Setting yourself up for Success: tips for trainers

We all know by now how important it is to set our horse up for success in training. We know how to do it: influencing the context in which the horse learns a new skill, keeping the sessions short, splitting your goal into small training steps and be aware of our reward schedule. But what can we do to help ourselves to be successful?

What is your goal?

You only know if you have succeeded if you know your own definition of success. This is very personal. Take the time to think about it for a minute: How do you define your  ‘success’ in riding or training/keeping your horse? Just pause now and try to think of 5 things that define ‘success’ and write them down.

Setting a goal and writing it down

For me setting a training goal and writing it down helps. Without this compass I feel lost. But achieving my goal isn’t the only measurement for success. For me ‘being successful in training’ involves other criteria. Here are two other pillars that define success for me.

Joy

It is important to me that my horse enjoys the training, too. I want an attentive, eager and happy horse.

If a horse shows resistance, fear, frustration, pain and/or signs of a mental shut down (learned helplessness) it doesn’t matter to me if I reach my desired goal. I was not successful as trainer.

I want to succeed as a team, which means we both are enjoying spending time together. The journey is just as important as the destination.

Experience

We all make mistakes, but it is not about the mistakes. It is all about how you handle ‘mistakes’. I never call them mistakes, I prefer to call them ‘points of learning’.  As long as I have learned something new or found a new way to approach a ‘puzzle’ in my training I can feel good about myself. Sometimes we learn a lot more than we thought we would learn when we started.

I don’t have to reach my training goal in order to feel successful in the process.

Accountability partner

In all the books I’ve read about how to become successful there is one tip that is always the same, no matter if it is about a career of becoming a top athlete. They all have their accountability partner. Someone who motivates you, keep you on track and listens to you when you encounter a ‘bump in the road’.

Basics

feel_succesfull_hippologicIn order to set yourself up for success, start with the basics. This means that you profit from other peoples learning points. Why invent the wheel again?

It doesn’t matter if you are a novice or a seasoned clicker trainer: the basics are key to your success. This is why I like to call them Key lessons. You can find them in the category ‘Key lessons’ in the drop down menu on the right or when you follow this link.

 Celebrate

It is really nice to share your achievements with people who are happy for you. So find yourself a support team on the Internet or in real life. Don’t forget: you could be someone else’s inspiration!

You don’t need other people to celebrate your goals. I have recorded my training successes, big and small, in many ways to enjoy them long after I have achieved them. I made videos and photo albums and I have written them down in my training logbooks. It helps me realize that I already am successful, even if I haven’t achieved my next goal.

How do you set yourself up for success? Please let me know in the comments, I like to be inspired by fellow equestrians. Thank you.

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

Related posts

Setting your Horse up for Success: Short sessions

Setting your Horse up for Success: Splitting behaviour

Setting your Horse up for Success: Context shift

 

 

Technieken om gedrag te verkrijgen: shaping, targeting en capturing

[Click here for the English version of this article]

Deel I van deze serie ging over de voor- en nadelen van luring en moulding.  In dit tweede deel licht ik de begrippen shaping, targeting en capturing toe.

Shaping
Shaping betekent ‘vormen’. Shaping houdt in dat het eindgedrag wordt bereikt door het op te delen in zoveel mogelijk kleine stapjes. Elk stapje naar het gewenste gedrag wordt afzonderlijk getraind (geclickt en beloond). Het criterium wordt pas verhoogd als de vorige stap goed bevestigd is.

Door het doelgedrag in vele trainbare stappen te verdelen, kan elk gewenst gedrag vanuit het ‘niets’ aangeleerd worden. Dit heet free shaping.

Shaping kan ook worden gebruikt om al bestaand gedrag verder te trainen. Zo kan men langzaam elementen als duur, afleidingen of afstand erbij in trainen.

Voordelen van shaping
Het is een veilige en zekere manier om elk gewenst gedrag te trainen.

Het is een goede manier om je paard op te zetten voor succes. Elke stap van het shaping proces is gemakkelijk te begrijpen voor het paard en makkelijk uit te voeren. Het brugsignaal (de click) begeleid het paard door het gehele proces, zodat hij voldoende informatie krijgt over wat er van hem verwacht wordt.

Shaping kan gebruikt worden om complexe gedragingen aan te leren.

Het paard werkt in vrijheid. Dit maakt het gemakkelijker om mentale veranderingen in het paard op te merken (emoties) of fysieke veranderingen zoals vermoeidheid of fysieke beperkingen op te merken.

Nadelen van shaping
Het kan erg lastig zijn voor de trainer om het doelgedrag in voldoende kleine stappen te verdelen. ‘Splitting’ heet dat in het Engels. Als de trainer de stappen te groot maakt (‘lumping’) of zijn criteria te snel verhoogd, kunnen paard en/of trainer gemakkelijk gefrustreerd raken.

Afhankelijk van de complexiteit van het gedrag wat men wil trainen, kan shaping enige tijd in beslag nemen. Elke kleine stap moet immers afzonderlijk getraind worden.

De beloningen moeten voldoende waarde hebben voor het paard en de taken moeten voldoende uitdaging bieden om het paard geïnteresseerd te houden. Dat kan een uitdaging op zich zijn.

De trainer moet een goed observatievermogen en goede timing hebben om elke kleine voortgang naar het eindgedrag op te merken, direct te clicken en te belonen.

Targeting
Targeting is het aanraken van een bepaald object (bv de bal aan een stok, de targetstick) met een specifiek lichaamsdeel. Het paard moet bijvoorbeeld met zijn neus de targetstick aanraken.

De targetstick is niet hetzelfde als luring of lokaas gebruiken omdat de targetstick geen primaire reinforcer (voer) is. Targeting wordt aangeleerd met behulp van shaping.

 

hippologic key lesson targeting

Voordelen van targeting
Targeting is een oneindig veelzijdig omdat bijna elk gewenst gedrag met targeting aangeleerd kan worden.

Het is een veilige trainingsmethode. Er hoeft geen fysiek contact te zijn tussen het paard en de trainer. Je kan zelfs trainen met een hek tussen jou en je paard als dat wenselijk is of noodzakelijk.

De target heeft niet zo’n grote aantrekkingskracht als lokaas en leidt het paard daardoor minder af van het te leren gedrag.

Een targetstick kan je bereik vergroten (je arm verlengen). Je kunt met een lange targetstick je paard van je af leiden, dus weg van je zakken vol met lekkers en uit je persoonlijke cirkel. Zie foto hierboven.

Het paard kan vrij lopen tijdens de training waardoor het gemakkelijker is om emoties in het paard op te merken zoals angst, nieuwsgierigheid, frustratie enzovoort. Ook is het gemakkelijker om te zien of het paard fysiek in staat is de opdracht uit te voeren.

Nadelen van targeting
Je moet de target afbouwen. Dat kan een uitdaging zijn. De gemakkelijkste manier is om het gewenste gedrag eerst goed op cue te zetten.

De targetstick is een extra stuk gereedschap in je handen.

Targeting wordt aangeleerd door middel van shaping, zie nadelen van shaping.

Capturing
Capturing betekent letterlijk het ‘vangen’ van het doelgedrag met de clicker (markeren) en het versterken (belonen). Voorbeeld: de klassieke buiging lijkt erg op het natuurlijke gedrag van een paard dat zich uitrekt na een dutje. Click en beloon terwijl je paard zich uitrekt.

Voordelen van capturing
Het grootste voordeel is dat het een snelle manier is van iets nieuws aanleren, aangezien je paard het eindgedrag al vertoont.

Het is een veilige manier van trainen, het kan van een afstand.

Onervaren trainers kunnen het gebruiken. Je timing hoeft niet heel nauwkeurig te zijn om het (hele) gedrag te markeren.

Nadelen van capturing
De gehele training staat of valt met de bereidheid van het paard het gewenste gedrag te vertonen als de trainer aanwezig is. De trainer moet altijd zijn brugsignaal en beloning bij de hand hebben.

Het kan lastig zijn om het paard achter een nieuwe cue voor het gewenste gedrag aan te leren. Tijdens het aanleerproces kan je paard iets al als een cue hebben opgevat. Aangezien de trainer niet weet wat het paard als cue opgevat heeft, kan de trainer dit niet in zijn voordeel gebruiken om van de ‘werk cue’ over te switchen naar de ‘definitive (opzettelijke) cue’. Zie ook Introducing and using cues.

Mijn favoriete training methodes
Bovenstaande drie methodes zijn mijn meest gebruikte technieken in paardentraining. Targeting en shaping gebruik ik dagelijks. Ik ben altijd alert om gewenste gedraging te ‘vangen’ (capturing).

Ik heb capturing gebruikt om Sholto de klassieke buiging aan te leren (zie onderstaande foto) en het flehmen op commando. Bij Kyra heb ik het liggen en het naar mij hinniken met capturing aangeleerd.

_classical bow_buiging_hippologic

Kyra’s flemen en haar klassieke buiging heb ik haar stap-voor-stap met een combinatie van shaping en targeting aangeleerd (zie onderstaande foto).

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Welke methode gebruik jij het meeste om nieuw gedrag aan te leren?

Sandra Poppema
Bezoek mijn website voor persoonlijk advies of hulp bij clickertraining

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Techniques to get behaviour part II: shaping, targeting & capturing

[Click hier voor de Nederlandse versie van dit artikel]

In part I of this series I discussed the pros and cons of luring and moulding. In this part I will talk about shaping, targeting and capturing.

Shaping
In shaping the goal behaviour is achieved by splitting the desired behaviour into many tiny steps. Each step is trained separately (clicked and reinforced). A criterion is only raised if the previous tiny step is confirmed. In this way you can build a behaviour from scratch (free shaping). One can also shape existing behaviours. This is when elements like distractions or duration are gradually added.

Pros of shaping
It is a safe and sure way to train any behaviour.

It is a good way of setting the horse up for success: each step of the process is easy to understand and easy to perform. The bridge signal ‘guides’ the horse through the process, so he gets lots of information about what is expected.

It can be used to train very difficult and complex behaviours.

The horse is not restrained in any way. This makes it easier to notice mental changes (emotions) or physical changes like fatigue in your horse.

Cons of shaping
It can be hard for a trainer to split the behaviour into small enough steps. If the trainer is ‘lumping’ (making the steps too big, raising the criteria too fast) shaping can cause frustration in trainer and horse.

Depending on the behaviour, the process can take a while since every step of it has to be trained separately.

The rewards must be reinforcing enough and the tasks must be challenging enough to keep the horse engaged. That can be a challenge.

Trainer must have a keen eye and perfect timing to observe and click the tiniest steps towards the goal behaviour.

Targeting
Targeting is touching a specified surface (eg a target stick) with a particular body part. Example: teaching your horse to touch a target stick with his nose. The target is not a lure because it is not a primary reinforcer. Targeting is taught through shaping.

hippologic key lesson targeting

Pros of targeting
Targeting has a lot of practical uses and you can train almost any behaviour with it.

It is a safe training method. There is no need for physical contact, so you can train even your horse from behind a barrier if necessary or desirably.

The target is not distracting the horse like a lure would.

A target on a stick can enlarge your reach. You can send your horse away from you and your pocket full of treats.

The horse is free (not restrained) during training and it is easier to notice emotions in training like fear, curiosity, frustration and so on. It is also easier to notice if your assignment is physically (im)possible to perform for your horse or to notice fatigue.

Cons of targeting
You have to fade out the target. That can be a bit of a challenge. The best way to do this is to put a cue on the behaviour first.

It is an extra tool in your hands.

Targeting is taught through shaping, see cons of shaping.

Capturing
Capturing is ‘catching’ the end behaviour as it happens with your bridge signal and reinforcing it. Example: the classical bow looks very much like the natural behaviour of a stretch after a nap.  Click and reward your horse while he is stretching. Capture the behaviour several times. Then add a cue. See also Introducing and using cues.

Pros of capturing
The most obvious pro is that it is a really fast way to get a new behaviour, since the horse is already displaying the ‘goal behaviour’.

It is a safe method to train the behaviour.

Novice trainers can use it. Timing doesn’t have to be very accurate.

Cons of capturing
The training is totally dependant on the horses willingness to perform the behaviour and the chances of the trainer being present at the time. The trainer must have a bridge signal and reward present.

It can be hard to communicate a (new) cue to your horse. While training you may have accidentally introduced one already.  You might not know what it is as a horse is very perceptive of your unconscious movements. This might be difficult to change afterwards.

My favourite training methods
These three are my favourite ways of getting a behaviour. I use targeting and shaping on a daily basis.

I used capturing to teach Sholto the classical bow (see picture below) and flehmen on command. Kyra’s lying down and nickering to me are also taught through capturing.

_classical bow_buiging_hippologic

Kyra’s flemen and her classical bow (see picture below) are taught with shaping and targeting.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

What is your most used method to teach your horse behaviours?

Safe the date: Thursday March 7, 2019

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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!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
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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.

_zw_touchtarget

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.

_collage_targetstick

Using a target to get your horse out of the pasture

Read more: 5 Benefits of Making a Shaping Plan

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I do this by connecting you with your inner wisdom (you know what is good for your horse if you look into your heart) and sharing the principles of learning and motivation so you become confident and knowledgeable to train your 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 and it comes with a gift) 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’.

_Keylessonmatwork2

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.

Read more

Read the blog about advanced mat training and 5 Benefits of Key Lesson Mat Training

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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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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

_targetstick_

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.

Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Success 

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  • Want to get the results in training you really, really want?
  • Want train your horse with confidence?
  • Want to learn all there is to know about training your horse with positive reinforcement?

Join this online course: Click here

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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!
Get your FREE 5 Step Clicker Training Plan on HippoLogic’s website.

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  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

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5 Reasons to make a planning for your horse

I like to think about the future and I like making plans for me and my horse! I like to think about what I would like to achieve with Kyra. What would it feel like if we accomplish it? Here are 5 good reasons to make a planning to help you make your equestrian dreams come true.

1- Writing your goals down necessitates you to reflect about them
Questions you can ask yourself are: What do I want to achieve? Is it realistic for me at this time? Is it realistic for the horse I have now? Are my old equestrian dreams still valid? What would be on your list of (ultimate) equestrian goals? Write it down!

2- Once you’ve made a list, you can work systematically on your goals
Take a goal from your list and divide it into as many training steps as you can think of. These are your building blocks.

Even when you have the feeling you are ‘not training’ one of the goals on your list, you are probably working on a valuable preparation for one of your goals. Your subconscious will take care of that once you have written them down.

3- If you have written down your long-term goals, it is much easier to divide them into achievable training steps
Dividing your big goal into a one year plan with 12 smaller monthly goals or even smaller weekly goals will motivate you. These tiny building blocks are easy to accomplish, so you can be proud of your horse and yourself. Set it up for success: make your goals reachable.

4- In rough times it is always uplifting to see your list of goals and what you have ticked off already
Keeping a training journal will make it easy to look back on your accomplishments. It will remind you of all the challenges you have already faced. Looking back on those goals now, often gives you the feeling they were easy to reach, but you know they were challenges at the time. Just like the challenge you are facing right now. If the challenges seems too big, make the training steps smaller.

5- Working with small goals will help you see the ‘big picture’
If you can see the big picture, working on smaller goals is and stays interesting. These will keep you going, because once you have made a plan it’s easy to see how all the behaviours you train are interrelated with different goals on your list.

For example: you have a yearling and one of your big goals is to participate in competitions. Prerequisites for this goal can be ‘trailer loading’ or despooking exercises. If you can see how training your yearling to go willingly into a trailer now, will support your goal to take him to a competition ground in the future, it can be very motivating to start training trailer loading today. The same goes for despooking. If you can start your yearling to get used to all kinds of objects, music, strange terrain and so on, it will be a great asset when you are ready to compete.

_10 year equestrian planning_hippologic

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Are you inspired and interested in personal coaching or do you want to sign up for the next  online course ‘Set Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them‘, please visit my website

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Key to success: make plans

What is a training plan? Is it really necessary to write it down? Isn’t that time consuming? These are the things people ask when I talk about training plans and shaping plans.

How a training plan can help you (purpose)
You don’t have to make a training plan, but it will help you become a better clicker trainer faster. Why? Because it forces you to think about your training goal, your approach and all the steps you need to take to get to your goal.

If you are at the barn and you don’t know what to do, a plan can help you move in the right direction.

level4

Difference between a training plan and a shaping plan
Your training plan contains all the behaviours you want to teach your horse, in your shaping plan you write down the step-by-step approach of each behaviour.

Goal setting
First thing you have to think about and write down is your goal. What it is it and how would you recognize it when you achieve it? That is a hard question to begin with. That is one of the reasons people would like to skip this step. If you avoid it, it doesn’t exists, right? Wrong!

How can you achieve your goal if you don’t know what it is you’re looking for? How can you enjoy a satisfied feeling of accomplishing something if your goal is so vague you can’t even write it down? I know it is hard, but when you practise it this will become easier and easier over time.

It’s OK to start ‘big’ and write down a vague goal, the next steps will help you through the process of making it more clear.

Shaping plan
Once you have determined a goal it is easy to divide it into little training steps, the building blocks of your end behaviour. This is how you shape a behaviour.

Ask questions like: what does my horse need to do in order to achieve the goal? What skills must I train first? And think about the training tools that can help in this process.

Training steps in training plan by Hippologic

Criteria
Try to visualize and write down how many times your horse must do a certain behaviour before you raise the criterion. It doesn’t have to be accurate right away, but thinking about it helps when you are at the barn training your horse.

If you have set the criterion ‘Horse touches target when it’s near the ground’ you can raise it after he has done it three times. Then you hold the target in another place where the horse has to reach for it: maybe more to the left and then more to the right.

Rewards
It is also very important to write down which reward and how much of that reward you will be using. Some rewards will wear down their value over time in some horses.  Some horses are more motivated if they get a variation of rewards.

Experiment and write down what you’ve learned about your horse. It is fun and very educational to read it back one day.

_shapingplan_hippologic

Personalize your plan
Another very important part of your training plan is to put in specific information about the target animal and things for the trainer to remember. If you read your training plan before you start training it can help you remind you of  certain things like: I have to click first and take the reward out my pocket (instead of taking the treat before I click). Or remember that this horse has separation anxiety and training him works best if there are other horses in sight.

Results
Write down your results in order to start the next training at the point where you stopped or so you can take one step back to refresh the horses memory and raise the first criterion after one time instead of three times to improve and get to the next steps.

Starting a training journal can be very simple and it doesn’t have to take much time. Sometimes a few simple keywords or just circling the training step where you have stopped is enough to help you remember.

Have a creative clicker 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.
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10 Tools that changed my Training Approach (V)

This is the final part of this series where I talk about the tools I have learned to use since I started using clicker training. I didn’t use them all right away and I use more than these ten I write about here. I hope they may inspire you to try something new. Click to read part I, part II, part III and part IV of this series.

# 8 Barrier
Before clicker training I never considered working with a barrier between me and a horse, even if it was a dangerous horse.  __safety_hippologicI just had never thought of it using it as an aid in training. Too bad, because training with a protective barrier can reduce stress in human and horse.

Now I use a barrier when I teach people clicker mechanics. When you start using clicker training it’s really difficult to handle a horse, a target stick, a clicker and present a reward all at once. With a barrier, the new trainer doesn’t have to deal with a horse in hand while he is learning new skills or listening to me.

When you use a barrier between you and the horse you prevent the horse from coming towards you. A lot of horses are interested as soon as they discover there is food involved in this new training method. They don’t know yet how to act in order to get more clicks. A barrier helps prevent self rewarding behaviour like putting his nose into your pocket to take the treats out. Of course a barrier can also be used for other safety reasons.

Another advantage of using a barrier is that the horse is at liberty and therefor has more freedom to communicate to the trainer how he feels about the training session. If he stays and looks engaged he would still like to earn some more clicks and rewards. If he is walking away he might need a break or it could be a sign that his brain is full, he’s bored or something else is more interesting.

#9 Stopping
I’ve learned that if I want to get the maximum result out of my training sessions I have to give my horse a break. Not only breaks between individual training sessions, but also after a few days of training. When I taught my horse a new skill and I practised it a few days in a row I always give my horse a “weekend” or a day off. In these days I don’t train new skills and I don’t repeat any of the new behaviour. I might leave her in the pasture or we just do something she already knows well.

In my experience horses perform better after their “weekend”. When the horse has had time to ‘sleep on it’. Sleep is thought to improve the consolidation of information.  In my experience giving a horse a holiday of a few weeks per year instead of working 365 days is a good way to keep the motivation high.Smile your weekend starts here. By HippoLogic

The hardest tool but also the most rewarding tool is to know when to stop. If you stop when your horse is performing at his best, you are a good trainer.

Stop when you have thoughts like:”It was probably a coincidence that he did it, we’ll try it again” or “I want to be sure he got it”. The behaviour just before those thoughts must be jackpotted. The horse performed extremely well and should be rewarded with a break.

After a jackpot you have to stop what you were doing and give the horse a break. After the break you can ask something else. Really, if you ask it the next day chances are higher that the horse starts with the criterion you ended and jackpotted the day before.

If you think you have to ask your horse “just one more time” because you are so excited he did so well and it is so rewarding for you to let him do it again, you don’t set yourself and your horse up for success. When your horse is performing a new skill and he meets your criteria for the behaviour, he will only perform less then expected because in your subconscious  you will raise your criteria slightly. “If he could do this, he can do that, too”. This is why a training plan is really important.

You set yourself up for success to stop when you are really exited “he did it!” Really! I know it’s a hard thing to do, but the reward for you will come next time: he will remember.

#10 Training plan
One tool all clicker trainers should use is a training plan. In a training plan you write down your goal. Describe what behaviour you want to teach your horse and include all the training steps you require.

In your training plan you should also mention the information about the animal you are training (species, gender, age), the surroundings (indoor arena, outdoor arena, stall) in which you train, what tools you want to use (target stick, mats etc) and what behaviour your horse needs to learn first. It can create a lot of training ideas.

Include all the steps/ training sessions you can think of and write down the criteria the horse has to meet in order to get a click & reward. Don’t forget to mention what rewards you will be using and after how many repetitions you will go on to the next behaviour. If there are specific things to think about for the trainer or to take into consideration for this specific animal write them down too.

It seems like a lot of work, but a form in Word is easily made. You will gain a lot of knowledge by using training plans and keeping a journal. The time investment it takes to write it down will pay itself back tenfold in results. Have fun!clicker training plan

Let me know what tools you use that changed your perspective or attitude in training your horse. I’d love to hear about it.

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book your video consult today!

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7 Keys to Success

When you are interested in trying clicker training one of the first questions is: what should I teach my horse? I suggest teaching a brand new behaviour which isn’t dangerous.

If you start experimenting with a new training method start with a simple lesson. There are 7 Key Lessons that are perfect building blocks to other behaviours. These are:

Key lesson: Head loweringSafe behaviour around food
Patience
Head lowering
Targeting
Backing
– Emotions in training
Mat training

Why Key Lessons?
Stephanie Kwok and I decided to call them Key Lessons because they are in a way your key to success in clicker training. Why? They are simple behaviours and a few of these already belong to your horses normal behaviour repertoire. Every horse can lower his head, back up or look away from the handler.

Easy to start with
These are good exercises for all new trainers to practise their basic mechanical skills like: present a target – click- take target out of sight- reach for a treat – feed it to the horse – start again. It will improve your timing and observational skills. You’ll get experience in making a training plan, setting criteria, increasing them and lowering them if necessary and to keep a training journal [click here-> 4 Easy Ways to Start a Training Journal <- to read more]. It is a good exercise to learn how to set your horse and yourself up for success and learn to think ‘out of the box’.

A fresh start
Another good reason to start with these are that your horse probably doesn’t have bad associations connected with some of these lessons. Your horse can make a fresh start with a wh1_movingtargetole new approach to learning. Reward-based training with clear communication rules: the bridge signal that give the horse the “yes you did this excellent and your reward is on its way”-signal, a “start-session”-signal and an “end-of-session”-signal that tells the horse “now it is time to earn lovely rewards” and “not mugging the handler is the fastest way to earn the goodies”. Once the horse gets these rules he will be eager to go to class with you!

Building blocks
All these key lessons are very good building blocks to more complex behaviours. For example, targeting can help you trailerload your horse, get your horse out of the pasture without you going through the mud, helps teaching your horse to accept a deworming syringe, helps you to teach your horse to jump at liberty, come when _targeting_hoof2his name is called, easily transfers to targeting other body parts like hooves (cleaning and trimming feet), shoulder/hip (lateral work), overcome fear for scary objects and so on.

Every key lesson is an excellent building block and therefor equally important. I wish I had known these when I started with clicker training. It would have made my journey a lot less ‘bumpy’. At least now I can teach them to my clients and let them enjoy the knowledge. I love it.

Here a video of the Key Lesson ‘targeting’ in real life:

Sandra Poppema
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10 steps to your dream horse

airs_above_ground

I dream about ‘airs above the ground’

1 Think about your dream

What would your ultimate dream with your horse look like? What are you doing? Who is involved? Are you excited (eventing) or relaxed (trailriding)? Take your time to figure out what your ultimate dream really is.

2 Set goals

What do you need in order to achieve your goal (see #1). What skills do you and your horse need? Make your goals S.M.A.R.T. SMART goals Hippologic

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement (e.g. dressage)
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress (e.g. dressage test level 1 with X points)
  • Assignable – specify who will do it
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved

3 Learn more about reward-based horse training

Reward-based horse training makes the results (behaviours) very reliable. Antoine de Pluvinel (1552 -1620) already said: “You can never rely on a horse that is educated by fear. There will be always be something that he fears more than you. But, when he trusts you, he will ask you what to do when he is afraid.” In reward-based training the horse is allowed to ‘ask questions’ and make mistakes. He will simply learn quickly because he is rewarded by something pleasurable when he ‘gives the right answer’. That makes the horse looks actively for the right answers. In other words: he will be eager to work with you and do as you ask.

4 Divide your big goals into smaller goals.

Make a list of all the behaviours your horse needs to master. Make for each behaviour a list with as many steps as you can think of to describe all the building blocks of the behaviours you want to teach your horse. The smaller the steps, the easier it is to achieve them. Think about your criteria: when are you going to the next behaviour? And write down what rewards you will be using. Remember: it must rewarding for the horse. It is the receiver that determines the reward, not the trainer. You might be reinforced by money, I bet your horse doesn’t care about it.

[-> click here to learn more about dividing big goals into small building blocks <-]

 5 Set up for success

Make sure the right answers are made easy for your horse and the wrong answers a bit more difficult. If your horse outsmarts you, change the setting. Remember: it is your goal to reward your horse as much as possible!

6 Start training

Try it and prepare to fail. Try again. Every time you fail is it just another step closer to your goal. Learning is a process. Not only for your horse, but also for you as trainer! Enjoy your journey. Keep notes, see #8.

_reinforcingscratch2

This is rewarding

7 Reward the slightest try from your horse

Yes it is time to reward! Ask again and reward his successes. His successes are yours! Go to the next step after 3 times. Increase the difficulty slightly.

8 Write down your achievements

See this post to learn about 4 easy ways to keep a training journal! [-> Click here <-]

9 Adjust training where necessary

And don’t forget to give your horse a break or holiday. My horse performs the best after a break. It keeps fascinating me how well a break works. I wish I could give my horse only breaks and still perform.

10 ENJOY time spent with your horse.

Smile! Make pictures, poems, write a blog and enjoy even more! Enjoy not only training sessions, but also spent some ZEN time together!

Sandra Poppema KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Imagine your horse in 2020. How to start today

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Setting goals makes my life at the barn interesting. It keeps me on track. My goals are my guideline, not a straight-jacket.

Volle bos manenWithout my training goals I would be lost. I write my goals down and then I think about the things I ‘need’ in order to accomplish them. Do I need special equipment? Do I have enough knowledge? Do I need to create a special environment: ‘traffic’ if I want my horse to get used to cars, motors, tractors and so on? Does this sound a little vague? Let me give you an example. When Kyra came into my life, she was a feral filly and almost one year old.

Today Kyra is 6 years old. She is bombproof (flag, tarps, balloons etc), we did a few trail rides and I taught her to jump- instead of stumble- over cavaletti. She can walk, trot, canter, leg yield,  shoulder in, haunches in, leg yield in hand, in hand, on long reins and under saddle.

She accepts toddlers and unknown and even inexperienced riders on her back. She also has a few tricks up her sleeve like pick up and fetch objects, shake ‘No’, laying down, back crunch, kiss, standing on a pedestal, groundtying, smiling in two different ways and  more.

How did I accomplish this?

I started to find out what my ultimate horse dream looked like and then I made a 10 year plan. So my plan says that when Kyra will be 11 years old she will be experienced in Classical Dressage, she will be an excellent demonstration/show horse/trail horse/lesson horse (on her way to become a School Master) and she will be fully bomb proof and know a lot of trick training tricks. She will be still very sensitive, willing to learn, healthy, happy and physically well prepared for her ‘job’.

Kyra became a reliable and toddler proof horse

Next step was to divide my 10 year plan into a 5 year plan, 1 year plan and 12 monthly goals. I divided every monthly goal into a lot of building blocks. In this way I see each step of our progress. The first monthly goal was ‘simply’ taming her. I didn’t know how long this would take or if I could do it at all. So I made my building blocks very small, like looking at me was already worth a reward.

Within about 3 weeks I could halter Kyra, touch her all over, lift her feet and clean them and lead her over the premises. I kept a training diary, that’s how I know how long it took. I think I wouldn’t accomplish all these without a my planning and preparation. Don’t forget to keep a training journal, see this post [click here].

Sandra Poppema

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How to Create More Training Ideas

Are you running out of ideas what to do with your horse? Especially in winter? I am never out of ideas when I am with Kyra. I always have many suggestions what to work on.

How do I do that? Well, I make goals. Long-term goals and I divide those into short-time goals. Then I divide those into even smaller building blocks, which are my every day ideas to choose from. I write them down in my training journal and then I print out a list to hang in my tack locker.

When Kyra was a still a feral filly I had many little goals to work on every day. Coming towards me instead of jumping into a corner of her stall when I opened a door, touching my hand/target stick/halter, standing still while being touched and so on. These where obvious goals.

What about my daily goals after 5 years of training? Kyra is 6 years old now and  she is almost fully bomb-proof, very athletic and sensible and knows a lot of tricks. Are there any goals left for us to work on? Yes, plenty. If I get stuck I take a look at my long-term goals (10 year plan, 5 year plan, 1 year plan, 12 monthly goals) and I know what to do.

Every ‘dream goal’ has many ‘pillars’, take for instance a dressage level 4 test as one of my ‘ultimate’ goals. One pillar is a collection of all the exercises in that test (half pass, half pirouettes, collected walk, trot, canter, etc).

Another pillar contains all the building blocks to prepare a horse mentally for a competition. At a competition terrain there are many unfamiliar things happening, like music, flags, strange horses, white fences, flower pots and so on.

A third pillar could consist of all the building blocks required to make your horse a happy traveller. A fourth pillar could contain all husbandry skills, like standing still while saddling, braiding, or saddling in a strange environment.

There are hundreds of building blocks one can distill from just one long term goal, like riding a level 4 dressage test. If you make a sketch, it would look like this:

Example of How to Create Many Training Ideas by HippoLogic

If you do the same thing with one behaviour and divide it into very small baby steps, you’ve created a shaping plan.

A shaping plan for ‘targeting‘ can look like this:

Training steps in training plan by Hippologic

Sandra Poppema

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