In this blog you’ll find tips and solutions to improve your communication with negative reinforcement horse people.
Emotions are an important part of being with your horse. You have a horse because that makes you happy or that is how you’ve envisioned it, right?
In reality your horse does make your heart sing, and it can be difficult at the same time have a horse:
- You enjoy your horse if he’s happy and healthy
- You love watching your horse in the pasture
- It’s great to ride your horse
- You feel proud of what you’ve accomplished with him or together
- You love the relationship you built with your horse
There are also other emotions:
- You want your horse to behave in a certain way and if he doesn’t live up to that expectation you might feel anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment
- You worry about his well being if he’s sick or that he might become sick or injured
- You worry about the way you (can) keep your horse and if you’re doing the right thing to move him (or not)
- You worry about being accepted by other horse people
- You worry about not getting respected due to the way you train, keep, ride your horse
- You feel overwhelmed as (new) horse owner: so many ways to keep your horse, so many kinds of hay, pellets, bedding, training, trainers, opinions of everyone else and so on
Equine emotions and feelings
Then your horse has and expresses emotions and feelings, too.
- Fear in your horse
- Depression and unhappiness (hard to see and accept as owner!)
- Horses that are in pain
How do you handle those, the emotions and feelings of your horse? Do you recognize all of them or only some of them? Most of us never learned to pay attention to them.
When I expressed fear in riding lessons, I was quickly shut down. ‘Get over it’, ‘Just do it’ (jump over the jump, canter whatever I feared) and ‘Don’t be a wimp’, are things I was often told. I learned to suppress or at least shut up about my fears, frustrations and other negative feelings. What about you?
- How do you handle fear in your horse?
- Frustration: in your self and in your horse?
- Fear of failure?
- How can you turn this into a positive thing and grow?
That’s what this month theme is in the Clicker Training Academy. “Emotions in training’ is one of the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in horse training. If you can recognize, accept and deal with them, you’ll be a better trainer. I would love to share a few of the insights here, too.
Frustration is an easy one to prevent and to handle. Do you have a way to recognize this quickly (it all starts with awareness) and handle it?
What do you do when your horse is frustrated?
What do you do when you are frustrated in training?
These are questions that traditional training never answered but positive reinforcement comes with the solution almost instantly.
What do you do in order to prevent frustration in your horse when you load the clicker/bridge? You break it down and you encourage your horse to keep trying to find the answer by reinforcing him.
What is the jargon for it? This is called thin slicing or making a shaping plan What is that called in normal language? Take baby steps.
This is also true to prevent frustration in yourself. If you have a clear goal for today’s training and thought of what would be reasonable then you can think of the baby steps you can take to set you and your horse up for success.
My pitfall used to be that I had no clear goal (only a vague one) and then instead of feeling content if I (almost) reached my goal, I raised the bar! This is one way to create a feeling of failure and cause frustration, I can tell you!
It was only when I started to set a (small) goal and made a clear plan, that I really got results. I started to feel good about myself and my accomplishments. This is what I want for all my clients too. I see so much frustration and fear in horse owners. Yes, fear! This is a taboo, too: to feel afraid of your own horse. Even if it is sometimes or just briefly. It’s not accepted as equestrian. Well, I have strategies for those, too and I will be happy to share them with you.
Do you need strategies?
Let me know if you need strategies to handle fear in your horse or yourself, frustration, anxiety and other emotions that keep you from doing what you want to do or want your relationship with your horse to look like. You can ask for a strategy in the comment section or contact me directly. I am here to support you.
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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!
Last week I took my notebook and I sat in Kyra’s paddock to meditate. It was really relaxing and suddenly I thought of some brilliant additions to add to my horse training plan for 2018. I am always on the look out for good ideas about planning or training animals.
This time I found it in a business strategy. The planning for the business is based on a theme, a vision and also on values. I never deliberately used a theme in my yearly training plan, but I’ve heard about it for personal planning.
Pick a Theme
Now I moved Kyra to a barn next to the dyke and to access to the beach it was obvious that my theme of 2018 will be ‘trail riding‘.
I have been preparing Kyra since she was a yearling: taking her out on the road to get used to traffic, taking her out of sight of her herd (literally one step at the time) to give her confidence to be alone. She was really herd bound in the beginning, but now I can offer her so much, she likes to go with me too. I think she knows she will always get back to her equine friends.
What are your Values
The business strategy plan I read was based on values. When I thought about my own values in the context of horse training I discovered I have a lot of (non negotiable) values.
The things I always keep in mind during training are: welfare of the horse, clarity, natural behaviour of the horse, safety, fun, learning, trust, positive reinforcement training, control of environment (for the horse), choices, challenges, developing and motivating (in a pleasant way).
They might not all be considered ‘values’ in the strict sense of the word, but those are my pillars of every interaction with horses. When I thought of my values in training everything became so clear. It was an epiphany!
Wow, suddenly I could just see in front of me what fits in my training plan and training methods and what doesn’t. It was if everything that fitted my values was clear and with a golden aura and everything I don’t value looked dark and in the background.
Now it was clear why we aren’t ‘dressage level 4’ yet. This goal isn’t supported by what I value in training and in my relationship with my horse! It was so easy to let that goal go, it was amazing! It gave me such a good feeling. I didn’t have to swim upstream anymore!
What is your Vision
The business strategy also was based on a vision. I do have a clear vision for Kyra so that was easy to write down. I’ve been writing that down for the past 8 years and it almost never changes. Well… some things drop out such as turning Kyra into a level 4 dressage horse in the usual sense of the word. We already mastered some of the requirements and we will be working on the others.
I thought of my vision for my horse before I got Kyra and it was quite a process to get it clear as a bell. It helped me find the right horse for me!
I wanted Kyra to be an all round horse. A calm, comfortable and agile trail riding horse to feel safe where ever we go, a wonderful demo horse to give demonstrations positive reinforcement training or give an exciting show with. I wanted her to be strong and prepared to carry a rider, so there is where the dressage exercises (long reins and later under saddle) come in: to help her carry a rider in a comfortable way. I also would like her to be a lesson horse to teach riders to use subtle cues instead of commands. Above all I wanted a horse to connect with.
What are your Dreams
I also added my dreams into my plan, my long term goals are all based on my equestrian dreams. the things I would really like to accomplish with Kyra.
Many of them already are reality. I know this because I kept al my plans and my training logbooks from the past 8 years and I made pictures and videos of all my accomplished goals: from walking on the street for the first time, until the first trail ride.
Write a Training Plan
Every year I make a training plan for Kyra. I use groundwork (work-in-hand, despooking, horse agility and so on), husbandry, riding, long reins and trick training as pillars. In each column I put a goal that serves my theme (‘trail riding’ in 2018) and is in alignment with my values. I write down what I will work on every month for each of those pillars, so I always have something that I can focus on.
Plan Your Dreams
Do you make plans? Do you have dreams that you would like to turn into reality? What are those? Please share them in the comments, I would love to know what you want to accomplish with your horse. Thank you and Happy Horse training in 2018!
And I have written many more. I like planning because it helps me to be successful.
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I improve the human-horse relationship. I do that by reconnecting you with your inner wisdom and teach you the principles of learning and motivation, so you become confident and knowledgeable to train your horse in an effective and FUN way. Win-win.
All my programs are focused on building your confidence and provide you with a detailed step-by-step formula to train horses with 100% positive reinforcement.
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Recently I started training the rescue horses at the BC SPCA. I was asked to help (re)train the horses with positive reinforcement, since that is my specialty.
Would my training benefit the rehabilitated horses in terms of welfare? Is negative reinforcement training better in terms of welfare or is a horse better off with positive reinforcement training? I found a possible answer in a study done at the University of Wales, UK.
Negative reinforcement vs positive reinforcement
The aim of their study was to compare these training strategies (negative versus positive reinforcement) on equine behaviour and physiology as the first step in establishing an optimal rehabilitation approach (from a welfare perspective) for equids that have been subjected to chronic stress in the form of long-term neglect/cruelty.
They trained 16 ponies with basic tasks like trailer loading, lead by hand, traverse an obstacle course, etc. During training the heart rate was monitored and ethograms were compiled. In addition each week an arena test was done. The training lasted for 7 weeks.
After all data was compiled there was a significant difference between the two methods. They found that ‘animals trained under a positive reinforcement schedule were more motivated to participate in the training sessions and exhibited more exploratory or ‘trial and error’ type behaviours in novel situations/environments.’ (in comparison with the horses trained with negative reinforcement).
These results support my own experience with positive and negative reinforcement. The end result of the training may be similar but the experience for the horse is significantly different between positive and negative reinforcement.
To read the full paper go to: Negative versus positive reinforcement: An evaluation of training strategies for rehabilitated horses, 2007, Lesly Innes, Sebastian McBride