4 Tips to improve your Horse Training Skills

Many horse owners and riders, me included, started out one point in time using reinforcers to train our horses. It doesn’t matter if we used positive reinforcement/clicker training for trick training or more ‘serious’ behaviours like standing for the vet and farrier or in the saddle. Not every one is successful in teaching their horse new behaviours or improve the quality of existing behaviours with positive reinforcement. How to become more efficient when using R+ is what this blog is about.

Use a bridge signal

_hondenclickerThe use of a click to bridge the time gap between the desired behaviour and the delivery of the reinforcer is tip number one when you use reinforcers in training. The horse has to know what made him earn the treat. The bridge signal is also called ‘marker’ or marker signal’ to indicate that that signal marks the desired behaviour.

Set a goal

If you know what your goal in training is, write it down and describe it as detailed as possible. When you to it right, you’ve made a great start for your shaping plan. Important is to focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. It sounds like an open door, but how many of us have yelled in despair to our horse: “I wish you didn’t always walk away when groomed.” or “I wish you stopped stepping on my toes” or “I wish you weren’t so nervous around fly spray“.

This is focusing on what you don’t want. What you focus on, you create more of!

What do you want instead? “I want my horse to stand still while being groomed”,”I want my horse to stand next to me.” and “I want my horse to be relaxed when I apply fly spray”.

Here is a video of Kyra and my results of fly spray training:
https://youtu.be/gHwXTo4uuIM

PS If you want to train your horse to accept fly spray, join this month HippoLogic Clicker Challenge. Two weeks of focus, support and training tips.

Details matter

Describe your goal into as much details as you can think of.

__hippologic_grazing_horseExample: I want my horse to stand still and stay relaxed when I apply fly spray. I want my horse to be comfortable with all kinds of spray cans and their content, all kinds of sounds, smells and feels. I want my horse to be OK wherever we are, when I use a spray can or spray bottle on his body, neck, legs and tail. I want my horse to be OK with being sprayed when he is at liberty. I want my horse to be confident to walk away if he doesn’t like it or had enough.

If you go into so many details you already can see how you can approach your “spray can training“. You can use different kind of bottles later on in training: start with a plant sprayer with water before you start using aerosol cans that make a hissing sound and from which the content often is very cold. Next step is training in different places (stall, pasture) and so on.

Shaping plan

Once you have your goal set, you are ready to make a shaping plan. That’s your step-by-step approach of your training. Divide your goal into lots of smaller steps. Make each step so tiny it describes a click worthy moment.

The first step can be ‘Horse approaches spray can’, the next step can be ‘Horse targets spray can’.

Repeat each step until you see the horse is confident enough before you ask a bit more. Your horse might even increase his own criteria by skipping one of more of the steps in your plan. Don’t forget to click and reinforce when that happens!

Track your progress

Last but not least is to keep track of your process and also your progress. If you don’t make progress write down what you changed in your setup so you will remember next time you train a horse.

Keeping track is such a valuable habit. You never have to invent the wheel again! Keeping a training journal or logbook will also help you become more creative in finding new angles to training challenges.

Writing down your process will also provide you with valuable information of all the things you did well in training! Always keep it positive! That what makes a training journal a good read!

Do you set goals, write them down, make shaping plans and keep a training journal? Or do you think this is difficult?
What is your approach that helped you become more successful? Share your training tips in the comments!

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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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“There is nothing wrong with Negative Reinforcement applied properly”

Said someone once to me. I didn’t say anything, but my body screamed: ‘Yes, there is….

Although I couldn’t explain in words why I felt that way, now I do. Since it was hard to catch it in words, it is a long explanation, so please get seated.

When I talk about horse training, I like to use the scientific definitions in order to keep the language as clear as possible and to avoid emotional and subjective projection. Let’s start with some definitions because this statement (“There is nothing wrong with R- applied properly”) is one that causes a lot of commotion among horse people. Continue reading

Tips to make Winter easier at the Barn

Here are some barn hacks that will make your life easier at the barn in winter. This winter is one of the coldest in Vancouver, BC, Canada since decades. We had a lot of snow too. Not the nicest weather to work in if you work at a barn.

#1 The joy of using de-icers

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI have discovered the joy of de-icers in water buckets for horses. The only drawbacks are that you need a power point nearby and they are expensive with $70 – $100+ apiece. If you can use them, they are definitely worth it.

The horses had to get used to them, some horses preferred the icy water above the warmer water at first. It took some horses up to a week to get adjusted to the weird things in their bucket. But it is worth it!

All the horses had access to water due to the de-icers. Something very important for horses that are already compromised with a body score of 2 or 3. I work at the SPCA, so most horses are not (yet) in the best shape. If you feed more hay, see tip #7, horses need more water. If they don’t drink enough they can get colic.

It also saves a lot of time, not to peck ice out the buckets multiple times a day. Frozen buckets are more likely to break.

#2 Insulate your water buckets

For some farm animals de-icers are a hazard. For instance bucks and goats with horns. We put their buckets into a bigger bucket and insulate the space in between with straw. You can also use shavings or whatever bedding you are using. As long as it holds air and provides insulation. If the water bucket is outside, find a spot out of the wind. This is not foolproof, but every bit helps.

#3 Don’t provide warm water in order to prevent it from freezing

Don’t provide your horses with warm water in their buckets. Warm water can freeze even quicker than cold(er) water. This is called the Mpemba effect.

#4 Provide more bedding for the horses

I find flax the best bedding, but only if you use a really thick layer (15 cm or more). Take out only the manure and leave the wet spots as they are. The bottom layer becomes stable and provides warmth and good insulation. Don’t poke around in the wet spots as the ammonia will come free.

This kind of cleaning will work with other bedding materials as well, although flax absorbs moist the best. Better than shavings (too dusty) or straw (this will be very heavy to remove after a while and doesn’t make a soft bed).

#5 How to deal with slippery ice patches after spilling water

You can put some bedding on it (shavings work well) or use some Stall Dry (or cat litter). If you have an arena with sand, keep a wheelbarrow with sand in a spot that doesn’t freeze at night so you can use the sand.

#6 Stay warm at the barn

The other day I read the best trick ever to warm your cold hands in a few seconds. Totally safe too. Just put your hand in your own neck (or someone else’s). I tried it on myself and it really works like a charm. It is only cold for a few moments in your neck but then your hands are warm. I read this tip on Pure Cottongrass, one of my favorite blogs.

Another great tip is to keep your head warm. Wear a toque or ear warmers. You don’t want to risk  frozen earlobes. On the other hand, if you are working you will stay warm.

Wear lots of layers. Especially when you are working. Once you’re warmed up, you can peel of a layer.

#7 Make sure your horse stays warm

You are not the only one who wants to stay warm in winter. The best way is feeding your horse a lot of roughage. Slowfeeder nets prolong the time your horse eats, it keeps the hay clean (horses don’t waste it) and they are easy to fill if you use this trick. If you have really big ones it can even save you a feeding round.

In some areas the winters are so cold you have to blanket your horse. Do your research before buying a blanket. Make sure the blanket fits  your horse properly.

And a no brainer: provide shelter from the elements for your horse.

#8 House-train your horse

_scooping_poop_winter_hippologic.jpgScooping poop in snow is like searching for Easter eggs (only equestrians will understand the happiness of finding manure in snow). If you house-train your horse to poop in a certain corner of his paddock or pasture you know the Easter bunny’s secret when it has been snowing overnight. A big pile of manure doesn’t freeze as quickly and is easier to remove than frozen, rock solid dung.

House-training your horse costs time but think of all the hours you save in the next 15-20 years if you can half your poop-scooping time.

#9 Snow shoveling made easy

Keeping the pathways you use often snow free is essential. Spray cooking spray or horse detangler on your snow shuffle to prevent the snow from sticking to it.

#10 Have fun!

_smile_tricktraining_horse_hippologicNot really a hack, but still important. Have some fun!

Build a snowman in the pasture and stick lots of carrots in his head. Then let your horse investigate this weird intruder.

Take your camera with you to the barn and make dozens of snow pictures of your horse. Here in Vancouver snow is not a common thing in Winter, so I made sure I have enough snow pictures of Kyra to last a decade.

If your horse is used to driving, you might look into skijoring or letting him pull a sleigh.

Sandra Poppema

Read more:

HippoLogic.jpgSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve Human-horse relationships by connecting equestrians with their inner wisdom (you know what is good for your horse if you look into your heart) and sharing the simple principles of learning and motivation. I offer online horse training courses to give you the knowledge and experience you need to train your own horse in a safe and effective way, that’s FUN for both you and your horse. Win-Win!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

 

 

 

 

Have you done a Clicker Challenge with your horse?

_HippoLogicClickerChallenge
Here is an emoticon hint for you, if you are curious what you will learn this month:
😍<–…<–…<–…<–…🐎
How would that make you feel?
Register today.  Click here for more info and sign up. Join us, it will be two weeks of fun with your horse!

One of the first Clicker Challenges I participated in myself turned out to be very useful and even saved me money on my vet bill a year later! That is what it’s all about: learning fundamentals in a fun and challenging way.

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.

Tons of Winter Training Ideas

Here in Canada it is Winter again. Normally the climate is mild here in Vancouver, BC but this winter we’ve already had snow that’s lasted for almost two weeks.

_Kyra_sneeuw_hippologic.jpgWe all know that frozen pastures limit our horses ability to exercise themselves and horses generally are more spooky and more forward in cold weather conditions. Riders with an outdoor arena can’t ride due to the frozen ground. How can you get the most out of this time of year? Here are some tips.

Work on Simple behaviours

Choose to work on some smaller, but still important behaviours that will make your life easier and improve the relationship with your horse. Does every ride start with a bit of irritation because your horse lifts his head every time you want to halter/bridle him? Does he always walk a few steps while mounting?

How does that influence your relationship? Imagine how you would feel to have a horse that would put his head into his own halter or bridle, align perfectly next to your mounting block and stand still until you give the cue to walk on?

Simple behaviours you can work on in Winter that would improve your life at the barn can be:

Have some fun with your horse

If the weather isn’t allowing you to ride you can spend time with your horse , groom him and do a wonderful photo shoot. Maybe you can have eternalize some of your equestrian goals you worked on this year.

_Smile_tricktraining_horse_hippologic.jpgYou can take your horse on a walk to hand graze your horse. This would be a perfect time to start teaching him how to quit grazing on a cue, since winter grass is less enticing than the juicy green Spring grass that will be back in a few months.

Start trick training and have a good time! Here is a good book that will get you started on a few easy tricks.

What does your favourite Winter training looks like?

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website

 

 

 

Fun Friday: Teach your horse to Pick Up items

One of the most fun tricks I ever taught Kyra is to pick up items. It is very versatile too because once your horse can pick up stuff, you can teach them to hand it over. Kyra can now pick up and hand over a flower, her food bowl, my clicker, a dog toy, a whip and anything else she can grab with her teeth._trick_training_play_fetch_hippologic

How to start

I started with something really easy to pick up for Kyra: a piece of cloth. In the beginning Kyra didn’t know what to do with it, so I knotted a carrot in it. That stimulated her interest. I clicked and reinforced for small steps like touching and sniffing the cloth, then examining it with her lips and after a while she tried to grab it with her teeth. Yeey: jackpot! This took a lot of sessions, to be honest. From this early start I developed a clear strategy to set horses and people up for success if they want to train their horse to pick up items, so that they don’t have to get stuck in this part of training.

Putting a cue on the behaviour

Once Kyra understood this new trick, she wanted to grab everything off of the ground. That is the reason I started with an item that was easy to distinguish: the cloth. The cloth itself became part of her ‘cue’. I didn’t want her to grab my brushes or other day-to-day items. What did happen, so that’s why it’s important to know when you can start adding a cue (a ‘final’ cue) to the new behaviour. Once she learned what to do with the cloth I added my final cue to it, the verbal command ‘Pick up‘ with a pointing finger to the object I want her to pick up. After Kyra learned the cue I started teaching her to pick up other items. I bought a dog rope toy that is safe and easy to grab. I wish this would have been my training object.

Shaping the behaviour further

Later on I practised with her empty food bowl, my gloves in winter, her halter, the lead rope and so on. It turned out that it is a very versatile exercise. Then I raised my criteria and I threw the item a step away. Now I only clicked and reinforced after picking up the item that was one step away. The next criterion was to move towards me one step with the item in her mouth. Then I taught her to hold the item until I could grab it. In this way she learned to put it in my hand instead of dropping it in front of me.

Play fetch with your horse

Now Kyra can fetch an item that I have thrown several meters away and bring it back to me. One day I asked her to pick up her toy while sitting on her back. She did it!  I use a treeless saddle, so I have to use a mounting block to get in the saddle.Wow, now I don’t have to dismount anymore whenever I drop something from the saddle. Bonus! This week I stumbled upon a lovely video of a horse that picked up three rubber rings and put them on a cone. I don’t have rubber rings, but I asked Kyra to put her toy in a bucket. That was fun too. Here are the videos of Kyra’s tricks. Video 1: Kyra playing fetch from the saddle Video 2: Kyra giving me flowers (that would be a nice trick to perform one day) Video 3: Kyra putting her toy in a bucket Video 4: Kyra handing over her food bowl after eating If you like the videos go to YouTube and subscribe to my channel so you won’t miss new clicker videos. HippoLogic Clicker Challenge October 2019: Teach Your Horse to Pick Up Items Impress your friends with your smart horse Join the Clicker Training Academy if you want to improve your clicker skills What is the HippoLogic CTA? It’s an online place where you can learn to train every behaviour you have in mind with R+. We have a small, all-inclusive community in which students can thrive and develop.
  • Professional, personal positive reinforcement advice on your training videos
  • Super affordable
  • Student levels are novice to very advanced clicker trainers
Join the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy for personal advice and support in training your horse with positive reinforcement. The first 25 founding members get an additional 90-minute coaching session with me for free (value $150 CAD).
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 a free 5 Step Clicker Training Plan.
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Fun Friday: Easy Tricks & Tips for Fun

Get out of your normal routine and do something new and exciting with your horse this weekend. Here are some tips and tricks you can do.

One day tricks

If your horse is already clicker savvy and knows basic behaviours like leading, standing still, targeting, follow a target, mat training and backing it is very easy to teach one of these simple tricks.

Clicker trained horses are very eager to learn new things because in their experience there is a lot of good things (clicks and treats) involved. It is fun for your horse! Want to start clicker training? Start here.

_horse_hug_hippologic_click_with_your_horseHorse hug

Basic behaviours: standing still while handler stands next to shoulder and targeting.

Teach your horse to follow the target that you keep behind your back, click and reinforce for every inch his head moves in the right direction behind your head. Last step is to fade out the target. More detailed instructions can be found in this book Horse Trick Training

 

_mat_training_hippologicStanding on a pedestal

Most horses like to be a bit taller and think this is a fun exercise once they have learned it. Mat training is a good basic skill to start with.

Set your horse up for success and click and reinforce for every small step like approaching the pedestal, then investigating it and touching it with a hoof, et cetera. Raise your criteria slowly.

Before you know it your horse wants to stand on the pedestal. Therefor it is equally important to teach him to backup and dismount it. Don’t forget to reinforce that, too.

General tips

  • Keep the sessions short (5 minutes) and repeat over the weekend.
  • Give your horse a short break in between the sessions.
  • Make pictures or a video on Sunday to record your success. Please share your pictures with me on Facebook.

More fun things to do

  • Explore your surroundings and take your horse for a hand walk or hand grazing session. Read here how you can teach your horse to leave the grass voluntarily.
  • Ask a friend to go with you. Do a photo session with your horse during the sunset.
  • Hide a treat under a cone and teach your horse to find it.

_cone_hippologic

Have fun with your horse! If you have fun tips & tricks to share, please write them in the comment section. I am looking forward to hearing about your fun time with your horse.

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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