When I started ‘training’ my free lease pony I had no idea what my plan was. Well, that is not entirely true… I thought I had a plan.
When he was born my plan was: “To start him under saddle when he was 4 years old”. That’s it. I was 12 years old. I had no idea how to do it, but I thought I knew. After all, I had read all the books in the library about horse training.
Here are 10 tips that I wished I knew back then to set myself up for success, to give myself confidence and motivate me in times of frustration. It would have made my life and that one of the pony (!) so much better.
OK, here we go.
Tip #10 Set a goal
Set a goal and make a plan (see tip #8). Simply start writing in your training journal what you want to teach your horse. Eg ‘standing still at the mounting block’. Writing it down is very important.
Focus on what you want, instead on what you don’t want. I hear lots of riders say things like: ‘My horse can’t stand still’.
What do you visualize when you read this? You probably see a horse that walks away or doesn’t stand still. Focus on what you want to happen and phrase it that way: ‘I want my horse to stay with 4 hooves on the ground while I mount’. Now visualize it. Is this what you want?
Be specific. The more specific you are the better your chances of success. You know what to look for, so you also know when you are successful.
In the example above I can be more specific: ‘I want to teach my horse to align with the mounting block and stay with 4 hooves on the ground while I mount. My horse is calm and relaxed when I sit in the saddle and he waits patiently for my cue to walk on.’ What do you see when you visualize this?
If you are specific you will know exactly what your training criteria (and you have your training plan) are: 4 hooves on the ground, aligning to the mounting block, standing relaxed while being mounted, wait for a cue to walk on.
Find yourself an accountability partner. Someone supportive of your goals and who is not afraid to ask how you’re doing with your goals. If you want a really good accountability partner look for someone who knows more than you do about the subject and can help you specify your goals and help write down your training plan. Find someone who doesn’t judge.
Next step is to plan your training sessions. A plan without action is nothing but a wish. You have to know when you want to work on it. Weekly lessons or a monthly meeting with your partner are a great way to make yourself accountable.
Use your calendar to plan what you will work on each day. For example training your horse to align along the mounting block on Monday, Tuesday and Friday. By the end of the month you know how much time you spent on training a specific behaviour.
Keep your training sessions for new behaviours short and sweet. If you train a new behaviour you only have to work on it for a few minutes. I train max 5 minutes per session when I train a new behaviour. Then I give a break or I ask behaviours that are already understood very well and are easy to perform for my horse, before I go back to train another 5 minutes on the new behaviour.
Know when to stop. Stop when it’s (still) going well. This is very difficult, but I now know when the best time to stop is. I learned to recognize that little voice in my head that whispered ‘One more time’, ‘This was fun! Let’s do it again. (And again. And again)’ or
‘Let’s see if my horse really understands it or if it was a coincidence that he did it’. This is a good time to stop or focus on something else.
If you keep going, the behaviour will decrease and you can get frustrated. That is not the best time to stop practising, but you have to.
Manage frustration and other negative feelings. If you went on and on until the behaviour gets worse and/or you and your horse get frustrated: please stop. It is better to stop when you feel a little frustrated than keep going. That will never make it better. Forgive yourself, make a note in your training logbook and thank yourself for becoming aware. Awareness is the first step in improving.
Celebrate! Share your success with your accountability partner. Celebrate it with yourself and do something you will remember for this special moment. Take a picture or video of the new trained behaviour or share your story on your social media. Hooray! Be proud! Be happy!
Use a bridge signal in combination with something the horse wants. Positive reinforcement is the one thing that made all my training so much easier, quicker and more fun too! A bridge signal (or marker) is such a great communication tool. It provides clarity for yourself and for your horse and makes everything you want to train so much easier and with less frustration.
I wish I would have learned all this in the riding school I learned to ride, or from all the (five) books the library owned when I was a girl!
It would have saved me hours and hours of frustration and prevented me from many dangerous situations. I would be much more confident and saved me a lot of frustration. Me and my pony would have had more fun and a better relationship earlier on.
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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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