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

Posts tagged ‘logbook’

Husbandry skills: Hoof Care (part II)

In this series I will keep you posted about the young horse I am training in order to prepare her for the next farrier visit. I will call her A. in this blog. A. is scared to let people touch her legs, especially her hind legs. She kicks out when she feels something touching her hind legs.

In my last blog I wrote how I started her training. She is now used to the clicker. She knows that a click is an announcer of good things coming her way: appetitives (in this case treats). She understands my end of session signal that tells her that there are no more treats to be earned. (more…)

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Setting yourself up for Success: tips for trainers

We all know by now how important it is to set our horse up for success in training. We know how to do it: influencing the context in which the horse learns a new skill, keeping the sessions short, splitting your goal into small training steps and be aware of our reward schedule. But what can we do to help ourselves to be successful?

What is your goal?

You only know if you have succeeded if you know your own definition of success. This is very personal. Take the time to think about it for a minute: How do you define your  ‘success’ in riding or training/keeping your horse? Just pause now and try to think of 5 things that define ‘success’ and write them down.

Setting a goal and writing it down

For me setting a training goal and writing it down helps. Without this compass I feel lost. But achieving my goal isn’t the only measurement for success. For me ‘being successful in training’ involves other criteria. Here are two other pillars that define success for me.

Joy

It is important to me that my horse enjoys the training, too. I want an attentive, eager and happy horse.

If a horse shows resistance, fear, frustration, pain and/or signs of a mental shut down (learned helplessness) it doesn’t matter to me if I reach my desired goal. I was not successful as trainer.

I want to succeed as a team, which means we both are enjoying spending time together. The journey is just as important as the destination.

Experience

We all make mistakes, but it is not about the mistakes. It is all about how you handle ‘mistakes’. I never call them mistakes, I prefer to call them ‘points of learning’.  As long as I have learned something new or found a new way to approach a ‘puzzle’ in my training I can feel good about myself. Sometimes we learn a lot more than we thought we would learn when we started.

I don’t have to reach my training goal in order to feel successful in the process.

Accountability partner

In all the books I’ve read about how to become successful there is one tip that is always the same, no matter if it is about a career of becoming a top athlete. They all have their accountability partner. Someone who motivates you, keep you on track and listens to you when you encounter a ‘bump in the road’.

Basics

feel_succesfull_hippologicIn order to set yourself up for success, start with the basics. This means that you profit from other peoples learning points. Why invent the wheel again?

It doesn’t matter if you are a novice or a seasoned clicker trainer: the basics are key to your success. This is why I like to call them Key lessons. You can find them in the category ‘Key lessons’ in the drop down menu on the right or when you follow this link.

 Celebrate

It is really nice to share your achievements with people who are happy for you. So find yourself a support team on the Internet or in real life. Don’t forget: you could be someone else’s inspiration!

You don’t need other people to celebrate your goals. I have recorded my training successes, big and small, in many ways to enjoy them long after I have achieved them. I made videos and photo albums and I have written them down in my training logbooks. It helps me realize that I already am successful, even if I haven’t achieved my next goal.

How do you set yourself up for success? Please let me know in the comments, I like to be inspired by fellow equestrians. Thank you.

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

Related posts

Setting your Horse up for Success: Short sessions

Setting your Horse up for Success: Splitting behaviour

Setting your Horse up for Success: Context shift

 

 

Key to Success: make a shaping plan

In shaping the trainer splits the goal behaviour into easy achievable steps for the horse. Each step is rehearsed and reinforced until the animal fully understands what is expected. Then the criterion will be raised and the next step towards the end behaviour is trained. And so on, until you’ve trained the desired behaviour.

In this way you can train very complex behaviours and put them on cue.

Pros and cons of shaping
Shaping a behaviour can be very difficult if you don’t know how to split the behaviour into small enough steps for your horse to understand and be successful. Become a ‘splitter’ and practise dividing every behaviour into tiny steps. Everyone can learn it.

Timing
Shaping behaviour also requires good timing and a keen eye to see and bridge the subtle nuances of a behaviour. Each small change that brings the horse towards the end behaviour must be bridged and reinforced.

If the trainer doesn’t ‘guide’ his horse enough through that process, both can become confused or frustrated. They might even end up giving up.

The opposite of ‘splitting’ is lumping. If you’re a ‘lumper’, you make the steps too big or you raise your criterion too soon. Don’t be a lumper.

Making mistakes
Shaping isn’t easy or quick for inexperienced trainers. You have to be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them. A shaping plan will help you.

Shaping isn’t easy for horses that are afraid to be punished if they try new behaviours or simply aren’t used to it. But once you overcome these hurdles it can be a very quick way to train your horse new things.

It is a process
Shaping teaches the horse to use his brain and will encourage him to experiment. In other words he will ‘learn to learn’ and try out new behaviours. He has to learn to search for the right behaviour that will be bridged and reinforced. Once horses have learned how they get reinforced, they will never forget and this really speeds up their learning process. So be patient.

Step-by-step
Shaping requires a lot of creativity of the trainer. Knowledge of the natural behaviour of horses also helps tremendously in splitting the desired behaviour into little steps and in predicting how the horse will react in training. Think out of the box in order to create ‘extra’ training steps. The more steps, the better.

Don’t forget to write the steps down your horse already masters, but are still an important part of the process. Maybe your horse already has looked at the target or approached it. Still write it down, so you can tick it off already. This gives your brain the feeling of a head start and you already feel successful immediately.

Training steps in training plan by Hippologic

Shaping plan for targeting

Be flexible
The trainer also needs to be very flexible. He needs to adjust his plan according to the horse. If the horse learns slower than expected, the trainer has to think of extra steps, changing rewards, adjust the circumstances, give the horse a break a little bit sooner and so on. Also if the horse learn quicker than expected, be prepared to skip steps in your shaping plan.

Shaping plan
The key to success in shaping is to make a plan before you start and write it down. Writing your steps down will help you:

  • to think in advance about every detail you have to be aware of
  • to get a clear picture in your head of clickable criteria
  • to give you a guideline if things go different then expected
  • to become aware of skipping steps while you are training
  • to go back to a previous step if your horse gets frustrated or confused
  • to know where to start next time you are training
  • evaluate your training more easily

Make notes in your shaping plan of the training circumstances that can be an influence on your training: are you training inside, outside, working with or without a barrier, time of day etc. Don’t forget to write down what your criteria are for going to the next step in your plan, for instance after 3 well performed actions.

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Step 3: touching the target

Evaluation
After your training write down immediately all the things that went well and the things you have to keep in mind for next time. This will speed up the whole learning process for both you and your horse.

Experience
Making a shaping plan will also help for a next time you have to train the same behaviour with another animal. You will soon notice that different horses learn at different speeds and that a lot of circumstances can influence your training sessions. This will make you more alert next time and you can anticipate the variables that you encounter and set your horse and your training up for success.

The sky is the limit
Shaping has an endless scala of possibilities and therefor it is a very powerful technique. The only limits are the horses’ physical limitations and the trainers skills and creativity.

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Using a target to get your horse out of the pasture

Let me know if you need help making a shaping plan.
Sandra Poppema
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Key to success: make plans

What is a training plan? Is it really necessary to write it down? Isn’t that time consuming? These are the things people ask when I talk about training plans and shaping plans.

How a training plan can help you (purpose)
You don’t have to make a training plan, but it will help you become a better clicker trainer faster. Why? Because it forces you to think about your training goal, your approach and all the steps you need to take to get to your goal.

If you are at the barn and you don’t know what to do, a plan can help you move in the right direction.

level4

Difference between a training plan and a shaping plan
Your training plan contains all the behaviours you want to teach your horse, in your shaping plan you write down the step-by-step approach of each behaviour.

Goal setting
First thing you have to think about and write down is your goal. What it is it and how would you recognize it when you achieve it? That is a hard question to begin with. That is one of the reasons people would like to skip this step. If you avoid it, it doesn’t exists, right? Wrong!

How can you achieve your goal if you don’t know what it is you’re looking for? How can you enjoy a satisfied feeling of accomplishing something if your goal is so vague you can’t even write it down? I know it is hard, but when you practise it this will become easier and easier over time.

It’s OK to start ‘big’ and write down a vague goal, the next steps will help you through the process of making it more clear.

Shaping plan
Once you have determined a goal it is easy to divide it into little training steps, the building blocks of your end behaviour. This is how you shape a behaviour.

Ask questions like: what does my horse need to do in order to achieve the goal? What skills must I train first? And think about the training tools that can help in this process.

Training steps in training plan by Hippologic

Criteria
Try to visualize and write down how many times your horse must do a certain behaviour before you raise the criterion. It doesn’t have to be accurate right away, but thinking about it helps when you are at the barn training your horse.

If you have set the criterion ‘Horse touches target when it’s near the ground’ you can raise it after he has done it three times. Then you hold the target in another place where the horse has to reach for it: maybe more to the left and then more to the right.

Rewards
It is also very important to write down which reward and how much of that reward you will be using. Some rewards will wear down their value over time in some horses.  Some horses are more motivated if they get a variation of rewards.

Experiment and write down what you’ve learned about your horse. It is fun and very educational to read it back one day.

_shapingplan_hippologic

Personalize your plan
Another very important part of your training plan is to put in specific information about the target animal and things for the trainer to remember. If you read your training plan before you start training it can help you remind you of  certain things like: I have to click first and take the reward out my pocket (instead of taking the treat before I click). Or remember that this horse has separation anxiety and training him works best if there are other horses in sight.

Results
Write down your results in order to start the next training at the point where you stopped or so you can take one step back to refresh the horses memory and raise the first criterion after one time instead of three times to improve and get to the next steps.

Starting a training journal can be very simple and it doesn’t have to take much time. Sometimes a few simple keywords or just circling the training step where you have stopped is enough to help you remember.

Have a creative clicker training!

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Are you inspired and interested in personal coaching or do you want to sign up for the next  online course ‘Set Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them‘, please visit my website

BANNER _Achieve Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them

10 Tools that changed my Training Approach (V)

This is the final part of this series where I talk about the tools I have learned to use since I started using clicker training. I didn’t use them all right away and I use more than these ten I write about here. I hope they may inspire you to try something new. Click to read part I, part II, part III and part IV of this series.

# 8 Barrier
Before clicker training I never considered working with a barrier between me and a horse, even if it was a dangerous horse.  __safety_hippologicI just had never thought of it using it as an aid in training. Too bad, because training with a protective barrier can reduce stress in human and horse.

Now I use a barrier when I teach people clicker mechanics. When you start using clicker training it’s really difficult to handle a horse, a target stick, a clicker and present a reward all at once. With a barrier, the new trainer doesn’t have to deal with a horse in hand while he is learning new skills or listening to me.

When you use a barrier between you and the horse you prevent the horse from coming towards you. A lot of horses are interested as soon as they discover there is food involved in this new training method. They don’t know yet how to act in order to get more clicks. A barrier helps prevent self rewarding behaviour like putting his nose into your pocket to take the treats out. Of course a barrier can also be used for other safety reasons.

Another advantage of using a barrier is that the horse is at liberty and therefor has more freedom to communicate to the trainer how he feels about the training session. If he stays and looks engaged he would still like to earn some more clicks and rewards. If he is walking away he might need a break or it could be a sign that his brain is full, he’s bored or something else is more interesting.

#9 Stopping
I’ve learned that if I want to get the maximum result out of my training sessions I have to give my horse a break. Not only breaks between individual training sessions, but also after a few days of training. When I taught my horse a new skill and I practised it a few days in a row I always give my horse a “weekend” or a day off. In these days I don’t train new skills and I don’t repeat any of the new behaviour. I might leave her in the pasture or we just do something she already knows well.

In my experience horses perform better after their “weekend”. When the horse has had time to ‘sleep on it’. Sleep is thought to improve the consolidation of information.  In my experience giving a horse a holiday of a few weeks per year instead of working 365 days is a good way to keep the motivation high.Smile your weekend starts here. By HippoLogic

The hardest tool but also the most rewarding tool is to know when to stop. If you stop when your horse is performing at his best, you are a good trainer.

Stop when you have thoughts like:”It was probably a coincidence that he did it, we’ll try it again” or “I want to be sure he got it”. The behaviour just before those thoughts must be jackpotted. The horse performed extremely well and should be rewarded with a break.

After a jackpot you have to stop what you were doing and give the horse a break. After the break you can ask something else. Really, if you ask it the next day chances are higher that the horse starts with the criterion you ended and jackpotted the day before.

If you think you have to ask your horse “just one more time” because you are so excited he did so well and it is so rewarding for you to let him do it again, you don’t set yourself and your horse up for success. When your horse is performing a new skill and he meets your criteria for the behaviour, he will only perform less then expected because in your subconscious  you will raise your criteria slightly. “If he could do this, he can do that, too”. This is why a training plan is really important.

You set yourself up for success to stop when you are really exited “he did it!” Really! I know it’s a hard thing to do, but the reward for you will come next time: he will remember.

#10 Training plan
One tool all clicker trainers should use is a training plan. In a training plan you write down your goal. Describe what behaviour you want to teach your horse and include all the training steps you require.

In your training plan you should also mention the information about the animal you are training (species, gender, age), the surroundings (indoor arena, outdoor arena, stall) in which you train, what tools you want to use (target stick, mats etc) and what behaviour your horse needs to learn first. It can create a lot of training ideas.

Include all the steps/ training sessions you can think of and write down the criteria the horse has to meet in order to get a click & reward. Don’t forget to mention what rewards you will be using and after how many repetitions you will go on to the next behaviour. If there are specific things to think about for the trainer or to take into consideration for this specific animal write them down too.

It seems like a lot of work, but a form in Word is easily made. You will gain a lot of knowledge by using training plans and keeping a journal. The time investment it takes to write it down will pay itself back tenfold in results. Have fun!clicker training plan

Let me know what tools you use that changed your perspective or attitude in training your horse. I’d love to hear about it.

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

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7 Keys to Success

When you are interested in trying clicker training one of the first questions is: what should I teach my horse? I suggest teaching a brand new behaviour which isn’t dangerous.

If you start experimenting with a new training method start with a simple lesson. There are 7 Key Lessons that are perfect building blocks to other behaviours. These are:

Key lesson: Head loweringSafe behaviour around food
Patience
Head lowering
Targeting
Backing
– Emotions in training
Mat training

Why Key Lessons?
Stephanie Kwok and I decided to call them Key Lessons because they are in a way your key to success in clicker training. Why? They are simple behaviours and a few of these already belong to your horses normal behaviour repertoire. Every horse can lower his head, back up or look away from the handler.

Easy to start with
These are good exercises for all new trainers to practise their basic mechanical skills like: present a target – click- take target out of sight- reach for a treat – feed it to the horse – start again. It will improve your timing and observational skills. You’ll get experience in making a training plan, setting criteria, increasing them and lowering them if necessary and to keep a training journal [click here-> 4 Easy Ways to Start a Training Journal <- to read more]. It is a good exercise to learn how to set your horse and yourself up for success and learn to think ‘out of the box’.

A fresh start
Another good reason to start with these are that your horse probably doesn’t have bad associations connected with some of these lessons. Your horse can make a fresh start with a wh1_movingtargetole new approach to learning. Reward-based training with clear communication rules: the bridge signal that give the horse the “yes you did this excellent and your reward is on its way”-signal, a “start-session”-signal and an “end-of-session”-signal that tells the horse “now it is time to earn lovely rewards” and “not mugging the handler is the fastest way to earn the goodies”. Once the horse gets these rules he will be eager to go to class with you!

Building blocks
All these key lessons are very good building blocks to more complex behaviours. For example, targeting can help you trailerload your horse, get your horse out of the pasture without you going through the mud, helps teaching your horse to accept a deworming syringe, helps you to teach your horse to jump at liberty, come when _targeting_hoof2his name is called, easily transfers to targeting other body parts like hooves (cleaning and trimming feet), shoulder/hip (lateral work), overcome fear for scary objects and so on.

Every key lesson is an excellent building block and therefor equally important. I wish I had known these when I started with clicker training. It would have made my journey a lot less ‘bumpy’. At least now I can teach them to my clients and let them enjoy the knowledge. I love it.

Here a video of the Key Lesson ‘targeting’ in real life:

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book your appointment today!

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4 Easy Ways to Start a Training Journal

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Kyra, April 2011 (click to enlarge)

People think I have a really ‘easy to train’ horse. They say: ‘Kyra is so sweet’ when they notice that she is always so willing to work with me. Indeed, that is how it looks today.

My secret is to set goals and a prepare a step-by-step training plan. To keep me on track, I keep a training journal. If I get the feeling I don’t make progress, I just read back and I realize that I do make progress. This is really motivating.

Keeping a journal is a simple tool to make sure that you and your horse are developing in the right direction. The direction of your dreams!

Here are 5 ways to keep track of your progress:

1. Use an agenda and simply write down in a few words what you’ve accomplished every training session. Formulate it in a positive way. You can keep the agenda in your tack locker or at home. Make sure that before you leave the barn or as soon as you arrive home, you take 1 or 2 minutes to make some notes. Or use a mason jar, see https://hippologic.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/530/ This method is quick and easy. I’ve done this for years.

_Liggen

Kyra, September 2013 (click to enlarge)

2. Keep a journal in Word. This makes it very easy to duplicate your notes to internet, adjust text and use a spelling control. Another advantage is that it’s very easy to import pictures into your journal. Using a Word file can make it harder to keep the notes short, but it is a joy to read back. It does take a little discipline, because after you come back from the barn you have sit down behind your pc immediately. It is amazing how quickly you forget about what you practiced 2 days later, if you can recall your training at all. Writing things down also helps you to think things through.

_weekend

Kyra, March 2012 (click to enlarge)

3. If you are not a writer, try one of my favourites: create a photo journal.  Every month I take pictures of my accomplished goals, like Kyra entering water (see above) or mastering the smile (picture on the right) . At the end of each year I select the best pictures of each month and I put the prints into photo album. I write the date and the goal next to each picture. This is the best way to show off share your progress with friends. An excellent choice for young and developing horses. You can see how they grow and change.

Training journal

4. Use Excel to write down every building block of your goal and simply tick off each baby step with the date. It takes a lot of preparation, but saves time on a daily basis. I started this when my friend showed me her really impressive Excel sheet. She wouldn’t share all her time consuming preparations with me, so this didn’t work out for me: I soon quit. Too much effort. You have to write down every training step in advance, in order to work properly. If you exactly know what you are doing, this is the way for you. Very scientific, not easy. Skip this one.

Gespot!

Kyra, May 2009 (click to enlarge)

5. Video your progress. This, my readers, takes courage! You have to film yourself when your work is still ‘work in progress’. To accomplish the first baby steps of a bigger goal doesn’t mean it already looks impressive. To me it does, because I know the basics are the most difficult. If the foundation is firm the rest will be peanuts. Soon. Take in consideration that you will notice that you are wearing the same coat for years, but if you have a grey it is really nice to see at least her coat changing every season!

Personally, I use a combination of all of the above, except number 4.

Please, let me know in the comments below which one works best for you!

Read here the article about How to use a training logbook in an effective way. It contains a free downloadable logbook.

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

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