Your Key to Success in Equine Clicker Training (

Posts tagged ‘emotions in training’

6 steps to start riding with the clicker (5/6)

How to take positive reinforcement and use it in riding? I will share practical tips in other blogs, but let’s focus on preparation. How can you make yourself successful?

Key Lesson for Riders #5: Emotions in Riding

This is a biggy! I see so many riders get frustrated in the saddle. I also see many frustrated horses! The the most common reasons riders get frustrated are: lack of a plan, no shaping plan (written steps that need to be accomplished in order to get to your goal) and lack of a proper training journal, that can be used as valuable tool in training.

I often see frustration in horses because there is a lack of clarity (riders give contradictory aids), they get punished (receiver determines if something feels like punishment) and don’t understand why or they are fearful and the rider thinks they are ‘just acting’.

In my program dealing with Emotions in Horse and Humans is one of the Key Lessons, your Key to Success in Horse Training and Riding.

Here are 3 tips that you can use to help you deal with emotions in riding.

Tip #1 to deal with Emotions in Riding successfully

Accept that emotions will always be there. Positive ones and negative ones. Even positive emotions like joy can influence your riding aids. The magic is that you can decide how you will react to your feelings and to the feelings of your horse.

Do you get angry if your horse spooks or do you deal with the fact and go look to solve the cause of the fear and deal with that or do you simply accept that your horse can spook?

clicker training from the saddle can help improve your relationship

Frustration in horse and rider is more common than you think

If you feel anger or frustration coming up, a few simple breaths can help you get back into thinking mode. That can be enough to prevent yourself from taking your frustration out on the horse.

If you realize that you will be relieved from your frustration when you hit your horse, only to switch over to guilt you haven’t won anything, right? Once you realize why you’re getting frustrated you can solve the cause or accept that you’re frustrated for a few seconds and wait until the emotion disappears.

Tip #2 to deal with Emotions in Riding successfully

Context shifts can also cause negative emotions like frustration in riding. Understanding what a context shift is, how it can effect your behaviour or that from your horse will help you adjust your expectations according to the circumstances.

bareback riding, fun

(Source: Pixabay stock photo)

Imagine you’re riding and suddenly you notice someone you look up to, is watching you. This is a small context shift (riding without and riding with an audience). If you raise your expectations towards your horse while you’re being nervous won’t set you up for success. Knowing this can prevent a lot of disappointment, shame and other negative emotions.

You’ll set yourself up for success if you don’t raise your expectations or criteria but do the opposite: lower them slightly so you’ll be successful. If someone is watching you, don’t try out new exercises to show off. Wiser would be to choose an exercise that you know you and your horse can do and do this one really, really good!

Tip #3 to deal with Emotions in Riding successfully

In my decades as riding instructor I saw many frustrated riders. I’ve experienced so much frustration myself when I was younger. Here is how I learn to deal with it. Most of the frustration was solved when I started riding according a training plan and had shaping plans.

If you don’t know what you’re training you don’t know if you’re hitting your goal. When riding suddenly goes wonderful and you’re in a flow you naturally want more of that. Be honest, how often did that happen? What did you do?

Most likely you wanted more and asked more and then got disappointed when it doesn’t happen. Then you’ll end up feeling frustrated and maybe even a bit angry. I didn’t know that -when this happened to me- I was actually ‘lumping’ my training. And instead of being grateful and stop there for a moment to enjoy it, I wanted (demanded) more! That didn’t work at all!horse-934534_640

When I made an actual plan and got in flow I could see how I created that moment myself by working towards that moment together with my horse. That’s when I started to see this were moments to celebrate and enjoy. Then stop and take a moment to achor that moment and think how we created that result together. That’s when I started to duplicate those moments more often! This is where your training journal actually turns into a training tool.

Read more:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Questions? Book a free discovery session with Sandra

If you want to get to know me or have questions about clicker training from the saddle and how I can help you with that, book your free discovery call. Plan your online session in my calendar.

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!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
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riding with clickertraining hippologic


6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training (3/6)

In this series I will be sharing 6 interesting facts I didn’t know about when I started using positive reinforcement in training animals. This is part 3.

Some of these are common misunderstandings people have about clicker training while others are facts most equestrians don’t know at all.

The goal of this blog is to help more people understand how well positive reinforcement (R+) works in training our horses. I want every one to know that clicker training offers more great benefits besides training your goal behaviour. Positive side-effects you won’t get in negative reinforcement (R-) based training methods (traditional and natural horsemanship). I wish I had known these benefits earlier in life.

#3 Clicker training can improve the bond between horse and trainer gets you the results and relationship you want

Clicker training improves the bond with your horse

Since the horse is at liberty and not restrained while being trained he has much freedom. The horse has the freedom to walk away when he is bored or when he looses interest or concentration. The horse is also allowed to express his emotions, without repercussion. In positive reinforcement training the trainer wants to know how the horse feels. This all contributes to a good relationship with your horse. You get to know each other really well.

Positive reinforcement to desensitize your horse

Example: when you want to lead a horse past a scary object at liberty with a target it will be clear where the horse starts to get nervous. He will stand still in order to investigate or he will get tense. Since there is no room for coercion in positive reinforcement training you have to think of ways to make the horse at ease and give him confidence that the scary object is not so scary. You can ‘meet him where he is at’.

What most of us learned to do

If we have a horse on a lead lope and we encounter something that the horse finds scary what do we do? In most cases the first thing we do is to encourage the horse to walk on with a gentle pull on the rope. What is the most common reaction if the horse balks? Pull a bit harder! So on top of ‘that scary thing’, the person doesn’t calm the horse down by pulling the horse. It can even cause more stress and pulling hard on a lead rope can also hurt the horse. Not something you want to add to an already stressful situation, right?_flag_training_hippologic

Building trust

Usually if you let your horse investigate scary objects as long as he likes, his fear will decrease pretty quickly. This is not easy; giving your horse even only 15 seconds to investigate can feel like a lifetime.

If you connect a positive, wonderful association (click and treat) to something scary, your horse will learns it is OK to stand still and look at scary objects. He learns quickly that it can be rewarding  to investigate new and potentially dangerous objects.

The next step will be teaching your horse that a click and treat will follow if he passes new objects. First it’s OK looking at the the objects while passing by, later on you can click and reinforce if he ignores new objects altogether.

Since new objects are already connected with positive associations (curiosity is a good feeling, positive reinforcement) you have built trust. The horse has learned that he can trust you (you stay calm and patient and you give click & treats) and that it is OK to express his feelings and emotions. He doesn’t have to worry about your reaction in scary situations!

Read more about how can improve your bond with your horse in training: 5 Tips to Improve the Bond with Your Horse

Read the other articles in this series:

part 1 of 6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6

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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!
Sign up for my newsletter (it comes with a gift) here: HippoLogic’s website.


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How to change emotions in your horse during training


Sometimes a horse shows undesired emotions during training, like biting, mugging, signs of frustration or even aggression. What can you do to change it? My mentor always told me it is foolish to keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results. How do you break this circle?


Change the setup

Take a break and rethink your approach. Go back to the point where the behaviour (emotion) was still desirable. Do do know what has changed? Change it back and see what happens.

Maybe you have to change the setup of your training entirely so you won’t trigger the undesired emotion/behaviour(s). In this way you can first ‘work around it’ until there is a more desired emotion or behaviour associated with the behaviour.

Find the cause of the undesired emotion

If you change your training approach you might find the cause of the frustration, boredom or other undesired emotion/behaviour in your horse.

When I encountered a lot of frustration in a horse I used this approach. I didn’t realize what had changed at first.


Change one variable at a time

At first I experimented with a different target, a different area to train, hand feeding instead of feeding her from a  bucket and so on. I talked it over with someone who watched the whole session and we figured out it might be the high value food I was using as a reinforcer.

The mare got so excited by the very  yummie treats, she couldn’t wait (anymore) until the target was presented to earn a click and reinforcer. Because she ‘couldn’t wait’, she started to display all her impatience by pacing up en down the fence, tossing her head and pinning her ears. She soon got so frustrated she couldn’t pay attention to what behaviour lead to presenting the target (ears forward, standing still, head at medium height or below) and a click. She went back to her ‘old ways’ to get what she wanted: displaying her unhappiness. This worked for her in the past and she just went back to her default behaviour, as we all do from time to time.

It was only when I changed the food reward to a lesser value food that we immediately saw a huge difference in her behaviour. Apparently the food I was using was really high value for her, so she literally couldn’t wait for another opportunity to earn more clicks and more high value treats. That’s what caused her frustration.

As soon as I offered her much lower value treats, she went back to thinking mode and she was open to learning again.


I never met a horse that showed me so clearly that a high value treat can cause so much frustration.

Sandra Poppema
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Key lesson: mat training

In this series about the key lessons (the key to successful clicker training) I’ve already talked about five important exercises. There are two more important basic lessons for the horse: ‘patience’ and ‘mat training’.

Standing on a mat
The purpose of mat training is to teach your horse to stand on a mat with his two front hooves. It is basically targeting with hooves. If your horse learns to stand on a rubber mat, he learns to trust you and standing on new surfaces. Horses have a lot of ‘feel’ in their hooves and therefor it can be scary in the beginning to stand on a item that is soft and squishy, like a puzzle mat.


Other behaviours
Once your horse has learned to stand on a mat on cue, you can build ‘duration’. Just like in targeting. If you train for duration in easy exercises it will be easier in the future to train duration, like in exercises under saddle. Your horse can learn to generalize. You can introduce a keep-going signal to make it more clear what you want to train.

Train opposite behaviour
Always reinforce the opposite behaviour of what you are training as well. You want don’t want teach him to stand on the mat only, but you also want him to step down on command. If you don’t do this, you will create a horse that always runs to whatever mat or similar surface he spots. And expects a treat!

After introducing a mat, you can ask your horse to mount other surfaces like a piece of plywood. Or ask your horse to walk over it. The sound of his hoof beat might scare him at first, but if you reinforce every little step (literally!) or even weight shifts he will soon gain the confidence to walk over it. This is a really good preparation for walking up ramps or entering trailers or walking over (wooden) bridges. It makes it easier to teach your horse to mount a pedestal.

Mat training also helps to make clear where you want your horse to be. If you want this to teach him to stand next to a mounting block, the mat can help indicate where you want your horse to stand.

Slow horses
If you have a horse with more whoa than go, it can help to teach him to walk from mat to mat in the arena. First at walk, then trot and finally in canter. It can make energy-saving horses really enthusiastic: it is clear that they have to go from mat to mat. So they know when to go and where they can stop. It can give them a feeling of control and makes it predictable for them. It can also help the trainer to be happy and content with little progress because the mats make the criteria and progress ‘visible’.


Fast horses
If you have a horse that has more go than whoa you can also teach him to go from mat to mat. Place the mats close together at first until your horse knows what is expected. You can teach him to slow down, walking over a mat, but keep going. Or you can ask him to stop. Experiment!

Jumping at liberty
Mats can help send a horse over a jump by himself, without chasing him with a whip over a jump. Simply place two mats on either side of a pole and ask your horse to go to the other mat. Place the mats a bit further apart each time,then you can raise the criteria by making a low jump and built from there.

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what your favourite key lesson is and why.

Here is a blog about advanced mat training.

Happy Horse Training!

Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Success 

_key to success_hippologic1

  • Want to get the results in training you really, really want?
  • Want train your horse with confidence?
  • Want to learn all there is to know about training your horse with positive reinforcement?

Join this online course: Click here

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!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

Key lesson: Horse, stay in learning mode [emotions in training]

In my last post I wrote about the importance of teaching horses safe behaviour around food and food rewards. Another key lesson that helps keep training safe and fun for all parties is managing the emotional state of mind of the horse during training. You want the horse to use his mind and stay in his learning mode.

Reinforce wanted behaviour
In positive reinforcement training we reinforce the wanted behaviour in order to get more of that behaviour. As trainers we have to pay close attention to the behaviours we are actually rewarding. In other words: you get what you reinforce.

In clicker training, as well as in every other training method, it happens that trainers are not paying attention to the horses’ state of mind during training.

Every trainer can unconsciously reinforce undesired behaviour, due to a lack of timing, lack of knowledge of behaviour or misreading body language. Common examples are horses that express (over)arousal, fear, pain or frustration during training.

If the horse is experiencing arousal, frustration, anger, pain or fear the brain can prioritize these over a state of mind in which learning can occur. The horse goes into ‘survival mode’. He gets out of his ‘thinking mode’ and he can’t learn anymore. That is why these emotions and behaviours that can go with them are undesired in training. It is the trainers responsibility to pay attention and prevent or if necessary re-train these emotions and paired behaviours as soon as possible.

It can be hard to detect the early signs of these emotions. Sometimes it is only recognized when it is already escalating in the horse. Then it is much harder to deal with it.

Two reinforcing moments
There are two moments in training which you have to pay extra close attention to the horses’ emotions because those are the most reinforcing moments.

The fist is the time of the bridge signal, the click. The click means ‘this’ is what I want you to do, it pinpoints the desired behaviour.

The second important moment is the moment you actually deliver the reward, since the reward is reinforcing the behaviour at that moment.

Imagine a horse is in a relaxed state of mind and happy and eager to learn. He pays attention to the trainer and is trying different behaviours and his behaviour soon meets the criterion of the trainer: he touches the target while he is happy and the trainer clicks.

Then the trainer isn’t able to deliver the food reward as quick as the horse expects it.  The horse becomes a bit impatient. He pins his ears, moves to the trainers hand with the treat on it and in his hurry he uses his teeth to take the food off the hand. This happens several times in a row. The trainer doesn’t pay attention or isn’t aware of this little change in the horses’ behaviour.


Can you see what emotion/behaviour is reinforced during the delivering of the treat? Can you imagine that after a few repetitions this behaviour will become a habit for the horse? He is, after all, reinforced over and over by the trainer to behave this way.

The horse can even think he has to ‘try harder’ in the way he takes the food off of the trainers hand and can change into ‘threatening the trainer for treats’.

It is better to pay attention to the horses emotions right from the start and prevent behaviours and situations that can escalate.

Make it a habit to watch a horses’ behaviour closely and change your criteria or training context as soon as you see the first signs of undesired emotions or behaviours.

Keep your training fun and safe for everybody.

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what your favourite key lesson is and why.

This blog doesn’t have enough room to tell you everything I know about emotions in training and how to prevent and deal with undesired emotions. Do you want to learn more about ‘Emotions in Training’ and how to coop with them? Join HippoLogic’s 8 week online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula. In this course is a whole module about Emotions in Training. Not only equine emotions and how you can recognize them, but also human emotions, like dealing with frustration, feeling like a failure, fear and more.

Here is another blog about it.

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Happy Horse training!

Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Success 

_key to success_hippologic1

  • Want to get the results in training you really, really want?
  • Want train your horse with confidence?
  • Want to learn all there is to know about training your horse with positive reinforcement?

Join this online course: Click here

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!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin
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