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5 Tips for dealing with Frustration in Horse Training

We all get frustrated in training or riding our horses. That’s a given. Horses can also get frustrated if their expectations about their training or the consequences of their actions (release of pressure or receiving a treat) are not being met.

What can you do to prevent frustration and what if you are already frustrated or your horse is, what can you do next?

What causes frustration in your horse

If expectations are not being met it can cause frustration in your horse. For instance, you’ve clicked and now he expects a treat. If you’re clumsy or slow with your food delivery while your horse is waiting he can get frustrated. If you always offer carrots and now you’ve clicked and he gets a hay cube instead he can be dissapointed which can lead to frustration (‘Why am I not getting my favourite treat, a carrot?’).

Same can happen in traditional training and riding: the horse seeks release (relief) from riding aids and body language (pressure, pulling on lead ropes, waving whips and training sticks) and doesn’t get this release of pressure when he performs correctly.

If you, as trainer, raise the criteria in your training too quickly or make the steps too big your horse can get really frustrated: normally he immediately get a click and a treat if he goes to a mat and steps on it, but now he does not! What is going on? You might think you’re working on ‘duration’ but if your horse gets frustrated in the process his learning process will slow down.

Preventing frustration in clicker training is one thing, but what can you do if your horse is already frustrated? 3 Tips.

If you go too slowly it also can cause boredom or frustration in your horse.

Poor timing of the trainer or inconsistency (lack of clarity), can cause the horse to get frustrated. You just clicked for X, now you’re clicking for something different? No, but if the timing is poor this can cause miscommunication, which can lead to frustration.

If you decide to clicker train the new horse in the barn instead of your own horse. This can cause frustration in your horse: now is is being excluded from training, choice and treats. His expectation is not being met.

All examples that can cause frustration in the horse because he can’t seem to influence the circumstances or desired outcome. I think you get the picture.

If you know better, you’ll do better

Now you know, you’ll see this happening all around you. First you’ll recognize it in other people’s horses and if your brave you’ll see it in your own horse too. That can be painful, but it’s a necessary step in order to prevent frustration in the future. Be proud that you’re ready to acknowledge it: now you can move to the next step.

How can you recognize frustration in your horse?

This is a tricky one because I haven’t found any scientific research on recognizing frustration in horses, yet we all have seem in in horses. Haven’t we?

I am willing to take the risk not being scientific and base my story on anecdotes and experience of my own observations.

Next time you observe a person training (riding) a horse look for these behaviours. They cannot taken out of the context but in order for clarity’s sake I have to. Here a signs that the horse is irritated or (getting) frustrated:

  • Tail swishing (can be as subtle as just once)
  • Pawing with one or two (alternating) front leg(s) or weight shift
  • Stomping front foot
  • Head lift (subtle) or
  • Push with the nose
  • Flick of one ear
  • Two ears flicked and closed
  • Snaking of the neck
  • Ears pinned
  • Wrinkles around the nostrils

Horses may not all use these and many are also to express other emotions and messages. Here is a picture of a horse that expects breakfast and was pawing. Instead of giving food, I made a picture to capture her expression.

How to deal with frustration

In order to prevent frustration you have to offer clarity. What to do if your horse is already frustrated?

  1. Start with congratulating yourself for noticing! Not many horse owners/trainers recognize it in their horse
  2. Stop and breathe so that you can come up with a plan to handle your horse’s frustration
  3. Change what you’re doing that is causing frustration (this is crucial) and aim to prevent frustration. If that means you have to give your horse a break or ask something you know he can and will do, ask that. This will interrupt the feelings of frustration.

Prevention

Frustration is not always preventable but you can prepare yourself and your horse in training and set both of you up for success. Clarity provides frustration in training. #animaltraining

  • Improve your timing (watch yourself on video)
  • Improve the RoR (rate of reinforcement)
  • Lower your training criteria until your horse understands what he has to so
  • Become more predictable for your horse and make a plan before you start training
  • Ask help if you can’t solve it on your own. A tiny bit of frustration in your horse can help find solutions, but too much and too often will put a strain on your relationship with your horse.

Read more about preventing frustration in training and riding.

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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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Tips to prevent Frustration in Riding or Training Your Horse

Every rider, every horse owner and every trainer has experienced frustration at one point. I notice that some people are frustrated more than others. What to do about frustration? Take it out on your horse? Or try to prevent it (is that even possible)?

The people who I see struggling with frustration are the people who don’t have a clear plan when they are riding or training their horse. They don’t split their goal into tiny building blocks and work their way systematically through the process. They tend to move their goals (criteria) during training, so they have the feeling they never succeed. That would be the same as having ‘getting to the horizon’ as your goal: you will never succeed!

The 1 million dollar question

If you feel frustration stop whatever you’re doing and ask yourself ‘why am I feeling this right now’? These are possible answers:

  • Are you asking too much of yourself?
  • Are you asking too much of your horse?
  • Are you comparing yourself with others (who might be at a whole different point in their journey with their horse)?
  • Are you making your steps too big (‘lumping‘), are you discouraging or confusing your horse?
  • Did you make (and write) a realistic plan before you started training/riding your horse?
  • Are you positively reinforcing yourself and your horse enough to keep going?
  • Do you give yourself and your horse enough time to process the training?
  • Who is telling you that you have to accomplish ‘this’ (whatever that is) right now?
  • Did you prepare your horse enough to this situation?

Prevent frustration

First of all: stop beating yourself up! It doesn’t help you and it only make things worse. Second: don’t beat up your horse. He can’t help it, he is just a horse. You don’t want to regret taking your frustration out on him.

If you feel frustration coming up, simply stop what you’re trying to accomplish and take a few moments to pause. Take a few deep breaths and ask yourself the questions above.

In order to prevent frustration make training goals and plan every step in the process. Make a good shaping plan and if you get stuck, pause and take another look at your shaping plan to see if you are lumping (skipping steps in the process to the goal behaviour). If you don’t know how to do this: ask help!_frustration_in_training_horse_hippologic

Frustration is not necessary!

Take baby steps in your training. Celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how small! Don’t forget to write your goals and your achievements down: we have a tendency to forget or play down our own achievements! 😉 Start a training journal today!

You’re not the only one

We have all experienced frustration from time to time. If I see frustrated riders it reminds me of me a long time ago. When I was using ‘traditional training’ (which meant: there is no plan to follow) I used to be frustrated all the time!

I must say I almost never frustrated with my horse anymore and if I feel frustration coming up I know to deal with it before damaging my relationship with Kyra.

Change your focus

Changing my focus was a big help in preventing frustration. Instead of saying ‘no’ to my horse (and myself) all the time, I learned to focused on the ‘yes’.

Instead of saying ‘why are you always walking away when I want to mount, stupid horse!’ I learned to focus on the few seconds she could (and would) stand still and encourage this behaviour. Because I now reinforced my horse with treats to stand still, of course Kyra became very motivated to display that behaviour more and more! Shifting my focus from the ‘walking away’ to the ‘four hooves on the ground’ was such an eye opener!

Calling your horse names, will not give you a good feeling, even if it gives you temporary satisfaction.

Yes, it is easy to blame your horse and call him ‘stupid’ but be honest: Does it really give you a good feeling that you have a ‘stupid’ horse?

Wouldn’t you feel better about yourself if you had a ‘handsome and smart’ horse? I think that a smart horse can only be smart if the owner gives the freedom and opportunity to show how smart he really is! Don’t call yourself or your horse names. It is not encouraging or supporting for you or your horse in any way. Start feeling compassion for yourself. Be gentle: you are on a journey, learning is a process.

Last but not least

Never compare yourself or your horse with anybody else. We might be comparing our ‘worst’ with their ‘best’. They might be in a whole different stage of their journey. If they can do something you can’t, it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything right. It is just not a fair comparison. Ever.

If you want to see it from a positive view: you now know that it (whatever ‘it’ is), is possible. And… maybe they can even help you reach the same goal or point you in the right direction!

Focus on what is most important in the world: your own journey, your relationship with your horse.

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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.

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