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

Posts tagged ‘Key Lesson’

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

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

The ‘Basics’ in the past

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

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Fun Friday: Mat Training

One of the key lessons in my positive reinforcement course is mat training. In mat training you teach your horse to stand on a mat with the two front feet. Once your horse knows what is expected of him, you can turn this exercise into a powerful tool to teach new behaviours.

 

Applying Mat Training

Once your horse is happy to stand on a mat you can:

  • Build ‘duration’. This will help to teach your horse to ground tie.
  • Use the mat as indicator for your horse where to stand, aligning next to the mounting block
  • Teach him to step onto other objects like a pedestal, tarp or trailer ramp. You can start placing the mat on or next to the new object first if your horse doesn’t respond to the cue for ‘step up’ or if he is nervous
  • Teach him to put one foot on a stool as preparation for the farriers hoof stand
  • Place mats in the arena and use them to send your horse from mat to mat.
  • teach your horse to go over bridges or step into water
  • Send your horse from mat to mat with a pole or small jump in between
  • And so on

If you want to know how to start mat training with your horse, read this post.

_advanced_mat_training_hippologic

Every horse has a different learning curve

At the SPCA barn were I teach the horses with positive reinforcement, I work with 5 horses. Last week I introduced the mat (a foam puzzle mat) to four of them. It was really interesting to see how each horse reacts in a different way to the mat.

Horse #1

Horse #1 tried to avoid the mat in the beginning and did everything not to step on it. He didn’t even sniff the mat at first. So my first criterion with him was clicking for ‘moving a hoof closer to the mat’. It didn’t take long before he figured out that the mat had something to do with the clicks and he started pawing the mat. Well done!

Horse #2

Horse #2 sniffed the mat right away. It could be that she had seen that the mat had something to do with earning a click and reinforcer or maybe she just has a different personality and training history.

After sniffing, she started touching the mat with her nose. She knows how to target a target stick and a cone with her nose. My first criterion is always ‘interact with the mat’, so I reinforced the sniffing and touching with the nose.

Then I raised the criterion to ‘touch with a hoof’ and I had to ‘set it up for success’ by manipulating the environment a bit. I put the mat in front of her feet and asked to touch the target stick which I held far enough for her to do one step. Indeed she touched the target and stepped onto the mat with one hoof. Then I faded out the target stick and she figured out quickly that touching the mat with her hooves was the way to earn clicks and food.

Horse #3

Horse #3 started pawing the mat right away. This horse has a habit of lifting her legs in order to ask for attention, during feeding time or if she is stressed. If she doesn’t get what she wants, she often alternates legs.

Mat training is a good way to teach her to ‘keep her 2 front feet on the floor’ since this is incompatible behaviour with the leg lifting she does. She is amazingly smart and was the first horse that stood properly with both of her feet on the mat within the first session. It seemed to ‘click’. I have clicked for ‘4 feet on the ground’ many times during previous training sessions. The mat clearly helped her to focus on ‘standing’. I can’t wait until our next sessions to build duration.

Horse #4

Horse #4 stepped on the mat right away as if he wasn’t aware of it. Of course I clicked and reinforced for stepping onto the mat, even though it really looked like he didn’t see the mat. After reinforcing stepping onto the mat a few times I placed the mat a bit further away and he immediately walked over there to stand on it. Bravo! He did step on the mat on purpose.

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Mat training was an excellent preparation for stepping on a horse scale. Our clicker trained horses were the best behaving clients that day

Each horse reacts differently to a mat, depending on his character, history, experience with new objects, clicker experience and so on.

How did your horse do in the first session with the mat? How did mat training helped you in other situations? Please share your story in the comments below. Thank you.

 

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.
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Clicker Training 101: How to start, part II

In a previous post a while ago I talked about How to start clicker training: introducing the clicker. Once your horse knows the click means a reward is on it’s way, you can start clicking for specific behaviours.

Targeting

_zw_touchtargetThe next lesson can be targeting. In targeting you ask the horse to touch an object with a body part. Usually we start with the nose. Later on you can also teach your horse to target with other body parts: the mouth for easy deworming, the hip for lateral work, the knee for Spanish walk and teach your horse to follow a moving target.

Choose a target that you won’t use in your daily routine, so your horse does not have a history with the object. You can make your own target stick with a floater attached to a bamboo stick, use a lid of some sort or a fly swatter.

Shaping plan

Make a step-by-step plan in your head (or better write it down) to the end behaviour. First start easy by clicking and rewarding for looking at the target, then moving towards the target and finally touching the target with the nose. It depends on the horse how many steps this process requires: some horses are not used to strange objects, others are curious and want to investigate it.

Functional key lesson

I call targeting a ‘key lesson’ in training because it is extremely functional. Once your horse can target you can use it for many purposes like getting your horse out of a Summer pasture.

[Note to email subscribers: the embedded video below doesn’t show up in emails, please visit my blog to watch the video. Thanks.]

The target means a click can be earned. The click in itself is a reinforcer, but also the (maybe even high value) treat…. Kyra thinks that she should better come over and check it out. Nothing bad has ever happened targeting.

Please let me know how you use targeting in your training. I would love to share some ideas.

 

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

How to… teach your horse to ignore grass

Here is the audio blog of this article:

 

_teach your horse to ignore grass_hippologic_grazing_mannersHaven’t we all experienced that a horse pulled you towards some grass in order to grab a few bites? Isn’t that annoying? I think it is.

I didn’t want to be pushed around anymore by my horse every time there was some juicy patch of grass growing around. Grass is everywhere! I decided to look for a proper, force-free way to teach my horse more desired behaviour around grass.

I tried a few different approaches, before I found one that works well, gave me a solid result and is totally force-free. I would like to share it with you.

Define ‘proper behaviour around grass’

It took me a while to teach Kyra to behave ‘properly’ around grass. With ‘properly’ I mean: no more pulling me towards grass, wait until I give the ‘graze’ cue and ‘stop grazing and come along’ if I ask her to. I was tired of pulling Kyra off the grass.

Preparation

I must say before you can start training this you need a bit of preparation and… lots of practice time. After all, what is more enticing than grass? Well, a click can be…

What really helps is already have a solid history of click & reinforce. Secondly a horse that walks with you properly and the key lessons ‘head lowering’, ‘patience’ and ‘targeting’ are required to make this challenge most likely to succeed.

Shaping plan

Here is a summary of my shaping plan:

How I trained it

I started to reinforce lifting Kyra’s head while grazing. Why? Because this is the first step to move away from the grass. I began with leading her to grass and I would cue her to graze. Then I just waited (very, very patiently) until she lifted her head by herself. That is the moment I wanted to capture and reinforce.

I can’t stress how important it is to wait until the horse moves (his head) away himself. I tried other methods like pulling the head up/preventing the head from going down or asking Kyra to target while grazing in order to lift her head, but reinforcing her own head raise worked best.

High value treats

Every time she would lift her head , I clicked and reinforced Kyra with a very high value treat. One that could compete with grass. After she ate the treat I immediately gave her the cue to ‘graze’. Here is when the key lesson ‘head lowering’ comes is really handy.

I also clicked and reinforced the ‘graze’ cue. But instead of offering a treat off of my hand, the reward was to graze as long as she wanted.

Every time she would lift her head again, I clicked, reinforced and would then give her the ‘graze’ cue.

Next step

After a certain amount of training sessions, which Kyra enjoyed very much (!), I noticed that she started to lift her head more often during grazing sessions. This is a perfect time to add a ‘lift head up’ cue. The key lesson targeting helped me a lot.

So my next clicker session looked like this:

  • walk to the grass
  • give the cue ‘graze’
  • wait until Kyra lifts her head
  • click and reinforce
  • give her the cue ‘graze’
  • let her graze until I thought she was likely to lift her head up again, ask ‘touch’ target stick
  • click and reinforce
  • cue ‘graze’
  • et cetera.

In this way she is always reinforced for whatever I ask.

Raising the criterion

After several sessions I noticed that Kyra didn’t seem to mind lifting her head up anymore. She was eager to see what I had to offer her. The ‘diving into the grass’ behaviour was gone. She seemed so much more relaxed on grass.

I thought this would be the perfect time to raise a criterion. Now I wanted to lift her head and take one step forward before I gave the ‘graze’ cue again. I literally built this behaviour step-by-step.

The final step in this process was to teach her to wait for the ‘graze’ cue when we would walk on or approach grass.

Result

Now I can ask Kyra to leave grass at any time. She is very willing to come with me. She never pulls me towards a patch of grass and I never have to pull her off of the grass. Win-win, for her and for me.

Kyra turned from a I-need-to-graze-now-and-store-fat-before-winter-comes-horse into a I-see-grass-so-what-horse. She knows she can trust me and is allowed to have her share… only when I say so.

How did you teach your horse to ignore grass?

Sandra Poppema
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website

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Learn more

If you would like a more detailed step-by-step training program to teach your horse to ignore grass, you can book a personal consult or you can participate in my online course Set Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them.

 

 

 

 

DIY target stick

A target stick is such a great tool in clicker training. Read on to make your own safe and sturdy target stick. It’s really easy so you have no excuse to not at least try it out.

With a target stick you can teach a horse practical anything. Read Best basics: Take targeting to the next level if you want some tips for target training.

Supplies

Floater
Bamboo stick
Duct tape
Glue gun

Target

I chose a hard plastic floater which I found in the boat section of Canadian Tire. The floater has a hole in which you can put a bamboo stick. I chose this floater for several reasons. It is a hard plastic so horses can’t get a grip on it with their teeth (safety), it is highly visible, very durable and it is lightweight.

Stick

You can buy bamboo sticks in a garden center or in the gardening isle in a hardware store. Take the bamboo stick in your hands and try it out: hold it horizontally, point it up and down to get a feeling for length and weight. Make sure it feels good in your hand. If the stick is too thin or too long it’s hard to hold for a long time. Some bamboo sticks are a bit thicker on one end, that would be the best end to use as handle.

Tip: buy the floater first and bring it to the garden store so you buy exactly the right size stick: the one that fits in the hole of the floater. It works best if the target is already stuck on the stick without glue.

Glue

I used a glue gun to glue the target to the bamboo stick. You can use any kind of glue that is suitable for the materials you are using and is non-toxic. My floater fit perfectly with the bamboo stick, but I glued it anyway. I wanted to be sure not to lose the target in the middle of a training session or take the chance the target will fly away whenever I am waving the stick in the air. I don’t want to poke my horse or myself in the eye.

Duct tape_targetstick_

I used duct tape to prevent the bamboo stick from splintering or splitting. Some horses like to bite the bamboo stick. They are allowed to investigate it, not to eat it. Duct tape makes it less tempting for them.
Duct tape is available in all colours and prints which makes it fun.

Instructions

Glue the floater on the stick. Let it dry. Put tape around the stick and you’re good to go. To make it more fancy you can glue a (golfstick) handle on it too.

Let me know how your target stick turned out and if you have any tips. Thanks.

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book your personal consult!

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Key lesson: ‘patience’

In this key lesson the horse learns to keep his head straight forward, not too high and not to low. The goal is to reward the horse for his ‘patient’ behaviour. Of course the horse is not really ‘patient’ when he stands with his neck straight and his head on a comfortable level, it is just a learned behaviour.

Focus on what you want
It is really important that you communicate to your horse what it is you want or expect from him. If you don’t think about this, you will end up with a horse that is always asking your attention when you are busy with something else. In this case you want your horse to stand with four feet on the ground, neck straight forward and horizontal.

Asking attention
I think we all know horses that will show their whole repertoire of tricks if people are around to get attention, kick their stall doors in order to ‘call’ people over, push a person, sniffs pockets and try to get the treats out when the person is talking to someone. Or horses that pull their handlers to the juicy patches of grass as soon when they want to check their her phone for messages. Wouldn’t it be great if your horse just stood there and waited for you to be ready to give the next cue?

This is why the key lesson ‘patience’ is an important exercise to spent some time on. The time you spend on this exercise is really a good investment. It looks like the horse is ‘patient’ but it is just a learned behaviour, just like the behaviours described above. The difference is, that the key lesson patience is desired behaviour and you can put it on cue.

Default behaviour
Just like head lowering you could choose to make this behaviour the default behaviour. It is a very practical behaviour. It prevents the horse from mugging you, pushing you, sniffing your pockets or asking your attention when you are doing other things, like talking to a friend, adjusting your tack, braiding his mane and so on.

Useful
Teaching a horse to be ‘patient’ is also a useful exercise under saddle, with ground tying, waiting in line on competition grounds, during a bath/hosing him down, brushing, saddling and so on. Ask you horse to be ‘patient’ if he can’t wait for your next cue and randomly shows behaviour. It will help him become relaxed. This can help prevent frustration. Then teach your horse to wait for cues.

Reinforce what you want to see

It is just that most handlers forget to reinforce this simple behaviour of seemingly ‘doing nothing’. The handler has to be aware of this behaviour and reinforce it and put in on cue. Once you have learned to recognize it in your horse, keep it in his repertoire by reinforcing it.

__keylesson_patience_clickertraining_1

If the horse has a tendency to mug you or invade your personal space, you can start teaching the horse to ‘look away’. Later you can shape it into standing straight forward with his neck.

 

_keylesson_patience_hippologic

 

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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Key lessons: head lowering & backing

In my previous post I talked about the key lessons safe behaviour around food and taking the horses’ emotions into account during training.

Today’s two key lessons are natural behaviours and therefor easy to put on cue: head lowering and backing.

Head lowering as key lesson
Although it is not proven that lowering the head calms a horse down, it still is an indicator if the horse is relaxed or not. How? A nervous horse keeps its head up, if a horse is startled the first thing he does is lift up his head, if a horse hears a strange sound he will… yes, lift his head up to listen. Horses always lift their heads up just before they run. So in a way it is an indicator for nervous behaviour.

__keylesson_head_low_clickertraining_1

Teaching a horse to lower his head on cue comes in handy if you have a tall horse to halter or bridle. If a horse is scared by an object on the ground, you can ask your horse to lower his head in order to invite him to investigate the object. If a tall horse has to lower his head in order to prevent bumping it, it is handy if you have this on cue. There are so many situations in which it is handy to ask your horse to lower his head.

Head lowering can also help during medical care, like eye care or inspecting ears or during deworming. Head lowering is also a good exercise under saddle in all gaits. Head lowering can also help in teaching your horse a specific cue to graze during a trail ride or while hand grazing your horse.

Head lowering as default behaviour
Head lowering is a good behaviour to allow as ‘default behaviour’. A default behaviour is a behaviour you can teach your horse to do whenever he doesn’t know what to do or if he wants your attention. Head lowering is a safe behaviour. You can establish a default behaviour by reinforcing the behaviour with and without a cue.

Key lesson Backing
Backing is a behaviour that helps increase the safety in many ways. If you can ask your horse to backup he can’t reach you, so he can’t bite, step on your toes or push you around.

_ keylesson backing hippologic clickertraining

Backing is a valuable exercise in safe food handling skills: if you teach your horse to backup if you (hand) feed him, he can’t get the food out of your pocket or dive into the bucket your holding.

If you teach your horse to backup first if you open the stall door, he will wait for the bridge and reward instead of pushing you over and walking out of his stall. What about unloading your horse from a trailer? Backing is essential in some trailers.

Last but not least, backing is also a good exercise to help your horse become more athletic, in hand and under saddle.

Links to other key lessons

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

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

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

 

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