Empowering Equestrians to Train their own horse with 100% Force Free & Horse Friendly methods

Posts tagged ‘barn mates’

5 things I wish I knew when I bought my horse

It is useful to make mistakes and learn from them, but sometimes it is better to learn from other peoples mistakes. Here are five things I have learned owning my own horse.

#1 Horses

I wish I had known more about horse behaviour, training and learning theory when I bought my first pony. I thought I knew a lot, but I didn’t realize that most of the things I knew where hear-say myths, based on traditional ideas like ‘you have to dominate your horse otherwise he will dominate you’ and you have to be ‘the alpha horse’. Turns out that there is no such thing as one leader in a herd who makes all the decisions, a herd acts more like a democratic society.

In today’s society we are lucky that there is so much research about horse behaviour and how to teach horses new skills at our hands on the Internet. Make use of it! Don’t believe everything you hear and don’t be afraid to ask (critical) questions. All the time. About everything.

#2 Instructors

A lot of instructors are still teaching the myths I mentioned above. Most of them are also more focused on results than on the way the results are reached. That makes me sad. I know all riders want results, but they also really love their horses. If they only knew they can have the best of both worlds: building a good relationship with their horse and booking results.

Knowledgeable instructors

I find it very difficult to find instructors who can explain clearly the reason for everything they teach you. I’ve had coaches who couldn’t explain why I should ride circles or what exercises it prepared my horse for. They couldn’t explain why I should ride a raising trot and why it must be on the outside leg.

Always ask what their vision is before you hire them and what they’ve learned in their education. What they liked best about it and if there are things they wished they had learned more about during their education.

I know what I missed. In my 500 page book that I had to study in order to become a certified riding instructor there where only 2 pages about didactics and no information about learning theory or how to help your clients become balanced riders. Needless to say I went elsewhere to learn this valuable information.

#3 Barn owners

This is a sensitive subject. I’ve come across the very skillful and those that are clueless. Again, there are barn owners who know a lot about horses and understand their natural needs (16 hours of high fiber, low calorie food, clean water, social needs and exercise) and the ones that think boarding horses is an easy way to make money. Be careful with barn owners that are not interested in horses themselves but started a boarding facility because they bought a horse for their daughter(s).

Before you move your horse to a new barn ask questions like: how much pasture time do horses get. Is this all year round or only in the summer? What about rainy days (weeks). Also inform yourself about their rules: what is included in the price, are you allowed to bring friends, choose your own instructor, vet and farrier?

#4 Fellow barn people

Don’t underestimate the influence your fellow barn mates can have on you. You will spent many hours at the barn. Look for a place with good vibes.

If there is a lot of drama, you won’t have a good time. In some barns people are very friendly and open to all kinds of riding styles, in other barns you are treated like outcast if you are ‘not one of them’. It is always nice to make friends and share your hobby.

#5 Farriers

Good farriers are worth their weight in gold! If you have one that does a good job, keep him/her! Since the good ones are very busy people, it is advisable to make already an appointment for the next time before they leave the barn. Especially on the first sunny days in Spring and at the start of the competition season: everyone needs a farrier. Treat them well. I provide cookies and coffee/tea/cold drink. Positive reinforcement works on people too!

What advise do you want to share with people who just bought their first horse? Please share it in the comments. Thank you!

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

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I wish I had … so I created …


What do you often wish when you’re at the barn? I wish I have a friend at the barn, someone I can ride with and share my successes and ruts with. I am so lucky to have someone like that at my barn.

Over the years I noticed that a lot of positive reinforcement trainers (clicker trainers) are often feeling a bit alienated. They can’t really talk about their (baby step) step successes or share their difficulties at the barn. We use weird tools like fanny packs, clickers, target sticks, mats, round pens where the trainer is in the pen and the horse runs free on the outside and so on. Let’s be honest: the majority of horse owners are not yet ready to try force-free, reward-based training and riding._collage_targetstick

We, clicker trainers, often feel a bit uncomfortable around the more traditional or natural horsemanship people as well. Why?

First of all: we are not born with a R+ key and even if we were, we have learned not to use it. We all have been where most people still are: forcing the horse in order to achieve your goal. Sometimes the goal is just as simple as “He has to listen” whatever that may be.

Second of all: people really want to hear your quick fixes, but lose interest real quick if they learn that clicker training involves changing your own attitude towards horses and training. Most clicker trainers give up on convincing others: it just doesn’t work if people are not willing to look at what they have to change in order to get a better relationship with their horse.

Most horse owners are not really interested in how they can make life easier for the horse, they want to know how they can get to their goal. Quickly. Too bad, because in my opinion it is much nicer to have the same goals as your horse. It feels much more harmonic if I know my horse is working willingly for or with me because there is something in it for her too.

Anyway, as clicker trainer it is often hard to find a like-minded accountability partner nearby, or just someone to reflect your training with. Someone to share your training problems and solutions with, someone who understands what it feels like when your horse just put one foot into the trailer that day, someone who can understand that this was a huge step and knows that you and your horse will get there. One day. Together.

With all this in mind I started a ‘Happy Herd’ in Burnaby, BC, Canada. A platform for_HippoLogic_thinkingOutOfTheBox_clickertraining positive reinforcement animal trainers with monthly meetings with a different theme each time.

I hope to create an environment where horse lovers can share their stories, their successes and their difficulties. A place where we can learn from each other, encourage each other (we all have frustrations, novice as well as experienced trainers) and where people can find an accountability partner to stimulate them to reach their equestrian goals with their horse. Where they can find like-minded people and maybe even make friends in real life. A place where you don’t have to defend or explain your training method over and over. No need to be a professional trainer or seasoned clicker trainer, if you are willing to learn and share, you are welcome! My goal is not to grow big, my goal is to grow strong and to have fun and feel supported. The Happy Herd is a good place to be if you are interested or using reward-based methods to train your animal. Stepping out of your comfort zone is always easier if there is someone to hold your hand?

I started my Happy Herd (where people and horses can be equally happy) group on Facebook. I am organizing our first meeting this month! I am so super excited!

I already had people in the UK and Australia asking me if they can start a Happy Herd in their country. Of course, I would be honoured! Yes, that would be awesome if there started a global movement of Happy Herds. That would make me HAPPY! This is a wonderful New Years resolution for 2016.

Take a look at our Happy Herd.

Sandra Poppema

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