Emotions in Horse Training

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
  • Play
  • Happiness
  • Depression and unhappiness (hard to see and accept as owner!)
  • Horses that are in pain

Pay attention

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

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.

A Shaping plan consist of enough small steps for your horse to be successful in your training
Break up your clickertraining so every step leads to 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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  • Do you want to turn your equestrian dreams into reality, but you don’t know where to start?

If you have answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of the above questions look into one of the online programs HippoLogic has to offer.

Join the Clicker Training Academy for online positive reinforcement training tips, personal advice and support in training your horse.

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!

Get your FREE 5 Step Clicker Training Plan on HippoLogic’s website.

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  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse
Key to Success in Horse Training
Your Key to Success

Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

Simply check the best time for you in my online calendar and click to reserve your free call today.

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How to Prevent Your Horse from Spooking

We all know this scenario. There is something new in the arena, but only the third or maybe the fourth time you ride past it, your horse spooks. “What a poseur,” you think.”He just walked past it several times!” What is going on here?

If you know it, the next question is: Do you know what to do about it?  In animal training we call it ‘trigger stacking’. That is what this blog is about.

What is Trigger Stacking?

Trigger stacking is when too many stimuli occur in a short period of time that the horse can’t coop with. In other words: tension builds up. If you can’t recognize triggers and trigger stacking your horse can go over threshold.

When your horse goes ‘over threshold’

When we talk about a threshold in animal training we talk about ‘a level at which the animal goes into another emotional state which causes a negative (undesired) reaction.’

Inside and outside your circle of influenceIf your horse goes ‘over threshold’ due to trigger stacking it means the horse can’t coop with the stimuli (the unfamiliar or new thing in the arena, the fact that he can’t investigate, that he is forced to approach it and so on) and he goes into flight (sometimes fight) response in order to release the tension.

That is why the horse doesn’t spook the first time, but only after he has to approach the scary thing several times in a short period of time without releasing the tension that the anxiety causes.

How to keep your horse under threshold

Make sure you read your horse. Get rid of the myths that prevent you from being creative. I am talking about the  “He is a poseur” or “He is out there to get me” statements. Those statements don’t help you find solutions, they keep you stuck (the “It’s the horses’ fault”- attitude).

I help my students keeping an open mind and treat everything the horse does as ‘information’. Is he getting tense going near that new flower pot in the arena? Is he hesitating to go past it? Did he slow down a bit? That is your information! That could be a trigger.

Pay attention to your horse and to everything he does. Even the ordinary things like pinning his ears when being saddled. Something like that could be the first trigger already.

If you feel your horse is tense about something, make sure you pay attention and let him know you care by letting him look and investigate. Or move away to a safer distance if that is what he needs. Don’t force him to stay and investigate. That will only increase the triggers that are already stacking.

Doesn’t that take a lot of time?

Giving your horse the opportunity to take a look at scary things, even though he has seen already hundreds of flower pots is only the first step in ‘despooking training’. The next step is reinforce walking by scary things, but before you are ready to do so, your horse needs to know he can trust you first.

You do that by giving him the time to explore on his own terms. Not giving him 3 seconds and “now you’re done” because 3 seconds seems enough to you. Let the horse explore for as long as he needs to decide it is safe. It can take up until 15 seconds (in the second video it takes 20 seconds for Kyra). Believe me that everything after counting slowly to 5 already feels like eternity!

Try it out, it will change your training and the relationship with your horse. Kyra almost never needs more than 8 seconds. Then she is done, tension is released and I know that keeps us both safe.

In this video, with the horse ball she needs 24 seconds (0:49-1:13) to decide she wants to approach me, standing near the ball. After the session in the videos she was never afraid of the ball again. Where other horses kept spooking because the ball had moved to another corner, Kyra was OK where ever the ball was of whomever was playing with it. Well worth my few minutes of training.

More ways to keep your horse under threshold

Another way to keep your horse under threshold is to do exercises that make him calm or offer exercises that release tension from his body.

Calming exercises are things that has been positively been reinforced in the past like touching a target or mat training.

In some situations  you can calm your horse by exercise so if they can ‘walk it off’, in some situations movement increases the adrenaline. Watch the video again and see what Kyra needs.

Sometimes you need to dismount in order to break that negative spiral of trigger stacking and tension building up. That is OK, because you are doing the sane thing, which is the safe thing. When you and your horse are calm you can mount again. You might only have to do this once or twice before you find other ways to deal with it under saddle.

This blog doesn’t have enough room to tell you everything I know about trigger stacking, preventing it and dealing with it. Do you want to learn more about ‘Emotions in Training’ and how to coop with them? Join HippoLogic’s 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!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get results in training they really, really want. Getting results with ease and lots of fun for both horse and human is important to me. 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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