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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Key to Success: make a Shaping Plan

Read the article you’re looking for here: https://clickertraining.ca/key-to-succes-make-a-shaping-plan/

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Sandra Poppema, BSc

Go-to person for online equine clicker training

Teaching horse people to make training a win-win and bond with their horse so they can enjoy their time together.

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Summer time: Training plan for crossing water

Here are just a few ideas to teach your horse to cross water. After all: Summer starts this weekend and if you love trail riding or Horse Agility you might come across water.

Goal
_water_hippologic_april2011How you start depends on how your horse feels about water, his experience with previous water crossings (previous owners might have tried it) and his character. Start making a training plan. This plan is a guideline of ideas, it is not a manual.

For example, my goal is “crossing water”. I can narrow my goal down by being a bit more specific:

– crossing water under saddle
– crossing water at liberty, or
– crossing water in hand.

Be specific
What kind of “water” do I want my horse to cross? A puddle in the arena or on a trail? A river? A water obstacle in a horse agility course? A lake? Or do I want my horse to enter the sea?

Think about preparations
What skills does my horse needs to have to make it easier? In this example it would help if my horse is not afraid of water and is already comfortable getting his feet wet. If that is not the case then the first training step can be teaching your horse to stand in a bucket of cold water with one foot.

Once he is comfortable with getting his feet wet you can practice hosing his legs off. Open your mind and try to see “all water” as potential training opportunities. Once your horse knows stepping in a puddle can earn him a reward, his ideas about water can change completely.

Raising criteria
If you start with the criterion ‘Horse puts his left foot in a bucket of water without hesitation’ you can raise it after he has done it three times. Then you can train his other foot.

_soaking feet in water bucket_horse training_hippologicStart at the beginning again with the other hoof because this hoof is a context shift for him. Maybe he is more comfortable because he knows the drill now, maybe this is such a context shift that in his mind it is something completely new. The horse will tell you and over time you will become more and more accurate in predicting his reactions. Your training journal helps you to keep track of changes in your horse.

Training journal
It is so much fun to keep a journal when you train behaviours that are completely new to your horse. You get used to his new skills easily, but if you have a photo album with pictures of each victory you accomplished together you have a wonderful reminder of your journey with your horse.

Have fun in the water!

Sandra Poppema