We all get frustrated in training or riding our horses. That’s a given. Horses can also get frustrated if their expectations about their training or the consequences of their actions (release of pressure or receiving a treat) are not being met.
What can you do to prevent frustration and what if you are already frustrated or your horse is, what can you do next?
What causes frustration in your horse
If expectations are not being met it can cause frustration in your horse. For instance, you’ve clicked and now he expects a treat. If you’re clumsy or slow with your food delivery while your horse is waiting he can get frustrated. If you always offer carrots and now you’ve clicked and he gets a hay cube instead he can be dissapointed which can lead to frustration (‘Why am I not getting my favourite treat, a carrot?’).
Same can happen in traditional training and riding: the horse seeks release (relief) from riding aids and body language (pressure, pulling on lead ropes, waving whips and training sticks) and doesn’t get this release of pressure when he performs correctly.
If you, as trainer, raise the criteria in your training too quickly or make the steps too big your horse can get really frustrated: normally he immediately get a click and a treat if he goes to a mat and steps on it, but now he does not! What is going on? You might think you’re working on ‘duration’ but if your horse gets frustrated in the process his learning process will slow down.
If you go too slowly it also can cause boredom or frustration in your horse.
Poor timing of the trainer or inconsistency (lack of clarity), can cause the horse to get frustrated. You just clicked for X, now you’re clicking for something different? No, but if the timing is poor this can cause miscommunication, which can lead to frustration.
If you decide to clicker train the new horse in the barn instead of your own horse. This can cause frustration in your horse: now is is being excluded from training, choice and treats. His expectation is not being met.
All examples that can cause frustration in the horse because he can’t seem to influence the circumstances or desired outcome. I think you get the picture.
If you know better, you’ll do betterTweet
Now you know, you’ll see this happening all around you. First you’ll recognize it in other people’s horses and if your brave you’ll see it in your own horse too. That can be painful, but it’s a necessary step in order to prevent frustration in the future. Be proud that you’re ready to acknowledge it: now you can move to the next step.
How can you recognize frustration in your horse?
This is a tricky one because I haven’t found any scientific research on recognizing frustration in horses, yet we all have seem in in horses. Haven’t we?
I am willing to take the risk not being scientific and base my story on anecdotes and experience of my own observations.
Next time you observe a person training (riding) a horse look for these behaviours. They cannot taken out of the context but in order for clarity’s sake I have to. Here a signs that the horse is irritated or (getting) frustrated:
- Tail swishing (can be as subtle as just once)
- Pawing with one or two (alternating) front leg(s) or weight shift
- Stomping front foot
- Head lift (subtle) or
- Push with the nose
- Flick of one ear
- Two ears flicked and closed
- Snaking of the neck
- Ears pinned
- Wrinkles around the nostrils
Horses may not all use these and many are also to express other emotions and messages. Here is a picture of a horse that expects breakfast and was pawing. Instead of giving food, I made a picture to capture her expression.
How to deal with frustration
In order to prevent frustration you have to offer clarity. What to do if your horse is already frustrated?
- Start with congratulating yourself for noticing! Not many horse owners/trainers recognize it in their horse
- Stop and breathe so that you can come up with a plan to handle your horse’s frustration
- Change what you’re doing that is causing frustration (this is crucial) and aim to prevent frustration. If that means you have to give your horse a break or ask something you know he can and will do, ask that. This will interrupt the feelings of frustration.
Frustration is not always preventable but you can prepare yourself and your horse in training and set both of you up for success. Clarity provides frustration in training. #animaltrainingTweet
- Improve your timing (watch yourself on video)
- Improve the RoR (rate of reinforcement)
- Lower your training criteria until your horse understands what he has to so
- Become more predictable for your horse and make a plan before you start training
- Ask help if you can’t solve it on your own. A tiny bit of frustration in your horse can help find solutions, but too much and too often will put a strain on your relationship with your horse.
Read more about preventing frustration in training and riding.
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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!