Using clicker training to get my fat horse fit

Kyra was always prone to being overweight. When she turned 8 she got laminitis and the vet diagnosed her with Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). That explained a lot: why she got so easily overweight and was always hungry. EMS is like diabetes 2 in humans.


Exercise advice: lunging or round penning

Getting the advice from the vet to “go lunge” or “round pen” my horse, in combination of the crash diet he subscribed didn’t work for Kyra. She was very reluctant and unhappy to do so. I was miserable chasing her around with a whip. She always had listened super well, but these traditional ways were absolutely not good for her. She became very reluctant, even after one time to go in the round pen.

Reluctant horse

She tried to escape, didn’t want to go in the round pen and she basically screamed “NO!, NO, NO” at me. It stressed her out, to be coerced into movement and it stressed me out. I felt it damaged my relationship I carefully build over the years with positive reinforcement as training and two-way method of communication.

All the changes were super stressful

She went from pasture with her herd to solitary confinement. A small paddock (in comparison to the huge pasture she was in before) by herself.

The crash diet was eaten in 2-3 hours or so, which meant that she was not eating for about 20 hours a day. It’s very bad for horses to have empty stomach, because they make stomach acid 24/7. They can get ulcers when there is no food to protect the stomach lining.

The crash diet lead to wood chewing. She ate a hole in her shelter in just one afternoon, she started chewing wood and all the fences were munched on.

She chewed the slow feeder net the next day!

On top of that she started pacing and walked a deep trench along the fence. All in the first couple of days after her diagnoses.

I followed the vet’s advice

I tried lunging (I hadn’t lunged her for 7 years after she had told me clearly she didn’t like the NH method of mr P.) Kyra was very upset about it. She didn’t listen to me any more (yes with a whip she did do it, but that made me feel uncomfortable.

As you can imagine, I felt miserable seeing my horse so unhappy.

Things to improve welfare

These new (undesired) behaviours told me her welfare was compromised and I had to take action and change things. Which was scary… At the same time I noticed clearly how much stress all these changed were causing her.

Avoid long term stress

Long term stress is one of the things you want to avoid when a horse has inflammation in the body. Long term stress alone can lead to inflammation or prevent inflammation to heal. Since laminitis is inflammation of the lamellae, the tissue between the hoof and the underlying coffin bone horses benefit from a stress free environment.

Having a (former wild horse in solitary confinement (paddock) and putting her on a crash diet, was taking away 3 of the 3 F’s. Her freedom to roam in the pasture, her friends, who she could only see from a distance and forage. The wood chewing was a clear indication of having not enough chewing time/fibres.

Her friends in the field

So I changed her diet and gave her more food, more fibre and I started to hand walk her instead of lunging. Every. Single, Day. Until she got better, less pain and wanted to move.

This is what I did (R+ Movement Training)

I used positive reinforcement (clicker) training (R+) to encourage her to move. Yes, I used food rewards! Vet had forbidden to give her “treats”. 😱

Using Treats in Training for laminitis horses

I went very slowly with building exercise and training for forward movement, in comparison with the advice I was given.

I have been using R+ since to tame Kyra (she was born and raised in a nature reserve). Then I switched over to NH, but she quickly let me know she didn’t like the NH exercises nor the way I was “asking” her to do them. (That’s a whole other story).

I used fibre rich foods to reinforce the behaviours I wanted: forward movement, steady pace and later speed and distance (time).

I used grass (yes a handful of long grass for a good effort), triple soaked beet pulp pellets (to soak the binding agents out. Shredded beet pulp is better, but that wasn’t available in Canada at that time) and hay cubes (not all hay cubes are the same and some horses can’t have them because they choke in them!).

Going against the vet’s advice

Going against the professional advice ,I changed her diet. I still gave her way less than before, but enough to keep her stomach going 24/7, since I was afraid of ulcers and gut ulcers. I also used food in training with my Movement Training..

It was a huge gamble, but it worked. Kyra became interested in moving (duh! With food! LOL) and she also started to loose significant amount of weight. Maybe a bit slower than with the professional advice I was given, but she was happier and all her newly developed stereotypical behaviours disappeared!

Kyra stopped wood chewing, pacing, and started to be her lovely self again.

From Whoa Horse to Go Horse

eBook getting my Fat Horse Fit with clicker training

Before her laminitis Kyra was a very “whoa-horse” and not a “go horse” at all. Since she was healthy (so I thought) I didn’t make exercising a priority. Until I had to…

The method I developed over the years after her laminitis is based on positive reinforcement to get the horse moving willingly. All the things to make this succeed, I have written down in the eBook I wrote Getting my Fat Horse Fit.

Support

I didn’t do it alone, I had a support system (also in the book) and a plan!

Having a clear plan was so helpful! I had been going on and off with exercising Kyra in the previous years. She has always been ‘chubby’ or ‘barok’ (Kyra’s sire is an Andalusian), but since she was healthy I started an exercise regime, got distracted, stopped, a few week later started again. I never followed through so she did lose weight and stayed fit and slim.

In my eBook I wrote all the things I learned to be successful to keep the weight off of her with Movement Training. It was a process of developing Movement Training with positive reinforcement and setting up everything else so I wouldn’t fall of the wagon again.

Having the fear of laminitis really pushed me to take action and get Kyra fit. Now I help people do the same. If you’re interested in my course, follow this link.

Warning!

I don’t recommend going against the advice of experienced professionals! Absolutely not!
In this blog I’m sharing my journey and what I did to get my horse from fat (and with laminitis) to fit and healthy.

Exercising played a major role in our success. That’s the message I would like to convey: exercise your overweight horse!

Please do everything you can t prevent your overweight horse from getting laminitis! I didn’t and I regret not doing enough. It might have been different if I would have had a way (back then) to make movement for my who horse fun and interesting! So that I enjoyed it more and would have kept going. Now I have that, and it has been a joy to exercise horses with clicker training.

Join Force Free Exercising Laminitis Horses on Facebook

Happy Horse training you all!

Sandra

Best Tip to making Clicker Training Your Horse Easy

One of the biggest struggles I see, when horse people shift to positive reinforcement/clicker training, is that they are fighting their environment. They love clicker training so much, they want to convince everyone else how great their new method is!

It’s discouraging to discover that “they” won’t listen. Trying to convince other horse people at your barn of the benefits of positive reinforcement will most likely drift you apart from them. I know, I’ve done this myself! We forget that we can not change people, people can only change themselves!

Why doesn’t everyone wants to clicker train their horse?

The harder we try to convince others that clicker training is more friendly, more ethical, more beneficial to the horse-human relationship, the harder pushback we get. It’s called the confirmation bias.

The next thing that happens is that we, as new clicker trainers, get discouraged. We also get conflicted about using negative reinforcement and punishment, the more we learn about the effects on our horses. we might notice that we’re fighting against the norm in our barn.

We keep explaining how clicker training works, and all we get is sneers about how we spoil our horses with cookies. That’s because when we start clicker training our horse, we are not yet experts in it. From the outside it might indeed look sloppy, we don’t get results or we are just feeding cookies… When our horses get really, really interested in our food reinforcers, that’s all “they” see: how clicker training turned our horse into a cookie monster.

This can create reaal doubt and insecurity… You know in your heart this new way of training, is better, but you’re wondering why you feel so bad sometimes.

Change your environment to change your behaviour

I like James Clear’s book Atomic Habits very much! It really helped me understand better why it’s so difficult for most clicker trainers who are introducing more and more positive reinforcement in their daily training and interactions with their horse to keep moving the needle more towards R+.

Our environment influences our behaviour! So if you want to feel good about using clicker training to train and ride your horse, finding a supportive tribe will make it much easier to do so.

Here is a clip from an interview with James Clear about creating new habits, for instance using more and more clicker training.
https://youtube.com/clip/Ugkx6TdhA5reLhiK2lAjMT6J7JF5vgg-ewtA

Find your tribe

In short: when you were using negative reinforcement (R-) training (traditional, or Natural Horsemanship) you were surrounded with like-minded people. They all used R-, and you belonged. You didn’t need to explain why you were using a flag on a training stick, using a rope halter or a whip. Those are the ways of the tribe.

Now you’re changing your ways, and seeing positive changes in your horse and the bond with your horse, you feel the urge to explain why you’re doing things differently. That’s why most clicker trainers start to feel lonely after a while and why they don’t feel they belong anymore.

That’s the point you have to make the decision that in order to make your life better and easier, you’ll need to find a different tribe. A positive reinforcement tribe! So you won’t have to waste all your energy on explaining R+ to deaf ears, continuously defending your new method of training or feeling bad about the pushback you’re receiving now you’re ‘abandoning’ the R- tribe behaviours and rules.

Treat R+ training as embracing a new habit

What James is saying in the interview and in his book, is that when you surround yourself with people who are used to the habit you want to master (clicker training your horse), you’ll make your life much easier!

Don’t think that you’re the only one in your area! I’m speaking from experience that there are many barns with people who are also looking for more friendly, ethical ways to keep and train horses! Even having one clicker training friend at your barn, can really help you feel better! When you can’t find someone, there is always the option to find an online tribe of clicker trainers.

That is the very reason I started the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy: to create a community of R+ trainers, who find the relationship with their horse and the welfare of their equines really, really important! It’s inspiring to be in a R+ community where we get to know each other in person (Zoom really can feel like you’re meeting in person!) and have similar training goals and the same training ethics.

Need help training your horse?

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.

Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

Tips for a two-way communicating with your horse

I believe that when you really want to have a great two-way communication with your horse, in which you listen to each other (!) and act on each others communication (!), you should stop coercing him. I believe that the foundation of a trustworthy and loving bond with your horse starts with listening to him and addressing what he’s trying to tell you all along.

Ways we coerce our horse (sometimes even without realizing it)

  • When you shut a horse down with a tied noseband, so he can’t open his mouth to avoid the working of the bit. A horse wants to avoid to bit because of discomfort or pain
  • When you use a whip to correct him when he’s not forward enough or to ‘remind’ (I find the word ‘threaten’ sometimes more suitable) the horse’ of the consequences
  • Using a rope halter. These halters are thin and made out of polyester and therefor work harshly into the horses sensitive skin, onto the thin bone in their nose and behind their ears. All pressure is laser focused on that one tiny part of the thin rope that presses on the horse’s head and therefor “we” (we as in horse people in general) like to use them, Even when we aren’t aware of what they are doing to our horses, we do see our horse listens better when we use these, instead of soft halters made out of band or leather.
  • Chase after out horses in the pasture until they give up or give in, so we (again, ‘we’ as in horse people in general, not you! 😉 ) can catch them and do something our horse obviously dislikes (and anticipates on by running away from you)

What would happen if we would listen more?

We would hear the message of our horse!

“But I don’t know how to listen!”

Start by simply observing and noticing what you’re feeling when you see certain reactions, or behaviours of your horse. Look at these photo’s above. In which ones looks the horse more comfortable?

Pay attention to these things and how they relate to each other:

  • The shape of the eyes: round and relaxed, or open and round, half closed and relaxed or half closed and tension above the eye.
  • Head position: high with tension in the neck, or more horizontal and relaxed? Is the head position natural or forced?
  • Mouth: open, closed, lips open, lips and chin relaxed? Wrinkles around the corner of the mouth or upper lip
  • Nostrils: open or closed? Wrinkles above the nostrils?
  • Ears: open or flattened (closed), to the front, sideways, are both ears doing the same?

The more you pay attention, the more you’ll see. Once you see it, you can’t un-see it. Look up pain faces in equines.

How to listen to our horse

  • When our horse shows discomfort or when he wants to avoid our equipment (like his halter, bridle, bit, saddle) we investigate: does he have pain, an injury, is he sore, is he anticipating on what’s coming with avoidance. It’s painful when our horse walks or runs away from us in the pasture because he’s anticipating on riding, right? BUT, when we would address his feelings about it, we can change it! When a horse shows signs of avoidance or pain, investigate!
  • Correcting is a nice word for punishment in the equestrian world. The goal of punishment is saying (but often: shouting) ‘NO!” to our horse. It’s meant to decrease behaviour. When you simply say ‘No’ to a behaviour, you’re not explaining to your horse what he’s suppose to do. It’s likely that he’ll fall into the pitfall of that undesired behaviour. Usually what’s undesired behaviour for us, is desirable for the horse! Punishment is clear ONE-way communication. Punishment will not give the learner the feeling of being heard or understood. When we focus on what we do want and find ways to reinforce more desired behaviours positively (by adding appetitives/something the horse values and wants to receive), punishment will be unnecessary. Not only will it make our horse feel better, we feel better too.
  • Rope halter vs flat halters. Simply try using a flat halter again and focus on the behaviours that change. Will your horse grass dive, pull you when you use a flat halter? These are the behaviours that you can improve using positive reinforcement/ clicker training. Teaching your horse to lead by following you, can make a lead rope unnecessary. Even when leading on grass! Your horse will feel heard and valued.
  • When your horse is hard to catch, he’s definitely telling you he doesn’t want to be with you. Worst case scenario, ‘you’ means ‘all people’. You can change his feelings by listening to him and addressing what’s bothering him. It can be that he dislikes grooming, or being manhandled when cleaning his feet, or he’s anticipating on a bumpy ride with an unbalanced rider, poorly fitted tack. All these things can be solved! And when you find an experience horse person, it will be worth the investment in time and money. In return you’ll get a better understanding and a better relationship with your horse.

Want to learn to listen to your horse?

Find someone who can help you interpret his language. You’ll know! Actions speak louder than words. When your looking for a trainer, riding instructor or clicker coach, pay attention to how they treat their horse and how the horse reacts to the person. That will tell you a lot!

Want support implementing what you’ve learned? In the HippoLogic training method, ‘Emotions in Training’ is one of the Key Lessons for Trainers. I find that when we notice how our horses are feeling about training, we can make it better for them. This enhances our bond with them.

Need help training your horse?

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.

Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

Solution #5 to the 6 most common pitfalls in clicker training horses

In this blog I mention the 6 most common pitfalls for trainers that get or keep them stuck in clicker training their horse. Most horse owners have heard the phrase: Setting your horse up for Success, yet I see that they forget to set themselves!.

Pitfall #5: Forgetting to Set YOURSELF up for Success

Are you only thinking about your horse in training? How to serve him best?

Some people realize so well what their horse needs, in order to teach their horse a new behaviour quickly and without many detours. They know exactly how to help their horse to learn!

Yet, they forget what they need, in order to speed up their learning process or keep going with their training. They forget how to make training feel effortlessly and fun for themselves! This struggle often stays under the surface, because we don’t know what we don’t know, right?

It’s like when you discover how to learn to read a street map (or following instructions on Google Maps). Suddenly you realize how many times you’ve taken a detour and it explains why you’ve felt lost. I will share a tool that prevent this from happening. With this tool in hand these things won’t happen anymore!

You can set yourself up for success and speed up your learning process by avoiding making the same mistake over and over.

Reflect on your Training

The best way to learn is to reflect on your learning. Here are 5 tips that will help you do that:

  1. Track your Training with a Training journal
  2. Film your training session and watch your session
  3. Reflect back on your training with your Shaping plan
  4. Listen to feedback of your coach
  5. Count your training sessions and duration

Use an easy Training Journal

In the HippoLogic training system keeping a Training journal is on of the 6 Keys to Success for Trainers. I usually advice people to keep it very simple: just jot down 1-3 things that went well and only one learning point.

A learning point is the thing that you want to improve. Just writing down one is best. That’s the one you focus on in your next session or next training. Don’t write more than one, it can be challenging as it is to change or improve one thing.

Make Videos

When you film your sessions you can watch it back in the comfort of your own home. You literally can take distance from your training and that can help you stay more objective. Use your training journal to see what you thought went well and what you want to improve or focus on.

A video can also help a few weeks later to see your improvements or where you got stuck. What has changes in your horse or in your approach. We won’t remember it, but watching a video can be really motivating to see your progress.

I like to watch videos of my students so I can see what trainer and horse are doing. I can focus on details and watch it again or play it in slow motion to see if I’m missing an important clue.

Use your Shaping plan

The more you use your Shaping plan, the more value it gets. Reading through your plan just before you start your session and reading it afterwards to make adjustments, will help you become better and better at shaping behaviours. Write down your adjustments immediately, so you keep a record and don’t forget. Be detailed and also pay attention on environment (weather, things happening in surrounding of the horse) that might have influenced his behaviour. Your Shaping plan and Training journal can amplify your result when you use them together.

Ask for a second opinion or feedback from a coach

Getting feedback on your training or training videos from a coach or more experienced trainer can be of tremendous value. A fresh pair of eyes on your training will help you see what you don’t see. It can help you uncover your blind spots.


When you get stuck in training or you don’t see results as timely as you expected, find someone to help you. You don’t need to find out the wheel, make use of someone else’s experience so you can shorten your learning curve and help your horse better!

There are so many clicker coaches out there, it’s not hard to find someone that has experience with the behaviour you want to train.

Training sessions

Getting insights in how long it takes to train a behaviour or help your horse overcome a fear can help you put things in perspective. For instance if you tell yourself that you’ve been training to trailer load your horse for 3 months and you still can’t load him when you’re going home, have you really been training three months?

When you keep training in your Training journal about the times and dates you’ve been training you might discover that you started in week 1 and 2 very enthusiastically with 4 sessions of 30 minutes a week. After that something else became your focus and in week 3 and 4 you practised once for 15 minutes and then you didn’t train at all. Now you’re in week 12 and you forgot all about trailer loading. Your horse has moved and it’s off the radar… Until next time.

When you would count the training minutes it looks different. Let’s see: week 1 and 2: 4 hours in total, plus 2x 15 minutes in week 3 & 4 makes a total of 4, 5 hours. Four and a half hours is not the same as “three months”.

Now, let’s imagine you stopped practising trailer loading because your were very successful. It didn’t take you 2 or 3 months, just 4 and half hours to change your horse into a happy traveller. That’s encouraging isn’t it?

Keeping track of your training days and duration will also give you insight in your consistency in training. Whenever we (or our horses) learn a new skill, we thrive on consistency. Although I’m always pleasantly surprised about the memories of horses that are trained with positive reinforcement! They have excellent memory!

Emotions in Training

In the next blog I will focus on Emotions in Training, another Key to Success for Trainers. When you can recognize undesired emotions like frustration and redirect them into desirable emotions, training will be so much fun!

Read more:

Need help training your horse?

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.

Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

The Confident Clicker Trainer

In this 8-week online course you get personal coaching and support in a group. You’ll teach your horse 6 different foundational behaviours (Key Lessons for Horses, your keys to success in clicker training) and learn to use the 6 Success Keys for Trainers. This course is offered only a few times a year, don’t miss it!

Solution to most common pitfall (quitting without results) in clicker training #4

When you do something over and over, you’ll see a pattern emerging. In this blog I share 6 common pitfalls I see people falling into when they (start) clicker training their horse. It’s not easy to train an animal 100% force-free when you’ve been raised with coercive methods. You have to teach yourself to think out of the box. Once you can do that, a world of opportunities open up.

Pitfall #4: Quitting before Getting Results

Trainers stop before they reach their goals with their horse. Sometimes this happens because they struggle with pitfall #1, #2, #3 or a combination of these factors.

In some cases people stop training simply because they feel unsupportive and sometimes they even have to endure verbal abuse. They’re getting continuously snarky remarks about ‘spoiling their horse’ or ‘bad horsemanship’ from their fellow horse owners at the barn. Or questions like: “When are you finally going to ride your horse?”. This can really be discouraging!

Many clicker trainers, who do have a goal, are clear about it, know how to train it, still don’t accomplish it. Why is that?

Sometimes something happens, and they fall out of their training routine. Maybe it’s because of their work, or their family needed their attention, or sometimes just because they went on vacation and never got back in training mode with their horse. Or the weather changed and they thought that it’s impossible to work on their goal behaviour in Winter/Summer/Spring/Autumn.

We’ve all experienced it. This is a simple pitfall to avoid and that’s what this blog is about.

How not to quit

The answer to that is preparing yourself the best you can. Flip the struggle into a positive one: How to keep going!

  • Knowing why you do what you do, and why R+ is so important to you. This has to do with your equestrian core values. Force-free, getting results and bonding with your horse.
  • Educate yourself about how learning takes place: Key Lesson Learning & Motivation and how you can influence the process in a positive way
  • Writing a good shaping plan so that you know exactly what to do, what to reinforce and what to expect from your horse.
  • Setting yourself up for success with Accountability.

How to make yourself Accountable for your Clicker Training

Accountability is taking responsibility for the outcome. One invaluable part of being successful in clicker training your horse, is to work consistently towards your goal. Starting and stopping won’t bring you results.

How to help yourself to train consistently towards your goals with your horse? Here’s where accountability will help! Some ideas to help make training easier:

  • Set clear goals. When you have a clear goal is so much fun to work on it!
  • Split it up into baby steps. One way is to write a shaping plan for the behaviour you want to train. When you know exactly what to do and when to raise your criterion and what to do if plan A won’t work, it will keep your enthusiams and motivation high.
  • Make a training schedule, a planning. Stick to it. How? That’s next.
How to keep yourself accountable

Tips to keep yourself accountable:

  • Find a friend to ‘report’ to about your training. Set a time and day. Weekly works best! When you setup weekly accountability you have 52 accountability points in time, per year. When you think monthly is enough, think again. With a monthly accountability plan you only have 12 accountability points in time. When you don’t have someone who is interested, join the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy where you can get weekly accountability.
  • Getting coaching or lessons on a weekly basis, can also be working as a weekly accountability. Make sure you’re working towards your learning goals, with your instructor/coach.
  • When you’re highly self motivated you can make a weekly training plan for your horse and follow it.
  • Join a group of clicker trainers that you can report to about your training

What makes accountability successful

Accountability works best when

  • You make it a long-term agreement (6-12 months, but actually you’ll need this as long as you have goals or want to improve). After a set time you can evaluate and decide to agree to go on for another 6 months.
  • You have one accountability partner. Having multiple can be confusing. I’m speaking from experience!
  • You have respect your accountability partner and values her opinion. Otherwise a calendar with a reminder “Train Your Horse” would work just as good. 😉 You have to find it important to show up for her. When you’re each other’s accountability partner it even has more changes to pay off. Hen you don’t have to be there for you, you’ll have to show up for her!
  • Dedicate yourself to your accountability setup. Make it the most important thing! After all, you’re doing this for yourself! Keep that in mind. The goal is to become better at training and setting up support for times it will be hard!

Need help training your horse?

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.

Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

Do I need to switch over to 100% Clicker Training? Or can I do both?

When people start using positive reinforcement correctly, they’ll soon notice that their horse is more enthusiastic and more engaged in their clicker training than in their other training. Trouble starts…

Starting with Clicker Training

At first most people choose a fun or easy behaviour to teach. Maybe they start with some trick training and before they know it, they have a very engaged horse. Their horse has discovered that he ‘suddenly’ (in his eyes!) gets treats! Yes, of course that get his attention! He wants more!

Struggles due to Clicker Training

  • Your horse starts to mugging for treats or is very focussed on them and can’t concentrate on anything else
  • He starts to show off his new tricks (or behaviours), even when not asked. This can be annoying, distracting and sometimes potentially dangerous (an un-cued Spanish Walk during grooming for instance)
  • Your horse stops doing what he was doing, because he expects a treat and he’s performing less
  • He offers less quality behaviours once you stop offering treats. Treats can become a bribe and no one likes that, so most trainers stop giving treats and then the horse doesn’t understand why the ‘system’ is broken.

Teaching Your Horse the Principles of Positive Reinforcement

When you teach your horse the Principles, you give him clarity and you prevent a lot of frustration.

How you can help your Horse

  • Teach your horse to pay attention to the click. It’s the click that predicts the reward, not your hand in your pocket. When that happens and he starts mugging: click before you reach for a treat.
  • Teach him an End of Session signal, so that there will be no doubt about when and when not to expect food rewards
  • Put behaviours on cue as soon as they are 90% solid and then stop clicking and offering treats for spontaneously offered behaviours. This way your horse starts to pay attention to your cues and stops offering the newly trained behaviour spontaneously all the time. This prevents frustration in your horse
  • Fade out clicks once the behaviour is solid and on cue
  • Change from 100% reinforcement schedule (reward slighted try) to intermittent or variable reward schedule (only best behaviours get reinforced)

Do I need to switch over to 100% Clicker Training?

When people run into struggles like above, they get hesitant to implement (more) positive reinforcement (R+) in the rest of their training.

I would like to say: solve the struggles you encounter first, so you get confident in your skills. Then decide if you would like to use clicker training in other areas of your training.

I like R+ very much, because it’s really a good two-way communication with your horse. Trainers have to listen, otherwise they won’t get the results. When the horse is not doing what they, want they have to do a little detective work: why isn’t the horse doing what you want? Doesn’t he understand it (are you making the steps too big? That’s called lumping), is he nervous or fearful (how to make him calm), are you clear? And so on.

You don’t need to switch over to 100% clicker training in order to have a good relationship with your horse. I will share how you can do both, but first I would like to explain why you can use traditional/NH with clicker training together. Something you see more and more.

Don’t mix R- and R+!

I don’t recommend mixing R- (negative reinforcement) and R+ in training one behaviour.

Why not: understanding ‘motivation’

There is only one motivation at play: it’s either positive reinforcement OR negative reinforcement.

The horse either does the behaviour because he wants something: an appetitive. This is R+. Or he does something to avoid an unpleasant consequence: an aversive. This is R-.

When we would use pressure to ask our horse to lower his head, it’s the need to avoid pressure that makes him do so. Giving your horse a click & treat on top of that doesn’t change the fact that he’s behaving in order to avoid something really unpleasant that you are applying! No matter how big the food reward afterwards is: you have just taught your horse to respond to negative reinforcement.

Confusing your horse when mixing R+ and R-

In positive reinforcement we:

  • Encourage the horse to offer behaviour
  • Want the horse to take initiative (we can only reinforce after the behaviour)
  • Add a cue once the behaviour is trained
  • He horse expects something really pleasant to happen when he’s offering behaviour. This is a mental start that makes him feel good

In negative reinforcement we:

  • Want the horse to respond to us and do ‘nothing’ unless we tell him to do something (usually the horse’s initiative is systematically punished in the past)
  • The horse must wait for our command (pressure)
  • so that we can release it (reinforcement!)
  • The anticipation on the aversive, becomes the command. The horse responds before the aversive is applied: He feels a light pressure from your leg and anticipates already on the aversive that will follow when he won’t move forward. This is a mental state: expecting something unpleasant to happen.

When we add appetitives (things the horse wants, like a treat) after something unpleasant has happened (aversive in order to make the horse do what you want), the horse can become really confused.

It can happen that the treat becomes ‘poisoned’. The connection of enjoying the treat can become so intertwined with the aversive that he wants to avoid, that he really gets confused. When that happens, trust disappears.

Example: Going to the Dentist

Imagine you need to the dentist. You’re scared because your teeth hurt and feel nervous about what the dentist might do to you.

In positive reinforcement the trainer would give you something wonderful (compliment, money, cookie) when you’re willing to say the word ‘dentist.


Then make it a bit more challenging and give you something worthy when you would call the dentist to make an appointment (you don’t have to go yet!).

Every step towards the goal behaviour (lying in the chair with your mouth open and be able to relax and let the dentist do his job to help you). Receiving the appetitives makes you feel good! Going to the dentist when you want, makes you feel in control and makes it not so bad. Right?

When you would use negative reinforcement the trainer would apply an aversive (pook you in your ribs) until you say the word dentist. Now the fearful word is also connected to a physical feeling: the poking in your ribs.

Next time the trainer wants you to pick up the phone. You’ll be poked until you do so.

Also for making the appointment you’ll be poked in your ribs until you’ve done it.

By the time you are in the dentist chair a lot of aversive things happened that made you go there. These are now associated with the dentist. You’re in the chair because the trainer made you. How would you feel? Confident? Relaxed? Would you like it?

Using R- first and adding R+ would be like the second example. Only you would get a treat every time you would listen to your trainer.

I truly believe that it wouldn’t make the aversive less aversive because the trainer would apply more when the learner wouldn’t listen (that’s the principle of R-: the aversive *must* be aversive or arouse aversive feelings in order to make it work)!

Receiving something wonderful after something bad happened consistently (poking in your ribs) doesn’t make the bad feeling go away or make it less. It will do something else: It will make the wonderful experience of receiving an appetitive change! You wouldn’t care about the money/the cookie/the compliment after you’ve been poked in your ribs to get in the dentist chair! You would happily give up the good in order to avoid the bad (self preservation). The reason you took action was because of the aversive (R-)!

How to use Positive and Negative Reinforcement in training

When you start clicker training and seeing results, you might be worried that you need to do everything with R+. I don’t think you need to.

I do recommend using either using R+ to train a behaviour or R-. Don’t combine them when you train one behaviour. Give your horse clarity when to expect aversives (riding, in the arena etc) and when to expect appetitives (trick training, grooming). Be clear!

Do you struggle with this? Book a free connection call and we can talk about how I can help you get clarity in clicker training. No one switched over to clicker training in a day! All their horses turned out great!

When you’re ready to do more with clicker training, join our community!

Need help training your horse?

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.

Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

Pitfalls in Clicker Training Your Horse (Solution to common Pitfall #3)

The 3rd common pitfall is when people focus too much on outcome. What happens is that you forget to include steps that your horse needs, in order to understand what you want.

A second problem can occur when horse owners have a goal and directly aim at the outcome, or worse: what the outcome suppose to look like. They know what they want, and have a vision what it looks like. Without realizing it, they try desperate to go from 1 to 100 in one go. The pitfall is that they forget paying attention to the journey to their goal.

They forget about the steps, that are leading to their goal.

How to tell you’ve fallen into this pitfall?

You know you’ve fallen into this pitfall when reaching your goal seems

  1. Unreachable (frustration has kicked in), or
  2. Isn’t as satisfying as you thought it would be (and that’s hard to admit. Even to yourself)
  3. You feel something is missing. You’ve got the Results, but missing the Relationship with your Horse in the process

Solutions

When we forget about guiding our horse to our goal step-by-step, we are ‘lumping’ instead of ‘splitting’ behaviour.

  • Find someone to help you split the behaviour. Just talking it over with someone will help you get a fresh view on your training
  • Watch your goal behaviour on video (find a YouTube video of the behaviour)
  • Watch the behaviour in slow motion (YouTube settings “playback speed” will help you)
  • Find an experienced R+ trainer. Splitting behaviour is something really important in positive reinforcement training and therefor I recommend finding someone who has done this before successfully.

Example: Training Movement with Positive Reinforcement

Imagine you have an overweight horse and your vet recommends: ‘No more treats!’ and ‘Exercise/Lunging’. That happened to me when Kyra got EMS when she turned 8 years old.

I wanted to lose weight, but I refused to do that with coercion (which would feel like punishment to her after 7 years of R+). So I had to find ways to motivate my overweight horse to move.

I had to start where Kyra was at: about zero. She could (barely) walk, she was so sore in her feet. Yet, she had to! So I used positive reinforcement and I paid close attention to her feedback: fast or slow, hard surface (road) or soft (arena) etc.

I went for a 30 minute hand walk, but at first we would only get to the corner of the road. She stopped so often… I waited it out and clicked for all ‘forward movement’. It didn’t take long before our 30 minute walk was actually 27 minutes of movement! We took it from there and here is the result. When you want to know more, contact me: I have a course about this.

Just starting where your horse is at, is the most important in clicker training. Then take your horse by the hand and guide him gently through the steps towards your goal. The better you do this, the quicker your horse learns.

Need help training your horse?

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.

Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

How to get Clear about your Clicker Training Goals (Solution to common Pitfall #2)

When you’re wishy-washy about your clicker goals, it can become a real struggle to accomplish your dream behaviours. Here’s how you can get more clarity so you can start working towards what you really want with your horse.

“I want to learn Everything There is to Know about Clicker Training!”

Many horse owners ask me for help, join my Facebook group or read my blog, because they want to “learn everything“! That’s great, but when I ask: Pick one goal, it’s hard. That’s when the ‘everything’ can turn into a struggle and actually start holding you back instead of propel you forwards. You think you can do anything when you know everything, but when this holds you back you accomplish the oppositie. Here’s how you can prevent falling into this pitfall..

Instead of taking on goal after goal, they procrastinate and don’t make any progress at all. This can be discouraging, because they know Clicker Training is the way to the heart and soul of their horse. Is that you?

This struggle is like an iceberg: the symptom is not knowing where to start. The problem however is not because they have an information overload, like I wrote in this blog. The symptom seems similar, only the rest of the iceberg (the part that is hidden under the surface) is different.

Being Wishy-washy about Your Goals

Lots of horse people contact me because they need support with clicker training their horse. One of the struggles they have is being wishy-washy about their goals. That’s usually not the problem they contact me for. This is a struggle that’s often under the surface.

They find it hard to stay focussed on the outcome they want and to keep focussing on their goal. Therefor they feel stuck. Then they shift their focus to the next behaviour. And the next, without ever actually accomplishing what they really want. In our conversation they mention multiple goals and keep adding onto their list. They pick behaviours they see other people train, because they look great, easy and simple to train! They want that, too!

Then it doesn’t work out the way they imagined (see pitfall #1) and they see something else that is fun and interesting to train! Yeey, let’s do that instead!

‘Shiny’ behaviour syndrome

I call this the ‘Shiny Behaviour Syndrome’ (instead of shiny object syndrome) because horse people distract themselves from what they really want. We’ve all suffered from this at one point.

Deep down they believe their dream is impossible, they are afraid of failing, they’re not sure they can do it or that their horse would be able to do it, or they get continuously discouraged by people in their environment: “You can’t train that!”, “You’re spoiling your horse with cookies, he needs a leader! Man up!” and so on.

Sometimes they abandon their dream because they want to fit it with their peers. They want to belong. It’s hard to be the only dressage rider in a barn full of show jumpers, it’s hard to be the only positive reinforcement trainer among a barn full of aversive based trainers! Especially when you’re relatively new to clicker training, you can feel insecure if you’re doing the right thing or doing it right.

Sometimes it feels like you’re doing worse, now you’ve introduced positive reinforcement to your horse. He seems to focus on the treats and the quality of the behavior lessened… This can be disheartening. This can also be a reason to focus on the next behaviour.

What Do You Really Want to Accomplish with Your Horse?

Start with what you really want! The obvious, the reason you bought a horse in the first place. Do you remember? Maybe you wanted to:

  • Ride (trail rides, dressage, jumping, competitions, a bit of everything)
  • Develop a deep friendship with your horse
  • Connect with your horse and train with friendly (non-coercive and force-free) methods
  • Taking care of a horse
  • Just ‘having a horse’ and enjoy him/her

Why Did You Get Your Horse?

Ask yourself why you got this horse? What’s important for you about having a horse, what’s most important in riding and keeping a horse healthy and happy?

Often these goals and desires are closely related to your (equestrian) core values. When your ‘wants’ (dreams) are not aligned with your values, they become a struggle and it’s impossible to accomplish them.

For instance, I’ve always wanted to become an Olympic dressage rider. I never understood why this wasn’t happening and it was only until my mentor took me on a tour to find my values.

Finding Your Values

I was ‘in between horses’ at that moment and was searching for the perfect horse. My mentor asked me what I wanted, and I was vague. I wanted to ride… What kind of riding did I desire? Dressage. And I also wanted to trail ride. And yes, now we’re speaking about it, It must also be a great lesson horse because I was a riding instructor at the time.
We talked about my dreams. The one of being an Olympic dressage rider and why that never happened. I came up with a lot of reasons: my parents weren’t horse people, I didn’t have the money, never had really good instruction and so on. I was looking for reason outside of me. My mentor shifted that and she helped me discover the whole competition with animals wasn’t in alignment with my values of the way horses were treated.

Bam! In one moment I realized that I was procrastinating and finding excuses not to compete in dressage because it was against my values. I felt in my heart that this wasn’t the way for me!

Getting a mentor was the best investment in my future.

~Sandra Poppema, HippoLogic

Let Go of Goals that are Not Aligned with Your Values

What this insight brought me, was that I could finally let go of my childhood dream of becoming a champion in dressage and take out of that dream the parts that did align with my values. Those parts were: moving in harmony with my horse, riding a strong, agile, very happy horse that listens to the lightest cues (invisible to the audience). A horse that is in good health and has stamina and an uplifting energy. Showing the horse-human bond in all its glory!

When I could keep the parts that were attracting me to my dressage dream and let go of all the other things (riding horses behind the vertical, riding a horse that is among horses that are over threshold, coercing them into specific exercises at the precise right time and so on), I could formulate a new dream. One that was perfectly aligned with my values! Within a week I found an opportunity that was perfect for me!

Getting to the Root of Your Struggle

Ask yourself what is the most important to you in:

  • Having a horse
  • Riding
  • Keeping and taking care of horses

These will bring out your values. Then go back to your dreams and goals and ask yourself where they do and don’t align with your values.

For me getting reinforced (getting points from a jury, so that you could move onto the next level) for riding in a way that’s not healthy for horses (riding behind the vertical) wasn’t fun. Therefore I really never could come up with the motivation to make everything happen that I needed to do this. It was such a relief when I discovered the reason why I was feeling to swim upstream and never reach my goal.

What are Your Equestrian Values?

Take the time to figure out what your equestrian values are and what your dreams and goals are. Then see if they are aligned. If not: what parts are aligned and would make you so happy to accomplish? What parts do you need to let go of, because they don’t align with your values.

The hardest part is not that your values have changed, but your insights. Now you know more about horses, training and what your horse likes (appetitives) and doesn’t like (aversives). Once you know what most dressage horses are not in harmony with their riders, don’t enjoy being ridden like that and are often in pain, you cannot un-see it. Once you recognize the pain in their faces and mouths, the beauty is gone… Then you have to look for the beauty in pain-free horse faces, horses that are really moving with joy and in harmony (luckily it’s possible and many riders can do this!!).

Brush off the dust of your childhood dreams and realizing them with your values. Then go for them! They will bring you the joy in your heart, the harmony and friendship with your horse you’re looking for, When you need a bit of help with this, you know where to find me! I’m here to help all horse women who want to connect with their horse and make their dreams come true.

Need help? Here’s how I can help you

Need help training your horse?

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.

Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

Pitfalls in Clicker Training (Solution to Pitfall #1)

Solutions to Common Pitfalls for Clicker Trainers

The HippoLogic training system is based on the 6 Key Lessons for Horses and the 6 HippoLogic Keys to Success for Trainers. The Success Keys for Trainers are success habits that are beneficial to everyone who trains horses (or want to accomplish goals in live). In this series I will elaborate on how they can help you avoid common pitfalls and become a confident clicker trainer.

Getting Stuck: Lack of Knowledge or Info Overload

Pitfall number 1 is getting stuck, because clicker trainers lack information or knowledge. Or they’re getting too much (contradictive) information. Overwhelm kicks in and training the behaviour want comes to a halt.

Focus is taken off their goal and a new behaviour will become the focus. Until they get stuck and a new goal is taken on, without accomplishing what they really had in mind or what they really want to do with their horse.

Then they get discouraged, feel incompetent or frustrated, sometimes want to give up on positive reinforcement (clicker) training all together.

They see others reaching their goals with traditional/NH training and they want that too: results! They can be tempted to fall back on training with aversives and coercion, even when they don’t enjoy it.

I’ve struggled with this when I started in 1999. I got ‘Results’ in training using NH, but struggled to get the Relationship with my horse in that method. Something I really craved. I knew in my heart that positive reinforcement (R+) could give me the Relationship I wanted, but at that time I didn’t know how to get the Results with R+. This put me on the path to

Success Key # 1 for Clicker Trainers

When we learn about Key Lesson for Trainers Principles of Learning & Motivation, we’ll have a clear compass. When we use the principles of learning, as our compass, rather than a set of rules, we can find solutions to almost every training challenge.

Know your Learner!

First we need to know about our learner so that we can tailor our training goals and methods to them.

  • What is the natural behaviour of our learner (horse)?
  • What are their natural needs, wants and desires?
  • Physical strengths and limitations (we can’t teach a horse to fly because they have no wings, neither can we teach an elephant to jump)
  • How do horses learn?

What are the Principles of Learning & Motivation?

Why Principles instead of Rules?

The problem with rules is that they don’t apply to all situations. The most common question I get from novice clicker trainers are questions like:

  • How long must my training session be?
  • How often do I click?
  • What do I use as treat?
  • Do I use a clicker, a word or a sound as bridge signal?

These questions are all about ‘rules’. How much, how often, how long? I get it: we all want security.

Rules, will take ‘the thinking’ out of the equation (which can be dangerous!). Also, rules don’t apply to every situation: a horse that is just introduced to clicker training can be mentally tired after a few minutes, while a horse that understands positive reinforcement well, can be trained for much longer.

Answers to these kind of questions are based on Principles: it depends (an answer that no one wants to hear).

  • Your training session can be as long as your learner wants to engage or depending on how much treats your horse can have
  • You can click for every succession towards your goal behaviour, raising your criteria to the pace of the learners learning
  • Use the lowest value treats for easy (physically easy) behaviours.
  • Understanding that the value of a treat can vary (Cupcake #1 is so good! But after the 5th we get sick of it)
  • As long as your bridge signal is first trained (pairing it to a primary reinforcer) it ‘s a matter of personal preference of the trainer and the learner. When a horse is afraid of the click, you might want to start with a word or tongue click. When we need both our hands, a whistle can come in handy.

The more we learn to act from the Principles of Learning and Motivation, the more we can think out of the box and solve our personal challenges in training. Yes, it’s a new skill to learn to think from our learner’s perspective, but it pays of in forms of Relationship with your horse!

The only Rules in Clicker Training

There are only a few ‘rules’ I use in training…. And yes, there are some exceptions to these rule, too (Yep! The danger of using rules).

Win-Win instead of Win-Lose

One of my rules in training is: Always make training a win-win.

Win for the horse: give him something he wants to works for, likes to have (without depriving him first!!). In other words: use positive reinforcement. And a win for the trainer: the specific behaviour we want to see.

I see negative reinforcement often as Win-Lose: win for the rider, lose for the horse (avoidance of an aversive, which is not a reward!).

Stick to the ‘Contract’

Clarity is Key. Therefore I teach most novice clicker trainers to start with: a click is a treat. It’s an easy rule to remember.

When you click too soon, too late or one time too often, no worries: give your horse still a treat. When the horse is also in the beginning stages of learning, learning to pay attention to the click, when to expect a treat and when not to (when training ends), it’s best to give horses clarity.

We can always reinforce a more desired or a different behaviour later and ‘repair the damage’. So, one poorly timed click won’t effect your training in a negative way. It’s worse when the horse gets insecure about the meaning of the click: does it mean a treat or not? Be clear: click = treat. Then, learn to time better. 😉

Once the novice clicker trainer learns to set clear criteria and masters the timing of the click, we can abandon this rule. Again, tis all depends on the situation: the horse, experience level of the trainer, the behaviour we want to train, the circumstances and so on.

Stop when you’re Stuck

When we get stuck in training, our horse disengages, we get tired or frustrated, the best thing we can do is to stop!

Taking a break, gives us literally time to breathe. I know some amazing breathing exercises! That’s when we can come up with solutions! Not when we’re angry, stressed or tired.

When our horse is tired, stressed, fearful, bored or frustrated, he can’t learn anymore. He’s out of Learning Mode. In the one of the next blogs I will elaborate on how to keep your horse in Learning Mode. This is another Success Key for Trainers in the HippoLogic method.

Clarity and consistency

The other ‘rules’ I have are Clarity and Consistency. When we can get clarity, we’re able to give our horses clarity. Clarity will prevent so much problems: confusion, frustration, insecurity and other undesired emotions and feelings that inhibit learning.

When we train consistently towards a goal behaviour, success is inevitable! Even when we only clicker train a horse 5 – 10 minutes a week (!) we can accomplish great results! I’ve seen this happen over and over when I’m training multiple animals in a facility (mostly animal rescues). One of my other Success Keys for Trainers I’m going to blog about will help you get clarity & consistency. If you can’t wait for that blog, and you need help, book a free call.

When you’re ready, there are two ways I can help you

Need help training your horse?

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.

Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

6 Common Pitfalls for Clicker Trainers (Which one have you’ve fallen into?)

In decades of teaching and helping other horse people to train their own horses with clicker training I noticed patterns of why many people don’t accomplish their dream behaviours. In this series I’ll share the most common pitfalls clicker trainers fall into and what you can do to avoid them. When you recognize one or more of them, stay tuned. In the next blogs I will elaborate on solutions to solve and prevent each and every one of them!

I’m speaking from experience and I also know that you can learn to avoid these with the strategies I will be sharing.

Keys to Success in Clicker Training your Horse

As a trainer you need to develop your trainer’s skills. It’s not only about timing and using the right appetitive for the behaviour and ‘setting your horse up for success’. There are actions you can take that have a direct correlation to the outcome you want. I call these the HippoLogic Key Lessons.

When we skip (one of the 6) Key Lessons for Trainers, we might start to believe clicker training horses goes slower than using coercion. This is simply not true!

Make Learning Easy for your Horse

In my HippoLogic training system there are 6 HippoLogic Key Lessons for Horses. Those are the basic behaviours that makes training every other behaviours simpler and faster.

These are 6 simple behaviours that you can teach your horse fast and they are the building block for all future behaviours.

Help your horse understand the principles of clicker training so learning becomes easy

In the Key Lessons for Horses your horse learns the principles of positive reinforcement, how he can influence the environment with his behaviour (the actions of trainer, getting treats, etc), he learns to behave safely and also learns to control his emotions (keep calm) and paying attentions to your cues.

I consider these 6 basic behaviours the building blocks, and you can use them like Lego. You might not need each and every one of them all the time, but they are invaluable to train all future behaviours.

As trainer, we always have to ask ourselves: How can we make this as easy as pie for our horses to understand, and keep it interesting and challenging enough at the same time to keep our learner engaged?

Make Learning as Easy for Yourself, as You Do for Your Horse

In my work as clicker coach, I’ve always asked myself: ‘What does my learner (my client) have to know in order to become an autonomous equine clicker trainer?’ How can I set my people up for success, so they know how to avoid common pitfalls and know how to get out of them, once they have fallen into them.

Common pitfalls for Clicker Trainers

The HippoLogic training system is based on the 6 Key Lessons for Horses and the 6 HippoLogic Keys to Success for Trainers. The Success Keys for Trainers are success habits that are beneficial to everyone who trains horses (or want to accomplish goals in live).

1. Getting Stuck: Lack of Knowledge or Info Overload

Pitfall number 1 is getting stuck, because they lack information or knowledge. Or getting too much (contradictive) information. Overwhelm kicks in and training the behaviour want comes to a halt.

Focus is taken off their goal and a new behaviour will become the focus. Until they get stuck and a new goal is taken on, without accomplishing what they really had in mind or what they really want to do with their horse.

Then they get discouraged, feel incompetent or frustrated, sometimes want to give up on positive reinforcement (clicker) training all together.

They see others reaching their goals with traditional/NH training and they want that too: results! They can be tempted to fall back on training with aversives and coercion, even when they don’t enjoy it.

I’ve struggled with this when I started in 1999. I got ‘Results’ in training using NH, but struggled to get the Relationship with my horse in that method. Something I really craved. I knew in my heart that positive reinforcement (R+) could give me the Relationship I wanted, but at that time I didn’t know how to get the Results with R+. This put me on the path to develop a positive reinforcement horse training system that I could teach, so that the results with clicker training could became within reach of all horse people: the HippoLogic system. I will share this in my next blog!

2. Wishy-washy about Your Goals

Being wishy-washy about the behaviours they train. They find it hard to stay focussed on the outcome they want and to keep going. They get stuck. They shift their focus to other behaviours. Behaviours they see other people train, and it looks great, easy and simple! They want that, too!

Then it doesn’t work out the way they imagined (see pitfall #1) and they see something else that is fun and interesting to train! Yeey, let’s do that instead!

I call this the ‘Shiny Behaviour Syndrome’ (instead of shiny object syndrome) because horse people distract themselves from what they really want.

Deep down they believe their dream is impossible, they are afraid of failing, they’re not sure they can do it or that their horse would be able to do it, or they get continuously discouraged by people in their environment: “You can’t train that!”, “You’re spoiling your horse with cookies, he needs a leader! Man up!” and so on.

Sometimes they abandon their dream because they want to fit it with their peers. They want to belong. It’s hard to be the only dressage rider in a barn full of show jumpers, it’s hard to be the only recreational rider in a barn full of competition riders. It’s hard to clicker train your horse in a barn full of people who use force and coercion to train and ride their horses. If you struggle with this, read this blog.

3. Only Keeping Your Eye on the Prize (Focus on Outcome)

The next pitfall that’s very common, is that people have a goal and only aim for the outcome. They know what they want and what it looks like. Without realizing it, they try desperate to go from 1 to 100 in one go.

They forget to pay attention to the steps needed, that lead to their goal. A common example: when riders want to ride their horse ‘on the bit’ so their horse is fully responsive to the lightest rider aids and they are moving in harmony, together. The aim in dressage.

For example

The picture (outcome) is a horse that has his head on the vertical, the neck is bend and the horse is moving fluently forward in balance. When riders lack knowledge of the How To, they pull the reins to coerce the horse in the desired head position (sometimes with draw reins, martingales or sharp bits), without realizing they block the hind legs from moving more towards the center of gravity, so he can carry them in balance.

They then need to use a lot of leg aid (or the whip) to keep their horse moving fluently forward. Now it looks like the goal is reached, but it’s not. It doesn’t feel that way (and they realize it at some level).

It’s hard to admit it’s not working, so they try harder (and get more frustrated). Or they finally start to believe that ‘this is it’ and the expert is probably right: this is the way. When this is the norm, it becomes normal (“norm [to] all”) to ride this way. Many instructors are at fault, too. They advice using spurs, to get quicker to the look-a-like outcome.

You know you’ve fallen into this pitfall when reaching your goal seems 1) unreachable or 2) isn’t as satisfying as you thought it would be (and that’s hard to admit. Even to yourself). Do not despair, there is a solution! And I’m going to share it with you in the next blog!

4. Quitting before Getting Results

Trainers stop before they reach their goals with their horse. Sometimes this happens because they struggle with pitfall #1, #2, #3 or a combination of these factors. In other cases people stop training simply because they feel lonely without someone to cheer them on.

Many clicker trainers, who do have a goal, are clear about it, know how to train it, still don’t accomplish it. Something happens, and they fall out of their training routine. Maybe it’s because of their work, or their family needed their attention, or sometimes just because they went on vacation and never got back in training mode with their horse. Or the weather changed and they thought that it’s impossible to work on their goal behaviour in Winter/Summer/Spring/Autumn. We’ve all experienced it. This is a simple pitfall to avoid and one of the easiest to solve, so stay tuned.

5. Forgetting to Set YOURSELF up for Success, too!

Are you only thinking about your horse in training? How to serve him best?

Some people realize so well what their horse needs, in order to teach their horse a new behaviour quickly and without many detours. They know exactly how to help their horse to learn!

Yet, they forget what they need, in order to speed their learning process. They forget how to make training feel effortlessly and fun for themselves! This struggle often stays under the surface, because we don’t know what we don’t know, right?

It’s like when you discover how to learn to read a street map (or following instructions on Google Maps). Suddenly you realize how many times you’ve taken a detour and it explains why you’ve felt lost. I will share a tool that prevent this from happening. With this tool in hand these things won’t happen anymore!

You can set yourself up for success and speed up your learning process by avoiding making the same mistake over and over. I’ve seen so many times that dedicated horse people are only focussed on the learning process of their horse, without realizing that they are learning about clicker training, too. In this blog I give 5 tips to set yourself up for success in clicker training you horse.

6. Getting stuck in Undesired Emotions

Last but not least is the pitfall getting stuck in emotions: they see their horse is frustrated, but don’t know what to do to turn it around or prevent it next time. When we fall into the same pitfall over and over, we want to quit.

We might think: “This [clicker training/clicker training behaviour X] is not for us”. Maybe we have 1 tool (a hammer) and try to treat everything like a nail. That’s frustrating! When we discover that there is a whole range of tools at our disposal, all projects are suddenly so much easier to accomplish! That’s why I will share and explain my tools with you in the next blogs.

When you’re ready, here are 2 ways I help horse people

In my community I teach all the tools I’m talking about and I help you personally to implement them so you can accomplish anything you want with your horse.

Need help training your horse?

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.

Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

Clicker Challenges for Fun!

***NEW** Clicker Challenge Community

Join our community for a new Clicker Challenge each month and develop the bond with your horse while having fun.

What’s a HippoLogic Clicker Challenge?

In a Clicker Challenge you’ll get a challenging assignment to train within two weeks. Each Challenge helps you teach your horse multiple behaviours that you have to chain together.

5 Skills that you’ll develop in the Clicker Challenges:

  • Chaining behaviours together
  • Putting behaviours on cue
  • Building duration in exercises
  • Teach your horse to listen, even from a large distance
  • Fading out clicks & treats without losing behaviours

12 Challenges a Year

On the 1st of each month you’ll get access to a new Challenge! In our community you’ll work together to accomplish your challenge. We start February 1st, 2023 with the first challenge.

Each Challenge has 4 levels: from absolute beginner to expert and 2 levels in between. You can pick the level of your choice and when you’ve accomplished it, you can aim for a higher level. Each level builds upon the previous level, to help you move through the levels faster.

In the Challenge Community you’ll get Accountability to do fun stuff with your horse that helps you develop his skills, as well as your own.

All Challenges include one or more foundation behaviours and may include a husbandry skill or include a trick training aspect. What they all have in common is that you’ll learn advanced skills and training techniques to help build a better bond with your horse.

12 Challenges

HippoLogic Clicker Challenge Community
  1. Back Up Challenge
  2. Farrier Challenge
  3. Movement Challenge
  4. Send Challenge
  5. ‘Trailer’ Challenge
  6. Movement Challenge
  7. Stay Challenge
  8. Spray bottle Challenge
  9. Pick Up Challenge
  10. Mounting Challenge
  11. Recall Challenge
  12. Jingle Bells Challenge

Rules of the Challenges

  • Everything has to be taught with positive reinforcement only (that’s why it’s called a Clicker Challenge)
  • You can use whatever bridge signal you prefer, it doesn’t have to be a clicker
  • During the training phase you are allowed to click and reinforce/use keep-going signals/encourage your horse verbally as much as you need
  • During the training phase you are allowed to use props (like a target stick, mat, cone) to help your horse understand your criteria. You can fade these out in the final stage and before you film your final video.
  • Punishment and negative reinforcement are not allowed!
  • Share videos of your results in our secret FB group  (not mandatory, but it’s very helpful to get feedback and coaching is included!)
  • In your final video (last day to admit is on day 14) you are allowed to bridge and reinforce once
  • The final video must be: one take, no editing (you may shorten the video)

Choose your level

There are 4 levels of difficulty:

  1. Purple level for novice horses and/or trainers who just started clicker training
  2. Green level for green horses (that have no previous clicker training XP) or trainers that are relatively new at clicker training
  3. Blue level for advanced clicker horses and/or advanced trainers
  4. Red level for expert clicker horses and/or expert clicker trainers

Join us today!

Contact me hippologic@gmail.com to join us!

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic

Are you inspired and interested in personal coaching in a group or do you want to have access to online clicker training courses and a fabulous, supportive R+ community, then join our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Apply today!

Sandra Poppema, BSc
Founder of HippoLogic
Enhancing Horse-Human connections through clicker training

3 Simple Steps to Create a 2023 Vision for your Horse that lasts until December

It’s January 4th and my mailbox is overflowing with emails about creating New Years Resolutions, Visions for your Horse and Planning for Equestrians. Fact is, most horse people don’t know what they want, let alone knowing what their horse really wants. How to figure out what you really want and stick with it so that you can say in December 2023: “This is what I created in January and here are my results.”

  • Pick a goal that makes your heart sing
  • Connect it to your values
  • Include your horse’s wants and needs

Does it makes your heart sing?

If you think about your goal, do you really wish that you’ve already accomplished it? Can you really see yourself doing it? Can you feel how it feels?

Don’t worry about that you don’t know yet all the steps in order to accomplish it. That’s what you’ll figure out in the next 12 months. Once you’ve determined a clear goal, you can take the next step.

Your Equestrian Values

When you connect your goals to your equestrian values, you’ll align your dreams with your goals.

If it’s important to you that your horse enjoys riding as much as you do, you’ll have find a way to know for sure how your horse feels about your time together. If he doesn’t like it, you can find ways to help him change his mind.

You can do that by accommodating his wants and needs, based on his natural behaviour. When people change from coercive methods to offering choices in training, listening to what their horses are communicating and using positive reinforcement to strengthen their 2-way communication and trust, horses start to enjoy their training/riding more.

If your horse still hates to be ridden, would you be able to give up your dream of riding? Can you find a way to change your dream into spending time together in a way you both enjoy? If riding is more important than (the value of) honoring your horse’s feelings you don’t have to worry about how you can make it more fun for your horse.

To me riding has no value and isn’t an addition to my life if the horse I’m riding dislikes to be ridden. Therefore many horses won’t make it to my ‘riding horse list’, but the ones that do… oh my! They are fabulous to ride! They love it! You can feel it! You feel how it feels to be in harmony with your horse. Even if that would be just one ride a year, I would choose it over weekly rides on horses that ‘sit their time out’ under saddle. How about you?

Do you know what your equestrian values are?

Friends, Freedom and Forage
Friends, Freedom and Forage

Being unaware of your equestrian values can get in the way of accomplishing your dream results! When I was still following a well known horse guru, I finally got the results I was always dreaming about… My horse was listening to me. I taught him so many new behaviours. I felt safe and in control, but…it just didn’t feel good

Why did I stick with Natural Horsemanship for so long? Well, the negative reinforcement training (coercing my horse), was actually very much positive reinforcement for me: I got the results I was dreaming about! What was missing? The part in which my horse loved our time togethers as much as I did. My training results felt colourless as long as my horse didn’t have fun. That’s when I started to let go of negative reinforcement training and fully emerged myself into positive reinforcement.

What does your horse want, in 2023?

This is very much intertwined with your equestrian values, when you’re the person that really loves horses and want what’s good for them. If you would accomplish your dream goal and you hurt your horse in the process, would it still be your goal? Of course not!

Becoming aware of what your horse wants, is therefor a very important part of making your 2023 vision! Build your dreams and goals around his natural behaviour so that you will be happy, because you know your horse is happy!

For instance, I believe that horses in general love to trail ride, because they are natural nomads. Their nature is to spent time in nature and being with the herd (hack out with friends).

If your horse doesn’t love it, because he’s herd bound, how can you help him overcome his (innate) fear of being alone and vulnerable? How can you show your horse you will be his guardian that he can trust to keep him safe? How can you help him more confident without his equine friends, so that he’s love going out with you. That’s how you can help your horse start loving your trail rides, so you can be independent of your barn friends’ schedules to ride.

If your dream is not natural to your horse’s behaviour, ask yourself how you can make it a better fit.

Riding in an arena might not be part of his natural desire or behaviour, but learning is. Exercising is. Spending time with an individual he loves, is. Having choices and feeling in control is natural to horses.

Implementing these important things for your horse into your arena time, will help your horse enjoy your time together more. He will start looking forward to it. Change your horse’s aversive triggers in the arena into appetitive ones. That’s a hot topic for many clicker trainers and our main focus in our clicker community.

What’s next

Now you can create a vision for you and your horse for 2023 that’s based on your dreams, and your values in a way that respects your horse and let your horse shine.
If you want a little support, join my free class “Creating your Equestrian Vision Board for 2023”. Register with the link: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIufuyhpj0vHtCgsrAOSh9EcImibPG_Tw0t

Need help training your horse?

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.

Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

Creating a two-way language with your Horse

You want your horse to listen to you, but are you listening to him? Here’a how you create a solid two-way communication with your horse, so you can build trust. A friendship with your horse, so you can feel safe and enjoy each others company.

  • Listen to what your horse tells you with his body language
  • Re-act to your horse’s message to let him know: “I heard you, and I encourage you to tell me more”
  • Address his feelings. Does he show joy, happiness and other signs of having fun? Offer more of that, so he’ll enjoy his time with you more. If he tells you: “I’m anxious, stressed, or frustrated”, make him feel safe and confident by going back to the point your horse felt calm and safe.
  • The more you listen to him, the more he’ll tell you. This establishes a great amount of trust!
  • When trust is established you can ask him to listen to you. Then he’s ready to respond better to all you ask him, because he has learned you’ll listen, if he gets worried.

Reading equine body language

It can be scary to listen to your horse. After all, most of us have learned that we need to be the leader (read: boss!). He ‘has to listen to us’! We’re not taught to listen to the language of the horse. We are taught to ignore most of his worry signals!

Miscommunication will cause horses to ‘bite out of nowhere’ because we’ve ignored (unconsciously) all his previous warnings. What would happen if you would learn to listen better?

The biggest fear of most horse owners is:

“What if my horse say ‘NO’?”

Hearing a ‘No‘ from your horse is excellent feedback and we can start developing a friendship right there. We learn what he loves, likes and… dislikes. When we can help him feel better about the things that scare him, who do you think he’ll trust? Exactly!

The more he says ‘No’ the more is there to work on. Every time is an opportunity for you to let him know: “I hear you. I listen to you.” The more you do this, the more he’ll trust you. You tell your horse you listen to him with your actions.

The more ‘No’s‘ you address, the better your relationship will become, because the less of his boundaries you overstep (unconsciously).

Signs your horse is saying ‘No’

  • He moves away from you or the object (eg moves his head slightly away from the halter, pulls his leg back when you clean his foot, steps away from the saddle or mounting block)
  • He tenses up (ears back, higher head position, tail swishing, wider opened eyes, wrinkles about the lips or nostrils)
  • He shows signs of stress or fear (flight/freeze/fight)
  • Your horse offers calming signals (looking away for instance)
  • Afterwards he can show signs of recovering from stress (licking, head lowering, blinking) and you need to figure out what happened that caused stress in the first place).

How to tell your horse you’re listening

Sometimes you can tell your horse you’re listening by being patient. When he moves his head away ever so slightly from the halter just wait. Give him time.

Maybe you’re coming on too strong, because you’re in a hurry and therefor you are stressed. He picked up on that. Allowing your horse some time to decide to be haltered will establish trust and a two-way communication..

Maybe your movements were too abrupt and he got startled. A bit. Even though it can be very subtle from the outside. These tiny bits of stress can add up, if you don’t calm your horse down in between. By the time 8 or 9 tiny stressors have happened (he’s telling you NO and you ignored it), he can ‘suddenly explode’ and buck or bite ‘out of nowhere’.

When you notice he’s stressed about something, calm him down by using positive reinforcement or counter conditioning so that he’ll feel better. If he associates the halter with aversives, change his association by offering an appetite (something pleasurable).

If he’s scared of an object simply allow him to investigate it on this own terms (distance, time) will help him build confidence. Reinforce exploration behaviour with a click and treat. The more you do this, the more he’ll learns to trust you. In the future he’ll listen to you when you ask him to walk by the scary object because he has learned you encourage him with time, patience, communication and appetitives. All the good things!

The more you listen, the more your horse will tell you

The more he’ll tell you, the better your communication will be. This is the way you built a friendship: by listening to your horse and make him feel comfortable with you and the things you’re doing together. Make being together a Win-Win.

You can develop a solid language for just the two of you. You’ll discover that he’s giving you all the answers, as long as you’re willing to listen. And listening means also acting on your horse’s message and letting him know you heard him.

Creating a solid two-way communication with your horse will help you and your horse stay safe. It will boost the confidence of your horse and deepen the bond between you two.

Bonding with an Unapproachable Equine

In training Rita the Unapproachable Mule I do exactly this. When she’s afraid, I listen and I won’t approach her. Instead I let her and encourage her to approach me. I also have given her a tool to communicate to me: “Please give me more distance” because I know she’s terrified of people.

Need help training your horse?

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.

Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

Is Your Horse Hard to Catch? How to reverse this

My heart breaks when I hear people talk about ‘catching their horse’ or worse: having a horse that is ‘hard to catch’. Why is this heartbreaking to hear?

The horse clearly doesn’t want to engage and that’s not a message we want to hear from the horse we love so much. The good thing is that’s pretty easy to reverse.

Catching vs Being Welcomed in the pasture

When you need to catch your horse, it implies that the horse is walking away… That he doesn’t want to be with you! That’s heartbreaking…

Not only for the owner (we have horses to love and we want them to love us!), but sad for the horse.

Walking away from you is a clear signal that should be addressed! The horse clearly has no intention of coming with you happily. If he would, he would be greeting you at the fence or walk up to you to say ‘Hello’.

Possible reasons for this behaviour

Many reasons can drive this behaviour. Think of:

  • Horse is anticipating on what he has to do when he’s caught (riding, groundwork, driving, leaving his herd, being groomed) and wants to avoid it
  • Maybe he has an unbalanced rider that’s really uncomfortable for him
  • Poor fitting tack
  • Facing lots of aversives in training and/or punishment
  • Horse is unsure what’s expected
  • Distrust of people
  • Learned behaviour (playing tag with you and enjoys this game)

Choosing a solution

Depending on the cause of your horse’s behaviour of getting away from you and trying to avoid being caught, you choose a solution.

If he’s in pain (poor fitting tack) you could clicker train him to accept the aversive bridle or saddle, but it doesn’t revolve his discomfort, pain or fears.

Often it starts with offering your horse a choice and showing him that you’re listening! That’s when he’ll start telling you more. The more you know, the better you can address his issue and the sooner it will be resolved.

I have a hard to catch horse

Currently I’m riding a horse that is hard to catch. She’s walking away from me and when I follow her, she trots a big circle before you I can approach and halter her. This is how they catch her.

Interesting part is that she will let you halter her, but she clearly doesn’t want to.

I’ve been showing this horse, that she has a choice.

Now I gave her a voice she’s saying ‘No’ to me and won’t let me approach her with a halter. That’s to be expected. It tells me a lot!

I’m not worried. Soon I will have taught her to approach me and nothing bad will happen. Only good things!

I’m confident it won’t be long before I can halter her and investigate further what part of being caught/being with people she doesn’t like. That’s why I’m making a video of this behaviour before the problem goes away. 😉

Give your horse a choice and you’ll get answers!

Some people are afraid of giving their horse a choice or a voice in training. Yes, it’s possible that your horse will say NO. This will give you so much information, that you can use to make riding or training win-win.

Often horses are very willing to cooperate with you, once their problem is solved.

The problem can be anything: from fear of pain or punishment, insecurity, to learned (undesired) behaviours. Once you give your horse a voice, and start acting (!) on what he communicates, your relationship will become better!

Every time you listen to your horse, he is reinforced to communicate more with you. No more unexpected bolting, pulling away from you, spooking or biting will happen. It can take time, but the more you listen (and act on his message!!) the more he’ll tell you and the more he’ll trust you.

What to do when your horse is hard to catch?

So, I’m not worried about my free lease horse trotting away from me. Before long, I can halter her and she’ll be at the fence greeting me. Looking forward spending time together.

Positive reinforcement is giving your horse something he wants, so he’ll give you something you want. It’s more fun working with a cooperative horse that’s eager to work with and for you!

Want to know how I do this? Read the related article (bottom of this one)

Need help training your horse?

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.

Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

Related article:

How to get your horse out of the pasture effortlessly!

5 Useful Techniques to prepare your horse to Vet Visits

We hope this never happens, but it does. Horses get into accidents, fights, and other trouble. If you’ve been long enough around horses you know that crazy stuff happens. No matter how careful you are… Equine first aid is a necessity for all horse owners.

Rusty nail

Kyra stepped into a 2 inch (5 cm) rusty nail on Saturday. She was lame and I discovered the nail when I rinsed the mud off her leg and foot with cold water.

It wasn’t in her foot all the way, but a good 1,5 – 2 cm. Not straight upwards luckily.

Hoof wrapping

When the nail was out (I just pulled it out) immediate relief from Kyra. Then I got a quick lesson in hoof wrapping from my barn manager. One of the perks at boarding out and have experienced horse people around.

Vet care training for horses

I have had “vet care training” since day 1 in my training program. Kyra came wounded to me. So she could already be hosed off, put her foot in a bucket with water and lift her legs.

You don’t want to start training these kind of things in an emergency!

Vet visit

When the vet came Kyra behaved so nicely. When she pushed on the wound Iused the open bar/closed bar technique and Kyra really appreciated it! She didn’t fight although it was very clear she was in much pain! She didn’t kick and let the vet do her work. Wow, that’s such a great feeling! Safety for everyone involved and the best treatment (because the horse lets the vet).

Be prepared!

Prepare your horse before you need it! Trailer loading, rinsing off legs (up until 10 minutes), injections, training for calm behaviour and standing still for longer periods of time (up until 10 minutes) are very helpful!

Useful techniques in vet care training

Techniques you can use for vet care training:

  1. A tiny bit of moulding/molding can help teaching your horse to stand in a bucket (rubber pan). It can be hard to free shape it so that they step into the pan themselves, especially with their hind legs.
  2. Duration. In vet care procedures ‘duration’ is so important. In our minds 10 seconds seem very short, but we also know when we are in the dentist chair without freezing and the drill drills 10 seconds, it’s suddenly ver, very long. Since horses don’t know when we stop with unpleasant procedures it’s even more difficult for them. They really have to trust you!
  3. Start button behaviour. Teach a behaviour so the horse can indicate: ‘I am ready.You can do what you need to do now.‘ Eg teach them to touch a target.
  4. Stop button behaviour. Teach a behaviour so they can indicate ‘Stop the procedure.’ You can teach them to touch a different target than you use for the start button behaviour.
  5. Open bar/closed bar. This is a great technique if the horse is not clicker trained or not prepared well enough. It also helps in quickly building duration. You ‘open the bar’ as soon as the behaviour starts. For instance putting the hoof into the bucket of water, holding up their hoofs for dressing or farrier work. When the horse pulls back, you let go of the foot (if possible!) and stop feeding: you ‘close the bar‘. You ‘open the bar‘ again and start feeding as soon as the horse offers the desired behaviour. The reinforcers must be high enough value to make it worthwhile. If you’re building duration a food reinforcer that they have to chew on long(er) is a good choice. Eating also distracts from the procedure and if they stop chewing with food in their mouth it can be an indication of increased stress or worry.

Make a good hoof wrap out of duct tape

In the next blog I will show you how I make a ‘space shoe’ out of duct tape and other items to keep her foot clean and dry in the mud. I took lots of photos and made videos of our training. Here is one of Kyra’s space boot the next day. It kept well in the mud.

Keep updated by clicking ‘follow this blog’ in the side menu.

Need help training your horse?

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.

Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

What to do when your horse gets chubby (Fionn’s progress)

Fionn and Odin are getting a tad bit chubby! They have to get back to a healthy weight asap! I would like them to be like this. This photo was taken in May 2022. Fionn (right) looks a bit chubbier because he has a different build than Odin (left), who is more elegant.

I started to develop ways to teach horses to offer movement in 2016, when Kyra got laminitis and was a 9 out of 9 on the body score index.

Kyra even got rain puddles on her back when it rained. Yet, I told myself she was “OK”. After all, she was (fat and) healthy for the first 8 years of her life… So, I postponed doing something about it. Because I just didn’t know how!

I started exercising her, but I got discouraged… I stopped. I told myself ‘It isn’t that badShe’s a barok horse.”. I did what I could: slow feeders and less food at night…

Exercising enough with positive reinforcement was hard. It “didn’t work” and I didn’t kept going with it. In hind sight I expected too much, too soon (‘lumping’) and quit. I wish I had known then what I know now.

Little did I know that EMS shows itself between 9 and 12 years of age. She just turned 9 and one month later… Laminitis! I won’t let that happen again.

Fionn and Odin gained a bit of weight in August and I’m doing everything I learned, in order to reverse that. I’ll d get them back at a healthier weight, before it’s too late. I know now how to do this with clicker training. I don’t have to worry about damaging the bond I built with both of them in the past 10 months, since I got them.

Here’s what I learned training overweight horses back to health

  • Laminitis can be prevented! And healed.
  • Obesity in horses can be managed (even when horses suffer from diseases like EMS)
  • Most regular weightless advise damages other parts of the welfare of the horse (like putting them in solitary confinement and/or on a crash diet that the vet advised me for Kyra)
  • You can get them healthy and HAPPY while helping them to lose weight with exercising and management changes

Most important of all:
What you have to do when your horse gets sick (laminitis) is only temporarily! I spent 2-3 hours, 7 days a week during the first 6 – 8 weeks or so to get Kyra back to health!

It’s important to realize that, when you’re in a similar situation: This is not forever! And… when you prevent your horse from getting sick, you’ll save lots of time, effort, money and worry!

You have to put in a huge amount of time, effort and money to nurse your horse back to health once he gets sick.

Once I got Kyra to a healthy weight and laminitis free I could change back to my regular amount of spending time with her. It was devastating to see her suffer! The amount of worry and sleepless nights (apart from the financial burden of a sick horse 😉 ) is huge!

Mini’s and laminitis

This time I will do anything to prevent this from happening. Especially because I know miniature horses/ponies are prone to EMS and laminitis.

I’ll keep you posted with some of my training. I’m so happy that I know exactly what to do now and I don’t have to look the other way, until the vet would confront me with some bad news. I won’t let that happen again!

Videos of Movement Training with Positive Reinforcement

From the blog R+ Movement Training for Overweight Horses
Here’s how to start. This doesn’t look like anything of the goal behaviour! After all, this is not negative reinforcement! Watch the second video of training day 4 to get the idea what it will look like eventually when we built duration.

Fionn at training day 4: the target is been faded out and my body language is getting smaller and smaller already.

More reading

Tips for Treats

Move Your Horse with a Click

Do you really need to stop giving treats in training when your horse needs to lose weight?

Force Free Movement Training for Laminitis Horses

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet recommended: No more treats!” or “More exercise” to get your horse in shape? Join my R+ for Overweight Horses program. We’ll address your biggest struggle in getting your horse to move with positive reinforcement. You can only join after a personal conversation, so I can tailor this 2-week online coaching program towards your horse, your situation and your needs! You can book a call here.

If you want to get better at things like:

  • Building duration in exercising your horse with R+
  • Getting your horse in shape and lose weight without a crash diet
  • Creating fun in movement training so you don’t have to keep running along

This is for you. Check out the information page here!

Sandra Poppema, BSc

Founder of the HippoLogic and creator of Force Free Movement Training for Laminitis Horses

Sandra Poppema BSc HippoLogic Clicker training coach

If you liked this read, please share or share your comment below!

5 Reasons to make a Dream Board for Your Horse Today

Many horse women tell me “I can’t trail ride, because my horse is herd bound and therefor it’s not safe to take him out.” Or they tell me they don’t know how to help their herd bound horse overcome his separation anxiety. It breaks my heart to hear when people have totally accomplishable dreams and yet they can’t make them happen. Here’s how a dream board can help you!

Make Your Dreams Happen

The only way to make your dreams come true is to have a clear vision of what you want. This sounds like an open stall door, and it is.

I always say: “If you want to go somewhere (accomplish something) you need to know where you want to go. ‘Anywhere’ is not a place on the map.”

Reason #1: A Dream Board will help your brain focus!

When you make a Vision Board you create your personal road map for your equestrian dreams!

By making a Dream Board you make the decision: this is what I want! The moment you do that, all kind of amazing things happen in your brain!

With making a decision about what you want, you put this in your unconscious mind. Now that part of the brain will go searching for ways to get it! It’s really cool!

When I was in high school I fell head over heels in love with a boy in my class. He had an oldtimer car, a white Lada. Whenever I was biking though the city I wished I ran into him.

I thought it was a special car, since I never saw one before… Every time I saw a white Lada, my heart made a little jump: Is that him?!

Amazingly, suddenly the whole city was full of tiny old, rusty white Lada’s! They were all white! (That’s because my brain was’t looking for yellow, green or silver ones).

Kyra, a wild horse born in a nature reserve

Put your brain to work! Pick a goal, but be specific! Don’t look for “Lada’s”, look for a tiny, old, white rusty Lada with a specific motor sound!

Pick your ‘destination’ and be specific! Give your brain a treasure map: That’s what I want! Your subconscious brain will help you find it!

When I made my Dream Board when I was a little girl, I wanted to ‘tame a wild horse’. Impossible right? I lived in The Netherlands, a very tiny country with lots of cities and people.

Yet, when I got an offer to get a horse that was born in a nature reserve, and was actually wild, I jumped on the opportunity!

I never tamed a wild horse! But, because I recognized this was one of my wildest dreams, I decided to say Yes!

It still was very scary to take on this responsibility, to be honest! I did it and that’s how I got Kyra! She was super herd bound and positive reinforcement training turned out to be my solution. Kyra became a confident horse that I could take out on trails. Safely! Without a bit!

Reason #2 A Dream Board is a Visual Tool (and your brain loves pictures!)

Have you ever noticed that your brain works in pictures? Yes, the voice in your head is a sound and uses language, but really your brain loves pictures.

When you think of your horse, you see him in front of you. You know how his manes feel, his warm neck when you stroke him. You can remember the smell of his warm breath on your face. How he lifts up his head in the pasture when he hears your voice…

Did you ‘see’ your horse when you read this? That’s your brain making images!

When you collect images, they’ll become powerful reminders!

Making a bucket list and writing it down works, too! By writing in detail what you want, your brain will create the image for you.

But finding a picture that symbolizes what you want, is even more powerful! A pictures says more than a thousand words!

When you want to trail ride but your horse is currently very herd bound, you might envision what could happen. Maybe you’re afraid he’ll rear, buck and run back…

But when you put pictures on your Dream Board that represents safe, fun, calm and controlled trail riding, it looks like this:

You get more of what you focus on.

You decide: fun and happy trail rides? Or scary ones? Most people focus on (have an image of) the scary things that could happen and things they want to avoid…. Focus on what you want! Your Dream Board will help you do that!

Reason #3 Making a Dream Board is fun!

Making a Dream Board for your horse is FUN! You can let your imagination run free! With the internet you can easily find images (no more magazine clippings!) that suits your dreams perfectly!

See what others have on their dream board in our Academy! How they are making their dreams come true and how they do it. Get inspired and expand your mind of what’s possible for you and your horse!

Reason #4 Create a powerful Reminder of Why you have a horse

Once you have your dream board ready, and you’ll place it where you can see it on a regular basis, you have a powerful reminder why you got a horse in the first place! To enjoy! To have fun with, to enjoy nature or to love and be loved.

Reason #5 It makes your life Easier!

Once you have a Dream Board or Vision Board for your Equestrian Dreams, it will make it your life easier. When you exactly know what you’re looking for you can easily recognize and find:

  • The right boarding facility (adjacent to trails or the beach, where you can enjoy being in nature with your horse)
  • Your dream horse. When you really want to ride, you won’t end up buying a rescue that you can’t ride. But when you want to develop a deep relationship with your horse, that same rescue horse might be the perfect choice for you.
  • A mentor or coach that can help you accomplish what you want. If you want to train your horse yourself, you’ll find someone that can coach you to do it. If you’re really specific and want to train your horse with clicker training find someone that can help you do that!

Start Today

Now you have 5 very good reasons for making a Dream Board for you and your horse, why not start today? I would love to see your dream board! If you’re on Facebook please tag me!

Do you want to do this in a group? Join our workshop. The last Saturday of September we’ll start the Clicker Training Academy year off with making a Vision Board for our Horses for the coming year! Because I know how powerful having your own Dream Board is, and how much it will help to make your dreams come true, it’s a invaluable tool for your clicker training.

If you would like to join our workshop Dream Board for Your Horse, book a call with me. Here’s my calendar.

Need help training your horse?

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.

Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

Do you really need to stop giving treats in training when your horse needs to lose weight?

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet tell you to STOP FEEDING TREATS!? You know your horse needs to lose weight and get back in shape, but How to do this without treats?

Why stopping giving Treats is a good idea

It seems like a solution to stop offering your horse treats when he’s overweight, right? If you’re giving your horse lots of dense-calorie treats without asking him to burn them off, it’s probably a good idea to stop giving those.

Take a good look at what you consider a treat: Is it calorie rich? Is it nutrition value low? Or is this just the common human approach of “treats”?
We -people- usually mean candy or other low nutrition value/high calorie foods. Right?

If you’re using real treats like peppermints (although how much calories would all the peppermints in one training contain?) are they really having that much impact on your horse’s obesity?

Or can you influence his weight with changing his management? Usually decreasing hay or grass intake and minimizing dinner grain portions have a much bigger (pun intended!) impact on your horse’s weight!

If your horse turned into a Mugging Monster, you can turn that around quickly!

Why stopping giving Treats is a bad idea

When we train horses (R- or R+) we still need to reinforce the desired behaviour from time to time. If we don’t, and the behaviour is not intrinsically reinforcing, the behaviour gets extinct.

Traditional trainers need to use their whips, sticks or ropes once in a while (depending on how much of a threat the aversive still is) to keep their horses in line. ‘The horse needs a little reminder,’ is what they say.

Same goes for positively reinforced behaviours: we also do have to remind our horses (with a treat!) what we want from them (movement).

We need to do that to keep motivation high! Whether that’s in R- or in R+. Or we’ll lose it.

When we clicker trained our horses to exercise and offer movement (walk, trot, canter, jumping, gallop), we still have to offer a treat with enough value, once in a while to keep their motivation high. That’s why it’s a bad idea to stop giving treats to (overweight) horses in training.

If you’re a clicker trainer and you suddenly stop giving treats as reinforcement, you’ll disappoint your horse. He’s expecting food rewards. When he doesn’t get them he can get demotivated! That’s another big reason why stopping with treats is a bad idea.

You can experiment with other reinforcers: things your horse will value. When you get more behaviour (movement) you’ve successfully reinforced your horse to move. When you get less behaviour or sluggish movements or a slower response time to your cues, you know you weren’t actually reinforcing the behaviour and you need to find a better appetitive!


Read my blog about How to Move Your Horse with A Click

Healthy Treats for Horses

Most of my clients find it a challenge to find healthy treats for their overweight horse. Part of it is our own mindset. We usually value “healthy treats” way less, than unhealthy snacks! That’s human thinking! We need to shift our minds!

Start thinking how a horse thinks and how he sees the world. Horses eat about 16 hours a day. That’s their nature! Therefore they will always be hungry (to a certain extent). They love low calorie/high fibre foods! That’s another huge difference between us and a horse!

Ideas to keep training with treats (the smart way)

  • Training a horse with treats, means we can use (normal, healthy) foods to motivate them in training!
  • Take the amount of food (calories) you use in training, out of their daily ration. That way using treats in training won’t contribute to weight gain
  • If you’re horse doesn’t get dinner grain/pellets/ use, alternatives. Here is a list of over 30 options for treats in training.
  • Add interesting options to the low calorie/high fibre foods in training, like cinnamon added to soaked beetpulp, r adding a few sunflower seeds in the low calorie food rewards etc
  • Balance the calorie denseness of the treats with the amount of movement (calorie burning) you ask your horse to do.
  • The more you train (and the better your horse understands what he needs to do), the less food you need! So when you train your overweight horse to move and you need a lot of food reinforcers, knowing that this won’t be lasting forever helps!
  • Once movement/exercising gets intrinsically reinforced (‘runners high’), the less external reinforcement (treats) your horse needs!

Force Free Movement Training for Laminitis Horses

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet recommended: No more treats!” or “More exercise” to get your horse in shape? Join my R+ for Overweight Horses program. We’ll address your biggest struggle in getting your horse to move with positive reinforcement. You can only join after a personal conversation, so I can tailor this 2-week online coaching program towards your horse, your situation and your needs! You can book a call here.

If you want to get better at things like:

  • Building duration in exercising your horse with R+
  • Getting your horse in shape and lose weight without a crash diet
  • Creating fun in movement training so you don’t have to keep running along

This is for you. Check out the information page here!

Sandra Poppema, BSc

Founder of the HippoLogic and creator of Force Free Movement Training for Laminitis Horses

Sandra Poppema BSc HippoLogic Clicker training coach
https://mailchi.mp/a0a07dd3228d/rplus-training-for-overweight-horses

What would you like to accomplish with your horse in 12 months?

What is ONE thing you would love to accomplish with your horse (using R+) within the next 12 months?

That’s one of the questions I asked my Facebook community and I’m looking forward to the answers everyone gives.

The answer is of course, very individual. When I ask this question, most people don’t have an answer right away.

I think this is a good question to ponder about and let it sink in: What would make your heart sing, if you could do X with your horse?

Benefits of writing your goals down

When people have a goal write it down AND share it, they immediately increased the likelihood of accomplishing it!

Please share yours below!

In the Clicker Training Academy we have monthly interactive workshops on Zoom. In September we’re going to create a ONE YEAR Personal Clicker Training Plan for each member! It’s about:

✅ Becoming aware of your wishes for your horse

✅ Creating your personal guideline for your clicker training

✅ Working diligently towards your Personal goals with clicker training.

✅ Living the life you want, accomplishing what you wish to do with your horse

Send me a n email (hippologic@clickertraining.ca) if you want to hear more about the workshop or the Academy.

What will you accomplish with clicker training?

It will be so much fun to look back in 12 months from now and see how MUCH you’ve accomplished, just because you created a focus!

I would love to tag you in one year in this very same post to ask you: “How much of your goals have you accomplished?” ❤

Need help training your horse?

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.

Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

How to become a better Friend for your Horse

using positive reinforcement makes you a clicker trainer

In my community I focus not only on teaching horse people to train behaviours with positive reinforcement, I specialized in transforming horse owners into clicker trainers. Most horse people don’t consider themselves ‘clicker trainers’, but I believe you are if you change the behaviour of your horse with positive reinforcement!

What do I mean by that? I focus not only on how to clicker train your horse, I help you develop the trainer skills you must develop, in order to become the best clicker trainer you can be.

Clicker Skills vs Trainer Skills

Clicker skills are the tools, the techniques, the method and your system in order to train your horse..

Trainer skills are the skills that the Trainer must develop in order to learn to think in a positive reinforcement way.

Developing Trainer's Skills will increase your success rate in clicker training your horse

Do you ask yourself:

“How can I solve this with R+? “

“How can I make this (this thing *I* want) a Win-Win, so I get what I want from my horse and my horse gets what he wants so we both feel good about it and it enhances our relationship?”

“How can I prevent falling back on R- (or P+/-)?”

“How can I improve so that I get better results or teach my horse faster and without frustration?”

I’ve thought very long about what it takes to become a really good positive reinforcement trainer and The 6 Key Lessons for Trainers are the skills that helped me and all my clients the most. I call them Key Lessons for Trainers, because they are your Key to Success in Clicker Training. You can train faster, get better, more reliable and predictable(!) results and the better you’re at the key Lessons for Trainers, the less you fall back on traditional training. The less you fall back on R- (because now you have R+ solutions and ways to train), the less guilt and the better your friendship with your horse will be.

The better your positive reinforcement Training Skills, the better your results you’ll get and the better the friendship with your horse will be.

Key Lesson #1

Principles of Learning & Motivation. This not only includes knowledge of the Learning Quadrant (R+, R-, P+ and P-), as you’d expect. There is more, like:

Learning Quadrant: R+, R-, P+, P-
  • HOW does a horse learn? How does learning takes place?
  • How does your horse learns best? What increases learning (a certain level of calmness, curiosity, rewards, experience (let them do the thinking) and so on)
  • What inhibits learning and how can you avoid it (too much fear, frustration, flight/fight response, boredom, lack of interest, fear of learning et cetera)
  • What motivates my horse in a positive way (appetitives)

And(this is the part most people skip):

  • How do I -as trainer and human- learn best? Do I like learning from video, practising, reading, conversations and discussions with peers. Do I like step-by-step instruction during my training sessions or do I want to have the theory and then practise on my own and have someone to give me feedback for improving and someone I can turn to to get support if I struggle.
  • How can I keep myself motivated? Lots of clients approached me because they lost motivation do keep figuring out things on their own and reinventing the wheel. Success is a great motivator: you’re training your horse and BAM! He has learned the behaviour you wanted! Great! Now, how to keep this in his repertoire (see above, how does learning take place and how to keep your horse motivated to perform the behaviour you just trained)?
  • How do I keep momentum in my horse’s learning curve? Most reasons that people get stuck in clicker training are easily solved, if they would know how. Find a brain to pick so you won’t have to put your horse and yourself to unnecessary frustration or boredom in training.

Another part of Learning is to take into account the natural behaviour of your goal species, your learner! Horses have different natural behaviour, lifestyle and learning styles than for instance dogs, who are predators. Once you know how to tailor your training to your learners natural behaviour, you can prevent so much struggle!

Unfortunately, most horse people believe in the myths they’ve fed us over the years (“Don’t let your horse win!” “Show him who’s boss” “Make him do it”). That you (still) believe them is not your fault, you assumed that the more experienced horse person/instructor was right… Unfortunately they were dead wrong, if they taught you to use force and coercion to get what you want from your horse.

Trailer loading: a struggle for most owners

Taking into account what you’re asking from an animal (horse) that is developed over thousands of years on plains, is a grazer and browser and uses flight and flight and numbers (herd animal) to survive to go into a tiny, wobbly space, where escape is not possible and also often without fellow herd members… No peripheral vision possible in a box with tiny windows!.

Yes I’m talking about trailer loading. It’s very unnatural and goes into a lot of their natural behaviour.

And most people don’t even think about that, when their horse refuses to go in… They label their horse as stubborn, dumb, stupid or worse.

I think it’s amazing that we can überhaupt train a horse to travel in a trailer, given his natural behaviour.

If more people would understand the Principles of Learning & Motivation in a way the LEARNER benefits, too, the world would be a happier place. Wouldn’t you agree?

How do I implement the Principles of Learning & Motivation?

Practise, practise, practise. Also: making mistakes, and learning from them and trying new approaches (thinking from what your horse would like, what he *can* do (what is species specific and easy for him). Another Key Lesson for Trainers is to Track Your Training and Evaluate it! More about that in another blog. 😉 That will help you actually implement Key #1 Principles of Learning & Motivation.

Most difficult thing if you’re changing from P and R- to more R+ in training, is to train yourself to ask yourself questions so you become aware of what you’re doing and what’s happening.

3 Most Important questions in Training:

  • Is my horse making an Away-From decision? If so, you’re using an aversive or there could be an aversive in the environment (horse is scared of the trailer, a dog barks and makes your horse fearful)
  • Is my horse making a Moving- Towards decision? He doesn’t want to go into the trailer because he rather eats grass (appetitive) or wants to stay with his friends (herd) and that’s the reason he doesn’t trailer load today.
  • What motivates my horse to do what he’s doing? (Not only an important question if he doesn’t do what you want, but also a very important question if he does do it! So *you* learn what he wants and can use that next time. If he rather wants to graze the grass next to the trailer instead of going into the trailer, how can you use that information to get what you want? How can you use grass to get him into the trailer? Can you think of ways?
Enhance the bond with your horse through positive reinforcement and building trust and a clear two way communication

Need help training your horse?

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.

Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

Join us!

HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy transforms horsewomen into clicker trainsters
https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy