What to do when your horse gets chubby (Fionn’s progress)

Fionn and Odin are getting a tad bit chubby! They have to get back to a healthy weight asap! I would like them to be like this. This photo was taken in May 2022. Fionn (right) looks a bit chubbier because he has a different build than Odin (left), who is more elegant.

I started to develop ways to teach horses to offer movement in 2016, when Kyra got laminitis and was a 9 out of 9 on the body score index.

Kyra even got rain puddles on her back when it rained. Yet, I told myself she was “OK”. After all, she was (fat and) healthy for the first 8 years of her life… So, I postponed doing something about it. Because I just didn’t know how!

I started exercising her, but I got discouraged… I stopped. I told myself ‘It isn’t that badShe’s a barok horse.”. I did what I could: slow feeders and less food at night…

Exercising enough with positive reinforcement was hard. It “didn’t work” and I didn’t kept going with it. In hind sight I expected too much, too soon (‘lumping’) and quit. I wish I had known then what I know now.

Little did I know that EMS shows itself between 9 and 12 years of age. She just turned 9 and one month later… Laminitis! I won’t let that happen again.

Fionn and Odin gained a bit of weight in August and I’m doing everything I learned, in order to reverse that. I’ll d get them back at a healthier weight, before it’s too late. I know now how to do this with clicker training. I don’t have to worry about damaging the bond I built with both of them in the past 10 months, since I got them.

Here’s what I learned training overweight horses back to health

  • Laminitis can be prevented! And healed.
  • Obesity in horses can be managed (even when horses suffer from diseases like EMS)
  • Most regular weightless advise damages other parts of the welfare of the horse (like putting them in solitary confinement and/or on a crash diet that the vet advised me for Kyra)
  • You can get them healthy and HAPPY while helping them to lose weight with exercising and management changes

Most important of all:
What you have to do when your horse gets sick (laminitis) is only temporarily! I spent 2-3 hours, 7 days a week during the first 6 – 8 weeks or so to get Kyra back to health!

It’s important to realize that, when you’re in a similar situation: This is not forever! And… when you prevent your horse from getting sick, you’ll save lots of time, effort, money and worry!

You have to put in a huge amount of time, effort and money to nurse your horse back to health once he gets sick.

Once I got Kyra to a healthy weight and laminitis free I could change back to my regular amount of spending time with her. It was devastating to see her suffer! The amount of worry and sleepless nights (apart from the financial burden of a sick horse 😉 ) is huge!

Mini’s and laminitis

This time I will do anything to prevent this from happening. Especially because I know miniature horses/ponies are prone to EMS and laminitis.

I’ll keep you posted with some of my training. I’m so happy that I know exactly what to do now and I don’t have to look the other way, until the vet would confront me with some bad news. I won’t let that happen again!

Videos of Movement Training with Positive Reinforcement

From the blog R+ Movement Training for Overweight Horses
Here’s how to start. This doesn’t look like anything of the goal behaviour! After all, this is not negative reinforcement! Watch the second video of training day 4 to get the idea what it will look like eventually when we built duration.

Fionn at training day 4: the target is been faded out and my body language is getting smaller and smaller already.

More reading

Tips for Treats

Move Your Horse with a Click

Do you really need to stop giving treats in training when your horse needs to lose weight?

Join R+ (movement) Training for Overweight Horses Program

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet recommended: No more treats!” or “More exercise” to get your horse in shape? Join my R+ for Overweight Horses program. We’ll address your biggest struggle in getting your horse to move with positive reinforcement. You can only join after a personal conversation, so I can tailor this 2-week online coaching program towards your horse, your situation and your needs! You can book a call here.

If you want to get better at things like:

  • Building duration in exercising your horse with R+
  • Getting your horse in shape and lose weight without a crash diet
  • Creating fun in movement training so you don’t have to keep running along

This is for you. Check out the information page here!

Sandra Poppema, BSc

Founder of the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Sandra Poppema BSc HippoLogic Clicker training coach

If you liked this read, please share or share your comment below!

R+ Movement Training for Overweight Horses

Teach your horse in 3 simple steps forward movement at liberty. Use positive reinforcement (R+), so that moving becomes appetitive! Stop struggling and running along when you exercise your horse at liberty! Let your horse do the movement! Show him that it pays off. Teach him to love it, so he’ll offer active walks, trots and canters.

Step 1

Teach your horse to move around a cone!

Advantages are plenty:

  • No need to build a Reverse Round Pen
  • No lengthy set up and clean up time
  • No running along with your horse (after all, he’s the one that needs the exercise, right? ;-))
  • No target stick that becomes a crutch and difficult to fade out

How to do it

Reinforce the slightest try. In this video you’ll see, that the start won’t look anything like the goal behaviour at all! Be patience! This is not negative reinforcement where you can almost see the end goal behaviour immediately!

Step 2

Teach your horse to Leave the Cone Alone. Not only teaching him to ignore the cone, but also to leave the cone. And be good with this!
When you taught him that, you can teach him to go to the next cone, and the next.

How to do it

Reinforce the slightest try. Don’t be afraid to click and treat plenty. Especially in the beginning! Until your horse gets the idea.

You’re building Confidence with your clicks! And you give your horse Clarity with your clicks! Both very important to build a bond with your horse in the process. Win-win.

Step 3

Add cones: two cones, three and then four.

Once you have 4 cones you can shape your square into a rectangle. I call it the (HippoLogic) Reverse Rectangle. I took the Reverse Round Pen idea just one step further. This makes it easier for the horse, and … no clean up time!

Advantages of working your horse in a Rectangular shape:

  • Creating straight lines to move along, are much easier for your horse than to keep moving in circles (which is very hard and unnatural)
  • When it’s easier for your (overweight) horse, it’s probably way less aversive as when the exercise (going around in circles) is hard
  • The short sides gives you plenty of opportunity to reach your horse to feed him
  • Corners will help make your horse use his inner hind leg and balance him
  • Corners will help teach your horse to use his body well
  • Alternating a corner with a straight line will allow your horse to relax after a bend. This makes exercising easier and more appetitive than working on a circle or small square.
Train Your Horse to OFFER movement with R+

Join R+ (movement) Training for Overweight Horses Program

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet recommended: No more treats!” or “More exercise” to get your horse in shape? Join my R+ for Overweight Horses program. We’ll address your biggest struggle in getting your horse to move with positive reinforcement. You can only join after a personal conversation, so I can tailor this 2-week online coaching program towards your horse, your situation and your needs! You can book a call here.

If you want to get better at things like:

  • Building duration in exercising your horse with R+
  • Getting your horse in shape and lose weight without a crash diet
  • Creating fun in movement training so you don’t have to keep running along

This is for you. Check out the information page here!

Sandra Poppema, BSc

Founder of the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Sandra Poppema BSc HippoLogic Clicker training coach

5 Reasons to make a Dream Board for Your Horse Today

Many horse women tell me “I can’t trail ride, because my horse is herd bound and therefor it’s not safe to take him out.” Or they tell me they don’t know how to help their herd bound horse overcome his separation anxiety. It breaks my heart to hear when people have totally accomplishable dreams and yet they can’t make them happen. Here’s how a dream board can help you!

Make Your Dreams Happen

The only way to make your dreams come true is to have a clear vision of what you want. This sounds like an open stall door, and it is.

I always say: “If you want to go somewhere (accomplish something) you need to know where you want to go. ‘Anywhere’ is not a place on the map.”

Reason #1: A Dream Board will help your brain focus!

When you make a Vision Board you create your personal road map for your equestrian dreams!

By making a Dream Board you make the decision: this is what I want! The moment you do that, all kind of amazing things happen in your brain!

With making a decision about what you want, you put this in your unconscious mind. Now that part of the brain will go searching for ways to get it! It’s really cool!

When I was in high school I fell head over heels in love with a boy in my class. He had an oldtimer car, a white Lada. Whenever I was biking though the city I wished I ran into him.

I thought it was a special car, since I never saw one before… Every time I saw a white Lada, my heart made a little jump: Is that him?!

Amazingly, suddenly the whole city was full of tiny old, rusty white Lada’s! They were all white! (That’s because my brain was’t looking for yellow, green or silver ones).

Kyra, a wild horse born in a nature reserve

Put your brain to work! Pick a goal, but be specific! Don’t look for “Lada’s”, look for a tiny, old, white rusty Lada with a specific motor sound!

Pick your ‘destination’ and be specific! Give your brain a treasure map: That’s what I want! Your subconscious brain will help you find it!

When I made my Dream Board when I was a little girl, I wanted to ‘tame a wild horse’. Impossible right? I lived in The Netherlands, a very tiny country with lots of cities and people.

Yet, when I got an offer to get a horse that was born in a nature reserve, and was actually wild, I jumped on the opportunity!

I never tamed a wild horse! But, because I recognized this was one of my wildest dreams, I decided to say Yes!

It still was very scary to take on this responsibility, to be honest! I did it and that’s how I got Kyra! She was super herd bound and positive reinforcement training turned out to be my solution. Kyra became a confident horse that I could take out on trails. Safely! Without a bit!

Reason #2 A Dream Board is a Visual Tool (and your brain loves pictures!)

Have you ever noticed that your brain works in pictures? Yes, the voice in your head is a sound and uses language, but really your brain loves pictures.

When you think of your horse, you see him in front of you. You know how his manes feel, his warm neck when you stroke him. You can remember the smell of his warm breath on your face. How he lifts up his head in the pasture when he hears your voice…

Did you ‘see’ your horse when you read this? That’s your brain making images!

When you collect images, they’ll become powerful reminders!

Making a bucket list and writing it down works, too! By writing in detail what you want, your brain will create the image for you.

But finding a picture that symbolizes what you want, is even more powerful! A pictures says more than a thousand words!

When you want to trail ride but your horse is currently very herd bound, you might envision what could happen. Maybe you’re afraid he’ll rear, buck and run back…

But when you put pictures on your Dream Board that represents safe, fun, calm and controlled trail riding, it looks like this:

You get more of what you focus on.

You decide: fun and happy trail rides? Or scary ones? Most people focus on (have an image of) the scary things that could happen and things they want to avoid…. Focus on what you want! Your Dream Board will help you do that!

Reason #3 Making a Dream Board is fun!

Making a Dream Board for your horse is FUN! You can let your imagination run free! With the internet you can easily find images (no more magazine clippings!) that suits your dreams perfectly!

See what others have on their dream board in our Academy! How they are making their dreams come true and how they do it. Get inspired and expand your mind of what’s possible for you and your horse!

Reason #4 Create a powerful Reminder of Why you have a horse

Once you have your dream board ready, and you’ll place it where you can see it on a regular basis, you have a powerful reminder why you got a horse in the first place! To enjoy! To have fun with, to enjoy nature or to love and be loved.

Reason #5 It makes your life Easier!

Once you have a Dream Board or Vision Board for your Equestrian Dreams, it will make it your life easier. When you exactly know what you’re looking for you can easily recognize and find:

  • The right boarding facility (adjacent to trails or the beach, where you can enjoy being in nature with your horse)
  • Your dream horse. When you really want to ride, you won’t end up buying a rescue that you can’t ride. But when you want to develop a deep relationship with your horse, that same rescue horse might be the perfect choice for you.
  • A mentor or coach that can help you accomplish what you want. If you want to train your horse yourself, you’ll find someone that can coach you to do it. If you’re really specific and want to train your horse with clicker training find someone that can help you do that!

Start Today

Now you have 5 very good reasons for making a Dream Board for you and your horse, why not start today? I would love to see your dream board! If you’re on Facebook please tag me!

Do you want to do this in a group? Join our workshop. The last Saturday of September we’ll start the Clicker Training Academy year off with making a Vision Board for our Horses for the coming year! Because I know how powerful having your own Dream Board is, and how much it will help to make your dreams come true, it’s a invaluable tool for your clicker training.

If you would like to join our workshop Dream Board for Your Horse, book a call with me. Here’s my calendar.

Join Our Supportive Clicker Tribe!

I hope this blog gave you a valuable insight. Please share your eye-opener in the comments! I love your feedback!

Are you inspired and would you like to get personal coaching in a group? Do you want to have access to online clicker training courses and a fabulous, supportive R+ community, then join our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Check out the link!

Or book a free assessment and learn which one of the 6 Key Lessons for Trainers you need to focus more on, in order to get the results you want. Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

Do you really need to stop giving treats in training when your horse needs to lose weight?

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet tell you to STOP FEEDING TREATS!? You know your horse needs to lose weight and get back in shape, but How to do this without treats?

Why stopping giving Treats is a good idea

It seems like a solution to stop offering your horse treats when he’s overweight, right? If you’re giving your horse lots of dense-calorie treats without asking him to burn them off, it’s probably a good idea to stop giving those.

Take a good look at what you consider a treat: Is it calorie rich? Is it nutrition value low? Or is this just the common human approach of “treats”?
We -people- usually mean candy or other low nutrition value/high calorie foods. Right?

If you’re using real treats like peppermints (although how much calories would all the peppermints in one training contain?) are they really having that much impact on your horse’s obesity?

Or can you influence his weight with changing his management? Usually decreasing hay or grass intake and minimizing dinner grain portions have a much bigger (pun intended!) impact on your horse’s weight!

If your horse turned into a Mugging Monster, you can turn that around quickly!

Why stopping giving Treats is a bad idea

When we train horses (R- or R+) we still need to reinforce the desired behaviour from time to time. If we don’t, and the behaviour is not intrinsically reinforcing, the behaviour gets extinct.

Traditional trainers need to use their whips, sticks or ropes once in a while (depending on how much of a threat the aversive still is) to keep their horses in line. ‘The horse needs a little reminder,’ is what they say.

Same goes for positively reinforced behaviours: we also do have to remind our horses (with a treat!) what we want from them (movement).

We need to do that to keep motivation high! Whether that’s in R- or in R+. Or we’ll lose it.

When we clicker trained our horses to exercise and offer movement (walk, trot, canter, jumping, gallop), we still have to offer a treat with enough value, once in a while to keep their motivation high. That’s why it’s a bad idea to stop giving treats to (overweight) horses in training.

If you’re a clicker trainer and you suddenly stop giving treats as reinforcement, you’ll disappoint your horse. He’s expecting food rewards. When he doesn’t get them he can get demotivated! That’s another big reason why stopping with treats is a bad idea.

You can experiment with other reinforcers: things your horse will value. When you get more behaviour (movement) you’ve successfully reinforced your horse to move. When you get less behaviour or sluggish movements or a slower response time to your cues, you know you weren’t actually reinforcing the behaviour and you need to find a better appetitive!


Read my blog about How to Move Your Horse with A Click

Healthy Treats for Horses

Most of my clients find it a challenge to find healthy treats for their overweight horse. Part of it is our own mindset. We usually value “healthy treats” way less, than unhealthy snacks! That’s human thinking! We need to shift our minds!

Start thinking how a horse thinks and how he sees the world. Horses eat about 16 hours a day. That’s their nature! Therefore they will always be hungry (to a certain extent). They love low calorie/high fibre foods! That’s another huge difference between us and a horse!

Ideas to keep training with treats (the smart way)

  • Training a horse with treats, means we can use (normal, healthy) foods to motivate them in training!
  • Take the amount of food (calories) you use in training, out of their daily ration. That way using treats in training won’t contribute to weight gain
  • If you’re horse doesn’t get dinner grain/pellets/ use, alternatives. Here is a list of over 30 options for treats in training.
  • Add interesting options to the low calorie/high fibre foods in training, like cinnamon added to soaked beetpulp, r adding a few sunflower seeds in the low calorie food rewards etc
  • Balance the calorie denseness of the treats with the amount of movement (calorie burning) you ask your horse to do.
  • The more you train (and the better your horse understands what he needs to do), the less food you need! So when you train your overweight horse to move and you need a lot of food reinforcers, knowing that this won’t be lasting forever helps!
  • Once movement/exercising gets intrinsically reinforced (‘runners high’), the less external reinforcement (treats) your horse needs!

Join R+ (movement) Training for Overweight Horses Program

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet recommended: No more treats!” or “More exercise” to get your horse in shape? Join my R+ for Overweight Horses program. We’ll address your biggest struggle in getting your horse to move with positive reinforcement. You can only join after a personal conversation, so I can tailor this 2-week online coaching program towards your horse, your situation and your needs! You can book a call here.

If you want to get better at things like:

  • Building duration in exercising your horse with R+
  • Getting your horse in shape and lose weight without a crash diet
  • Creating fun in movement training so you don’t have to keep running along

This is for you. Check out the information page here!

Sandra Poppema, BSc

Founder of the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Sandra Poppema BSc HippoLogic Clicker training coach
https://mailchi.mp/a0a07dd3228d/rplus-training-for-overweight-horses

What would you like to accomplish with your horse in 12 months?

What is ONE thing you would love to accomplish with your horse (using R+) within the next 12 months?

That’s one of the questions I asked my Facebook community and I’m looking forward to the answers everyone gives.

The answer is of course, very individual. When I ask this question, most people don’t have an answer right away.

I think this is a good question to ponder about and let it sink in: What would make your heart sing, if you could do X with your horse?

Benefits of writing your goals down

When people have a goal write it down AND share it, they immediately increased the likelihood of accomplishing it!

Please share yours below!

In the Clicker Training Academy we have monthly interactive workshops on Zoom. In September we’re going to create a ONE YEAR Personal Clicker Training Plan for each member! It’s about:

✅ Becoming aware of your wishes for your horse

✅ Creating your personal guideline for your clicker training

✅ Working diligently towards your Personal goals with clicker training.

✅ Living the life you want, accomplishing what you wish to do with your horse

Send me a n email (hippologic@clickertraining.ca) if you want to hear more about the workshop or the Academy.

What will you accomplish with clicker training?

It will be so much fun to look back in 12 months from now and see how MUCH you’ve accomplished, just because you created a focus!

I would love to tag you in one year in this very same post to ask you: “How much of your goals have you accomplished?” ❤

Join Our Supportive Clicker Tribe!

I hope this blog gave you a valuable insight. Please share your eye-opener in the comments! I love your feedback!

Are you inspired and would you like to get personal coaching in a group? Do you want to have access to online clicker training courses and a fabulous, supportive R+ community, then join our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Check out the link!

Or book a free assessment and learn which one of the 6 Key Lessons for Trainers you need to focus more on, in order to get the results you want. Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

How to become even better at Clicker Training Your Horse

Our environment influences our behaviour! We all know that and use that fact all the time clicker training our horses. How does your environment benefit you?

We set up our horses for success all the time. We present a target (environment) to our horse, so he can touch it!

We teach our horses not to mug us when we’re training with food. The food in our pockets and our presence becomes the ‘On’ switch for Learning, for our horses.

Your horse starts to think what behaviour does lead to treats? They figure out in minutes that mugging is not the answer anymore.

After a few clicker training minutes your horse is already thinking “How can I influence my environment [the treats] with my behaviour?” . We changed the learning environment for our horses and helped him learn fast with positive reinforcement (R+).

You already know and experienced that the environment plays a huge role on the behaviour and learning process of your horse.

Yet, I still see so many of us fall back on negative reinforcement-thinking and therefore struggling hugely with using clicker training effectively. I’ll elaborate on that below.

Thinking mistake #1

This is when you get start thinking that clicker training maybe takes longer than negative reinforcement… NO!

Untrue! When you fall into this thinking mistake, it’s because you try to use positive reinforcement in a negative reinforcement environment! Or trying to use a tool in your clicker training that is designed for R-!

Have you ever consciously changed your own environment to enhance your clicker training? Clicker training can be unnecessary difficult and hard when your whole environment is set up to be successful as negative reinforcement trainer! It’s trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

How to set YOURSELF up for success

Change your environment!

How?

You’ve probably already done it in the past. When you

  • Went to a clicker clinic. You surrounded yourself with likeminded people and emerged yourself in positive reinforcement approach/thinking.

Do you remember how much you learned in just one weekend? That’s the power of your environment! It’s easy to clicker train your horse and to think of new R+ approaches when everyone else is giving you positive input and ideas! When you see other women clicker training their horses successfully, it inspires and gets your creative positive reinforcement juices flowing!

  • Watched videos about clicker training just before you went to your horse.

You’ve changed your (internal!) environment and it sparked ideas and motivated you to do the same.

  • Spoke with another clicker trainer, or a friend and you discussed your struggle. You got new insights of solving your struggle and got your momentum back.

By creating a distance (looking at your struggle, challenge or problem) from a different angle, it was possible to think of a different approach.

Sounds familiar?

What keeps you struggling in clicker training your horse

Often the answer is: Your environment!

How?

Thinking mistake #2

When you try to use positive reinforcement using negative reinforcement training tools (environment)! You set yourself up for FAILURE!

Round pen

You use a round pen to exercise your horse with positive reinforcement and you can’t get your horse moving effectively and burning calories. Why is that?

A round pen is purposefully designed to chase a horse a-round! There are no corners to escape.

Have you ever noticed that horses find the corners of the arena when you chase him around? They change direction: they want to have a choice and try to influence their environment: your behaviour!

Negative reinforcement trainers struggled with that problem, so they took out the corners! They made the pen so small they could reach the horse at any time, in any place in order to apply the aversive (pain, the threat of pain/injury) effectively. They needed to reach the horse with their whip, training stick, carrot stick, the ‘extension of their arm’, rope or whatever tool they are using to make the horse move.

A round pen is designed to chase the horse around, without an escape. It’s designed to ‘teach’ the horse that there is only one answer possible: go forward until the trainer says otherwise!

Now, when you don’t realize that and you want (expect) the same result using positive reinforcement, you’re setting yourself up for failure!

You can’t be as successful in clicker training if you’re trying to use a training tool that is designed to create success with R-! You have to think of ways to design positive reinforcement tools and use the environment to support your training method. The person who invented the reverse round pen was well on her way!

Training tools, techniques and people

Choosing the right tool for the job is detrimental for you success! The better your tools, techniques and people you surround yourself with, the better results you get!

R+ Tools & Techniques

This is a part most clicker trainers do already really well: they use targets, mats, food reinforcers and bridge signals (click).

Do you have the support you need, to think more like a positive reinforcement trainer?

Thinking Mistake #3

Thinking you can change traditional horse people to see the benefits of clicker training… Fact is: you can’t change anyone! You can only change yourself. Trying to convince R- trainers of positive reinforcement is very hard and often impossible. Stop doing it, it will drain your energy. Instead focus on finding better people to spent your time with.

Surround yourself with Positive People!

This sounds like an open door! Yet, so many people surround themselves with unsupportive people. Then they tell themselves they can’t do anything about it, and back that up with an excuse (“There are no clicker trainers or barns in my area”). Now they’re really stuck! They get very unhappy, often even desperate. I’ve seen people seriously spiral down from there. They start doubting themselves or their approach. They start to think clicker training isn’t the best way. Don’t let that happen to you!

Are your barn people supportive?

One of my clients boarded her horses in a very traditional boarding facility. Old fashioned cowboy methods, like tying up 2-year old horses in their stall for hours to ‘teach them to be tied up’- kind of ways. It was very hard for her to clicker train her horses in that environment because the ‘norm’ was to be abusive and use coercion to get things done. They were not only abusive to their horses, but also to her!

They told her that she was a bad horse owner, not a real horse person and that she was spoiling and ruining her youngster with treats and soft approaches. That it was time to put a saddle on her horse and stop being a pussy.

No wonder, it was a struggle for her to clicker train her horses. She was always worried that she would run into other people at the barn. That someone would watch her and commented. Because they did… All the time!. I was horrified to hear how they crapped on her training. It was verbally abusive! Not supportive at all.

Do you avoid clicker training when people are around?

It was extra hard on her because she already was already a bit insecure (who isn’t sometimes?). She was relatively new to being a horse owner. She’s in her forties and bought her first horse only two years ago. She’s not a person ‘who grew up with horses’. And she was also new to clicker training. Still she did such a good job clicker training her horses! Her results spoke for itself.

https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

If you have people in your environment commenting negatively on your clicker training and your approach, ask yourself how you can surround yourself with better people!

When my client became a part of my R+ community (the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy) she often expressed her mitigation of being in a supportive, uplifting and positive environment where people believed in her and her approach!

She leaped forward and developed her clicker training skills within a year. It was a joy to watch her evolve and she her improve her horses behaviours! Eventually she moved her horses to a different boarding facility.

Can you imagine how it’s like, to dread going to the barn every, single day? Can you see how this will interfere with your happiness of being a horse owner? How it will interfere with your clicker training? How this will prevent enjoying your horse and having fun training and riding? After all, we have horses to enrich our lives, right?

Change your environment, change your outcome

  • Use or design a training environment and tools that support and enhance positive reinforcement! For example use a reverse round pen (or even better the HippoLogic Reverse Rectangle) to exercise your horse
  • Change your internal environment (ideas, solutions, approaches) by watching clicker training videos and/or trainers or discuss your training with other positive reinforcement trainers before your training so that thinking like a positive reinforcement trainer becomes your habit.
  • Find a tribe that inspires you! They’ll be a daily reminder to keep going with R+!
  • Surround yourself with positive people, who support you and respect you and your R+ training! Let go of Debby Downers and Negative Nancy’s!

Join Our Supportive Clicker Tribe!

I hope this blog gave you a valuable insight. Please share your eye-opener in the comments! I love your feedback!

Are you inspired and would you like to get personal coaching in a group? Do you want to have access to online clicker training courses and a fabulous, supportive R+ community, then join our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Check out the link!

Or book a free assessment and learn which one of the 6 Key Lessons for Trainers you need to focus more on, in order to get the results you want. Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

How to become a better Clicker Trainer and Friend for your Horse

using positive reinforcement makes you a clicker trainer

In my community I focus not only on teaching horse people to train behaviours with positive reinforcement, I specialized in transforming horse owners into clicker trainers. Most horse people don’t consider themselves ‘clicker trainers’, but I believe you are if you change the behaviour of your horse with positive reinforcement!

What do I mean by that? I focus not only on how to clicker train your horse, I help you develop the trainer skills you must develop, in order to become the best clicker trainer you can be.

Clicker Skills vs Trainer Skills

Clicker skills are the tools, the techniques, the method and your system in order to train your horse..

Trainer skills are the skills that the Trainer must develop in order to learn to think in a positive reinforcement way.

Developing Trainer's Skills will increase your success rate in clicker training your horse

Do you ask yourself:

“How can I solve this with R+? “

“How can I make this (this thing *I* want) a Win-Win, so I get what I want from my horse and my horse gets what he wants so we both feel good about it and it enhances our relationship?”

“How can I prevent falling back on R- (or P+/-)?”

“How can I improve so that I get better results or teach my horse faster and without frustration?”

I’ve thought very long about what it takes to become a really good positive reinforcement trainer and The 6 Key Lessons for Trainers are the skills that helped me and all my clients the most. I call them Key Lessons for Trainers, because they are your Key to Success in Clicker Training. You can train faster, get better, more reliable and predictable(!) results and the better you’re at the key Lessons for Trainers, the less you fall back on traditional training. The less you fall back on R- (because now you have R+ solutions and ways to train), the less guilt and the better your friendship with your horse will be.

The better your positive reinforcement Training Skills, the better your results you’ll get and the better the friendship with your horse will be.

Key Lesson #1

Principles of Learning & Motivation. This not only includes knowledge of the Learning Quadrant (R+, R-, P+ and P-), as you’d expect. There is more, like:

Learning Quadrant: R+, R-, P+, P-
  • HOW does a horse learn? How does learning takes place?
  • How does your horse learns best? What increases learning (a certain level of calmness, curiosity, rewards, experience (let them do the thinking) and so on)
  • What inhibits learning and how can you avoid it (too much fear, frustration, flight/fight response, boredom, lack of interest, fear of learning et cetera)
  • What motivates my horse in a positive way (appetitives)

And(this is the part most people skip):

  • How do I -as trainer and human- learn best? Do I like learning from video, practising, reading, conversations and discussions with peers. Do I like step-by-step instruction during my training sessions or do I want to have the theory and then practise on my own and have someone to give me feedback for improving and someone I can turn to to get support if I struggle.
  • How can I keep myself motivated? Lots of clients approached me because they lost motivation do keep figuring out things on their own and reinventing the wheel. Success is a great motivator: you’re training your horse and BAM! He has learned the behaviour you wanted! Great! Now, how to keep this in his repertoire (see above, how does learning take place and how to keep your horse motivated to perform the behaviour you just trained)?
  • How do I keep momentum in my horse’s learning curve? Most reasons that people get stuck in clicker training are easily solved, if they would know how. Find a brain to pick so you won’t have to put your horse and yourself to unnecessary frustration or boredom in training.

Another part of Learning is to take into account the natural behaviour of your goal species, your learner! Horses have different natural behaviour, lifestyle and learning styles than for instance dogs, who are predators. Once you know how to tailor your training to your learners natural behaviour, you can prevent so much struggle!

Unfortunately, most horse people believe in the myths they’ve fed us over the years (“Don’t let your horse win!” “Show him who’s boss” “Make him do it”). That you (still) believe them is not your fault, you assumed that the more experienced horse person/instructor was right… Unfortunately they were dead wrong, if they taught you to use force and coercion to get what you want from your horse.

Trailer loading: a struggle for most owners

Taking into account what you’re asking from an animal (horse) that is developed over thousands of years on plains, is a grazer and browser and uses flight and flight and numbers (herd animal) to survive to go into a tiny, wobbly space, where escape is not possible and also often without fellow herd members… No peripheral vision possible in a box with tiny windows!.

Yes I’m talking about trailer loading. It’s very unnatural and goes into a lot of their natural behaviour.

And most people don’t even think about that, when their horse refuses to go in… They label their horse as stubborn, dumb, stupid or worse.

I think it’s amazing that we can überhaupt train a horse to travel in a trailer, given his natural behaviour.

If more people would understand the Principles of Learning & Motivation in a way the LEARNER benefits, too, the world would be a happier place. Wouldn’t you agree?

How do I implement the Principles of Learning & Motivation?

Practise, practise, practise. Also: making mistakes, and learning from them and trying new approaches (thinking from what your horse would like, what he *can* do (what is species specific and easy for him). Another Key Lesson for Trainers is to Track Your Training and Evaluate it! More about that in another blog. 😉 That will help you actually implement Key #1 Principles of Learning & Motivation.

Most difficult thing if you’re changing from P and R- to more R+ in training, is to train yourself to ask yourself questions so you become aware of what you’re doing and what’s happening.

3 Most Important questions in Training:

  • Is my horse making an Away-From decision? If so, you’re using an aversive or there could be an aversive in the environment (horse is scared of the trailer, a dog barks and makes your horse fearful)
  • Is my horse making a Moving- Towards decision? He doesn’t want to go into the trailer because he rather eats grass (appetitive) or wants to stay with his friends (herd) and that’s the reason he doesn’t trailer load today.
  • What motivates my horse to do what he’s doing? (Not only an important question if he doesn’t do what you want, but also a very important question if he does do it! So *you* learn what he wants and can use that next time. If he rather wants to graze the grass next to the trailer instead of going into the trailer, how can you use that information to get what you want? How can you use grass to get him into the trailer? Can you think of ways?
Enhance the bond with your horse through positive reinforcement and building trust and a clear two way communication

Get support on your learning journey

I hope this article gave you a valuable insight. Please share your eye-opener in the comments! I love your feedback!

Are you inspired and would you like to get personal coaching in a group? Do you want to have access to online clicker training courses and a fabulous, supportive R+ community, then join our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Check out the link!

Or book a free assessment and learn which one of the 6 Key Lessons for Trainers you need to focus more on, in order to get the results you want. Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic

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Milestones in Clicker Training with Rita the Unapproachable Mule

After a bit of plateauing in our clicker training last week I felt I needed a different approach. Usually there is always something to get excited about, and when I don’t get that it’s time to change my approach.

It can be quite challenging to think Out of The Box and come up with a totally different approach, if what you’re doing doesn’t bring you success anymore.

Plateauing could be a sign your learner might not be learning anymore (in the environment you provide),needs more repetitions or that -in Rita’s case- it’s too difficult or too stressful.

Because of that Rita wasn’t in ‘thinking mode’ anymore and no real learning was taking place. She might ‘learn’ I’m trouble, and that’s not my aim!

Repetition can be really beneficial but when you notice you’re getting the same result (instead of ‘better’ or ‘more’ or ‘longer‘), the repetitions have the opposite effect: learning stops. It also can get boring and predicable. As was the case with Rita. Learning stopped (I can see that in hindsight, but at the time it was difficult to accept that thought). She still wanted to go to the food bowls and (sometimes almost resultantly) ate her food rewards.

Food puzzles

When I asked a good friend, who is also an excellent positive reinforcement trainer for advice, she told me how food puzzles helped her. She and her fellow clicker trainsters were training pigs, but they where highly stressed and didn’t want to interact with humans. Just like Rita. That made it difficult to train them.

She told me food puzzles helped the pigs learn, get used to their attendance and their voices. It took two months. After that, they could easily clicker train other behaviours and made great progress.

I must admit I was a bit disappointed when she told me about the two months of food puzzles…. I’ve been training Rita for 2 months and although I made great progress so far, two months of (what almost seemed to me as “non-training”) sounded like ages…

A cheerful thought

On the other hand; LEARNING takes place! That thought really cheered me up again! And, when you can entice a mule (or other animal) to learn with appetitives (something they LIKE and want to have), you greatly enrich their lives and enhance their welfare.

Now, I could see how a simple food puzzle could reduce stress. Letting Rita discover the puzzle IS the reward, and no trainer (human) involved! And solving the puzzle leads to a food appetitive. Double bonus! I decided to try this! See video at the bottom of this blog.

My next Challenge: What makes a suitable puzzle for Rita

I decided to make the food ‘puzzles’ so easy, that it would be just enough challenge, without stressing her out. I wanted to ask my friend about her food puzzles, but then realized that food puzzles for pigs would be very different than food puzzles for a traumatize mule. Simply because they have different natural and species specific behaviours.

The food puzzle must be solvable by just using their natural foraging behaviour. Burying food would work as a nice puzzle for a pig, whos natural behaviour is to dig, but for a grazer/browser like mule, it would probably be too challenging…

I decided to keep my puzzles easy and low stress. I made different puzzles using items that she had seen before: food bowls, a target, a part of a bottle, a cone. Let me know in the comments if you’re curious about my food puzzles.

Milestone 1: Less Stress

The benefits of my puzzles are diverse:

  • No bridges involved, that stressed her out
  • No human that needs to approach her, to offer food rewards
  • No anticipation stress
  • PLUS: Learning was stimulated and immediately rewarded with appetitives
  • PLUS: Trainer keeps a large distance and isn’t involved in the process (other than set up)

How this will greatly benefit our further training

Now Rita is getting used to the food puzzles, and my attendance and my voice, learning takes place again. I keep talking to her while she’s exploring the food puzzles. The idea is that she’ll make a positive association with me, now I lowered her stress levels due to the changes I made.

Too much stress will inhibit learning. I noticed lots of calming signals and stress relief signals before I used my food puzzles. These behaviours have decreases significantly!

Biggest takeaway

My biggest takeaway from this experience is to Trust the Learning Process (one of my favourite quotes that my clients hear all the time). Thinking out of the box to benefit your learner (How can I make this more fun for RIta and less stressful for her) brings the trainer what she wants, too. Even when it doesn’t seem that way at first glance. Relationship before Results and the Results will follow!

That’s where a second pair of eyes or brain comes in so handy! Having someone to ask for advice was invaluable! It helped me get ‘unstuck’ in my training and make a turnaround in my dead end street I was in. It saved me lots of time and Rita lots of stress! Thank you!

Relationship before Results

At first, I had to let go of the idea of me getting Results. The results I was focused on were Key Lesson Targeting (since we made a good start with that) and approaching her (her personal bubble shrank from about 15 meters in the first weeks to about 3-4 meters)

The benefits of Key Lesson for Trainers #1: Principles of Learning and Motivation. When you understand what inhibits and what stimulates learning, you can change your approach accordingly. When learning takes place, you get (the learner offer!) different behaviours, which unlocks new approaches and ideas for training!

Other Milestones my ‘Relationship before Results-approach‘ brought me

The next blog I will elaborate on the other mile stones that the food puzzles brought us! I can’t wait!

What is your experience with plateauing in training?

Share your story how a different approach lead to better results in your clicker training. What happened that forced you to think out of the box and how did it help you? I would love to hear about your Out of The Box solutions that helped your horse learn better.
Did you need to put the Relationship first in order to get (better) Results?

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogicre you inspired and interested in personal coaching in a group or do you want to have access to online clicker training courses and a fabulous, upportive R+ community, then join our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Apply today!

10 Benefits from doing HippoLogic Grass Training with your Horse (What…? Grass training?!)

What is grass training?

Teaching your horse with positive reinforcement to ignore grass in training, leading and riding. In Grass Training you teach your horse to leave grass with a Stop Grazing-cue, and a Grazing-cue. It’s easier than you think, as long as you’ll use the right approach and don’t use R- or P. grass training hippologic clickertraining bite

Benefits Grass Training

  1. Yummiest training ever for your horse! He will immediately pay attention to you when he understands there is a Start Grazing -cue. This will be the quickest learning of a cue.
  2. By giving your horse something she wants, you immediately have her positive attention!
  3. No more unsolicited grazing on trails! You can ride, lunge and train at liberty on grass without losing your horses attention! grass training Hippologic clicker training horses
  4. If you do fun stuff, your horse will trust you, looking out for your next visit. It’s a great foundation for friendship between you and your horse
  5. It will give you incredible results. You’ll notice how annoying and frustrating it was, once you’ve solve it.
  6. Your horse won’t snack on grass during at liberty work, leading or riding!
  7. Your horse will become easy to get of out of the pasture. Simply call his name.
  8. You both stop being frustrated while grass is available during riding or training
  9. It will improve your communication
  10. It will enhance to bond with your horse
Buy HippoLogic’s DIY Grass Training and get some fun and useful training time done.
Grass Training (online course)

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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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  • Professional, personal positive reinforcement advice on your training videos
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  • Student levels are novice to very advanced clicker trainers
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How to talk to traditional horse people about R+ solutions for your horse

In this blog you’ll find tips and solutions to improve your communication with negative reinforcement horse people.

My 100 Clicker Question Quest #100clickerquestionquest

I’ m fascinated about the impact clicker training has on the life of the horse that’s been trained…

Have you ever asked yourself how the quality of life has been impacted when your giving your horse choices in training?

Have you noticed a positive ripple effect on your horse’s life since you’ve been clicker training him? I have seen this many times and in the most unexpected ways.

These questions were on my mind today. I was wondering: How can I get better answers? Is it to ask better questions? What questions are good questions? Then I started to wonder: What are other clicker trainers asking themselves?

100 Clicker Questions

Can I think of 100 questions about clicker training that are not How To-training questions?
I did. Then I thought, how about asking if I will ask YOU for clicker questions concerning the bond with your horse?

Have you ever asked yourself how it would impact your clicker training if you were able to ask different questions?

This is how I came up with my “100 Clicker Questions Quest”.

Purpose

No real purpose, other than to come up with 100 Clicker Questions regarding horse-human relationships. Maybe it will help people think about positive reinforcement of lead to answers…I don’t know, let’s find out. Mayeb it will be fun, maybe it will be just another task…

I’ve come up with over 100 questions today (123 to be precise) and I noticed that the more questions I came up with, the better they became. That’s why I won’t share them just yet with you.

What clicker question is on YOUR mind?

What’s a question that has been on your mind since you started clicker training? Do you have a philosophical or ethical question?

What is one thing you’ve always wondered about equine clicker training or horse-human relationships?

Do you have a personal question about clicker training for me (other than a “How to train X,Y,Z..”)? Do you wonder about befriending your horse? Of a horse you don’t know yet?

Please share and join me on this fun quest

Would you like to share your question with me (use the comments!). I would love to hear from you.


I’m thinking of using these questions in my blog. I’ve put this out there, live in my Happy Herd Facebook group. If you’re curious about what questions your fellow clicker trainers have, hope over and find my Facebook LIVE post (hashtag #1000clickerquestionquest).

If you want me to acknowledge you and your question then please put between brackets how you would like to be referred to. For example [initials+ country], [first name only], [first name, country], [full name, city/country] etc.


I’m looking forward to your question! Sometimes the best questions don’t even have an answer… but they’ll make you think! I wonder what’s on your mind?

Sandra

Founder of HippoLogic and the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Using Protective Contact in Clicker Training your Horse

If you’re not using protective contact in clicker training your horse, you’re missing out on great opportunities to improve your clicker training skills and to enhance the bond with your horse.

Read my latest blog about it: https://clickertraining.ca/benefit-from-working-with-protective-contact/

Happy Horse training!

Sandra

Advantages of an ‘End of Training’-signal in Clicker Training

Most horses get super excited when they get introduced to positive reinforcement (clicker) training. They literally won’t stop. They are always ‘on‘ and in training mode. This can be very exhausting for the owner (and for the horse too).

Green horses

When horses are new to clicker training they get appetitives for things they do (the desired behaviour). Therefor it’s understandable that they will try go get a treat by offering the desired behaviour. They are training you.

If you don’t give them what they want and expect, it can cause confusion in your horse and even frustration. He doesn’t understand that just a minute ago he lift his leg and he got a click and treat and now he lifts his leg and gets ignored or maybe even shouted at! ‘What’s going on?’ the horse wonders.

You horse doesn’t understand that training for Spanish walk is wanted and desired in the arena, but when you walk in front of him at the grooming place it’s undesired. What? It’s the same behaviour!? Why doesn’t he get the same response?

What’s clear to us, might not be clear for our animals. Try to see it from his perspective.

Clarity

Here are some things that give clarity:

  • Use a clear End-of-Session-signal. This indicates: ‘No more clicks can be earned from now on.’ Stick to it! Be consistent!
  • Using a unique end of session signal for a break or indicate the end of the training session gives the horse the security that he won’t miss out and he can relax.
  • You can use an end of session signal in between training sessions too, so your horse can mentally take a break and relax a few minutes.
  • Some horses even need a start-session-signal at first. Some horses think that if you’re in sight, a training session is starting. This can be confusing for your horse. A start session-signal can be calling your horse’s name or simply say: ‘Pay attention.’

Safety

Clarity also increases safety. If your horse exactly knows when a lesson is in session, he will learn quickly that offering behaviours is a desired action and they will be reinforced.

He also learns that offering his latest trick or behaviour after your end of session-signal will never leads to clicks.

‘High risk’ behaviours

If your horse knows this, and they learn quickly when behaviour will be reinforced (in a session) and when it won’t (outside training hours), you can safely train more ‘high risk’ behaviours.

A ‘high risk’ behaviour is a behaviour that can be dangerous if it’s performed unexpectedly. If you train Spanish walk and your horse will offer that front leg up in the air when you’re standing in front of him to lead him, chances are that you’ll be hit by his flying leg.

Same goes for training lying down: you don’t want that behaviour offered spontaneously when you’re riding! Right?


If horses know the end-of-training signal, they know his vending machine is closed, no matter how many quarters (behaviours) are thrown into it. It’s empty. It won’t work. They will safe these behaviours for training sessions.

Of course it’s best to put behaviours on cue as soon as possible, for clarity and safety reasons. However, tn the learning process there will always be a short period when a trained behaviour is not yet confirmed and on cue. An end-of-session signal will help keep you and your horse safe.

Here is how much clarity it gives

In this video you see I end our training by giving Kyra an end of session signal. Putting my empty hands up and say ‘All gone!‘ indicates ‘You’re free to do what you want to do. You won’t miss out on clicks and treats.’ I knew she wanted to roll so badly but she wasn’t doing it because a training session was going on.


Bring a horse to the pasture safely

Here is another example that will help increase safety.

In the past I’ve had bad experiences with traditionally trained horses that run off immediately when released in the field. Sometimes you don’t even get a chance to take off the halter safely. Other horses even kick and bolt in order to get their freedom. Very dangerous!

To prevent such behaviours I give a treat after I release horses in the pasture. In the beginning they get a treat before taking the halter off and after taking it off. Later in training I give a treat only after I take the halter off and get out of the pasture. Instead of running off they will linger in the hope for a treat. Then I fade out the treat.

In this video Kyra didn’t want to leave me, so I gave my end-of-training-signal. That’s when she realized that she wasn’t missing out on reinforcers (food or attention).

It’s clear how powerful that end-of-training signal is. My horse that almost nevers runs in the pasture.

Any thoughts or questions about using or introducing an end-of-session-signal? #justask

Happy Horse training!

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc
I help horse owners create the relationship with their horse they’ve always dreamt of and get the results in training they really, really want.

Sign up for HippoLogic’s emails (they are free, full of goodies and joining comes with a reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online courses and our Membership Mentoring Program, the Clicker Training Academy, that will change your life.

5 Useful Techniques to prepare your horse to Vet Visits

We hope this never happens, but it does. Horses get into accidents, fights, and other trouble. If you’ve been long enough around horses you know that crazy stuff happens. No matter how careful you are… Equine first aid is a necessity for all horse owners.

Rusty nail

Kyra stepped into a 2 inch (5 cm) rusty nail on Saturday. She was lame and I discovered the nail when I rinsed the mud off hr leg and foot with cold water. It wasn’t in her foot all the way, but a good 1,5 – 2 cm. Not straight upwards luckily.

Hoof wrapping

When the nail was out (I just pulled it out) immediate relief from Kyra. Then I got a quick lesson in hoof wrapping from my barn manager. One of the perks at boarding out and have experienced horse people around.

Vet care training for horses

I have had “vet care training” since day 1 in my training program. Kyra came wounded to me. So she could already be hosed off, put her foot in a bucket with water and lift her legs.

You don’t want to start training these kind of things in an emergency!

Vet visit

When the vet came Kyra behaved so nicely. When she pushed on the wound Iused the open bar/closed bar technique and Kyra really appreciated it! She didn’t fight although it was very clear she was in much pain! She didn’t kick and let the vet do her work. Wow, that’s such a great feeling! Safety for everyone involved and the best treatment (because the horse lets the vet).

Be prepared!

Prepare your horse before you need it! Trailer loading, rinsing off legs (up until 10 minutes), injections, training for calm behaviour and standing still for longer periods of time (up until 10 minutes) are very helpful!

Useful techniques in vet care training

Techniques you can use for vet care training:

  1. A tiny bit of moulding/molding can help teaching your horse to stand in a bucket (rubber pan). It can be hard to free shape it so that they step into the pan themselves, especially with their hind legs.
  2. Duration. In vet care procedures ‘duration’ is so important. In our minds 10 seconds seem very short, but we also know when we are in the dentist chair without freezing and the drill drills 10 seconds, it’s suddenly ver, very long. Since horses don’t know when we stop with unpleasant procedures it’s even more difficult for them. They really have to trust you!
  3. Start button behaviour. Teach a behaviour so the horse can indicate: ‘I am ready.You can do what you need to do now.‘ Eg teach them to touch a target.
  4. Stop button behaviour. Teach a behaviour so they can indicate ‘Stop the procedure.’ You can teach them to touch a different target than you use for the start button behaviour.
  5. Open bar/closed bar. This is a great technique if the horse is not clicker trained or not prepared well enough. It also helps in quickly building duration. You ‘open the bar’ as soon as the behaviour starts. For instance putting the hoof into the bucket of water, holding up their hoofs for dressing or farrier work. When the horse pulls back, you let go of the foot (if possible!) and stop feeding: you ‘close the bar‘. You ‘open the bar‘ again and start feeding as soon as the horse offers the desired behaviour. The reinforcers must be high enough value to make it worthwhile. If you’re building duration a food reinforcer that they have to chew on long(er) is a good choice. Eating also distracts from the procedure and if they stop chewing with food in their mouth it can be an indication of increased stress or worry.

Make a good hoof wrap out of duct tape

In the next blog I will show you how I make a ‘space shoe’ out of duct tape and other items to keep her foot clean and dry in the mud. I took lots of photos and made videos of our training. Here is one of Kyra’s space boot the next day. It kept well in the mud.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
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Horse, Stop Mugging Me!

The biggest fear of using treats in training and what hold most people off is the fear of The Mugging Horse. What can you do about mugging and how can you prevent it?

What is mugging

Mugging is when a horse demands a treat or attention by pushing you with his nose, trying to help himself to the treats in your pocket, kicking the stall door to get attention. Just to name a few symptoms.

What most people don’t understand is that they encourage their horse to mug and almost always reinforce it! All this happens even to people who really hate mugging horses. Why is that?

Principle behind mugging

Horses ‘mug’ because it leads to a reward! That’s it!

‘But I yell at my horse to stop if he kicks the door! I never allow this behaviour.’ Even if you run over to a horse that kicks their stall door (even to smack or shout at him), he gets what he wanted: your attention!

It’s not about what you think, it’s about what your horse thinks! If he -the learner- feels he is rewarded (you came over) he will do the smae behavioru again next time he wants you to come over.

I reinforced my horse to nicker to me if she wants me there. I like that and it’s not so destructive as kicking doors. It’s also available in the pasture, where there is no door to knock on.

Know your learner!

If you want your horse to stop mugging, put yourself in his place. Ask ‘What’s in it for the horse to behave like this? What am I giving (attention, treat, something else) that he wants from me (maybe even to lure you away from that horse)?

So what is his reinforcer? If they mug you for food, it’s the treat they get. Even if it’s denied 4 times before. That even made the mugging only stronger!!

Turn the tables

Use the reinforcer he wants for the behaviour you want! If your horse want attention, give him attention when he does something that is more desired and preferably also incompatible with the undesired behaviour (mugging).

Kicking doors

Give door kickers attention when they stand with 4 feet on the floor. That is incompatible with door kicking. It’s hard, because your horse is silent when he behaviour well! So that is something you have to train yourself to do! And everyone else in the barn.

What not to do (biggest pitfall of people):

Ignore the horse? No!! Not giving a treat when your horse mugs is called extinction. You’re trying to let the behaviour go extinct because it has no use, it doesn’t lead to what he wants. This will only work if you and all other people will never, ever give a treat

Since that is almost impossible, this won’t work. As soon as one person gives a treat when the horse asks for a treat, you have reinforced the mugging with your variable ratio reward schedule. In other words: you made the behaviour stronger!

Punish the horse? No! Punishment is to decrease a behaviour. I understand that people want to decrease the mugging behaviour but there are main 2 issues with punishment.

  1. The punishment needs to exceed the reinforcer by far in order to stop the undesired behaviour! The pain of the punishment must be stronger than the good feeling the pushished behaviour leads to. Eating (food) is a survival behaviour and therefor cannot be punished enough to let it go out of the behaviour repertoire. Same might be true for attention: heard animals need eat other and need to be seen by their group members. If you will smack a horse hard enough to never eat a carrot out of your hand, he will be very conflicted if he loves carrots. He will find other ways (trying to get carrots from other people).
  2. With punishment (which is scientifically speaking purely meant to de-crease a behaviour) you won’t give your learned any information what you want him to do. So that leads us to what the solution is:

Solution for mugging horses: how to stop mugging

The best way to approach mugging in horses, whether it’s for attention or food, is to teach them what to do. Teach them desired behaviour that is incompatible with the undesired behaviour! Then reinforce the new behaviour with that what the horse really wants! A carrot? Attention?

  • Desired and incompatible behaviour can be standing with 4 feet on the floor
  • Looking away from your pocket (they can’t push you or grab food out of your pocket if their muzzle is nowhere near your pocket)
  • Teaching your horse to keep a distance is incompatible with mugging
  • Teaching your horse to keep his lips closed and muzzle relaxed is incompatible with mugging
  • etc

Prevent mugging

If you start clicker training and reinforce behaviour with treats or food reinforcers be clear to your horse about your expectations. Reinforce ‘Table manners‘ right from the start. Click the link to find out more.

Fear of working with treats in training

solutions for treat crazy mugging horse with clicker training

Not starting to click with your horse is because of the fear of creating a ‘monster’ out of your horse that only will be focused on the food. That is true for maybe the first few sessions, but almost all horses learn within the first 10 minutes that it’s not about the food. It’s about the behaviour they have to perform (that leads to food).

They learn clicker training is about them, making a choice. If we are clear what we want them to choose (Table manners over mugging) they understand quickly and cooperate eagerly. After all, there is something in it for them, what they really want!

Clicker training done well turns your treat crazy horse into a well behaved, well mannered horse that is eager to work with you.

Learn more

I can talk for hours about this subject! There is so to learn. Go to my website if you have a treat crazy, mugging ‘monster’ that you want to turn into an eager friend that is polite and well mannered when treats are involved.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
Get your free 5 Step Clicker Training Plan.

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Does Clicker Training Your Horse Leads to Confusion?

When you change your training approach, you step outside your comfort zone. You know you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone if you feel insecure or confused. Another sign is that you get different results, hopefully BETTER ones!

What you need is to replace your confusion with clarity. How you do that, I’ll explain in this blog.

Lets see how you can recognize confusion. You might think right away: ‘I am never confused!‘ I understand how you feel and that’s a normal reaction. This is what confusion looks like:

  • When can I stop clicking?
  • Should I stop riding now I’ve started clicker training?
  • How do I start?
  • Should I click more often?
  • Should I always end with a jackpot?
  • When should I raise my criterion?
  • Am I using the right treats?
  • Can I still use my training stick?
  • Does my horse understand the cue?
  • How can I know if my horse really knows my cues?
  • Do I need to keep clicking for trained behaviours?
  • Shall I use different treats for different behaviour?
  • Is it a coincidence my horse did so well right away?

3 Steps to deal with confusion

  1. Information
  2. Decide
  3. Action

More information

Where can you get more information?

Contact me (see below) and watch the webinar about 4 Main Road Blocks almost All Clicker Trainers Hit and subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Decide what you want

Do you want to learn more about how you can teach your horse to listen to you? Feel confident? Get results? What do you need, in order to get that? Who can help you? If you don’t know someone at the top of your head, what else is possible? What about an online course or coaching?

Decide what you want and make a decision.

Decide to say ‘No’ to what doesn’t serve you, to focus on the top priorities (which can bring you back to #1: More information). The more clarity you have the sooner you accomplish what you want. It saves time and money, too. How?

If you’re being vague and say things like ‘I just want to ride better‘ you can find any instructor that will help you. But are you getting better? Depends in what…. If you say ‘I want to learn lateral gaits‘ or want to ride with positive reinforcement, you’ll notice that suddenly most coaches you ask are not qualified to fit your goals. Choosing the an instructor that help you reach your goals, saves time and money spent elsewhere. It’s a lot of fun working on what you really want!

Action!

Once you made a decision about what it is you want and need, need have to take action! Otherwise nothing will change!

Only Action leads to Accomplishments ~ HippoLogic

How can you take action? You can start to book a free discovery call with me and I will give you clarity. Take action and book your appointment now.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
Get your free 5 Step Clicker Training Plan.

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‘Rules’ vs ‘Principles’ in Horse Training (this might be eye-opening!)

When people learn to interact with horses it usually starts with riding lessons or they learn from a seasoned horse person. You’ll learn the ropes, which usually means the ‘rules’ of how things are done. Then one day, you discover that the rule doesn’t apply anymore… Why is that?

Why Rules Not Always Apply

Over the years you already might have learned some rules don’t work for you or the horses you work with. Why is that?

Why rules in horse training not always work

Because when you’re focused on the rule, you miss the principle behind the rule. That’s why it’s not working. Learn the Principle and you discover the Gold! That’s why I teach all my clients to base their training on Key Lesson #1 for Trainers: The Principle of Learning & Motivation.

It’s like Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day (rule), if you teach him how to fish (principle) he’ll never be hungry.

What’s the Principle behind the Rule?

That’s what I’ve been working on the past 3 decades and that’s why I can lead others to success in horse training. I don’t work with rules, I teach clients principles. They are way more worth, because it sets them up for life!

Examples of Rules that Not Always Work

These are rules that apply to some or maybe even most horses, not to all horses!

1. Horses will work for carrots.

My horse Kyra was born in a nature reserve and foals learn to eat what moms and other herd members eat. In nature horses don’t feed on carrots because they don’t grow in their habitat! Kyra literally had to learn to eat carrots, apples and man-made treats. Foals who are born at a barn have already learned that what people feed you is edible.

So what would be a principle behind this rule? The principle is that the receiver determines the reward (read: appetitive).

Some horses like to work for carrots, others prefer grain, grass pellets or something else. As trainer you have to figure out what motivates your horse.

You know that not all horses can’t be lured out of the pasture with a carrot. The carrot is simply not appetitive enough in those cases. More principles could be at work why the horse won’t come and how to determine that, is a whole other topic.

Still people are asking on the Internet: ‘What treats are best for in clicker training?’ The answer is… it depends on the horse and the situation. Appetitives can change in value.

If clicker training doesn’t work, it’s because people don’t apply the Key principles of Learning and Motivation, they try to apply ‘rules’ ~ HippoLogic

The rule people hear is:

2. “Pressure-release will make the horse do what I want”.

Look at people that have trouble loading their horse into a trailer. They apply pressure, they apply release and still the horse is outside the trailer.

In training it’s about the timing (learning happens when the aversive stimulus is released) and also about the strength and direction of the aversive (if the trailer is more aversive than the applied pressure, the horse won’t go in) or if an appetitive stimulus outside the trailer is stronger than the applied pressure the horse won’t go in. It’s about how the learner experience the aversive stimulus.

When I started to figure out the principles at work behind every rule in horse training things changed quickly. My clients got better results and problems were solved quicker and with less struggle.

3. Heels down, hands low, back straight, chin up!

This is what I was taught in riding lessons for many, many years. It didn’t make me a good rider at all. These are rules, the principle behind it (that they never taught me in the riding school), is to sit in balance.

When I took Centered Riding lessons I learned how to sit in balance. I learned that balance starts at the position of my pelvis: tipping it slightly forward it created a hollow back, legs that went backwards, heels went up and hands that were moving very much in order to keep my balance.

When I had my pelvis slightly tipped backwards, I rode with a curved back, my legs were in chair seat (before my point of gravity) and my chin was down.

Only if I kept my pelvis in ‘neutral’ (this is where your balance starts!) I was able to keep my legs in the right position, my back straight and could move with my horse instead of being before or behind my horse’s movement.

Only when I keep my pelvis in ‘neutral’ I can move with my horse. I am balanced, my hands can become soft because I move them in the rhythm of the movement of my horse’s head instead of my own body. My legs become still (in relation to the horse flank movements) because I don’t need to squeeze them in order to keep my balance. I became confident because I felt safe! That’s when I became a good rider.

Now you can see why these rules started: heads up, back straight and so on. They want to solve the symptoms of an unbalanced rider. Unfortunately they don’t work (how many times have you heard them!?) because they don’t solve the problem (balance). The principle of riding does: where does balance in a rider start? Right, in the pelvis! And that’s why it’s called ‘centered’ riding.

Want to Learn More About the Key Principles of Positive Reinforcement?

I you want to know more about the Principles (HippoLogic’s Key Lessons), join me for a free webinar in which I explain the 4 Main Reasons People get Stuck in Clicker Training (and solutions).
Spoiler alert: I will talk about principles!

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
Get your free 5 Step Clicker Training Plan.

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‘They Said’, Warnings about Clicker Training Your Horse

Did “they” tell you:
->> your horse would become dangerous by feeding treats?
->> you’ll turn your hores into a mugger?
->> it doesn’t work for all horses, all people, all breeds?
->> your horse will never work for you again without treats?
->> it’s all about the treats and not about YOU?
->> you’ll spoil your horse?
->> that you can’t train everything with R+?

What did THEY tell you?

***Share your story in the comments****

What do you say?

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
Get your free 5 Step Clicker Training Plan.

4 Ways to Calm Your Horse Down

Do you think it’s impossible to teach your horse to relax? If you imagine it being like a “relax-button” that you simply have to press and your horse instantly relaxes like a ragdoll? No, not like that!

However, you can teach your horse to calm down and relax more, that he is in that moment that you need him to be relaxed! How? Training!

What is training

Training is teaching your horse to respond with a specific behaviours to a specific stimulus (cue). If you’ve trained ‘relaxation’ into a specific behaviour/context, you can recall that state of mind on cue.

We, horse people, do it all the time. Mostly the opposite of relaxation. Think of how most horses all respond and behave, just before breakfast. They are excited! They’re energetic and sometimes frenetic! That’s part of the behaviour that have been reinforced with a jackpot (their breakfast).

Reinforce calm behaviour

If you can excite them with food, you can calm them down with food. I have to say that before I used positive reinforcement I didn’t believe it could be done: teaching your horse to relax. On cue.

The only tool I had to calm down my pony was my voice. That’s what people told me to do. Oh, and to restrict his movement. How many times I’ve heard instructors shout: ‘Shorten your lead rope/reins/lung line!!’

When I was in a clinic with Shawna Karrash Kyra was very nervous, I was nervous and it was hard to calm myself down, let alone my horse. Shawna helped me to teach Kyra to calm down. That’s what we did for two days. I was looking forward to learn very advanced things and at first I was a bit disappointment we mainly focussed on calm and relaxed. I was looking forward to ride Kyra in this special occasion.

Key Lesson Patience promotes relaxation

Shortly after the clinic I moved Kyra to another property. It had a huge automatic metal gate at the driveway, which slides open with quite some noise and rattling sounds. It was there that most horses and dogs always spooked.

I decided to use my newly acquired relaxation skills to calm Kyra down when the gated opened and closed. I was glad I filmed the whole process because it only took 3 sessions to associate the rattling and moving of the gate with calmness!

It was then that the full potential of calming my horse really sank in! This was a powerful tool I now had, like a safety device!

Power of Key Lesson Mat training and Head lowering

Other examples are the self soothing power of mats (Key Lesson Mat Training) and Head lowering. I’ve seen that when clicker trained horses spook they often run to their mat. As if it’s a safety blanket. I’ve seen that they immediately calm down.

Key Lesson Head lowering also helps to calm your horse down and is an excellent way of measuring your horse’s state of mind. If he won’t lower his head, he’s might not be able to due to his state of mind.

Look what happens at 1:18 when Kyra spooks. Where’s she’s going! Now I use training deliberately to teach relaxation.

You can also help your horse to calm down by clicking and reinforcing calm behaviour and associate it with the object that scares them.
Watch these videos:
Kyra spooks at the giant ball
Kyra overcomes her fear for the mega ball (part II)
Fun and Games with the mega ball

4 Ways to use clicker training to teach your horse to relax

  1. Bridging and reinforcing calm behaviour
  2. Key Lesson Patience
  3. Key Lesson Mat training
  4. Key Lesson Head lowering

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
Get your free 5 Step Clicker Training Plan.

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Use Target Training for Horses two times more effectively

Find the blog you’re looking for, here: https://clickertraining.ca/how-to-use-target-training-for-horses-2-times-more-effectively/

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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 make training a win-win.
Get your free 5 Step Clicker Training Plan.