Empowering Equestrians to Train their own horse with 100% Force Free & Horse Friendly methods

Posts tagged ‘horse riding’

Important values in the horse-human relationship: Trust

Personally I think trust is one of the most important values in a horse-human relationship. Without a foundation of trust you don’t have much to built a good relationship on.

It’s easier to love someone you trust, than someone you don’t. That ‘someone’ can be a human as well as an animal. If you trust someone, you can relax in his or her company and rely upon him/her to help keep you safe and not to hurt you.

We can’t learn when we are in fear and our flight-fight response is triggered. The same goes for horses.We learn best when we feel at ease and are relaxed. In other words; when we stay in learning mode.

Trust is not something you can buy (with treats), force (with pressure) or gain quickly. You have to build trust, over time, with your actions. Not with words.

we_trust_actions_hippologicYou want all your actions (handling, training, riding) to contribute to building trust, not to take away trust.

In Dutch we have a saying: ‘Trust comes by foot but leaves on a horse’ which means that trust is built slowly but can be destroyed quickly.

Take this question with you every time you spent time with your horse: Are my actions contributing to building trust or not? If you don’t know the answer, place yourself in his shoes. Observe your horse’s body language, mimic it and see what emotions get triggered. Are you relaxed or tense? Can you still breathe? Do you feel safe or not?

How do you build trust in your relationship and how do you measure it?

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra 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.

 

 

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What is so exciting about the boring ‘basics’ in horse training?

When I started horse riding I started like all novice riders. My instructor taught me The Basics. I learned how to adjust the stirrup leathers and get in the saddle, to sit straight and what I had to do to transition from a halt to a walk and how to turn. Later on I learned how to do a raising trot and how to canter without falling off.

The ‘Basics’ in the past

I remember one of the standard phrases in the riding school was that the ‘basics are the most important in riding’. (more…)

How to drop the crop

We all like to hold on to our beliefs and our familiair training aids. I know I do, even when I already know I never will use it. Here are some ways to drop your crop.

‘Safety’

Holding on to your riding crop (carrot stick, training stick or lunge whip) gives us a feeling of safety and empowerment. We need our crop, just in case…

But what if you don’t have a crop anymore. What would happen? Would you die? Yes, it can feel that way, but you (probably) won’t. (more…)

Tips to prevent Frustration in Riding or Training Your Horse

Every rider, every horse owner and every trainer has experienced frustration at one point. I notice that some people are frustrated more than others. What to do about frustration? Take it out on your horse? Or try to prevent it (is that even possible)?

The people who I see struggling with frustration are the people who don’t have a clear plan when they are riding or training their horse. They don’t split their goal into tiny building blocks and work their way systematically through the process. They tend to move their goals (criteria) during training, so they have the feeling they never succeed. That would be the same as having ‘getting to the horizon’ as your goal: you will never succeed!

The 1 million dollar question

If you feel frustration stop whatever you’re doing and ask yourself ‘why am I feeling this right now’? These are possible answers:

  • Are you asking too much of yourself?
  • Are you asking too much of your horse?
  • Are you comparing yourself with others (who might be at a whole different point in their journey with their horse)?
  • Are you making your steps too big (‘lumping‘), are you discouraging or confusing your horse?
  • Did you make (and write) a realistic plan before you started training/riding your horse?
  • Are you positively reinforcing yourself and your horse enough to keep going?
  • Do you give yourself and your horse enough time to process the training?
  • Who is telling you that you have to accomplish ‘this’ (whatever that is) right now?
  • Did you prepare your horse enough to this situation?

Prevent frustration

First of all: stop beating yourself up! It doesn’t help you and it only make things worse. Second: don’t beat up your horse. He can’t help it, he is just a horse. You don’t want to regret taking your frustration out on him.

If you feel frustration coming up, simply stop what you’re trying to accomplish and take a few moments to pause. Take a few deep breaths and ask yourself the questions above.

In order to prevent frustration make training goals and plan every step in the process. Make a good shaping plan and if you get stuck, pause and take another look at your shaping plan to see if you are lumping (skipping steps in the process to the goal behaviour). If you don’t know how to do this: ask help!_frustration_in_training_horse_hippologic

Frustration is not necessary!

Take baby steps in your training. Celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how small! Don’t forget to write your goals and your achievements down: we have a tendency to forget or play down our own achievements! 😉 Start a training journal today!

You’re not the only one

We have all experienced frustration from time to time. If I see frustrated riders it reminds me of me a long time ago. When I was using ‘traditional training’ (which meant: there is no plan to follow) I used to be frustrated all the time!

I must say I almost never frustrated with my horse anymore and if I feel frustration coming up I know to deal with it before damaging my relationship with Kyra.

Change your focus

Changing my focus was a big help in preventing frustration. Instead of saying ‘no’ to my horse (and myself) all the time, I learned to focused on the ‘yes’.

Instead of saying ‘why are you always walking away when I want to mount, stupid horse!’ I learned to focus on the few seconds she could (and would) stand still and encourage this behaviour. Because I now reinforced my horse with treats to stand still, of course Kyra became very motivated to display that behaviour more and more! Shifting my focus from the ‘walking away’ to the ‘four hooves on the ground’ was such an eye opener!

Calling your horse names, will not give you a good feeling, even if it gives you temporary satisfaction.

Yes, it is easy to blame your horse and call him ‘stupid’ but be honest: Does it really give you a good feeling that you have a ‘stupid’ horse?

Wouldn’t you feel better about yourself if you had a ‘handsome and smart’ horse? I think that a smart horse can only be smart if the owner gives the freedom and opportunity to show how smart he really is! Don’t call yourself or your horse names. It is not encouraging or supporting for you or your horse in any way. Start feeling compassion for yourself. Be gentle: you are on a journey, learning is a process.

Last but not least

Never compare yourself or your horse with anybody else. We might be comparing our ‘worst’ with their ‘best’. They might be in a whole different stage of their journey. If they can do something you can’t, it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything right. It is just not a fair comparison. Ever.

If you want to see it from a positive view: you now know that it (whatever ‘it’ is), is possible. And… maybe they can even help you reach the same goal or point you in the right direction!

Focus on what is most important in the world: your own journey.

 

_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.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin
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The 5 essentials of good riding lessons (1/5)

To be honest most riding lessons I attend look more like a ‘struggle’ than fun. Not only for the rider, but also for the horse. Does it sound weird if I say this depresses me? It doesn’t have to be like that. Really, horse riding can be easy and fun, for both rider and horse.

5 Things I would like to see more of in today’s riding lessons are:

  • Independent seat
  • Schoolmasters
  • Facts about horse behaviour
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Attention for the horses emotions

Independent seat

When I was following Centered Riding lessons I got very enthusiastic about riding again. Instead of,hearing over and over the same instructions that seemed physically impossible to follow, I now was moulded into a balanced position before I was asked to walk.

I improved my riding in every lesson

Instead of hearing ‘Keep your shoulders back, sit straight, look forward’ (which was

CenteredRidingwith Lucie Klaassen2

Riding instructor Lucie Klaassen giving a lesson about the seat, picture by Christa Balk

shouted to me for years), I was encouraged to test the unbalanced seat and then the balanced seat again. This shifted the feeling of the new position from feeling awkward to normal. It allowed me to reset my position to a proper one.

I discovered that following instructions about the position of my arms and legs are useless unless I balance my pelvis first. These type of instructions only help to mask the problem instead of fixing the root cause. This seems to happen a lot in lessons.

 A balanced seat feels very safe

A balanced seat provides a very safe feeling. If the rider is balanced a lot of tension in the body can be released and the seat becomes independent. I miss this in almost all the riding lessons I’ve attended. Novice riders are encouraged into a trot while they are not even balanced in walk. That doesn’t contribute to comfort or safely for horse and rider.

DSC_1381

Good instructors spend time to explain the seat. Picture provided by Lucie Klaassen, made by  Johan Auerstedt

Sometimes due to the unbalanced rider, the horse is protesting in some way and the instructor tries to fix that symptom. Horses are uncomfortable with unbalanced riders and can hollow their backs which causes the horse’s head to go up and against the bit or they go into flight mode and run off.

Instead of using a martingale or riding small cirkels to slow the horse down a balanced rider can fix this instantly. I have seen horses change in minutes when the rider was helped to sit balanced.

Things to look for in a riding instructor

I wish more instructors invested time in explaining and practising an independent balanced seat. Ask your instructor about his or her background. Find out if (s)he has knowledge of the anatomy of rider and horse. Instructors who have done Centered Riding, The Murdoch Method or have a background in equine or human bodywork are more likely to pay attention to the riders pelvis, where the balanced seat starts.

Tell me about your best riding instructor!

Sandra Poppema, BSc.
Are you struggling with applying clicker training under saddle? Visit my website to book an online consult. I will be honoured to help you and your horse out. I’ve 2 decade experience with teaching equestrians to ride and train their horses in a horse-friendly way.

(Lucie Klaassen is a Dutch riding instructor. Thank you for providing the pictures)

Read more in this series The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons
Part II: Schoolmasters
Part III: Facts about horse behaviour
Part IV-a: Positive reinforcement (horses)
Part IV-b: Positive reinforcement (riders)
Part V: Attention for the horses emotions

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Create +R solutions in a -R environment

This is a challenge a lot of clicker trainers face. You start making adjustments in your training when you start using positive reinforcement and it works…

Then you suddenly find yourself in a traditional/natural horsemanship or other negative reinforcement or pressure-release situation figuring out how to apply positive reinforcement.

Working on stamina in trotHow do you apply positive reinforcement methods in a negative reinforcement environment? For instance: how do you deal with your riding instructor’s instructions if he/she is not a clicker trainer?

Introduction of the cue

In clicker training the trainer usually starts training the cue after the desired behaviour is established while in traditional and natural horsemanship methods the cue is introduced
before the desired behaviour is even displayed. Often there are corrections or other aversives given when the horse is not giving the ‘right answer’ right away.

Preventing a poisoned cue

One can not simply apply pressure and release and add an appetitive to introduce positive reinforcement in a traditional training method. The danger of doing so is to get a ‘poisoned cue’.

A cue can get ‘poisoned’ if the horse simply can’t predict anymore if there is an aversive (more pressure), correction  or other aversive is coming or bridge signal with an appetitive (a desired reward).

The horses history

I think it depends highly on the horses history with corrections, punishment and accumulating pressure if you can mix +R and -R in a ‘safe’ way. With ‘safe’ I mean minimizing the chances of a poisoned cue.

How to apply +R in a -R environment

That is a good question. I think it is really hard for a +R trainer (rider) to follow instructions of a trainer who thinks in a traditional way. With traditional I mean that the performance of the horse (the results) comes in first place and the horses emotions are subordinate. With +R trainers the horses emotions are more or equally important to the results.

I can imagine that it is really hard to follow instructions of a teacher/instructor or person that you have given a certain ‘power’ or at least a person who you agreed upon to follow their instructions to question their methods on the spot.

How do you do it?

What is your experience with this? Are you hiring a coach that doesn’t (really) understand what positive reinforcement is and how do you implement their instructions in a way it doesn’t confuse your horse?

Sandra Poppema
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult!

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It starts with a helmet and a whip

The first two items parents have to buy for their kids who start horseback riding is 1) a helmet and 2) a whip. Why?

Helmet
I can see why parents want to buy a helmet for their kids. Falling off of a horse or pony can be dangerous. After all, horseback riding is a high risk sport. Parents want the best for their kids. They want their kids to be as safe as possible and want to protect them the best way they can. That is why they send their kids to an instructor or riding school, who can teach them about safety and riding. The second item they buy their kids is usually a whip and after a while some proper riding boots to replace the muck boots.

dreams_girl_riding_empoweredequestrians

Photo is used with permission from Empowered Equines

Whip
Why the whip*)? Isn’t it strange that you would give your kid a whip to do … what? Inflict pain to an already potential dangerous animal? Weird, if you think about it. But parents don’t think about it, they don’t know, so they just buy whatever they are told to buy. By the riding school or their kids. Which is perfectly understandable.

The kids have no experience either, all they know is that everybody starts with a whip right away. They want to be like everybody else. So we can’t blame them. They are just starting their wonderful adventure: connecting and riding a wonderful gentle and graceful animal, a horse or a pony.

*) or training stick in groundwork

The horse
Isn’t it strange that parents who don’t hit their kids, seems to be OK with their kids hitting an animal with a whip. An animal that is not allowed to defend himself. Picture a horse that fights back after a child had to whip it on advice of the instructor.

fedupfred_extension_arm

Cartoon is used with permission of Fed Up Fred

If you ever experienced how painful a tap with a whip or encounter with the string on a training stick is, it is unbelievable that grown-ups are OK teaching their kids to inflict that much pain on an animal.

Language
Of course it is a taboo to speak about the serious pain one inflicts by using a whip. It is always the horses fault, he ‘deserves’ it, because he ‘didn’t listen’ or ‘he knows better’.

If we do have questions about the whip, the instructor tells us ‘it is an extension of our leg’. Or our arm, if we do groundwork. What they mean is: ‘If you can’t kick a horse hard enough to go forward you have to punish it and use your painful whip. That will make him go. You get immediate results’.

Of course you can’t sell it to the kids while their parents are watching, so they say: “The horse has to know that he has to listen” or “He has to know who’s boss” or “Don’t let him win”.

_Bond_between_child and horse_hippologic

Results
People do want immediate results. That’s why trainers /riders stick to hitting a flight animal: it works (mostly) instantly. Immediate results give people often a feeling of control and power. Immediate results also give the impression of being an expert.

You might have to give that up if you change your ways to positive reinforcement to teach the horse what is expected of him. No immediate results, but a better relationship instead. One based on trust and rewards, a relationship in which it is OK to make mistakes and in which the learner is encouraged to grow. Wouldn’t that be valuable lessons for novice riders?

It is the other way around
Ask yourself: who is the one who’s learning? It is the child, right? I assume that the horses in riding schools are already taught what riding aids are and how to respond properly.

So why aren’t children being taught friendly ways to make the horse move? Very often the horse can’t or won’t move because the rider hasn’t learned how to move with the horse and the horse is getting mixed signals from its unbalanced rider. I have also seen unbalanced riders that are afraid to go faster and the horse picks up on that.

The instructor is a powerful person and tells the unbalanced, frightened rider to use the whip. So the rider does, because he is more afraid for the instructor or doing something wrong. After all, what would happen to the rider if (s)he doesn’t listen ….. Horses are punished with a kick or a whip. What kind of message does that send to the kid?

Not that I was thinking of that consciously, I just felt fear for my instructor as she shouted at me to use the whip. At the same time I felt very sorry for the horse, so I often slapped my boot. That scared the horse and made it move faster. The sad thing was that I made the instructor proud, because she thought I was hitting the horse hard enough to make it move.

I was torn. I liked riding and being around horses so much, I didn’t want to give it up. So I stayed and kept on riding. I often asked myself why girls in books could ride their (rescue) horses always in a friendly way…

Carrying (and using) a whip is often played down with the phrase: The whip is just an extension of the arm.

Fear
I was very afraid of most of my riding instructors. I was there to learn how to ride. I didn’t know that they would teach me negative reinforcement methods and punishment ‘to make the horse listen’. In my memory there was always more attention for the horse ‘being wrong/stubborn/lazy’ than for my mistakes (my unbalanced seat) or my lack of communication tools and knowledge.

I thought horses liked to be ridden… I honestly thought that riding aids ought to be invisible and as small as possible. (I still believe that.) I thought I would learn to ride with my mind, like telepathically or at most very subtle aids.

After seven years at the riding school I quit my riding lessons. I realized that I would never get to that point of using lighter aids or learn to develop a meaningful bond with a horse. On the contrary: if you where ‘good enough’ you were rewarded by riding the more ‘advanced’ horses. The horses who needed to be ridden with spurs. Literally you had to earn your spurs at this riding school.

Let me tell you, by the time I was 15 years old I realized that spurs were not meant as “more subtle” aids. I already noticed that they made it easier for the rider to kick the horse forward. Not what I had in mind when I started my lessons.

fedupfred_kick_horse

Cartoon is used with permission of Fed Up Fred

Sad
It is just so sad and unnecessary that many young boys and girls learn to ride this way. That they are told to ‘dominate’ the horse instead of ways to show them how they could cooperate with the horse. That they are not told how they can motivate the horse with rewards and that they are not shown how they really can build a wonderful relationship and even a friendship with a horse.

Hippologic_horseriding_positivereinforcement

Dream
I think children need that bond with animals, especially teenage girls. My dream is of a future in which all children and adults are taught how they can respect the horses’ point of view, their needs and how to motivate them in friendly ways.

It is my dream that people learn to ride on well trained horses that don’t need to be kicked or whipped to move. It is my dream that people learn to ride without fear and it is my dream to have horses that enjoy teaching people how to ride. I know there are already people who teach this. All I want to say is: keep up the good work!

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Related posts:

Attitudes to let go off… when Clicker Training Horses

Natural Horsemanship vs Clicker Training

Keeping an Open Mind is a Challenge

Recipe for a Magical Bond

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