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.

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. 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

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How to Teach your Horse to Lie Down

How to teach your horse to lie down

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Happy Horse training!

Sandra

5 Tips to Improve the Bond with Your Horse

There are many things you can do to improve the relationship with your horse. Even if you already have a great relationship you can still implement these.

1. Listen to Your Horse

Listen to your horse clickertraining.ca

Listen to what your horse communicates

Stop labeling your horse and start describing his behaviour. If you use labels you give away your power to listen. If you have a ‘stubborn’ horse, or a ‘lazy’ one or even a ‘smart cookie’ it feels if you don’t have any influence on his behaviour. Nothing is further from the truth. Study horse behaviour and spent time watching your horse.

2. Act to what your horse communicates

If your horse doesn’t want to come near a new object or doesn’t want to jump over a jump, he is telling you something about his emotions about the object. In order to improve your bond you don’t only have to listen what he has to say, you have to let him know you care. The way you do this is to make him comfortable and increase his courage and confidence about what you want him to do.

3. Break up your training in small steps

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

Your horse has no idea what you have planned for him today and in the future. If you are teaching him something new, make sure you set him up for success and break it down in small steps. Positively reinforce him for every effort he makes, even though it might not look like the end result yet. This is called splitting behaviour in animal training. I teach my students to set and plan their goals so they become very successful.

Milestones in horse training are always based on small steps.

4. Make training, riding and taking care of him fun

Strengthen everything you want your horse to do for  you with something he likes too. Don’t think only about you want if you value the bond with your horse. The more positive reinforcement you use (the more you give), the more you get back from your horse. All people I know that started using clicker training notice very quickly how much your horse suddenly pays attention to what you do if you use a bit of clicker training.

5. Keep track of your Training

One of my pet peeves is to keep track of your training. This helps you to see how far you’ve come and how much you’ve already improved. This goes for your training as well as your relationship. My horse Kyra was wild when I got her (feral, I mean!). She didn’t want to have anything to do with me or people in general. Now she seeks out human contact and is the barn favorite. How great is her live now because of that!

clickertraining is fun

Clickertraining makes safe horses if you do it well

When you keep track (and there are many ways to do this!) you can put where you are now in perspective. We are all very tempted to only look at all things we haven’t achieved yet and that can lead to feeling like a failure. I am a fan of comparing yourself only with yourself, not with someone else. You might compare your worst with someone else’s best. That is not setting yourself up for a proud feeling!

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.

Shape the community

If you’re interested to become a member of the HippoLogic tribe, please tell me what you want in this short questionnaire. Thanks a lot!

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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!
Sign up for my newsletter (it comes with a gift) here: HippoLogic’s website.

Take action. Start for free!

Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

Simply check the best time for you in my online calendar and click to reserve your free call today.

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The horse that changed my life

Which horse changed your life? Was it a challenging horse? I bet he wasn’t cooperative all the time, was he? The horses that changed my life were ‘stubborn’, ‘difficult’, ‘dangerous’ or ‘challenging’. Some horses had ‘character’ according to the salesperson, which usually meant that they are not very cooperative.

‘Stubborn’, ‘difficult’ or ‘dangerous’

ChicaSholtoBoy_HippoLogic.jpgWhat does a horse have to do to earn a label like that?  In most cases the horse desperately tries to communicate something to humans: pain, fear, discomfort. Horses want to please and cooperate. Since they are herd animals, it is in their nature to do so. If they are very uncooperative or dangerous the horse generally is in pain or he is very, very confused.

Message

Horses that don’t ‘follow the rules’ have a special message. Are you listening? tell me about the most extraordinary horse you ever met. What did he do that was so special?

 

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

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Change to Positive Reinforcement

It was 1999 when I heard about clicker training for horses. I knew dolphins were trained with a whistle and fish to reward them, but that was about everything I knew.  I decided to try it out with my 21 year old pony Sholto. I learned about learning theory during my study Animal Management, but no one could tell me how to start with Sholto. So I just started…

How I started clicker training

I can’t really remember what my thoughts were at the time, but I do remember I started with some really difficult trick training exercises: touching a skippy ball, Spanish walk and _classical bow_buiging_hippologica Classical bow. The skippy ball became a ‘target’ and it was really hard to change ‘touching’ the ball into pushing the ball. That didn’t take my pleasure away, though. The Classical bow was a coincidence and I was lucky to ‘capture’ that behaviour. I can’t recall how we got to a Spanish walk.

What I learned using R+

When I started clicker training I had no idea what impact it would have on my future and my whole training approach. The most remarkable changes (in hindsight) are:

  • I learned to ‘listen to my horse‘ by studying his body language
  • I learned a lot about learning theory.
  • I love to approach behaviour now as a matter of motivation: is the horse moving away from something or moving towards something? Is something else (than the ___clickertraining_hippologictraining/trainer) more enticing? By looking at the motivation of the horse, I can now skip the whole ‘leadership’ and ‘dominance’ discussion in training.
  • I learned to think out of the box and became more creative in training. I now have so many different ways to elicit behaviour and put it on cue.
  • Shaping. I learned the power of shaping, a wonderful tool in training.
  • Timing.
  • The power of using a marker to mark (a step towards) the desired behaviour.
  • Planning and the power of keeping a journal.

I truly believe that I wouldn’t have grown so much as a horse trainer if it wasn’t for positive reinforcement. One of the best changes is that I learned to focus on what goes well instead of what went wrong! A change that bears fruit in all facets of my life!

How about you?

What are your most remarkable changes since you started using positive reinforcement for your horse? How did clicker training influenced you as trainer, horse lover or in your personal life?

Sandra Poppema

Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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Three Best Kept Secrets in Horse Training

I think what makes certain horse trainers more successful than others is ‘communication’. To me the result of training is not the most important part. The most important component of horse training is the way the trainer got that result with the horse. In other words: the training method and the way it is communicated weighs more than the actual result, the behaviour.

#1 Listening to the horse

_hippologic_orenThe more I learn about body language and natural behaviour of horses, the more clearly I see if the horse is stressed, anxious, troubled, in pain or skeptical about the things the rider or trainer asks him to do. That takes the joy out of watching horses perform without willingness and eagerness to work with their handler. That is the reason I avoid the main acts on horse events. I would rather talk to passionate horse owners who think the horse matters too or are looking for ways to find out if what they do is as enjoyable for the horse as it is for them.

#2 Bridge signal

When I started clicker training I didn’t realize that I had a powerful communication tool in _clickertraining_secret_hippologicmy hand. The more positive reinforcement training I do, the more I realize that my bridge signal (the marker) functions as a very precise tool, like a scalpel. I can change the tiniest details in a behaviour to my desire. It communicates so clearly what it is I want from my horse, it is amazing that more people are not use it.

The bridge signal is the most important communication tool in working with rewards. The bridge signal marks exactly the behaviour the horse earned the reward for. Click: this is what I want. How more clear can you get?

#3 Reinforcers

The third very important pillar of training is the category of reinforcers a trainer uses.

If it is negative reinforcement, the horse learns basically through avoidance. The wanted behaviour is reinforced by avoiding an unpleasant stimulus. Negative reinforcement (-R) is sometimes referred to as avoidance learning. For example yielding for pressure. Even when the unpleasant stimulus changed to a very light cue or just a body movement of the trainer, the brain will still associate the cue with the way the behaviour was triggered, the aversive. This is the reason negative reinforcement works so well: one can fade out the aversive but it still works because of the association in the brain.

If the learning happens because the horse is getting something he wants, something pleasant that is added to reinforce the behaviour (positive reinforcement),  he will try to earn another reward.

_Reward_reinforcer_hippologic

The association the trainer builds in the horse’s brain is a pleasant one. The horse will actively seek out behaviours that got him rewarded in the past. The trainer stimulates the intelligence and the creativity of the horse with rewards. These horses are offering new behaviours all the time. Something you will not see in seasoned -R trained horses.

This is the eagerness and the joy one can spot in a +R trained horse.

Spread the word

I see so many talented and knowledgeable clinicians, horse trainers and riding instructors out there, who could be even more successful if they would only use bridge signals in their training and lessons. The bridge signal marks the wanted behaviour in the horse, but it also clearly shows to the rider/handler what the instructor means.

I wish more people understood the importance of a bridge signal paired with a pleasant stimulus (reward). Of course it’s intertwined with understanding what the horse communicates back to you and the reinforcers that make it worthwhile for the horse.

I think the bridge signal is the best kept secret in horse training and I think it is time to reveal this powerful tool to every horse lover, rider, trainer and instructor.

Share this blog if you agree.

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.

Shape the community

If you’re interested to become a member of the HippoLogic tribe, please tell me what you want in this short questionnaire. Thanks a lot!

HippoLogic.jpg
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!
Sign up for my newsletter (it comes with a gift) here: HippoLogic’s website.

Take action. Start for free!

Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

Simply check the best time for you in my online calendar and click to reserve your free call today.

Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

Less is more

It sounds contradictory: how can less be more? In horse training it often is true. We try too hard. Three examples of less is more.

Don’t over ask
We expect too much of our horses. We don’t realize during training that a learning process consist out of many, many baby steps, which shapes a behaviour. Work on one criteria at a time. Only after the horse masters a set of different criteria is it time to combine them.

If we are ‘lumpers’ instead of ‘splitters’ we ask too much. Less is more: work on one criterion at a time. Get faster to the end behaviour, by skipping the frustration part which will set the horse back a few steps.

Example: if you want to teach a very mouthy horse to target, you can work a few sessions on just the criterion ‘keeping lips together’ or ‘relaxed muzzle’ and other sessions on ‘looking at target’, ‘moving nose towards target’ and ‘touching target’. After the horse masters these criteria separately can you combine them to ‘touching the target with a relaxed muzzle’.

Teach one criterion per session. In this way you can click and reward your horse more often and training will feel more successful and is more fun. For both of you! Less is more: teach less criteria at once.

Adjust criteria to circumstances
People don’t realize that horses do not easily generalize behaviour or cues as humans do. In other words, we don’t take into account that our horse is learning in a specific context. That’s why we don’t lower our criteria and expectations if we ask the same behaviour in another context. We are skipping steps in the learning process and don’t set our horses up for success.

Example: you have taught your horse to touch a target stick. You’ve always practised in the pasture. Now your friend is visiting and you want to show your horses’ progress.

Today it is rainy and instead of working in the pasture as usual, you decide to work in the barn. If you are asking your horse to touch the target, he might not perform as well as in the context where the behaviour was taught (pasture).

If you aren’t anticipating this context shift and you don’t lower your criteria momentarily, you might be disappointed about your horse’s performance. Less is more: lower criteria if context changes.

Keep cues as light as possible
People don’t realize that if they make their cues or riding aids ‘clearer’ (read: stronger or: bigger) if the horse doesn’t respond well, they are not the same anymore as the light cues the horse is used to.

Horse riding is not like tennis: if the ball isn’t going over the net, smack it harder. Figure out what the reason is the horse isn’t responding to your cue (read How to… listen to Horses). Adjust to the situation and work on the source of the problem rather than working on the symptoms (obeying your cues). If you’ve solved that, you can keep your cues and riding aids light.

Less is more: stay with light cues and the chance the horse responds correctly increases.

_Lessismore_hippologic

In what circumstances are you thinking: ‘Less is more’?

Sandra Poppema

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