3 Simple Steps to Create a 2023 Vision for your Horse that lasts until December

It’s January 4th and my mailbox is overflowing with emails about creating New Years Resolutions, Visions for your Horse and Planning for Equestrians. Fact is, most horse people don’t know what they want, let alone knowing what their horse really wants. How to figure out what you really want and stick with it so that you can say in December 2023: “This is what I created in January and here are my results.”

  • Pick a goal that makes your heart sing
  • Connect it to your values
  • Include your horse’s wants and needs

Does it makes your heart sing?

If you think about your goal, do you really wish that you’ve already accomplished it? Can you really see yourself doing it? Can you feel how it feels?

Don’t worry about that you don’t know yet all the steps in order to accomplish it. That’s what you’ll figure out in the next 12 months. Once you’ve determined a clear goal, you can take the next step.

Your Equestrian Values

When you connect your goals to your equestrian values, you’ll align your dreams with your goals.

If it’s important to you that your horse enjoys riding as much as you do, you’ll have find a way to know for sure how your horse feels about your time together. If he doesn’t like it, you can find ways to help him change his mind.

You can do that by accommodating his wants and needs, based on his natural behaviour. When people change from coercive methods to offering choices in training, listening to what their horses are communicating and using positive reinforcement to strengthen their 2-way communication and trust, horses start to enjoy their training/riding more.

If your horse still hates to be ridden, would you be able to give up your dream of riding? Can you find a way to change your dream into spending time together in a way you both enjoy? If riding is more important than (the value of) honoring your horse’s feelings you don’t have to worry about how you can make it more fun for your horse.

To me riding has no value and isn’t an addition to my life if the horse I’m riding dislikes to be ridden. Therefore many horses won’t make it to my ‘riding horse list’, but the ones that do… oh my! They are fabulous to ride! They love it! You can feel it! You feel how it feels to be in harmony with your horse. Even if that would be just one ride a year, I would choose it over weekly rides on horses that ‘sit their time out’ under saddle. How about you?

Do you know what your equestrian values are?

Friends, Freedom and Forage
Friends, Freedom and Forage

Being unaware of your equestrian values can get in the way of accomplishing your dream results! When I was still following a well known horse guru, I finally got the results I was always dreaming about… My horse was listening to me. I taught him so many new behaviours. I felt safe and in control, but…it just didn’t feel good

Why did I stick with Natural Horsemanship for so long? Well, the negative reinforcement training (coercing my horse), was actually very much positive reinforcement for me: I got the results I was dreaming about! What was missing? The part in which my horse loved our time togethers as much as I did. My training results felt colourless as long as my horse didn’t have fun. That’s when I started to let go of negative reinforcement training and fully emerged myself into positive reinforcement.

What does your horse want, in 2023?

This is very much intertwined with your equestrian values, when you’re the person that really loves horses and want what’s good for them. If you would accomplish your dream goal and you hurt your horse in the process, would it still be your goal? Of course not!

Becoming aware of what your horse wants, is therefor a very important part of making your 2023 vision! Build your dreams and goals around his natural behaviour so that you will be happy, because you know your horse is happy!

For instance, I believe that horses in general love to trail ride, because they are natural nomads. Their nature is to spent time in nature and being with the herd (hack out with friends).

If your horse doesn’t love it, because he’s herd bound, how can you help him overcome his (innate) fear of being alone and vulnerable? How can you show your horse you will be his guardian that he can trust to keep him safe? How can you help him more confident without his equine friends, so that he’s love going out with you. That’s how you can help your horse start loving your trail rides, so you can be independent of your barn friends’ schedules to ride.

If your dream is not natural to your horse’s behaviour, ask yourself how you can make it a better fit.

Riding in an arena might not be part of his natural desire or behaviour, but learning is. Exercising is. Spending time with an individual he loves, is. Having choices and feeling in control is natural to horses.

Implementing these important things for your horse into your arena time, will help your horse enjoy your time together more. He will start looking forward to it. Change your horse’s aversive triggers in the arena into appetitive ones. That’s a hot topic for many clicker trainers and our main focus in our clicker community.

What’s next

Now you can create a vision for you and your horse for 2023 that’s based on your dreams, and your values in a way that respects your horse and let your horse shine.
If you want a little support, join my free class “Creating your Equestrian Vision Board for 2023”. Register with the link: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIufuyhpj0vHtCgsrAOSh9EcImibPG_Tw0t

Are you a compassionate horse owner who wants to build a strong friendship with your horse? Would you like to understand your horse better and help your horse to understand YOU better? Get access to many online clicker training courses and a fabulous, supportive R+ community in our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Check out the link!

Not sure? Start with a free clicker training assessment to get taste of what it feels like to work with me. Discover your strong points and weaker points in training (if you have some) so that you know what to focus more on, in order to get the results you want. 

After your assessment you have a clear plan and know exactly what your next step will be in order to accomplish your dream behaviours with your horse. Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

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How to drop the crop

We all like to hold on to our beliefs and our familiair training aids. I know I do, even when I already know I never will use it. Here are some ways to drop your crop.

‘Safety’

Holding on to your riding crop (carrot stick, training stick or lunge whip) gives us a feeling of safety and empowerment. We need our crop, just in case…

But what if you don’t have a crop anymore. What would happen? Would you die? Yes, it can feel that way, but you (probably) won’t. Continue reading

Less is more

It sounds contradictory: how can less be more? In horse training it often is true. We try too hard. Three examples of less is more.

Don’t over ask
We expect too much of our horses. We don’t realize during training that a learning process consist out of many, many baby steps, which shapes a behaviour. Work on one criteria at a time. Only after the horse masters a set of different criteria is it time to combine them.

If we are ‘lumpers’ instead of ‘splitters’ we ask too much. Less is more: work on one criterion at a time. Get faster to the end behaviour, by skipping the frustration part which will set the horse back a few steps.

Example: if you want to teach a very mouthy horse to target, you can work a few sessions on just the criterion ‘keeping lips together’ or ‘relaxed muzzle’ and other sessions on ‘looking at target’, ‘moving nose towards target’ and ‘touching target’. After the horse masters these criteria separately can you combine them to ‘touching the target with a relaxed muzzle’.

Teach one criterion per session. In this way you can click and reward your horse more often and training will feel more successful and is more fun. For both of you! Less is more: teach less criteria at once.

Adjust criteria to circumstances
People don’t realize that horses do not easily generalize behaviour or cues as humans do. In other words, we don’t take into account that our horse is learning in a specific context. That’s why we don’t lower our criteria and expectations if we ask the same behaviour in another context. We are skipping steps in the learning process and don’t set our horses up for success.

Example: you have taught your horse to touch a target stick. You’ve always practised in the pasture. Now your friend is visiting and you want to show your horses’ progress.

Today it is rainy and instead of working in the pasture as usual, you decide to work in the barn. If you are asking your horse to touch the target, he might not perform as well as in the context where the behaviour was taught (pasture).

If you aren’t anticipating this context shift and you don’t lower your criteria momentarily, you might be disappointed about your horse’s performance. Less is more: lower criteria if context changes.

Keep cues as light as possible
People don’t realize that if they make their cues or riding aids ‘clearer’ (read: stronger or: bigger) if the horse doesn’t respond well, they are not the same anymore as the light cues the horse is used to.

Horse riding is not like tennis: if the ball isn’t going over the net, smack it harder. Figure out what the reason is the horse isn’t responding to your cue (read How to… listen to Horses). Adjust to the situation and work on the source of the problem rather than working on the symptoms (obeying your cues). If you’ve solved that, you can keep your cues and riding aids light.

Less is more: stay with light cues and the chance the horse responds correctly increases.

_Lessismore_hippologic

In what circumstances are you thinking: ‘Less is more’?

Sandra Poppema

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Best Basics: ZEN time with your horse

Now that the temperatures are much higher than in winter it becomes more enjoyable to spent some ZEN time with your horse. ZEN time is time spending together without having an agKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAenda. You can take a chair and sit down in his paddock or pasture and just see what happens.

Herd behaviour
I really like to observe Kyra in the pasture because I learn so much about her. I see how she interacts with other horses in the herd. I see who moves away when she approached, how their body language is helping them communicate and for which horse Kyra moves out of the way.

Grazing routines
I like to observe the way she eats: she grazes from left to right to left, then she takes one step grazes the next halve circle of grass. It is an interesting pattern.

When I hand graze Kyra I can see if she is hungry or not. If she is hungry she will not lift her head up for the first 15 minutes. She eats, eats, eats. If she is less interested in grass she will often lift up her head to look for the juiciest patches of herbs and grass and she takes more steps in between grazing.

If Kyra eats something distasteful, she will push it our of her mouth with her tongue or open her mouth real wide and let everything fall out. I can even see that she has have a favourite foot, because she puts it forward longer than the other one.

Just be together
Sometimes in ZEN time Kyra comes over and makse contact with me. The other day when I was sitting in the round pen and Kyra was just walking around, she came to me and sniffed my hair. I sighed and she did, too! Then I sighed again and she did another sigh. I wanted to test if it was a coincidence and took one more deep breath and exhaled loudly and she did too. We were really connecting, it was awesome. Then the magical moment was over and she walked away.

Hand grazing and walks
Sometimes ZEN time means I take Kyra out for a walk and I will let her graze wherever she wants and I let her decide what to do. You can learn so much by just observing your horse and seeing what he wants to tell you or seeing if he wants to connect.

Renske, Kyra's beschermengel

Renske was Kyra’s guardian angel when she was young

Other days I will watch Kyra without being seen so I am not interrupting her herd behaviour. If she sees me, she comes to the fence and will not interact the way she would without me.

Enjoy!
Being ZEN with your horse is a really nice way to relax and connect with your equine friend.

My tip for the weekend is: fill a nice picnic basket, bring a pen and paper to make notes or a camera and enjoy your horse in the sun for an hour or so, see what you can learn.

Sandra Poppema

What a relief: training horses without ‘leadership’ and ‘dominance’

Secret of succes is ...

Positive reinforcement training or clicker training. This was not just “another method” to me. To me it was a completely different approach to training horses. I was told, and I believed, that I had to “dominate” the horse otherwise he would dominate me, I had to be the “leader” to my horse and that horses “had to respect me” and I never could “let the horse win”, whatever that meant.

A step-by-step program
Then a  Natural Horsemanship method came along in my world. I was thrilled: finally a step-by-step- program that taught me “games” I could play with my horse, that sounded like fun. Yeey!

The voice in my heart
I wasn’t too happy with building up the “phases” and building more and more pressure on my pony until he moved away like it was described in the pocket books. I think I confused Sholto by starting with this NH method and clicker training tricks at the same time. Sholto tried to tell me in many ways that he didn’t agree with this “natural” training method, but the books said: “Don’t let him win“. So I kept going. I heard a little voice in my heart that said: “I don’t like this accumulating pressure thing“. I ignored that voice.

I practised my new Natural Horsemanship method with a many horses. I didn’t have a real passionate connection with these horses because I hardly knew them. I found it a lot easier to apply accumulating pressure on them, but this voice in my heart kept telling me that this wasn’t really “partnership” nor “friendship” and I didn’t create “harmony“.

__collect_moments_hippologic

Clicker training changed my pony’s attitude completely
Since my pony was about 20 years old, I decided to let the NH method go and take a lot more effort in researching information about the clicker training/positive reinforcement training. After all: he was already ‘old’ and he was not suppose to learn new tricks anyway. He surprised me by learning new things so much quicker as I added a marker signal wit reinforcements of his choice instead of pressure. Wow, my old pony got really engaged in my training.He started to greet me with loud whinny’s and started cantering towards me in the pasture! What a difference!

Instead of “dominating” my pony and what just felt to me as forcing him into new behaviours with accumulating pressure I had to outsmart him with clicker training. Set it up for success, was very useful advice from the NH method. I still use that one, but now I set us up for success, both of us. Notonly me.

Learning another jargon
It was really difficult to “Set Sholto up for Success” because I hardly knew what I wanted and I didn’t have a training plan to follow. So I struggled along for a few years and gained lots of knowledge during this process. I didn’t know at that time that I could let go of terms regarding “dominance”, which apparently doesn’t even exist, inter species wise speaking. New studies have proven that horses make a lot of herd decisions in a democratic way. Which makes total sense.

I don’t want other people to struggle as much as I did, so I developed a step by step  training program over the past 15 years. I call it the Key Lessons, your key to Success in Positive Reinforcement training. Click on “Key Lessons” at the top of this page or put them into the search engine in the right to find out more about the Key Lessons.

I am so relieved that I now can be my horses teacher instead of his “herd leader”, be his friend instead of being “the dominant one” and just be his “human” instead of being his “alpha mare/stallion”.

Positive reinforcement training has been truly a wonderful journey. It is not “just another training method” it became a “life style”. It is truly the journey that counts, not the destination.

Read more: 5 Tips for Starting Clicker Training

Read more: Clicker Training 101: How to introduce Your Horse to the Click

 

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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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  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse
  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.
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