Struggling to get my fat horse fit with clicker training

When Kyra got laminitis one of the things I had to do was exercise her!

It was such a nightmare falling back onto negative reinforcement that after 2 days of lunging, I decided to try to get her moving using clicker training.

I did this because Kyra was really agitated with me. She was telling me she didn’t like to be suddenly coerced. At. All.

I never seen her making those faces to me, see photo. ->

It broke my heart, seeing Kyra so unhappy.

Falling of the Exercise Wagon

I tried many times before she got laminitis to exercise Kyra with the aim of weight lost. I fell of the exercise wagon over and over. Then there was this, then that. ‘Life happened’, and so on.

Real reason -in hind sight- was that I didn’t know how to train a whoa horse and turn her into a go horse with positive reinforcement.

Kyra didn’t offer forward movement in the first place. She was never a forward horse (so I thought). Over time, this changed by the way!

Duration in movement: Training for Trot

Duration was a struggle (trotting for more than a few steps was hard at first), to get her moving at all was a struggle.

Getting ‘more movement’, for less treats wasn’t really happening. Normally I hadn’t any trouble fading out treats after behaviours got consistent and on cue.

These things made me feel like I couldn’t do this, so I quit. I told myself: She’s happy like she is, so…

I also wanted to believe: It ‘s not as important because, she’s always been ‘chubby’, it’s her breed (Exmoor pony x Andalusian) and she was happy and healthy…. Right? (I was wrong!)

So she slowly gained weight over the years, and I kept looking away. I literally didn’t ‘see’ how overweight she really had become! The master’s eye fattens the horse: we see what we want to see.

Exercising became matter of life and death

When Kyra got laminitis I had to rethink my movement training! I had to prioritize it!

The vet told me to stop giving treats and start exercising her. Weight loss became a matter healthy or sick and even a matter of life and death. He gave her a body score of 9 (the highest score there is!)

I tired lunging and round penning twice. It broke my heart to see that R- damaged our relationship, that I had so carefully build over the years with clicker training.

What I leaned using R+ to get fat Kyra fit

I decided to change back and use R+ in exercising her. One I made a firm decision I found ways to exercise Kyra and to help her loose weight. Learned a ton. It wasn’t always easy, but now I know what works and what doesn’t I help other horse owners who are struggling to exercise their overweight horses with positive reinforcement.

Here is a video of 5 things I learned using positive reinforcement to exercise Kyra and let her lose weight.

Helping Kyra loose weight with my Movement Training strengthened our bond. Over time, she turned into a happy, forward moving horse! She became fit and recovered from het laminitis!

Join our Force Free Exercising for Laminitis Horses Facebook group

If you struggle getting your overweight horse fit with clicker training, join our support group.

Happy Horse training!


5 Tips to get a fat horse fit with clicker training

Using clicker training to get my fat horse fit

Kyra was always prone to being overweight. When she turned 8 she got laminitis and the vet diagnosed her with Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). That explained a lot: why she got so easily overweight and was always hungry. EMS is like diabetes 2 in humans.

Exercise advice: lunging or round penning

Getting the advice from the vet to “go lunge” or “round pen” my horse, in combination of the crash diet he subscribed didn’t work for Kyra. She was very reluctant and unhappy to do so. I was miserable chasing her around with a whip. She always had listened super well, but these traditional ways were absolutely not good for her. She became very reluctant, even after one time to go in the round pen.

Reluctant horse

She tried to escape, didn’t want to go in the round pen and she basically screamed “NO!, NO, NO” at me. It stressed her out, to be coerced into movement and it stressed me out. I felt it damaged my relationship I carefully build over the years with positive reinforcement as training and two-way method of communication.

All the changes were super stressful

She went from pasture with her herd to solitary confinement. A small paddock (in comparison to the huge pasture she was in before) by herself.

The crash diet was eaten in 2-3 hours or so, which meant that she was not eating for about 20 hours a day. It’s very bad for horses to have empty stomach, because they make stomach acid 24/7. They can get ulcers when there is no food to protect the stomach lining.

The crash diet lead to wood chewing. She ate a hole in her shelter in just one afternoon, she started chewing wood and all the fences were munched on.

She chewed the slow feeder net the next day!

On top of that she started pacing and walked a deep trench along the fence. All in the first couple of days after her diagnoses.

I followed the vet’s advice

I tried lunging (I hadn’t lunged her for 7 years after she had told me clearly she didn’t like the NH method of mr P.) Kyra was very upset about it. She didn’t listen to me any more (yes with a whip she did do it, but that made me feel uncomfortable.

As you can imagine, I felt miserable seeing my horse so unhappy.

Things to improve welfare

These new (undesired) behaviours told me her welfare was compromised and I had to take action and change things. Which was scary… At the same time I noticed clearly how much stress all these changed were causing her.

Avoid long term stress

Long term stress is one of the things you want to avoid when a horse has inflammation in the body. Long term stress alone can lead to inflammation or prevent inflammation to heal. Since laminitis is inflammation of the lamellae, the tissue between the hoof and the underlying coffin bone horses benefit from a stress free environment.

Having a (former wild horse in solitary confinement (paddock) and putting her on a crash diet, was taking away 3 of the 3 F’s. Her freedom to roam in the pasture, her friends, who she could only see from a distance and forage. The wood chewing was a clear indication of having not enough chewing time/fibres.

Her friends in the field

So I changed her diet and gave her more food, more fibre and I started to hand walk her instead of lunging. Every. Single, Day. Until she got better, less pain and wanted to move.

This is what I did (R+ Movement Training)

I used positive reinforcement (clicker) training (R+) to encourage her to move. Yes, I used food rewards! Vet had forbidden to give her “treats”. 😱

Using Treats in Training for laminitis horses

I went very slowly with building exercise and training for forward movement, in comparison with the advice I was given.

I have been using R+ since to tame Kyra (she was born and raised in a nature reserve). Then I switched over to NH, but she quickly let me know she didn’t like the NH exercises nor the way I was “asking” her to do them. (That’s a whole other story).

I used fibre rich foods to reinforce the behaviours I wanted: forward movement, steady pace and later speed and distance (time).

I used grass (yes a handful of long grass for a good effort), triple soaked beet pulp pellets (to soak the binding agents out. Shredded beet pulp is better, but that wasn’t available in Canada at that time) and hay cubes (not all hay cubes are the same and some horses can’t have them because they choke in them!).

Going against the vet’s advice

Going against the professional advice ,I changed her diet. I still gave her way less than before, but enough to keep her stomach going 24/7, since I was afraid of ulcers and gut ulcers. I also used food in training with my Movement Training..

It was a huge gamble, but it worked. Kyra became interested in moving (duh! With food! LOL) and she also started to loose significant amount of weight. Maybe a bit slower than with the professional advice I was given, but she was happier and all her newly developed stereotypical behaviours disappeared!

Kyra stopped wood chewing, pacing, and started to be her lovely self again.

From Whoa Horse to Go Horse

eBook getting my Fat Horse Fit with clicker training

Before her laminitis Kyra was a very “whoa-horse” and not a “go horse” at all. Since she was healthy (so I thought) I didn’t make exercising a priority. Until I had to…

The method I developed over the years after her laminitis is based on positive reinforcement to get the horse moving willingly. All the things to make this succeed, I have written down in the eBook I wrote Getting my Fat Horse Fit.


I didn’t do it alone, I had a support system (also in the book) and a plan!

Having a clear plan was so helpful! I had been going on and off with exercising Kyra in the previous years. She has always been ‘chubby’ or ‘barok’ (Kyra’s sire is an Andalusian), but since she was healthy I started an exercise regime, got distracted, stopped, a few week later started again. I never followed through so she did lose weight and stayed fit and slim.

In my eBook I wrote all the things I learned to be successful to keep the weight off of her with Movement Training. It was a process of developing Movement Training with positive reinforcement and setting up everything else so I wouldn’t fall of the wagon again.

Having the fear of laminitis really pushed me to take action and get Kyra fit. Now I help people do the same. If you’re interested in my course, follow this link.


I don’t recommend going against the advice of experienced professionals! Absolutely not!
In this blog I’m sharing my journey and what I did to get my horse from fat (and with laminitis) to fit and healthy.

Exercising played a major role in our success. That’s the message I would like to convey: exercise your overweight horse!

Please do everything you can t prevent your overweight horse from getting laminitis! I didn’t and I regret not doing enough. It might have been different if I would have had a way (back then) to make movement for my who horse fun and interesting! So that I enjoyed it more and would have kept going. Now I have that, and it has been a joy to exercise horses with clicker training.

Join Force Free Exercising Laminitis Horses on Facebook

Happy Horse training you all!


R+ Movement Training for Overweight Horses

Teach your horse in 3 simple steps forward movement at liberty. Use positive reinforcement (R+), so that moving becomes appetitive! Stop struggling and running along when you exercise your horse at liberty! Let your horse do the movement! Show him that it pays off. Teach him to love it, so he’ll offer active walks, trots and canters.

Step 1

Teach your horse to move around a cone!

Advantages are plenty:

  • No need to build a Reverse Round Pen
  • No lengthy set up and clean up time
  • No running along with your horse (after all, he’s the one that needs the exercise, right? ;-))
  • No target stick that becomes a crutch and difficult to fade out

How to do it

Reinforce the slightest try. In this video you’ll see, that the start won’t look anything like the goal behaviour at all! Be patience! This is not negative reinforcement where you can almost see the end goal behaviour immediately!

Step 2

Teach your horse to Leave the Cone Alone. Not only teaching him to ignore the cone, but also to leave the cone. And be good with this!
When you taught him that, you can teach him to go to the next cone, and the next.

How to do it

Reinforce the slightest try. Don’t be afraid to click and treat plenty. Especially in the beginning! Until your horse gets the idea.

You’re building Confidence with your clicks! And you give your horse Clarity with your clicks! Both very important to build a bond with your horse in the process. Win-win.

Step 3

Add cones: two cones, three and then four.

Once you have 4 cones you can shape your square into a rectangle. I call it the (HippoLogic) Reverse Rectangle. I took the Reverse Round Pen idea just one step further. This makes it easier for the horse, and … no clean up time!

Advantages of working your horse in a Rectangular shape:

  • Creating straight lines to move along, are much easier for your horse than to keep moving in circles (which is very hard and unnatural)
  • When it’s easier for your (overweight) horse, it’s probably way less aversive as when the exercise (going around in circles) is hard
  • The short sides gives you plenty of opportunity to reach your horse to feed him
  • Corners will help make your horse use his inner hind leg and balance him
  • Corners will help teach your horse to use his body well
  • Alternating a corner with a straight line will allow your horse to relax after a bend. This makes exercising easier and more appetitive than working on a circle or small square.
Train Your Horse to OFFER movement with R+

Join R+ (movement) Training for Overweight Horses Program

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet recommended: No more treats!” or “More exercise” to get your horse in shape? Join my R+ for Overweight Horses program. We’ll address your biggest struggle in getting your horse to move with positive reinforcement. You can only join after a personal conversation, so I can tailor this 2-week online coaching program towards your horse, your situation and your needs! You can book a call here.

If you want to get better at things like:

  • Building duration in exercising your horse with R+
  • Getting your horse in shape and lose weight without a crash diet
  • Creating fun in movement training so you don’t have to keep running along

This is for you. Check out the information page here!

Sandra Poppema, BSc

Founder of the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Sandra Poppema BSc HippoLogic Clicker training coach

Do you really need to stop giving treats in training when your horse needs to lose weight?

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet tell you to STOP FEEDING TREATS!? You know your horse needs to lose weight and get back in shape, but How to do this without treats?

Why stopping giving Treats is a good idea

It seems like a solution to stop offering your horse treats when he’s overweight, right? If you’re giving your horse lots of dense-calorie treats without asking him to burn them off, it’s probably a good idea to stop giving those.

Take a good look at what you consider a treat: Is it calorie rich? Is it nutrition value low? Or is this just the common human approach of “treats”?
We -people- usually mean candy or other low nutrition value/high calorie foods. Right?

If you’re using real treats like peppermints (although how much calories would all the peppermints in one training contain?) are they really having that much impact on your horse’s obesity?

Or can you influence his weight with changing his management? Usually decreasing hay or grass intake and minimizing dinner grain portions have a much bigger (pun intended!) impact on your horse’s weight!

If your horse turned into a Mugging Monster, you can turn that around quickly!

Why stopping giving Treats is a bad idea

When we train horses (R- or R+) we still need to reinforce the desired behaviour from time to time. If we don’t, and the behaviour is not intrinsically reinforcing, the behaviour gets extinct.

Traditional trainers need to use their whips, sticks or ropes once in a while (depending on how much of a threat the aversive still is) to keep their horses in line. ‘The horse needs a little reminder,’ is what they say.

Same goes for positively reinforced behaviours: we also do have to remind our horses (with a treat!) what we want from them (movement).

We need to do that to keep motivation high! Whether that’s in R- or in R+. Or we’ll lose it.

When we clicker trained our horses to exercise and offer movement (walk, trot, canter, jumping, gallop), we still have to offer a treat with enough value, once in a while to keep their motivation high. That’s why it’s a bad idea to stop giving treats to (overweight) horses in training.

If you’re a clicker trainer and you suddenly stop giving treats as reinforcement, you’ll disappoint your horse. He’s expecting food rewards. When he doesn’t get them he can get demotivated! That’s another big reason why stopping with treats is a bad idea.

You can experiment with other reinforcers: things your horse will value. When you get more behaviour (movement) you’ve successfully reinforced your horse to move. When you get less behaviour or sluggish movements or a slower response time to your cues, you know you weren’t actually reinforcing the behaviour and you need to find a better appetitive!

Read my blog about How to Move Your Horse with A Click

Healthy Treats for Horses

Most of my clients find it a challenge to find healthy treats for their overweight horse. Part of it is our own mindset. We usually value “healthy treats” way less, than unhealthy snacks! That’s human thinking! We need to shift our minds!

Start thinking how a horse thinks and how he sees the world. Horses eat about 16 hours a day. That’s their nature! Therefore they will always be hungry (to a certain extent). They love low calorie/high fibre foods! That’s another huge difference between us and a horse!

Ideas to keep training with treats (the smart way)

  • Training a horse with treats, means we can use (normal, healthy) foods to motivate them in training!
  • Take the amount of food (calories) you use in training, out of their daily ration. That way using treats in training won’t contribute to weight gain
  • If you’re horse doesn’t get dinner grain/pellets/ use, alternatives. Here is a list of over 30 options for treats in training.
  • Add interesting options to the low calorie/high fibre foods in training, like cinnamon added to soaked beetpulp, r adding a few sunflower seeds in the low calorie food rewards etc
  • Balance the calorie denseness of the treats with the amount of movement (calorie burning) you ask your horse to do.
  • The more you train (and the better your horse understands what he needs to do), the less food you need! So when you train your overweight horse to move and you need a lot of food reinforcers, knowing that this won’t be lasting forever helps!
  • Once movement/exercising gets intrinsically reinforced (‘runners high’), the less external reinforcement (treats) your horse needs!

Join R+ (movement) Training for Overweight Horses Program

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet recommended: No more treats!” or “More exercise” to get your horse in shape? Join my R+ for Overweight Horses program. We’ll address your biggest struggle in getting your horse to move with positive reinforcement. You can only join after a personal conversation, so I can tailor this 2-week online coaching program towards your horse, your situation and your needs! You can book a call here.

If you want to get better at things like:

  • Building duration in exercising your horse with R+
  • Getting your horse in shape and lose weight without a crash diet
  • Creating fun in movement training so you don’t have to keep running along

This is for you. Check out the information page here!

Sandra Poppema, BSc

Founder of the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Sandra Poppema BSc HippoLogic Clicker training coach

2 Common Mistakes in Clicker Training Horses

Our environment influences our behaviour! We all know that and use that fact all the time clicker training our horses. How does your environment benefit you?

We set up our horses for success all the time. We present a target (environment) to our horse, so he can touch it!

We teach our horses not to mug us when we’re training with food. The food in our pockets and our presence becomes the ‘On’ switch for Learning, for our horses.

Your horse starts to think what behaviour does lead to treats? They figure out in minutes that mugging is not the answer anymore.

After a few clicker training minutes your horse is already thinking “How can I influence my environment [the treats] with my behaviour?” . We changed the learning environment for our horses and helped him learn fast with positive reinforcement (R+).

You already know and experienced that the environment plays a huge role on the behaviour and learning process of your horse.

Yet, I still see so many of us fall back on negative reinforcement-thinking and therefore struggling hugely with using clicker training effectively. I’ll elaborate on that below.

Thinking mistake #1

This is when you get start thinking that clicker training maybe takes longer than negative reinforcement… NO!

Untrue! When you fall into this thinking mistake, it’s because you try to use positive reinforcement in a negative reinforcement environment! Or trying to use a tool in your clicker training that is designed for R-!

Have you ever consciously changed your own environment to enhance your clicker training? Clicker training can be unnecessary difficult and hard when your whole environment is set up to be successful as negative reinforcement trainer! It’s trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

How to set YOURSELF up for success

Change your environment!


You’ve probably already done it in the past. When you

  • Went to a clicker clinic. You surrounded yourself with likeminded people and emerged yourself in positive reinforcement approach/thinking.

Do you remember how much you learned in just one weekend? That’s the power of your environment! It’s easy to clicker train your horse and to think of new R+ approaches when everyone else is giving you positive input and ideas! When you see other women clicker training their horses successfully, it inspires and gets your creative positive reinforcement juices flowing!

  • Watched videos about clicker training just before you went to your horse.

You’ve changed your (internal!) environment and it sparked ideas and motivated you to do the same.

  • Spoke with another clicker trainer, or a friend and you discussed your struggle. You got new insights of solving your struggle and got your momentum back.

By creating a distance (looking at your struggle, challenge or problem) from a different angle, it was possible to think of a different approach.

Sounds familiar?

What keeps you struggling in clicker training your horse

Often the answer is: Your environment!


Thinking mistake #2

When you try to use positive reinforcement using negative reinforcement training tools (environment)! You set yourself up for FAILURE!

Round pen

You use a round pen to exercise your horse with positive reinforcement and you can’t get your horse moving effectively and burning calories. Why is that?

A round pen is purposefully designed to chase a horse a-round! There are no corners to escape.

Have you ever noticed that horses find the corners of the arena when you chase him around? They change direction: they want to have a choice and try to influence their environment: your behaviour!

Negative reinforcement trainers struggled with that problem, so they took out the corners! They made the pen so small they could reach the horse at any time, in any place in order to apply the aversive (pain, the threat of pain/injury) effectively. They needed to reach the horse with their whip, training stick, carrot stick, the ‘extension of their arm’, rope or whatever tool they are using to make the horse move.

A round pen is designed to chase the horse around, without an escape. It’s designed to ‘teach’ the horse that there is only one answer possible: go forward until the trainer says otherwise!

Now, when you don’t realize that and you want (expect) the same result using positive reinforcement, you’re setting yourself up for failure!

You can’t be as successful in clicker training if you’re trying to use a training tool that is designed to create success with R-! You have to think of ways to design positive reinforcement tools and use the environment to support your training method. The person who invented the reverse round pen was well on her way!

Training tools, techniques and people

Choosing the right tool for the job is detrimental for you success! The better your tools, techniques and people you surround yourself with, the better results you get!

R+ Tools & Techniques

This is a part most clicker trainers do already really well: they use targets, mats, food reinforcers and bridge signals (click).

Do you have the support you need, to think more like a positive reinforcement trainer?

Thinking Mistake #3

Thinking you can change traditional horse people to see the benefits of clicker training… Fact is: you can’t change anyone! You can only change yourself. Trying to convince R- trainers of positive reinforcement is very hard and often impossible. Stop doing it, it will drain your energy. Instead focus on finding better people to spent your time with.

Surround yourself with Positive People!

This sounds like an open door! Yet, so many people surround themselves with unsupportive people. Then they tell themselves they can’t do anything about it, and back that up with an excuse (“There are no clicker trainers or barns in my area”). Now they’re really stuck! They get very unhappy, often even desperate. I’ve seen people seriously spiral down from there. They start doubting themselves or their approach. They start to think clicker training isn’t the best way. Don’t let that happen to you!

Are your barn people supportive?

One of my clients boarded her horses in a very traditional boarding facility. Old fashioned cowboy methods, like tying up 2-year old horses in their stall for hours to ‘teach them to be tied up’- kind of ways. It was very hard for her to clicker train her horses in that environment because the ‘norm’ was to be abusive and use coercion to get things done. They were not only abusive to their horses, but also to her!

They told her that she was a bad horse owner, not a real horse person and that she was spoiling and ruining her youngster with treats and soft approaches. That it was time to put a saddle on her horse and stop being a pussy.

No wonder, it was a struggle for her to clicker train her horses. She was always worried that she would run into other people at the barn. That someone would watch her and commented. Because they did… All the time!. I was horrified to hear how they crapped on her training. It was verbally abusive! Not supportive at all.

Do you avoid clicker training when people are around?

It was extra hard on her because she already was already a bit insecure (who isn’t sometimes?). She was relatively new to being a horse owner. She’s in her forties and bought her first horse only two years ago. She’s not a person ‘who grew up with horses’. And she was also new to clicker training. Still she did such a good job clicker training her horses! Her results spoke for itself.

If you have people in your environment commenting negatively on your clicker training and your approach, ask yourself how you can surround yourself with better people!

When my client became a part of my R+ community (the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy) she often expressed her mitigation of being in a supportive, uplifting and positive environment where people believed in her and her approach!

She leaped forward and developed her clicker training skills within a year. It was a joy to watch her evolve and she her improve her horses behaviours! Eventually she moved her horses to a different boarding facility.

Can you imagine how it’s like, to dread going to the barn every, single day? Can you see how this will interfere with your happiness of being a horse owner? How it will interfere with your clicker training? How this will prevent enjoying your horse and having fun training and riding? After all, we have horses to enrich our lives, right?

Change your environment, change your outcome

  • Use or design a training environment and tools that support and enhance positive reinforcement! For example use a reverse round pen (or even better the HippoLogic Reverse Rectangle) to exercise your horse
  • Change your internal environment (ideas, solutions, approaches) by watching clicker training videos and/or trainers or discuss your training with other positive reinforcement trainers before your training so that thinking like a positive reinforcement trainer becomes your habit.
  • Find a tribe that inspires you! They’ll be a daily reminder to keep going with R+!
  • Surround yourself with positive people, who support you and respect you and your R+ training! Let go of Debby Downers and Negative Nancy’s!

Need help training your horse?

Are you a compassionate horse owner who wants to build a strong friendship with your horse? Would you like to understand your horse better and help your horse to understand YOU better? Get access to many online clicker training courses and a fabulous, supportive R+ community in our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Check out the link!

Not sure? Start with a free clicker training assessment to get taste of what it feels like to work with me. When you have a specific struggle that you want to overcome, don’t hesitate to contact me. In this assessment you’ll discover what’s holding you back from accomplishing the things you want with your horse. After our conversation you’ll know exactly what to do, in order to move forward towards your goals.

Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

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