Thank you so much for following and sharing my blog in 2016! Hope to keep in touch in 2017!
I wish everybody a Happy, Healthy New Year with lots of fun equestrian hours!
Sandra Poppema, HippoLogic
In response to the weekly photo challenge ‘Trio‘ I selected two pictures I took in 2009.
In December 2009 Kyra shared a paddock with another mare Mees and a gelding named Ziggy. They made a lovely trio.
Kyra was 1,5 years old, the other horses where 2,5 years old. They had their own happy mini-herd and we, the three owners, where very happy with this arrangement too. They where the only horses on the premises that where not locked in 23/7. It just reminds me of a really happy time in my life!
These pictures are taken in Hoogkerk, Groningen, The Netherlands.
Over the years I noticed that a lot of positive reinforcement trainers (clicker trainers) are often feeling a bit alienated. They can’t really talk about their (baby step) step successes or share their difficulties at the barn. We use weird tools like fanny packs, clickers, target sticks, mats, round pens where the trainer is in the pen and the horse runs free on the outside and so on. Let’s be honest: the majority of horse owners are not yet ready to try force-free, reward-based training and riding.
We, clicker trainers, often feel a bit uncomfortable around the more traditional or natural horsemanship people as well. Why?
First of all: we are not born with a R+ key and even if we were, we have learned not to use it. We all have been where most people still are: forcing the horse in order to achieve your goal. Sometimes the goal is just as simple as “He has to listen” whatever that may be.
Second of all: people really want to hear your quick fixes, but lose interest real quick if they learn that clicker training involves changing your own attitude towards horses and training. Most clicker trainers give up on convincing others: it just doesn’t work if people are not willing to look at what they have to change in order to get a better relationship with their horse.
Most horse owners are not really interested in how they can make life easier for the horse, they want to know how they can get to their goal. Quickly. Too bad, because in my opinion it is much nicer to have the same goals as your horse. It feels much more harmonic if I know my horse is working willingly for or with me because there is something in it for her too.
Anyway, as clicker trainer it is often hard to find a like-minded accountability partner nearby, or just someone to reflect your training with. Someone to share your training problems and solutions with, someone who understands what it feels like when your horse just put one foot into the trailer that day, someone who can understand that this was a huge step and knows that you and your horse will get there. One day. Together.
With all this in mind I started a ‘Happy Herd’ in Burnaby, BC, Canada. A platform for positive reinforcement animal trainers with monthly meetings with a different theme each time.
I hope to create an environment where horse lovers can share their stories, their successes and their difficulties. A place where we can learn from each other, encourage each other (we all have frustrations, novice as well as experienced trainers) and where people can find an accountability partner to stimulate them to reach their equestrian goals with their horse. Where they can find like-minded people and maybe even make friends in real life. A place where you don’t have to defend or explain your training method over and over. No need to be a professional trainer or seasoned clicker trainer, if you are willing to learn and share, you are welcome! My goal is not to grow big, my goal is to grow strong and to have fun and feel supported. The Happy Herd is a good place to be if you are interested or using reward-based methods to train your animal. Stepping out of your comfort zone is always easier if there is someone to hold your hand?
I started my Happy Herd (where people and horses can be equally happy) group on Facebook. I am organizing our first meeting this month! I am so super excited!
I already had people in the UK and Australia asking me if they can start a Happy Herd in their country. Of course, I would be honoured! Yes, that would be awesome if there started a global movement of Happy Herds. That would make me HAPPY! This is a wonderful New Years resolution for 2016.
Take a look at our Happy Herd.
One of the most underestimated challenges of positive reinforcement training can be… people in your environment.
It is a journey
The journey to switch from negative reinforcement (most traditional and natural horsemanship methods) to positive reinforcement training (clicker training, on target training) is instructive and beautiful.
It is not always a straight, fast or smooth road. It is often a winding, bumpy road with lots of ups and downs, but the views are astonishing. You will see many positive changes in your horse and your relationship.
On your journey you will learn how to think outside of the box, it will teach you to become more creative. It will teach you how to think in solutions instead of problems and it will alter the relationship with your horse in an extraordinarily beautiful way.
Slowly you start using more and more rewards to reinforce your horse to do things for you. Then you might slowly stop using the tools that your horse experiences as aversive, like a whip, rope halter, training stick or spurs. So far so good, until… you encounter a hiccup.
Believe me when I tell you: this day will happen. Your horse doesn’t do what you ask him to do. You can’t figure out why or you can’t figure out a way to ask him differently so he will understand. You don’t have enough tools yet, so you don’t have an answer right away. That’s OK. It is OK to not know everything right away. What to do?
Back to default
It is perfectly normal to fall back to your old tools or habits of using pressure, force or even to inflict pain. Don’t blame yourself for it. Becoming aware is the first step in changing! Hooray!
If you are prepared for this day, and it will happen, you can just simply say to yourself. “Hey, you know what? I don’t know what to do. Let’s figure it out first. Let’s find help and try again another time.” Really, it is OK not to know what to do! And it is also OK to stop your training until you do know how to solve your training problem in a way that is acceptable for you and your horse”.
Remember what is most important
Choosing to make your horse your priority can be extremely hard to do. Especially when other people are watching you work. Imagine that the farrier has come to trim your horses’ feet. Your horse is afraid of the farrier or there is something else that causes your horse not to cooperate the way he normally does. It can be hard to listen to your horse and figure out the ‘why’. Your horse probably has a very good reason.
In most cases it is OK to say: “Sorry, my horse is not prepared enough yet. Let’s do this another time.” Do what you need to do in order to protect your relationship and the trust you have build with positive reinforcement. In Dutch we have a saying:
Trust arrives walking and departs riding. Which means that trust is hard to build and easy to loose.
Do you really want to risk your relationship with your horse so the farrier can do his/her job right now? It can be dangerous for everyone if the farrier is more a traditional person. Or would you rather choose to make sure the farrier and your horse are safe next time?
If you scroll to the topics on my blog you might have noticed that I am writing a lot about planning and journaling. The reason is, that it helps me a lot in training my horse efficiently and therefor I reach my goals. Which I like! Often I reach them even sooner than I expect and that works very motivating.
I wish that every passionate horse enthusiast can achieve their equestrian dreams. It’s such an awesome feeling to tick of a goal off your list and reread your journal or look at your photo’s.
When I just got Kyra, I made a detailed plan to tame her. My long term goals were: I wanted a horse that I could ride in demos, a horse that would be comfortable with music, could do trick training and could show people expert exercises of the classical dressage.
Kyra was really wild and really scared about anything and everything was new when I got her. She was born in a nature reserve and she was just several weeks before she was separated from her mom and her herd. It must have been a very stressful time in her life: losing the two things she relied on for her survival.
Kyra was 10 months old and nothing she saw around her was familiar: tractors, people, running children, peacocks, dogs, cows and calves, a stall, radio and so on. Everything scared her, she was stressed about everything. It was sad to see her so frightened all the time. I wondered if she could be tamed at all. I never saw a horse in so much distress. I could feed her from my hand but it had to be through the bars of her stall and only if I didn’t make eye contact. As soon as I opened the door, that behaviour was gone!
I started thinking about a training plan. If I wanted to halter her I had to be able to approach her. If I wanted to approach her, I would like her to face me instead of trying to run from me and trying to climb the walls in her stall or threatening to kick me. I thought about safety, too. She was in a stall but I didn’t want her to get out before I could approach and halter her. I also didn’t want to get kicked, since I was pregnant at the time.
My list helped me to make a training plan. The plan kept me on track and helped me set a logical order to do things.
Taming a wild filly was my biggest challenge until then. I had started horses under saddle before. I had known my first pony since the day he was born and I had taught him all kinds of husbandry skills, groundwork and had started him under saddle. That was different because we grew up together. Kyra was born in a nature reserve in The Netherlands.
This was a new challenge and it felt like a big adventure in which the assignment was ‘tame a wild filly’. That is why I decided to keep a training diary. Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could recall how long it took me and what difficulties I would encounter? I thought it might take me a year or so. I started this adventure very open minded and I took it day by day.
Every day I wrote my results down in my training journal. I made pictures of my achieved goals. Writing about my experiences kept me going. It was so motivating to read about what we achieved in such a short time. I got hooked on journaling. It only took me three weeks to tame Kyra, read here what she was able to after 23 training sessions.
I never stopped making plans for Kyra and I never stopped keeping some kind of logbook. Sometimes I write detailed reports about our training, sometimes I just make a video or a photo of our achieved goal.
I found an accountability partner and we made detailed plans for our green horses to prepare our horses on the ground for their future under saddle. We started making future plans which contained our ultimate equestrian dreams and distilled our 10 year plan, our 5 year plan, our year plan and 12 month goals from it. Every month we got together and showed each other our achievements, talked about the problems we encountered and helped each other with a listening ear and sometimes with advice.
I started a Facebook group Happy Herd. Join us if you need an accountability partner.
My blog is called Making Equestrian Dreams come true. Fast forward 6 years. I now live in Canada. I brought Kyra with me. She is under saddle now (prepared her with +R only), participated in Horse Agility competitions, an online clicker training competition and I made a few trail rides in the Canadian wilderness. I have plans to ride her without tack more frequently (watch the video on my YouTube channel).
I have made a lot of my dreams come true.
What are your dreams? How do you accomplish them?