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.
Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to show off the amazing goals you’ve accomplished with clicker training?
Visitors at the barn
One time a Facebook friend who was eager to learn more about clicker training visited me at the barn.
On this particular day in Winter it was cold, windy and rainy. The field was muddy and when we arrived all horses where gathered around the feeding place in the field.
As soon as Kyra heard my voice she came over to the gate and while I was haltering her, I was pondering how I could show off and what I would do in order to impress my friend.
We went to the indoor arena where Kyra and I demonstrated a few tricks at liberty. I also kept it short because it was cold and when we brought Kyra back to the field, I asked her what she liked best.
Her answer was not at all what I expected!
Instead of asking me about How I trained lying down or Spanish walk, she told me that she was very impressed that Kyra had came across field, all the way to the gate. My friend assumed we had at least to wade thru the ankle-deep mud in order to get Kyra or maybe even chase her a bit before I could halter her.
To me this was not something impressive. I didn’t realize that something as simple as your horse coming over to meet you could impress people and I will never forget that feeling. She was already impressed before we started! Just by Kyra showing me she was eager to interact with me and willing to go through the mud!
From that day on, I paid more attention to what impresses horse people.
Some people are surprised that, when Kyra gets loose because I am bad at tying knots, she doesn’t run away from me and I can simply walk over to get her.
Others notice that she’s not mugging me while I obviously have treats in my pocket. While I hope they are impressed by the behaviours I spent hours training, most people are impressed by the side-effects positive reinforcement training has: a confident horse and the relationship I have with Kyra.
How does your horse impress other horse people?
Next time you’re at the barn, pay attention to what others admire about your training. What remarks do they make that tells you they want what you can do? Sometimes their sentence starts with simply with the words “I wish my horse would….
I wish my horse would be easy to catch…
I wish my horse would stand still…
I wish my horse was more like yours…
Share with in the comments what others admire about the relationship you have with your horse or what you’ve trained they wish they could.
What is your biggest struggle in clicker training? Splitting behaviour? Do you catch yourself sometimes lumping behaviour?
The most challenging task for a positive reinforcement trainer is to ‘thin slice’ your goal behaviour into trainable steps. This process is called a shaping plan.
Key Lesson for Trainers: Shaping plan
One of the 6 Key Lessons for Trainers in HippoLogic’s horse training system is teaching horse people how they can make good shaping plans for their horses.
Shaping plan in 3 easy steps
Step 1 Determine your goal behaviour
Step 2 Divide it into smaller steps. And even smaller. If you can, even more baby steps.
Step 3 Write them all down
#1 Determine Your Goal behaviour
Describe your goal behaviour in a detailed way. Asking questions will help you with this description:
How does the horse behave (describe)
Does your horse move slow, fast or not at all in the goal behaviour
Where are his feet ideally?
Where is is head
How does he use his neck
What about his other body parts: what are they doing and how do they move
Where are you: in front of your horse, next to your horse (left or right) or on your horse (riding)
And so on
The horse is calm and is relaxed
Horse stands still (otherwise halter becomes challenging)
His feet are on the ground (not on my feet), so no pawing or moving around
His head is relatively low
Neck horizontal (horses that keep their head high or moving are hard to halter)
Tail doesn’t move (no swishing)
I am in front of the horse (I know traditionally you need to stay at the left. Clicker training is not traditional. It’s OK to break some rules. I like to be in front so it’s easy to teach horses to ‘self halter’.)
#2 Divide Goal into Trainable Steps
When you did a good job describing the behaviour you have a lot of starting points to make a good shaping plan. In your shaping plan you write down every step you need to teach your horse in order to train your goal behaviour.
It helps to remember that your horse has no clue what you want to accomplish!
Every step in the description above can help you divide the goal behaviour ‘haltering’ into smaller steps.
So all the above steps in the description of the goal behaviour can be steps in your shaping plan. If you think this is undue than you’ve probably never tamed and trained a wild horse. Also for halter shy and ear and head shy horses these steps all can be necessary.
Now you have the perfect body posture trained the next step is to bring in the halter. Some of the other steps in the shaping plan of training haltering are:
Horse stands still and keeps his head still when he sees the halter
Halter can move towards the horse and the horse keeps his head still
Horse keeps head still when head piece touches ears (for head and ear shy horses you need to thin slice this even further!)
Horse keeps head still when head piece goes over his ears
Horse keeps head still when handler closes the halter
Each and every step in the above list can be divided even small if the horse needs it. In your shaping plan you also write down when you want to move to the next step, what reinforcers you use and what the set up of the training environment is.
#3 Write it Down!
Studies have proven that writing your goals down help improve accomplishing it with 39%. People who share their goals and make themselves accountable (by sharing their goal with their coach or close friend) even increase their chances to 79%!
If you’ve written your shaping plan down it’s also way easier to remember. You’ve already visualized it in detail in order to write it down. Don’t underestimate the power of the pen! If you need help writing shaping plans, I happen to be a star in it! I also offer accountability for my students, so if you want to increase your chances of success, you know how to find me, right?
Join our Happy Herd group on Facebook where you can ask questions, interact with like-minded people and get support on your clicker journey. In the last quarter of 2019 I will do weekly LIVE videos in the Happy Herd. Don’t miss out!
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!
The Clicker Training Academy gives students personal support and offers online training
What is the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy? 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
Student levels are novice to very advanced clicker trainers
Join the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy and become one of the 25 ‘founding members’ (those students who receive extra privileges because they are the first) . The 25 founding members get a free 90-minute coaching session with me (value $150 CAD). There is still room for you!
Let me start by telling you that there are many ‘wrong’ ways and many right ways to rehabilitate a horse that has a halter or bridle trauma. Here is my story in which I share the wrong and the right strategy.
This is Punky. His problem was that no one, except the owner, could halter him.
You can see how that can be a daily stress for both horse and humans in a boarding facility, right?
The wrong way is to go straight to problem solving. That is what we humans like to do, it is natural to us and it has been reinforced all our lives that this is the way to do it.
That is exactly what I did…
I started the ‘wrong’ way, which was pretty much what most horse trainers would do.
When I was training Punky, I thought I could skip my own Key Lessons and ‘just teach the horse to be OK with a halter’.
I thought just teaching Punky to target the halter would be the one and only step to desensitize him. I envisioned that the next step could be the haltering. Easy-peasy.
It was a bit more complex than that and I learned how valuable the HippoLogic Key Lessons really are. For all trainers.
We can’t skip steps because it is the horse who determines how many steps are needed, not the trainer.
How Key Lessons helped me train a halster shy horse
When I started out teaching Punky to target his halter, he became really excited about all the treats he was (in his mind!) ‘suddenly’ receiving.
Key Lesson ‘Table Manners for Horses’ (safe hand-feeding)
He started to mug me more and more. Again, I had to lower my criteria about his learning curve. I realized that I should have taught him Key Lesson ‘Patience’ (move his head out of my space in order not to mug me) before I taught him anything else.
Then, when I thought I was ready to work on ‘desensitization of the halter’ I noticed that he wouldn’t even wanted to come near a halter. Every time I wanted to halter him he put his head up to prevent me from haltering him.
Key Lesson ‘Targeting’
I decided to teach him Key Lesson ‘Targeting’ (nose and ears) so I could bring the halter near his body and ask him to touch the halter with his nose.
This wasn’t enough to halter him. Now he was OK with touching the halter with his nose and even putting his nose into the nose band, but he was still putting his head up and backing up when I wanted to pull the halter over his ears.
Key Lesson ‘Head lowering’
Therefor I needed to teach Punky Key Lesson ‘Head lowering’. Asking him to lower his head on cue turned out to be super helpful in giving Punky clarity about all I wanted from him:
Keep your head near me
Put your nose in the halter
Lower your head
Target the crown piece with your ears
Keep your head low so I can bring the crown piece over your ears and…
Keep your head down until I close the snap.
Lumping a common pitfall in training
In other words: I was lumping instead of splitting the goal behaviour. A pitfall all trainers need to beware of.
This was a valuable experience for me. Now I start all horses I train, teaching them my Key Lessons. No matter what I think they already can do or what I ‘think I can skip’. Building a solid foundation first, speeds up training instead of slowing it down!
Here is a video of haltering Punky, training day 4:
Here is a video of day 11, after I taught all the necessary Key Lessons:
How you can turn basic exercises as ‘Table Manners’ for Horses and ‘Patience’ into tools is discussed in part I. Read here part II where you can learn how to use Key Lessons Targeting and Mat training to train complex behaviours. Read part III to learn how you can use Key Lessons Head lowering and Backing for advanced training purposes.
If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons below.
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect horse women with their inner wisdom and teach them the principles of learning and motivation, so they become confident and skilled to train their horse in a safe and effective way that is a lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
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.
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:
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?
Target stick, made out of a floater, glued to a bamboo stick covered in duct tape to prevent splinters
Of the seven key lessons in clicker training ‘targeting’ is my favourite at the moment. I love targeting so much because it is inexpressibly versatile and I am excited because I just discovered new possibilities of this game myself.
What is targeting
In targeting you ask you horse to touch a target with a body part. You start this game simple and the goal is for your horse to touch a target stick with his nose. Once your horse knows the target meant to be touched with his nose, you can start experimenting. Hold the target a bit lower, higher, more to the left or to the right. If the horse is following the target all the time you can put a verbal cue to this new behaviour, like ‘touch’. Then you can hold it a bit closer to its chest in order to teach him to back up.
Once a horse knows to touch a target with his nose and it is under command you can take this game to the next level. Try asking your horse to follow a moving target. Start easy with just a tiny step forward and build on that. Of course every step in the process is clicked and rewarded.
When your horse follows a target in walk, you can ask him to follow it in trot and even canter. If you don’t like lunging or driving your horse around in the round pen, you can use the target stick to get your horse moving. You can use the target stick to teach your horse to come to you in the pasture or entering a trailer.
It is totally the opposite of traditional methods where you use pressure to teach, so this can be difficult at start. You have to be willing to keep an open mind and keep thinking out of the traditional training box. That can be a challenge in itself.
You can also teach you horse to target a stationary target. A stationary target doesn’t move and is attached to a wall in his stall, the trailer or at a gate in the pasture. You can train ‘duration’ and see if you can teach your horse to keep his nose against the target for 2 seconds, then 3, 4 up to several minutes. A stationary target can be used to teach ground tying.
Stationary targets can contribute to safety around horses. If the target is attached on a fence in the pasture a few meters away from the gate you can use it to send a horse to touch it and stay, so you can get another horse safely out of the pasture without being crowded by horses who all want to work with you. You can put hay safely in the pasture without being surrounded with agitated, hungry horses and so on.
These are just a few training suggestions for touching a target with the nose. There are an infinite number of uses you can think of the use of a target.
Target other body parts
You can also teach your horse to touch other body parts. I’ve taught Kyra to touch the target stick with her knee in order to teach her the polka and Spanish walk.
I recently worked on the ‘hip target’ where Kyra has to step towards the target with her hind quarters in order to touch the target stick with her hip bone. This comes in very handy when she is not aligned to the mounting block. Now I can simply ask “hip” and hold my hand in position so she steps towards the mounting block with her hind quarters.
Teach your horse to target his shoulders. Imagine what complex movements you can create if you can move your horse’s hips and shoulder at liberty. I’ve seen people use it to teach their horses dressage exercises like travers,shoulder in and half-pass.
Kyra also knows how to target her hoof sole to the target stick, which helps with hoof care. She knows how to target the corner of her mouth to the dewormer syringe and targeting the halter makes haltering a piece of cake. My friend taught her horse to open his mouth in order to take the bit and bridle him.
Like I said: the possibilities are endless. How do you use targeting in training?
You must be logged in to post a comment.