Empowering Equestrians to Train their own horse with 100% Force Free & Horse Friendly methods

Posts tagged ‘distractions’

The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons (3/5)

Often when I watch people ride I see struggle. I see a lot of frustration and it seems so difficult to learn how to ride. Truth is, that is is in the way riding is taught (in general), but it doesn’t have to be like this. Riding and learning to ride can be relatively easy and effortlessly if only these prerequisites were met. Riding certainly doesn’t have to be a struggle what it seem to be for most riders.

5 Things I would like to see more of in today’s riding lessons are:

  • Independent seat
  • Schoolmasters
  • Facts about horse behaviour
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Attention for the horses emotions

Facts about horse behaviour

If you are a horse behaviourist and you’re watching a riding lesson you hear a lot of nonsense about horse behaviour being taught to riders. I wish all instructors had to write at least one paper about natural horse behaviour before they are allowed to teach.

_Horse_behaviour_hippologicMost famous ones are the ‘be the leader’-myth and the ‘don’t let him win’-myth that refer to the idea of one alpha horse that makes all the decisions and is the dominant horse of the herd. There is no such thing in a herd. Yes, horses can behave dominant in certain situations, but decisions when to move and were to go are more based on a (part of the) group decision.

Instructors make riders believe that they have to ‘dominate’ the horse all the time. How? By being dominant in a way people are by using pain inflicting methods such as kicking the horse forward or using whips and spurs to make the horse obey. It just breaks my heart…

This is not only cruel to the horse but it is unnecessary too. I also think that most riders (who start riding because they love horses) are made insecure by behaving ‘dominant’. Horse lovers want to bond and connect with their horses.

The good news is: you can develop a friendship and still ride your horse safely. Horse lovers don’t like to inflict pain to horses, but they do so because they are taught to by the instructor, so they are acting against their own gut feeling. That’s never a good feeling.

Horses are highly social animals

The reason horses could be domesticated in the first place is because of their social structure. They depend on their herd members for survival and they are ‘hard-wired’ to work together.

If a horse doesn’t follow a cue there is always a reason:

 

  • They don’t understand the cue. All riders are different and not all riders give the exact same cues all the time.

 

  • Something else (danger or getting out of sight of a herd member) has a higher priority. They can simply have missed your cue because of that.

 

  • The behaviour has not been reinforced enough (they lack motivation) or
  • other behaviour is more reinforcing

 

  • The are physically unable (anymore). Maybe they have pain or are tired.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAHorses don’t think in ‘winning or losing’ they act on ‘surviving or getting killed’. They spook because they are afraid, not because they are ‘out to get you’ or ‘want to avoid work’ or ‘are acting out’.

I wish riding instructors would explain more about the natural behaviour based on facts/scientific research to their students and not on century old hear-say.

Horses don’t have to be dominated in order to let them cooperate, they will cooperate freely if they benefit from it. Thankfully more and more people discover the power of the use of positive reinforcement training: it works extremely well and it gives the trainer a good feeling too.

More about positive reinforcement in the next article.

What myths have you heard in riding lessons that you wish are not being taught to riders? Please share.

Sandra Poppema, BSc.
Are you struggling with applying clicker training under saddle? Visit my website to book an online consult. I will be honoured to help you and your horse out. I’ve 2 decade experience with teaching equestrians to ride and train their horses in a horse-friendly way.

Read more in this series The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons

Part I: Independent seat
Part II: Schoolmasters
Part IV-a: Positive reinforcement (horses)
Part IV-b: Positive reinforcement (riders)
Part V: Attention for the horses emotions

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New Uses for ‘Old’ Tools in Clicker Training, part I

When I started clicker training I thought it was a pretty simple and forward concept: ‘You bridge (click) the wanted behaviour and give the horse a treat. Make sure your timing is right. That’s all you need to know.’

Bridging and getting your timing right are both very important and it was an excellent start. I have been training horses with reward-based training since ’99 and I still learn so much every day. It helps that science is coming up with new discoveries, too. And that other trainers (horse owners as well as professionals) are sharing their experiences over the internet.

#1 Timing
Of course timing is important. In clicker training we say: ‘You get what you reinforce.’ So if the horse is displaying some unwanted behaviours, that means that the trainer has a question to think about: Did I bridge or rewarded this behaviour in any way or is this be self-rewarding behaviour? In self-rewarding behaviour the horse found a reward which motivates him to do it again.

The timing of the bridge (click) and the timing of giving the reward are both important. Those two moments are reinforcing the behaviour of the horse at that time. So, if you click for a wanted behaviour and your horse is doing an unwanted behaviour (pinning ears, snapping, pawing) at the moment you give the treat, you are still reinforcing something you might not want. It might not show directly, but it will show sooner or later.

#2 Emotions
You are not only training just the behaviour but there can also be an emotion attached (associated) to that certain behaviour. In the beginning I never paid conscious attention to Sholto’s emotions back then, while I clicker trained him. I didn’t notice unwanted or dangerous emotions (rage, fear, over-arousal). To be honest I don’t think my pony experienced those during clicker training. He seemed very engaged and eager to work with me if I was preparing to do some clicker training.

Looking back at my training sessions using Natural Horsemanship this aspect was less important. The horse was required to fulfill his task regardless of his emotional state.

In clicker training it is much more a two-way communication.  You have to be aware of your horses emotional state because it is a part of your training. When you click you click for all aspects of your horse at that time, his physical stance and his emotional state.

My current horse, Kyra (see picture), did express a lot of fear in the beginning and I started to take her emotions into account while bridging certain behaviours. I’ve learned that you can strengthen the a certain behaviour by reinforcing that behaviour.That behaviour might be very much attached to an undesired emotion. Now I pay a lot more attention to horses emotions when I bridge a behaviour and I can use this information to my advantage.

emotions_hippologic

Much more
There is much more I can tell you that I have learned over the years. I am really excited every time I discover a new use for an old tool or approach. To me my journey to the reward-based training method still is very exciting.

What was one of your eye openers on your journey?

Read here part II of New Uses for ‘Old’ Tools in Clicker Training

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult today!

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My promised video: cantering with a flag!

Today’s filming session didn’t go as planned. First of all the barn was full of people riding their horses. Most evenings I am all by myself and I didn’t expect it to be so busy. So I wanted to do something else first, instead of riding.

Three days ago I have entered a clicker training challenge on a Dutch Facebook page. The assignment is to teach your horse to stand on two little pieces of wood. The pieces are not too big ( 20 x 20 cm) so that is a bit of a challenge. That is what I thought…

I asked Kyra to mount these blocks with her front hooves. That went excellent: within 4 minutes she stood several seconds with both feet on the two pieces of wood. Wow!

Then I saddled Kyra to make the riding video. As promised I would film us cantering with a flag if my HippoLogic FaceBook page would hit 1000 LIKES. Today my page hit the magical number and a few more. That is awesome and I am super happy! My lovely husband offered to be my cameraman, so that was a big help. Thanks!

I remember starting my FB page and I was struggling to get likes from family and friends. The 500 was a big breakthrough and I decided to make a photo shoot with Kyra picking up a flag which said ‘500 LIKES and a thumbs up’, see  here.

After riding and videoing the canter I did a second session with the blocks which took only half the time: 2 minutes. I am so proud of my clicker trained horse. Especially because my 4 year old son is also in that video and he is waving the flag in front of us while I am training Kyra to mount the little blocks. He is distracting everybody, but Kyra only pays attention to me.

At one point my son stands next to me and starts to ‘help’ me, using all the voice commands I use for Kyra (in Dutch). It is funny to watch all that is going on in the background of this clicker training video.

I almost forgot: Click here to go to my → → CANTER WITH FLAG VIDEO .← ←

Thank you for watching and if you like it, click the thumbs up button on YouTube.

Sandra Poppema

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