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Posts tagged ‘despooking your horse’

Teach your horse confidence

Are you tired of your horse repeatedly spooking over the same things? Are you getting impatient that he is still scared of object X while he has seen dozens of times? Do you think you and your horse’s lives would improve if you could teach him to just ‘get over’ it? Here is what you can do.

Responsive animal

First of all I would like you to realize that your horse is a responsive animal and when he is fearful he wants to survive and get away from the scary thing. He is not testing you, he is not acting as if he’s scared or pretending. He is not, he just responds to his environment and ‘acts’ accordingly to his instincts. The same instincts that kept the species alive for thousand and thousand of years. Watch the video below of Kyra and you can see she is not pretending. She wants to run away, but she also wants to explore what scared her. If she knows it is safe she doesn’t have to run away and use energy that she might need later.

Train your horse to have confidence

With positive reinforcement you can easily teach your horse to target an object with his nose, that is called targeting.

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Targeting new objects

Once your horse knows how to target and he has experienced over and over again that he is getting something wonderful when he does, he wants to target more objects. He now knows from experience that targeting brings him good stuff: a click (the marker to pinpoint his exact behaviour that gets him the treat or another positive reinforcer) and the reinforcer itself (the treat).

Practise in different contexts

Once your horse knows and likes to target you can ask him to touch other objects too, like a plastic bag, a cone, an upside down bucket or a huge horse ball.

Click and reinforce every tiny step towards the desired behaviour. This can be literally that you have to click and reinforce every step towards the object you want him to target. Even when your horse is still 30 steps or more away from the object!_flag_training_hippologic

Tip for building confidence

When your horse wants to leave, let him! Make sure you practise this in a safe environment like an arena or his paddock, where your horse has the opportunity to run away if he needs to.

Never punish or ‘correct’ scared behaviour or force your horse to walk towards it, this just adds to his stress and he might associate you to the scary object. That is the last thing you would like to happen!

Try the 15 second rule

Most horses need a maximum of 15 seconds to examine a new, potentially dangerous object and decided that it is safe. If they think it is not safe they usually run away before the 15 seconds have passed by.

Count while your horse is exploring (looking at the object or listening to something in the distance that we don’t hear) and deciding. Once your horse has given the 15 seconds to decide what he thinks of it, the fear often metls away. For good!
Don’t be mistaken! Waiting for 15 seconds when your horse is tense feels like a really, really long time! It feels like eternity! That is why you have to count, so you know if the time is not yet up. It really helps!

I have tried this with my own horse Kyra and she usually needs 8 seconds before she trusts the unfamiliar object. Then I ask her to touch it for a click and treat. She always does! After this she is not scared anymore. I might still need to train confidence with the same object under different circumstances (time of day, maybe it sounds different when rain is hitting the object or it looks different at night or when its wet and so on) but the amount of fear has always diminished after that first positive encounter.

When your horse has done many repetitions of targeting unfamiliar objects you can also ask him to pass by and ignore the object, in order to earn a click and treat. In this way you reinforce and teach him to walk by calmly, even when he is not allowed to examine or touch the object, animal or other horse.

Curiosity

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAHorses are curious by nature and when you let him run away, he will feel safe and find the right distance that feels safe for him to inspect the object. Then he wants to come closer and see what it is. If you can encourage your horse with positive reinforcement to examine the new thing, his curiosity is triply rewarded. First of all because he satisfies his own need to know that it is safe, second because you reinforced him to be curious and third by giving him the freedom to run away to lower his stress. Instead of pushing him to move towards something scary while he is not yet ready to do so.

Kyra

Look how fearful Kyra was for a big ball and how she settled nicely after a few minutes of clicker training. She doesn’t pretend to be fearful, she is really anxious and runs for her life. Can you imagine how stressful it would have been if I had kept her on a lead rope and forced her to come closer?

 

Horse-time

Let your horse decide if something is safe. Give him as much time as he needs! This might only be 15 seconds, but it will save you many scared hours in the future! It is up to him to decide how much time he needs. If you force him to approach the scary thing ‘in order to let him see/feel/undergo it is safe’, it can take longer to get the confidence. This is called ‘flooding’ and if you ‘flood’ your horse, you might create a bigger problem instead of solving it and building confidence in him and you as his trainer.

Success tips

  • Start with familiair objects that already evoke positive emotions in your horse, like a bucket (often associated with food)
  • Start with silent objects that don’t make noises when they are moved, pushed over or blown away
  • Build his confidence in tiny steps and let your horse decides if it is safe for him or not
  • Reinforce your horse with a click (marker) and something he desires, like a piece of carrot or some pellets
  • Keep horses that are already confident near the object close by so your horse can see that it is not so scary as he thinks it is
  • Slowly introduce bigger, newer objects or moving objects.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Click and reinforce often!

Reinforce often! Let him know what you want by bringing clarity: towards to new object results in a click and treat, but moving away from it is OK too! This is how you build confidence in your horse. Let him figure it out in his own pace at his own terms!

I spend a lot of time training ‘calmness’ and ‘relaxation’ in Kyra in new and unfamiliar circumstances. It always pays off, once Kyra is confident to touch an object she is fine with it in the future. Sometimes it takes a while, before she is totally fine with it but when she does I can count on her confidence forever! That is why it saves me time in the long run and it makes me feel safe too!

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
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Re-training Bad behaviour in Horses

From a traditional point of view one would say: “Just make him stop.” How? Well, let’s talk about ways that makes the horse understand. I don’t believe in punishment, because punishment is not telling the horse what you do expect from him, it only tells him to stop the behaviour in the moment.

Cause
First step in re-training undesirable behaviour should be: finding the cause of the behaviour. If you know the cause, it is easier to solve it. For instance: if a horse bucks under saddle and the rider punishes the horse by whipping him, it didn’t solve the root of the problem and probably it won’t prevent this behaviour in the future.

Causes can be: pain, fear or the horse has been rewarded for that behaviour in the past. Remember: the receiver (horse) determines if something is rewarding for him.

Pain

Hippologic

Hippologic

If the horse bucks under saddle and this behaviour is caused by pain, the horse doesn’t need training to solve the behaviour. Treating the pain will be sufficient in most cases. Check your horse and equipment and get to know his normal behaviour, learn to listen to your horse. It can be caused by poorly fitted saddles, something bothering the horse in the saddle pad, like a splinter, it can be the bridle, the bit that has been put back upside down in the bridle after cleaning, the rider is out of balance, muscle ache, back pain and so on.

Fear
Horses can buck because they want to run away from something scary and the rider is trying to prevent it. Here the solution would be to let the horse investigate the fearful thing at his own speed. For the future: practise scary things by doing a lot of de-spooking training.

It can also be a one time scare because another horse was scared or another horse scared him. Anticipate and expose your horse more to these kinds of experiences.

hippologic

hippologic

Rewarded behaviour
Imagine the horse is ridden by a novice rider or a rider that has been a bit too rough. The horse bucks and the rider is gone. Ping! Rewarded! Or the horse has been bucking in the past, rider fell off and the horse had a chance to go to that juicy patch of grass which he wasn’t allowed to touch by the rider. Ping. Reward. Or the horse bucks and he can run back to his herd once the rider has fallen off.

In these situations make the opposite behaviour more rewarding: change the rough rider into a balanced, light rider who gives lots of rewards, work on the herd bound behaviour.

Sandra Poppema

Website: clickertraining.ca

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10 Funny Halloween Horses

Since Halloween is coming up I was thinking about dressing up myself and my horse Kyra. Here are some ideas I found:

#1 Spider costume

This one cracked me up! I think this one is scary for most horses too. Really original!

#2 Wet Paint

Only funny if you know something about horse colours.

#3 Shrek, the Donkey and Fiona

Hope the green came of easily, Fiona.

#4 Three kings

I wish I had 3 cuties like these ones! Adorable!

#5 Knight and Dragon

Love these little dragons! And what a handsome knight in shining armour!

#6 Harry Potter and Hermione

You can see the magic happen!

#7 KISS

Just love it! Now you know how old I really am!

#8 Headless Horseman

Really scary Halloween costume without too much work. Must be able to ride one-handed.

#9 Little Bo Peep

If you have too many cotton balls lying around.

#10 Sherrif

Isn’t this sheriff adorable or what?

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For all the people who are horse-less, I found this costume.

Happy Halloween!

PS Let me know what your costume looked like!

Sandra Poppema
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Training ideas for Trail riding

_trailride1Today my barn friend took me and Kyra to the forest for a trail ride, here in BC, Canada. All went well and I realized that it took me many tiny training steps to turn my 11 months old feral filly into this reliable non spooking trail horse I have today.

Basics
I had to tame Kyra first, since she was born in a nature reserve and was not imprinted on humans and things like stalls, paddocks, all the sounds in a barn and so on. Then I had to teach her some basic skills like haltering and leading. When she was about two years old I started very slowly on her education on the long reins. When she was four years old I started her under saddle. By then she already knew the basic commands walk, trot, canter, halt and she could make left and right turns.

Despooking
Kyra and I did a lot of despooking exercises over the years. In The Netherlands we had different challenges than here in Canada. Here is a list of challenges I specifically clicker trained her on:

  • walking through water
  • puddles on the street and on trails
  • pedestrian crossings and other markings on the road
  • shadows
  • overpasses
  • approaching plastic bags
  • flags & balloons
  • fireworks
  • all kinds of heavy farm equipment
  • cars & motorcycles
  • bike bells
  • cyclists with children and flags
  • cyclists on road bikes, which bike very fast and can sneak up on you because they almost make no sound. They often ‘travel’ in packs which can be very scary to horses
  • strollers & shopping carts
  • children on inline skates & skateboarders
  • road signs
  • rail road crossings
  • manholes
  • weird appliances for fresh water in the forest
  • people walking their dogs off leash

Useful trail skills
In horse agility training we practised a lot of useful things too. One of the things you encounter on trails can be a “squeeze”. A squeeze is a very narrow space. Horses usually don’t like to go through narrow spaces because it can be an ambush for predators. If horses are not used to going through narrow spaces they tend

Ready to go for a ride

Ready to go for a ride

to race through them to make the time they are vulnerable as short as possible. This can be dangerous if the horse doesn’t take into account that your legs make him wider.

On our trail ride we encountered several squeezes: gates that enclose the road with big boulders next to it to prevent cars from passing. Sometimes there was also a road sign next to it. That can be dangerous if your horse spooks and it hits you right in the face.

Getting your horse used to fly spray is also very useful in the woods here.

Trailer loading
We take the trailer to get to the forest, so in our case trailer loading is also a part of trail riding for us.

Here is the video of the trail ride:

Sandra Poppema

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