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Posts tagged ‘choices’

10 Tools that changed my Training Approach (II)

What is so powerful about clicker training? Why does it work and what do you need to succeed?

In this post I will talk about one of my favourite tools for training horses and how it changed my training approach to a much more horse friendly way of training.

You can read about Training tools # 1 – 3 here.

4 Choices

A scary and yet very powerful tool you can give your horse is ‘choice’._hippologic_choices_clicker_training

When I started to give horses a ‘voice’ by allowing them to make decisions in training I started to learn so much more about them. I was willing to accept whatever my horse was communicating and act on it, too.

I learned what they liked and what not, how long their attention span was for specific exercises, when they wanted to stop training and when they lost concentration learning new things. I use that information to optimize our training. I learned what exercises were so rewarding in itself that I started to use them as secondary reinforcers. You can reward horses with exercises too, you know. See # 5 Mats.

In hindsight my whole relationship with my horse was raised to another level when I started using ‘choices’ as a training tool. Before that I was convinced that I had the best relationship I could imagine. Giving my horse a voice by allowing him to make choices works best in combination with reward-based training. Clicker trained horses in general are encouraged and rewarded for trying out things. It might be less effective in a traditional training approach.

Kyra sometimes indicates that she wants to leave the arena while riding. I take a mental note and after I am done with our arena exercises we end our ride with a stroll along the road. She loves to explore.

There is a wonderful exercise that is called ‘101 things to do with a …’ You give your horse an object, for instance a carton box or a barrel and you click and reward once for every interaction with the object your horse comes up with. For example he sniffs it, one click, he paws it with his right front foot, one click, he only gets another click if he paws the box with one of his other feet. And so on. You can teach your horse to be creative.

I’ve heard riders that give their horses a ‘Please dismount me’-signal to communicate. In the beginning the horses used their newly gained power a lot. Over time they started to use it less and less. I think I am going to teach Kyra a ‘Please dismount me’-signal and see what happens.

Do you use ‘choice’ as a tool? I am curious to hear about what you allow and or if you encourage your horse to make choices?

Read here part III

Read here part IV

To be continued…..

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

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10 Tools that changed my Training Approach (I)

What is so powerful about clicker training? Why does it work and what do you need to succeed?

Here are some of my favourite tools for training horses and how they changed my training approach to a much more horse friendly way of training.

1 Clicker or bridge sound_hondenclicker
The most powerful communication tool I ever had is the clicker. This simple device has had such a great impact on my life and on all of the horses I trained.

It is the concept of the clicker that is important and changed my whole training approach and philosophy. It changed my focus to what I want from what I don’t want. By focusing on what I want, I get more of it.

The click marks the exact behaviour and then a reward follows. In this way I can communicate very clearly to my horse what it is I want. He will try to do more of that behaviour and he will be rewarded again. I never reward him ‘for a good ride’ anymore, but I reward specifically for 1 perfect step of shoulder in. If my horse understands that it’s the shoulder in I reward for, he’ll give me more. When I ‘rewarded’ my horse after a ride by feeding him dinner it has never guaranteed me a better ride next time. He simply didn’t connect the food with the quality of the ride, he probably associated it with taking the saddle off.

If the horse doesn’t have to be afraid of punishment or aversives, the chances improve that he will try more behaviours which makes it easier to teach him more and more things. It encourages the creativity of the horse.

2 Reinforcers
_Hippologic_rewardbased training_receiver_determinesWhen I changed my focus from traditional training to working with rewards I was forced to think about the question ‘What is rewarding for my horse?’ If the reward is not reinforcing the behaviour you’re training it is useless as reward.

This resulted in observing my horse with new eyes. I started to pay more attention to his preferences: what kind of exercises/training did he like best? What treats did he eat first if I gave him a choice? What was his favourite scratching spot? I also noticed other things about him, like who were his friends in the pasture and where he stood in the herd hierarchy. I learned a lot since I started focusing on rewards and my horses’ opinions about them.

3 Timer
When I started using clicker training I trained with my pocket full of treats, but often I used a kitchen timer to make sure I didn’t over-train my horse.

I used 5 minute training blocks with breaks in between. I had never used a break in my training before! I used to train and train and train. My horse improved, I changed my criteria, my horse improved, I raise my criteria and so on, until my horse didn’t improve anymore. That often resulted in ending our rides with some frustration for both of us.


The timer made me much more aware of the improvements we made per session. Taking breaks also gave me the opportunity to reconsider my training approach if necessary. A break can also be a big reward, just a few minutes to relax.

In the break my horse can decide what he wants to do. If I work at liberty the breaks I give my horse can give me valuable information. Does he stay with me, does he walk off? What is he going to do in the break? If he is heading for the door, it is a sign that he’s had enough.

I still use a kitchen timer when I train new behaviours. ‘Less is more’ applies to training time. More training time does not necessarily result in better performance.

Read here part II

Read here part III

Read here part IV

To be continued…

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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