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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
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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Scooping 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.
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.
Not 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.
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.
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.
We 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.
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:
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.
You 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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
In my previous post What if your horse doesn’t like arena work I already mentioned that the first step is to find out the reason why.
If you can exclude physical reasons like pain from the saddle, medical reasons like hoof cracks or maybe an unskillful (or rude) rider and so on, you can look for solutions to make your horse more happy in the arena.
It is obvious: positive reinforcement (+R) of course. This way of training will make your horse more eager to work for you. With +R you will trigger your horses brain. He has to find out what made him earn that bridge signal (paired with a lovely reward). He will be challenged to think. Horses like that. Really they do!
If your horse gets bored in the arena because everything you do is very predictable, try something new. If you always ride him, try some at liberty work, long reining or horse agility. Variety is the spice of life.
Use more positive reinforcement to create a better association with the arena or ‘work’ he has to do. Change your Rate of Reinforcement, your treats or your exercises. Raise your criteria (slowly). Trick training is a lot of fun.
Challenge your horse and do something crazy together like ‘101 things to do with a cardboard box’. You can bridge & reward him for every new exercise he comes up with: touch the box with his nose, left hoof, right hoof, kick it forward, play fetch with it, shake it and so on. Don’t bridge a second time for the same idea.
Give him a ball (small or huge) to play with, or to wake his curiosity. Make sure he is not afraid of it.
Don’t forget: there is a time to work and a time to play. Do nice relaxing activities in the arena.
I like to let Kyra roll before we ride in the indoor arena on a rainy day (she loves rolling in hog fuel when she has a wet coat) or after our ride.
If your horse likes to be groomed, groom him more often in the arena. Spend time scratching his favourite spots. Watch a video about TTouch or horse massage and try if your horse likes that.
What do you do to create variation or make the arena more appealing to your horse? Share it in the comments!
WP has a Photo Challenge with the theme ‘symbol‘.
For me the clicker became an important symbol. It represents force-free horse training, friendship, fun and a life time of learning. Let me explain.
The clicker represents positive reinforcement: training behaviour by adding an appetitive to the horse in order to reinforce behaviour. There is no force or coercion in positive reinforcement training.
When I started to use positive reinforcement I had to learn about what my horse likes and dislikes.
Positive reinforcement is a way to give my horse a choice in training and therefor it gives her a voice. For me friendship is not only listening to my horse but also acting on the information she is giving me. Friendship means that I sometimes have to change my approach if my horse doesn’t like it, can’t (physically) do it or won’t do what I ask for whatever reason. For me, the clicker symbolizes this.
Learning new skills, exploring new ways has always been fun to me. The clicker represents also the fun the horse displays when he figures out what the training question is. The eagerness my horse shows in working with me: always coming to the gate in the pasture as soon as she sees me and the soft loving nicker to greet me.
Switching from traditional and natural horsemanship methods to positive reinforcement forced me to develop new skills so I could communicate clearly what I want from my horse.
I had to learn to listen better to my horse and I had to develop my observational skills in order to pinpoint (click) the desired behaviour. I had to figure out what motivates my horse in order to reinforce the behaviour I am teaching her. I studied the learning theory and learning curve of animals intensively. Something I probably wouldn’t have done tothis degree if force was still my go-to method in training and riding horses.
The road to positive reinforcement has been (and still is) an exciting journey for me. I am still fascinated every day by how learning actually works in horses and how we humans can influence it. It is a life long journey with fabulous views!
What represents a clicker for you?
Having fun is important because it keeps you and your horse motivated. If you start positive reinforcement training/clicker training you can be overwhelmed by ‘everything you have to do differently’. Not only do things in a different way, but also exactly in the opposite way.
If you come from a traditional background training and riding horses or you come from a natural horsemanship background, you can have the feeling that you’ve been doing it ‘wrong’ all along. That’s not true and it is also not a motivating thought.
People who change their approach because they are looking for a more ethical way of training or the method they use to train horses doesn’t feel good anymore, are often attracted by positive reinforcement (R+) methods. In R+ it’s common to give the animal a voice in training. Giving the animal power over what is happening to him builds trust.
Start easy, stay motivated
Set yourself up for success. A good way of starting positive reinforcement training with your horse is to start with easy, seemingly purposeless and completely new exercises to your horse that give a feeling of accomplishment when you reach it.
Start easy and choose something fun so you will stay motivated. Be gentle with yourself: you are learning a new skill. Give you and your horse time to learn and discover.
Choose an exercise that looks impressive but is simple to teach your horse and simple for your horse to learn. Don’t start with complex behaviours before you have enough basics under your belt.
Consider it ‘fun’ time
If the new exercises seem purposeless there is no stress if you decide not to follow up with training and there is no pressing timeline in your mind (like a farrier appointment that’s coming up for a scared or green horse).
Choose something completely new. In this way the horse doesn’t have an existing association with the new things he and you are going to learn. You start with a clean slate.
If you want to practise your mechanical skills in clicker training and you are looking for suitable exercises to start with, think about starting trick training. There are several easy tricks you can teach your horse and practise your clicker skills, your timing and safe hand-feeding skills.
For a safe and fun way to start take a look at my Key Lessons (your Key to Success).
Easy and fun tricks to start with are:
What exercises or tricks would you recommend to horse enthusiasts that just started clicker training?
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Today’s book review is about an eBook I found online about trick training.
Note: I don’t get paid for my opinion nor for providing links to places to purchase the books I review. This review is purely meant to provide information.
This book review will follow a specific order:
Title of the eBook
Horse Trick Training, How To Get Started
100% Horse Friendly Training
For who this book is meant
This eBook is written for horse lovers who have never taught their horse tricks, or those who may have tried to teach their horse some simple tricks, and would like an easy step-by-step trick training program.
Number of pages
Horse Tricks 101
Is this eBook Right for You (and Your Horse)?
Why Teach Your Horse Tricks?
How to Ask Your Horse to Do Anything
Trust & Training
How Long Will it Take to Teach a Trick?
When to Train – a Simple Training Schedule
Best Places to Train Your Horse
Which Trick Should You Teach Your Horse First?
Safety Comes First
What NOT to Teach Your Horse
Trick Training Treat ~ Molasses Oat Treats
5 Steps to Teach Any Trick
Recap and a WARNING
Preparing for Your First Trick
Teaching Your First Simple Trick
Your Second Trick
What Comes Next?
My opinion of the book
As you can conclude from reading the contents, this eBook covers all the basics of getting started with trick training your horse. The title covers what it promises, and I really appreciate that in a book.
It is an ‘easy reader’, with hardly any scientific definitions or difficult equestrian jargon. I think every horse owner can understand it. Therefor I can recommend it also to horse lovers who don’t have English as their native language.
The knowledge about how to teach your horse new behaviours is scientifically based and that makes it a valuable reference as well. It is really good hands on information.
Horse Trick Training, How To Get Started covers all the basics and it is also a book that I could recommend to a bit more experienced trick trainers. I mean people who have taught their horses a few tricks and have encountered minor difficulties or are just looking for some inspiration for new tricks (see content).
The tricks in this book are safe to begin with and easy to teach. It is an excellent start to get some experience in horse (trick) training.
Horse Trick Training, How To Get Started comes with easy to follow step-by-step instructions. It also contains several links to Jain’s videos and printable trick planners. The videos are helpful and educational.
Conclusion: I think it is a great book for people who want to start teaching their horse (new) tricks. The time and effort that Jain has put into getting this eBook together with all the handy printables and videos makes it a really good value for the price of $7 US.
Recommend this book?
Where to buy this book
This eBook is only available online. Follow this link to buy the book.
UPDATE December 2017
My favourite exercise in the book is the Hug. It was so easy to train with the instructions in Jains book. Since I make pictures of all my achieved goals, I have a picture for you.
Is there a specific horse book you would like me to review, let me know and I will look into it.
In order to bond with your horse you don’t need magic, like this recipe. I believe that everyone who is dedicated tho their horse can develop a heart-to-heart connection with their horse. You don’t have to have a lot of talent.
#1 Spent time with your horse
The more time you spend, the better you will know each other. It is not a prerequisite, but it sure does help. With spending time I am not only referring to riding. Think of other ways to spend time with your horse: hand walking, hand grazing, grooming, horse agility/groundwork and playing. The more time you spent in all kinds of situations, the better you will learn to know each other. You will learn about your horses’fears, what he likes and dislikes, if he is energetic, what attracts his attentions, how bold he is etc.
#2 Observe your horse
Learn as much as you can about body language and behaviour. Take some time to just sit and watch your horse in the pasture, in his stable or paddock. What does he do when he doesn’t know you are there? How does he interacts with other horses?
#3 Make horses and their behaviour a point of study
Horses and humans do have the same emotions, but not necessarily the same needs. Where we humans sometimes can have the urge to spend some time alone, for a prey animal that lives in herds is is not a safe thing to choose: to separate themselves from the herd. What do horses need in order to be happy or have their safety needs full filled? Do they like to graze in the sun, in the rain, the wind, snow. What bothers them? Are there specific insects that irritate him, how do you know? Does he have friends in the herd? How would you recognize that?
#4 Don’t let your ego get in the way while training your horse
If a horse is not reacting the way you want him to it might not be because he wants to deliberately counteract your goal. The horse is not trying to “win”. A horse is a reactive and responsive prey animal that sometimes just reacts according his instincts or his expectations. Or he reacts a certain way because he simply thinks that is what you meant. Make yourself familiar with the learning theory. Be consistent and reward often. Never blame the horse if things are not going like you expected them to be. The horse isn’t thinking about that!
#5 Be fun to be around
Make sure it is rewarding for your horse to spent time with you. Try to be more reinforcing than the herd you take him from if you are doing things together. If he is in a stall most of the day, where there is not much to eat, where they are restricted from interaction or exercise you know what to do, see #3.
#6 Be yourself
Be honest with yourself and respect your own limits. If you try to act braver than you actually feel, chances are that you are doing things or taking risks you otherwise would not take. Making mistakes is part of life, but I suggest reducing the risk.
Don’t train or ride a horse you are afraid of. Work on that fear first. If you are afraid to be close to a horse, work with a protective barrier until you think it is safe. If you don’t want to trot, canter or jump with a specific horse, ride him in walk or just sit on him standing until you do feel safe enough to try it.
First of all: a click means “Horse, you did the right thing” and that means that I, the trainer, have booked a success, too. And I am addicted to success. Before clicker training, I was always telling myself what I did wrong, instead of what I could improve. I would see my failures instead of my triumphs.
Second: I just love to feed animals. I don’t know why, but it is very enticing and rewarding for me. The more I click the more I am allowed to feed my horse.
I realized one day I was addicted to clicking my horse. It really felt like an addiction because it felt like a computer game with a victory tune to announce you have completed this level and you can go on to the next. Is it dangerous? Could it be detrimental to the training?
Once I realized that I clicked too much, I discovered that I was not getting the best results I could. What is “too much”? For me it meant: not raising criteria after 3 successful attempts, clicking for already established behaviours like coming to me in walk when called, nice transitions under saddle that Kyra already
would do with a success rate of 90% or more.
The key is to write down goals, make a training plan and keep a training journal in which you describe in positive words what you’ve accomplished in your training. I can recommend it to every one to find a support group/friend with whom you can share your successes and points to improve. Talking about your training with others can help you reflect and stay motivated.
With clicker training ‘Less can be more’. If you click less, the horse will answer with better tries. Sometimes you get amazing results, like I described in this post. For instance I don’t click Kyra for coming to me in walk. I’ve set her up for success so I could click her for coming to me in trot. The goal I am working on now is asking Kyra to come to me in canter.
Since I click less, Kyra is improving significantly in all behaviours and therefor the click has become even more addictive to me. It is as if I have moved up multiple levels in our game and a whole new world has opened.
I am definitely high on our success and craving more.
Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Succes
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