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.

Join the Clicker Training Academy

Are you a compassionate horse owner who wants to build a strong friendship with their 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!

Or start with a free clicker training assessment to get taste of what it feels like to work with me. Discover your strong points and weaker points in training (if you have some) so that you know what to focus more on, in order to get the results you want. 

After your assessment you have a clear plan and know exactly what your next step will be in order to accomplish your dream behaviours with your horse. 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

2 Common Mistakes in Clicker Training Horses

Our environment influences our behaviour! We all know that and use that fact all the time clicker training our horses. How does your environment benefit you?

We set up our horses for success all the time. We present a target (environment) to our horse, so he can touch it!

We teach our horses not to mug us when we’re training with food. The food in our pockets and our presence becomes the ‘On’ switch for Learning, for our horses.

Your horse starts to think what behaviour does lead to treats? They figure out in minutes that mugging is not the answer anymore.

After a few clicker training minutes your horse is already thinking “How can I influence my environment [the treats] with my behaviour?” . We changed the learning environment for our horses and helped him learn fast with positive reinforcement (R+).

You already know and experienced that the environment plays a huge role on the behaviour and learning process of your horse.

Yet, I still see so many of us fall back on negative reinforcement-thinking and therefore struggling hugely with using clicker training effectively. I’ll elaborate on that below.

Thinking mistake #1

This is when you get start thinking that clicker training maybe takes longer than negative reinforcement… NO!

Untrue! When you fall into this thinking mistake, it’s because you try to use positive reinforcement in a negative reinforcement environment! Or trying to use a tool in your clicker training that is designed for R-!

Have you ever consciously changed your own environment to enhance your clicker training? Clicker training can be unnecessary difficult and hard when your whole environment is set up to be successful as negative reinforcement trainer! It’s trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

How to set YOURSELF up for success

Change your environment!

How?

You’ve probably already done it in the past. When you

  • Went to a clicker clinic. You surrounded yourself with likeminded people and emerged yourself in positive reinforcement approach/thinking.

Do you remember how much you learned in just one weekend? That’s the power of your environment! It’s easy to clicker train your horse and to think of new R+ approaches when everyone else is giving you positive input and ideas! When you see other women clicker training their horses successfully, it inspires and gets your creative positive reinforcement juices flowing!

  • Watched videos about clicker training just before you went to your horse.

You’ve changed your (internal!) environment and it sparked ideas and motivated you to do the same.

  • Spoke with another clicker trainer, or a friend and you discussed your struggle. You got new insights of solving your struggle and got your momentum back.

By creating a distance (looking at your struggle, challenge or problem) from a different angle, it was possible to think of a different approach.

Sounds familiar?

What keeps you struggling in clicker training your horse

Often the answer is: Your environment!

How?

Thinking mistake #2

When you try to use positive reinforcement using negative reinforcement training tools (environment)! You set yourself up for FAILURE!

Round pen

You use a round pen to exercise your horse with positive reinforcement and you can’t get your horse moving effectively and burning calories. Why is that?

A round pen is purposefully designed to chase a horse a-round! There are no corners to escape.

Have you ever noticed that horses find the corners of the arena when you chase him around? They change direction: they want to have a choice and try to influence their environment: your behaviour!

Negative reinforcement trainers struggled with that problem, so they took out the corners! They made the pen so small they could reach the horse at any time, in any place in order to apply the aversive (pain, the threat of pain/injury) effectively. They needed to reach the horse with their whip, training stick, carrot stick, the ‘extension of their arm’, rope or whatever tool they are using to make the horse move.

A round pen is designed to chase the horse around, without an escape. It’s designed to ‘teach’ the horse that there is only one answer possible: go forward until the trainer says otherwise!

Now, when you don’t realize that and you want (expect) the same result using positive reinforcement, you’re setting yourself up for failure!

You can’t be as successful in clicker training if you’re trying to use a training tool that is designed to create success with R-! You have to think of ways to design positive reinforcement tools and use the environment to support your training method. The person who invented the reverse round pen was well on her way!

Training tools, techniques and people

Choosing the right tool for the job is detrimental for you success! The better your tools, techniques and people you surround yourself with, the better results you get!

R+ Tools & Techniques

This is a part most clicker trainers do already really well: they use targets, mats, food reinforcers and bridge signals (click).

Do you have the support you need, to think more like a positive reinforcement trainer?

Thinking Mistake #3

Thinking you can change traditional horse people to see the benefits of clicker training… Fact is: you can’t change anyone! You can only change yourself. Trying to convince R- trainers of positive reinforcement is very hard and often impossible. Stop doing it, it will drain your energy. Instead focus on finding better people to spent your time with.

Surround yourself with Positive People!

This sounds like an open door! Yet, so many people surround themselves with unsupportive people. Then they tell themselves they can’t do anything about it, and back that up with an excuse (“There are no clicker trainers or barns in my area”). Now they’re really stuck! They get very unhappy, often even desperate. I’ve seen people seriously spiral down from there. They start doubting themselves or their approach. They start to think clicker training isn’t the best way. Don’t let that happen to you!

Are your barn people supportive?

One of my clients boarded her horses in a very traditional boarding facility. Old fashioned cowboy methods, like tying up 2-year old horses in their stall for hours to ‘teach them to be tied up’- kind of ways. It was very hard for her to clicker train her horses in that environment because the ‘norm’ was to be abusive and use coercion to get things done. They were not only abusive to their horses, but also to her!

They told her that she was a bad horse owner, not a real horse person and that she was spoiling and ruining her youngster with treats and soft approaches. That it was time to put a saddle on her horse and stop being a pussy.

No wonder, it was a struggle for her to clicker train her horses. She was always worried that she would run into other people at the barn. That someone would watch her and commented. Because they did… All the time!. I was horrified to hear how they crapped on her training. It was verbally abusive! Not supportive at all.

Do you avoid clicker training when people are around?

It was extra hard on her because she already was already a bit insecure (who isn’t sometimes?). She was relatively new to being a horse owner. She’s in her forties and bought her first horse only two years ago. She’s not a person ‘who grew up with horses’. And she was also new to clicker training. Still she did such a good job clicker training her horses! Her results spoke for itself.

https://mailchi.mp/5d676526ba5a/clicker-training-academy

If you have people in your environment commenting negatively on your clicker training and your approach, ask yourself how you can surround yourself with better people!

When my client became a part of my R+ community (the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy) she often expressed her mitigation of being in a supportive, uplifting and positive environment where people believed in her and her approach!

She leaped forward and developed her clicker training skills within a year. It was a joy to watch her evolve and she her improve her horses behaviours! Eventually she moved her horses to a different boarding facility.

Can you imagine how it’s like, to dread going to the barn every, single day? Can you see how this will interfere with your happiness of being a horse owner? How it will interfere with your clicker training? How this will prevent enjoying your horse and having fun training and riding? After all, we have horses to enrich our lives, right?

Change your environment, change your outcome

  • Use or design a training environment and tools that support and enhance positive reinforcement! For example use a reverse round pen (or even better the HippoLogic Reverse Rectangle) to exercise your horse
  • Change your internal environment (ideas, solutions, approaches) by watching clicker training videos and/or trainers or discuss your training with other positive reinforcement trainers before your training so that thinking like a positive reinforcement trainer becomes your habit.
  • Find a tribe that inspires you! They’ll be a daily reminder to keep going with R+!
  • Surround yourself with positive people, who support you and respect you and your R+ training! Let go of Debby Downers and Negative Nancy’s!

Join the Clicker Training Academy

Are you a compassionate horse owner who wants to build a strong friendship with their 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!

Or start with a free clicker training assessment to get taste of what it feels like to work with me. Discover your strong points and weaker points in training (if you have some) so that you know what to focus more on, in order to get the results you want. 

After your assessment you have a clear plan and know exactly what your next step will be in order to accomplish your dream behaviours with your horse. 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

Emotions in Horse Training

Emotions are an important part of being with your horse. You have a horse because that makes you happy or that is how you’ve envisioned it, right?

In reality your horse does make your heart sing, and it can be difficult at the same time have a horse:

  • You enjoy your horse if he’s happy and healthy
  • You love watching your horse in the pasture
  • It’s great to ride your horse
  • You feel proud of what you’ve accomplished with him or together
  • You love the relationship you built with your horse

There are also other emotions:

  • You want your horse to behave in a certain way and if he doesn’t live up to that expectation you might feel anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment
  • You worry about his well being if he’s sick or that he might become sick or injured
  • You worry about the way you (can) keep your horse and if you’re doing the right thing to move him (or not)
  • You worry about being accepted by other horse people
  • You worry about not getting respected due to the way you train, keep, ride your horse
  • You feel overwhelmed as (new) horse owner: so many ways to keep your horse, so many kinds of hay, pellets, bedding, training, trainers, opinions of everyone else and so on

Equine emotions and feelings

Then your horse has and expresses emotions and feelings, too.

  • Fear in your horse
  • Play
  • Happiness
  • Depression and unhappiness (hard to see and accept as owner!)
  • Horses that are in pain

Pay attention

How do you handle those, the emotions and feelings of your horse? Do you recognize all of them or only some of them? Most of us never learned to pay attention to them.

When I expressed fear in riding lessons, I was quickly shut down. ‘Get over it’, ‘Just do it’ (jump over the jump, canter whatever I feared) and ‘Don’t be a wimp’, are things I was often told. I learned to suppress or at least shut up about my fears, frustrations and other negative feelings. What about you?

  • How do you handle fear in your horse?
  • Frustration: in your self and in your horse?
  • Fear of failure?
  • How can you turn this into a positive thing and grow?

That’s what this month theme is in the Clicker Training Academy. “Emotions in training’ is one of the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in horse training. If you can recognize, accept and deal with them, you’ll be a better trainer. I would love to share a few of the insights here, too.

Frustration

Frustration is an easy one to prevent and to handle. Do you have a way to recognize this quickly (it all starts with awareness) and handle it?

What do you do when your horse is frustrated?
What do you do when you are frustrated in training?

These are questions that traditional training never answered but positive reinforcement comes with the solution almost instantly.

What do you do in order to prevent frustration in your horse when you load the clicker/bridge? You break it down and you encourage your horse to keep trying to find the answer by reinforcing him.
What is the jargon for it? This is called thin slicing or making a shaping plan What is that called in normal language? Take baby steps.

This is also true to prevent frustration in yourself. If you have a clear goal for today’s training and thought of what would be reasonable then you can think of the baby steps you can take to set you and your horse up for success.

A Shaping plan consist of enough small steps for your horse to be successful in your training
Break up your clickertraining so every step leads to success

My pitfall used to be that I had no clear goal (only a vague one) and then instead of feeling content if I (almost) reached my goal, I raised the bar! This is one way to create a feeling of failure and cause frustration, I can tell you!

It was only when I started to set a (small) goal and made a clear plan, that I really got results. I started to feel good about myself and my accomplishments. This is what I want for all my clients too. I see so much frustration and fear in horse owners. Yes, fear! This is a taboo, too: to feel afraid of your own horse. Even if it is sometimes or just briefly. It’s not accepted as equestrian. Well, I have strategies for those, too and I will be happy to share them with you.

Do you need strategies?

Let me know if you need strategies to handle fear in your horse or yourself, frustration, anxiety and other emotions that keep you from doing what you want to do or want your relationship with your horse to look like. You can ask for a strategy in the comment section or contact me directly. I am here to support you.

Join our Community

  • Are you looking for professional positive reinforcement support?
  • Do you need an affordable program?
  • Do you want personal guidance and advice on your clicker training journey?
  • Do you want to turn your equestrian dreams into reality, but you don’t know where to start?

If you have answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of the above questions look into one of the online programs HippoLogic has to offer.

Join the Clicker Training Academy for online positive reinforcement training tips, personal advice and support in training your horse.

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.

I help horse owners get the results in training they really, really want with joy and easy for both horse and human. I always aim for win-win!

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6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training (3/6)

In this series I will be sharing 6 interesting facts I didn’t know about when I started using positive reinforcement in training animals. This is part 3.

Some of these are common misunderstandings people have about clicker training while others are facts most equestrians don’t know at all.

The goal of this blog is to help more people understand how well positive reinforcement (R+) works in training our horses. I want every one to know that clicker training offers more great benefits besides training your goal behaviour. Positive side-effects you won’t get in negative reinforcement (R-) based training methods (traditional and natural horsemanship). I wish I had known these benefits earlier in life.

#3 Clicker training can improve the bond between horse and trainer

clickertraining.ca gets you the results and relationship you want

Clicker training improves the bond with your horse

Since the horse is at liberty and not restrained while being trained he has much freedom. The horse has the freedom to walk away when he is bored or when he looses interest or concentration. The horse is also allowed to express his emotions, without repercussion. In positive reinforcement training the trainer wants to know how the horse feels. This all contributes to a good relationship with your horse. You get to know each other really well.

Positive reinforcement to desensitize your horse

Example: when you want to lead a horse past a scary object at liberty with a target it will be clear where the horse starts to get nervous. He will stand still in order to investigate or he will get tense. Since there is no room for coercion in positive reinforcement training you have to think of ways to make the horse at ease and give him confidence that the scary object is not so scary. You can ‘meet him where he is at’.

What most of us learned to do

If we have a horse on a lead lope and we encounter something that the horse finds scary what do we do? In most cases the first thing we do is to encourage the horse to walk on with a gentle pull on the rope. What is the most common reaction if the horse balks? Pull a bit harder! So on top of ‘that scary thing’, the person doesn’t calm the horse down by pulling the horse. It can even cause more stress and pulling hard on a lead rope can also hurt the horse. Not something you want to add to an already stressful situation, right?_flag_training_hippologic

Building trust

Usually if you let your horse investigate scary objects as long as he likes, his fear will decrease pretty quickly. This is not easy; giving your horse even only 15 seconds to investigate can feel like a lifetime.

If you connect a positive, wonderful association (click and treat) to something scary, your horse will learns it is OK to stand still and look at scary objects. He learns quickly that it can be rewarding  to investigate new and potentially dangerous objects.

The next step will be teaching your horse that a click and treat will follow if he passes new objects. First it’s OK looking at the the objects while passing by, later on you can click and reinforce if he ignores new objects altogether.

Since new objects are already connected with positive associations (curiosity is a good feeling, positive reinforcement) you have built trust. The horse has learned that he can trust you (you stay calm and patient and you give click & treats) and that it is OK to express his feelings and emotions. He doesn’t have to worry about your reaction in scary situations!

Read more about how can improve your bond with your horse in training: 5 Tips to Improve the Bond with Your Horse

Read the other articles in this series:

part 1 of 6 Things You Might Not Know About Clicker Training
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6

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Join our Community!

  • Are you looking for professional positive reinforcement advice?
  • Do you want an affordable program?
  • Do you want to turn your equestrian dreams into reality, but you don’t know where to start?

If you have answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of the above questions look into one of the online programs HippoLogic has to offer.

Join our community for online positive reinforcement training tips, personal advice and support in training your horse.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the results in training they really, really want with joy and easy for both horse and human. I always aim for win-win!
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    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

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