board. Yeey!

Supplies
White board
1 permanent marker (black)
3 white board/dry erase markers (blue, green, red)
ruler
plan with arena letters

DIY_dressage_test_board_by_hippologic_2015 Instructions
Take the plan with the arena letters as example. Draw a rectangle with the permanent marker on the white board. The long sides of the arena represent 40 meters, the short sides represent 20 m. Keep that in mind while drawing the ‘arena’, so the proportions long-short side stay 2:1.

Write the arena letters, start with C on the top short side. The order clockwise is C-M-B-F-A-K-E-H. The jury is always at C.

The letter X is in the middle of the arena, on the A-C line and between E and B. The letters G and D are ‘invisible’ and are on the A-C line, G lies between H and M and D lies between K and F.

You can also write down the dimensions with the permanent marker: long side 40 metres, short side 20 metres. F, K, H, M are 6 metres from the corner. B and E are in the middle of the long side, C and A on the short side of the arena. Once you’ve written down the dimensions, you can see how a 20 or 10 metre circle at B or E looks like.

Practising
When you have a dressage test you want to memorize you take your 3 white board markers and start ‘riding’ the test. Each colour represents a gait. It will help you visualize your test. Good luck!

Sandra Poppema

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practise_dressage_test_hippologic_DIY_board_2015

 

 

4 Tips to improve your riding without an instructor

First of all: I don’t think anyone can do without a good instructor, we all need a pair of eyes on the ground and a voice that can connect ‘feel’ with ‘action’ to improve your riding.

I know there are a lot of riders that are working without an instructor as we speak, not because they think they know it all or that they feel they don’t need any help. This blog is meant for those riders. The ones who always want to improve.

Riders are without a decent instructor because they can’t find anyone who fits their needs. Maybe you are looking for an instructor who is open to clicker training and you don’t know the right person yet. Some barns here don’t allow outside instructors, it can be a financial issue, you don’t have a possibility to haul your horse to a lesson nearby, you don’t have an arena and so on.

#1 Video
Make a video while you are riding. It doesn’t have to be long, you can just film a specific exercise. You can warm up your horse and just do a few transitions walk-canter or only a few steps shoulder in to review at home. Or if you’re training for a competition you can video the exercises one at a time.

Go home, remember that you are learning and that your goal is to improve yourself. Watch the video as if it was your best friend riding. What would you say to her if she would have asked you for some tips to improve? Be kind because you’re the biggest critic of yourself. Phrase it in a positive way. Write your tips down and say: “I can improve my riding by … [fill in the blank]”. For every tip for improvement try to write down a compliment too.

If you are nervous about filming and watching it back: just film a few minutes so you can give your best. You will be surprised that sometimes if feels much clumsier than it looks! Try it, you might surprise yourself.

#2 Ask a friend
Your Hippologic_rijden_kyrafriend doesn’t have to be an instructor he or she can be ‘your eyes on the ground’. Ask  your friend to tell you specific things that you want to know. Be specific and ask her to tell you if the hind hooves are landing in the imprint of the front hooves or stepping over. If you want to improve your feel ask your friend to say “yes” every time your horse lifts up his outer hind leg. Just simple exercises like that can help improve your riding enormously and you don’t need an instructor to help you with those.

#3 Watch and learn
If you don’t have the opportunity to take lessons yourself try to watch other riders as much as possible. Go to a clinic or buy a dvd of your favourite instructor out there.

If you are a visual person you can watch videos of your favourite rider just before you go riding yourself. When you are riding pretend to be that rider. It will immediately improve your riding.

Make a video of you riding with and without having watched your favourite rider and find out if you can see the difference.

#4 Practise at home
There are a lot of good exercises that help riders improve without being on a horse. Sitting on a yoga ball while working on your pc can help your balance. There are some good instructors with a Centered Riding background who made good dvd’s to help riders, Wendy Murdoch and the Murdoch Method for instance.

Have fun riding!

Sandra Poppema

5 Tips to improve your riding immediately

#1 Keep on B breathebreathing
As instructor I often see that riders improve instantly if they start breathing again. If a rider is concentrating or ‘doing her best’ they hold their breath. What impact does that have on their body?

If you hold your breath you get tense in a lot of places. If you flex your muscles too much, you cannot move with your horse anymore. In other words you are making it so hard on your horse to move freely that it then becomes harder for you to follow your horses movement.

Experiment
If have a yoga ball or an office chair you can do this little experiment. Sit on the ball or chair and move forward and backward while holding your upper body still. What is easier? To breathe in while you are moving the ball/chair forward or backward? Why do you think that is? What happens when you hold your breath? Do you feel tension?

On the horse
While riding something similar happens when you hold your breath. Make it a habit that every time you ride along the letter B, you think: “B means breathe”.

#2 Check if there is tension you can let go
Can you wiggle your toes in your boots while riding? Is your tongue relaxed? No, check your breathing againrelax. See if you can relax as much as possible without becoming Jello. My own instructor often said: “Be like a twig: straight but flexible so you can still move and follow the horses movements”. Another tip she gave me was to imagine you “ride with your skeleton, not with your muscles”. Imagine you stack your vertebra, shoulders, neck and head in a balanced pile so you don’t have to use your muscles to keep straight.

#3 Keep your head up
Apparently your head weighs about 5 kilograms. If you tilt your head forward, to look at your horse, your balance is already disturbed. Imagine a stick with a rotating plate on it. How does the plate stay on the stick? Because the plate is balanced on the stick. If the stick was not in the middle of the plate it would fall. Your head is luckily attached to your spine and therefor it will not fall off. But your muscles have to work hard to prevent you from falling off of your horse. That causes… tension. See #2.

#4 Make a habit of checking your posture
It is hard when you ride by yourself to check on yourself. Especially when you don’t have mirrors in your (outdoorC check) arena.

Here are a few tips. Make simple reminders for yourself. For example, C stands for “Checking my posture”. Every time you pass along the letter C, you check if you can wiggle your toes in your boots and if your tongue is relaxed.  Check also if your head is straight above your vertebra.

Every time you ride along the letter B you remember to Breathe.  Ask yourself: “Am I holding my breath?”

#5 Smile!Smile 
Smiling makes you relaxed. Have you ever smiled when you were tense? That is not a real smile. Try it now. Breathe, relax and try a friendly, loving smile and feel how it relaxes your body. So don’t forget to smile while you are riding.

Sandra Poppema
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What to do if your horse doesn’t listen? (A question about Clicker training)

I get that question a lot lately. A horse has to to what the riders asks, is a motto most riders have. Otherwise he is ‘testing you’, ‘disobedient’ , ‘disrespecting you’ or ‘he will become the leader’ and what not. Not my horse!

The other day at the barn someone said to me: “You do Natural Horsemanship, right. So if your horse doesn’t listen to you, you don’t have much you can do…”. That was an interesting remark.

First of all, I try to not be associated with Natural Horsemanship anymore. The way I KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAmotivate and train horses is the opposite: I add rewards. All the NH methods I know use negative reinforcement (adding a reversive first and taking the aversive away as soon as the animal responds in the proper way). This method is also known as Escape Learning or Avoidance Learning. I did that, been there, not doing it again… Why?

I discovered a method even more powerful and more reliable to train my horse and bond with her: positive reinforcement. Adding a reward if the horse shows the wanted behaviour.

Secondly, if my horse doesn’t ‘do as I ask’ That means I have a job to do: find out why.

Since I shifted to 100% clicker training I never use ‘increasing pressure’ anymore. What a relief! I never liked using my whip or ‘phase 4 with my carrot stick’. http://meetville.com/quotes/author/b-f-skinner/page2

I don’t feel that she is ‘testing me’ in a negative way, ‘disrespecting me’, ‘trying to become the leader’, ‘disobedient’ and what not. Why? Simply because I removed those expressions out of my equestrian vocabulary, because I don’t believe these myths anymore.

Since I emerged myself into the way animals learn and what motivates them (learning theory of B.F. Skinner), there is no need for me to use reversives like accumulating pressure, pain or the threat of accumulating pressure.

I also don’t use punishment anymore to ‘teach a horse’, because now I know punishment is meant to stop a behaviour/undesired behaviour, not teach a better behaviour.

When I was making the video of Kyra and me cantering with a flag, she didn’t want to canter at first. That is so unlike her. I take this sign seriously, because I want a two-way communication with my horse. So yes, that means that she is allowed to an opinion. Even if it can be inconvenient sometimes.

When she doesn’t do what I ask her to do, I ask myself: ‘Did I asked the wrong question or did I asked the question wrong?” If she is still learning, I will check if I set the situation up for success and ask myself what I can do to improve. Note here that I am not focusing on “who is wrong”, I am focusing on what can be improved. That what you focus on, becomes bigger.

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This poster is made by http://www.doggiedrawings.net/

Anyway, I found a friendly way to ask Kyra to canter for me. She did it and I gave her a big jackpot. That is the biggest reward you have. In this case: dismount her, get rid of her saddle and allow her to take a nice roll.

I found out that she is changing teeth (molars) and she might have had a headache or felt not well altogether. I always find out later what was going on if my horses didn’t want to work for me. Horses always have a good reason.  Mostly pain-related or they spot (real) danger. That’s my experience.

Have you ever experienced something similar? That a horse didn’t want to do something and that you found out later what their reason was? Please share your story below.

Sandra Poppema

My promised video: cantering with a flag!

Today’s filming session didn’t go as planned. First of all the barn was full of people riding their horses. Most evenings I am all by myself and I didn’t expect it to be so busy. So I wanted to do something else first, instead of riding.

Three days ago I have entered a clicker training challenge on a Dutch Facebook page. The assignment is to teach your horse to stand on two little pieces of wood. The pieces are not too big ( 20 x 20 cm) so that is a bit of a challenge. That is what I thought…

I asked Kyra to mount these blocks with her front hooves. That went excellent: within 4 minutes she stood several seconds with both feet on the two pieces of wood. Wow!

Then I saddled Kyra to make the riding video. As promised I would film us cantering with a flag if my HippoLogic FaceBook page would hit 1000 LIKES. Today my page hit the magical number and a few more. That is awesome and I am super happy! My lovely husband offered to be my cameraman, so that was a big help. Thanks!

I remember starting my FB page and I was struggling to get likes from family and friends. The 500 was a big breakthrough and I decided to make a photo shoot with Kyra picking up a flag which said ‘500 LIKES and a thumbs up’, see  here.

After riding and videoing the canter I did a second session with the blocks which took only half the time: 2 minutes. I am so proud of my clicker trained horse. Especially because my 4 year old son is also in that video and he is waving the flag in front of us while I am training Kyra to mount the little blocks. He is distracting everybody, but Kyra only pays attention to me.

At one point my son stands next to me and starts to ‘help’ me, using all the voice commands I use for Kyra (in Dutch). It is funny to watch all that is going on in the background of this clicker training video.

I almost forgot: Click here to go to my → → CANTER WITH FLAG VIDEO .← ←

Thank you for watching and if you like it, click the thumbs up button on YouTube.

Sandra Poppema