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

Posts tagged ‘investment’

Key Lesson: Table Manners for Horses [safe hand-feeding]

One of the key lessons I like to promote as a really good foundation to start with or to keep working on, is safe behaviour around food, ‘table manners for horses’ so to say.

Why is this one of the key lessons?
If you are working with horses you always want to be as safe as possible. You certainly don’t want to create problems, which can easily happen if you train with food as a reinforcer and don’t have clear rules around when your horse can expect food and when not to expect it. And how he can earn it (wait for the cue and answer the question right). The key to success in using food as reinforcer is to teach your horse safe hand-feeding.

Some ground rules
People who, in the horses’ eyes, reward randomly with food will have horses that are always expecting the unexpected: a random treat.

First of all the horse has to know he has to do something in order to get a reward and he has to know what it is he did, that made him earn the food. He has to learn to pay attention to your marker (the click). No click, no (food) reward.

What to do if your horse is mugging you? Using a marker makes it easier for your horse to understand that ‘mugging’ is never reinforced. There is no click, so no food will come his way.

Mugging is annoying for the handler and can trigger frustration in the horse. Especially if he sometimes gets rewarded for this behaviour (with attention, a pet or even food), sometimes he gets punished for it and other times ignored.

You want to reinforce the opposite behaviour of mugging, to make your training safer: moving his head (read: mouth) away from you, your pocket with food or your fanny pack with goodies.

Table manners around dinner time
If you want your horse to behave around feeding time, you have to communicate clearly what behaviour you expect from him: standing with four feet on the floor while the food cart is coming, back up when the stall door is opened or when the hay is delivered and so on. Use a marker signal to pinpoint the wanted behaviours. Read more here.

Polite behaviour
With polite behaviour I mean safe behaviour. The horse must wait politely until the food is delivered to his lips, after the marker. He shouldn’t move towards the treat, he has to learn that the treat will come to him. The horse must (learn to) take the treat carefully off of my hand and only use his lips and no teeth.

When I click and when I deliver the food, I pay close attention to the horses state of mind. Those two moments are the most reinforcing moments, and I do want to reinforce safe behaviour, so I pay attention to the horses state of mind.

_keylessonsafehandfeeding1

Trainer
The trainer must present the food in a safe way to the horse and he must prove to the horse that he is trustworthy. People who are  easily scared by a horse that moves towards them and the treat in their hand and proceed to drop the food need to work on their food presenting skills. You want the horse to trust you on where the food is presented (to their mouth) and that it will arrive. Be consistent and reliable in the way you present food.

The trainer must always check that he has a reinforcer at hand before he uses his marker signal. It doesn’t have to be food, but if you’re working with food, make sure you have something left in your pocket to give.

_keylessonsafehandfeeding3

The value of the reward, the size and the chewiness can all influence wanted behaviours around food. If the size of the treat is too small, it can easily fall on the floor and get lost, if it is too big it can be hard to eat quickly. Is the reward a very desired treat, with a high value for the horse it can increase frustration if it is not delivered quickly enough. If the horse has to chew very long it can distract him from the training.

There are many aspects to take into consideration when you reinforce your horse with food. Please don’t let this long list scare you away from working with food rewards.

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what your favourite key lesson is and why.

Sandra Poppema
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My 5 best investments for my horse

What is the best investment you did that improved your horse’s life? While I was pondering about this question multiple things came up. In a random order I’ll give you my 5 best investments below.

1) Knowledge
I’ve spent hours and hours reading about horse behaviour, their needs, health and training. boeken_hippologic_kennisWhen I was editor at a publishing house which specialized in animal books I traveled by train. For four years I read 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon, on my way back home. Every single day. And at work I read about pets and horses too! I also invested time in watching YouTube videos, attending demo’s and clinics and taking and giving lessons. The best way to learn something is to teach it, is what they say.

2) Time
It takes time to learn new skills. I took me hours and hours of practice to master riding, taking care of horses, training them and teaching them new behaviours and so on. Time is a really good investment. One of my favourite sayings about time is: Take the time it takes, then it takes less time. So, invest time in yourself and in your horse. It pays back really well.

3) Boarding

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Mees, Ziggy & Kyra (left)

An expensive monthly investment is boarding your horse. I have really high standard for boarding facilities. It must have everything to make my horse happy: they must be living in a herd, have 24/7 access to roughage & water, shelter and room to exercise daily. And besides that, I have a few requirements myself: access to trails, indoor/outdoor, a washroom and I also value nice human company. The only thing that grows by sharing is happiness, right?

Most important of all: the facility must provide excellent care for my horse. Because that saves me a lot of worrying. Sleepless nights and worrying all day about the safety or health of my horse kills my happiness instantly.

4) Cavesson
I just love my cavesson. When I bought it I thought it was way too expeKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAnsive, but all my knowledgeable horse friends recommended a cavesson. I am very grateful I listened. And I am grateful for my friend Saskia who convinced me to buy one without a polstered chain in the nose band.

My Vienna cavesson, with a nice soft leather padded nose band, has proven to be a very versatile piece of equipment. I’ve used it almost every day for the past 5 years. It is still nice and beautiful after all those years and it is a very gentle piece of tack.

5) Clicker
The cheapest investment and one that is even more versatile than my Vienna cavesson, is my clicker. It is such a powerful tool to communicate to animals once you know how to use it. If you can think it, you can train it!

Let me know what your 5 best investments in your horse are.

Sandra Poppema
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