When you are new to the idea of clicker training your horse you might ask yourself: How do I start? What do I need? Where do I buy these things? How do I teach my horse to respond to the clicker? These and more questions are answered in this blog to help you get started. Continue reading
The word ‘Patience’ is between quotation marks because this is not really patience. It is ‘just a learned skill’ that looks like the horse is patient.
We often tend to think horses have ‘to know by now’ what we want them to do, but in reality we simply have to teach them.
In my business the Key Lessons are my Key to Success in Equine Positive Reinforcement Training. One of my ‘keys to success’ is Key Lesson ‘Patience’. In this blog I will share the purpose and benefits of this basic exercise.
What does Key Lesson Patience look like
Your horse aligns himself next to your shoulder, stands with 4 feet on the floor, keeps his neck straight and he has a relaxed body posture, as if he is ‘patiently waiting for your next cue’.
Purpose of this exercise
This Key Lesson has many goals, to summarize it has three:
- Safety This exercise is incompatible with potential dangerous and/or annoying behaviours like rubbing against you, mugging, biting, stepping on your feet, pulling you towards juicy patches of grass, walking away from you, impressing you with unexpected behaviour like Spanish walk and so on. ‘Patience’ is a super safe exercise!
- Creating a solid foundation for other behaviours
- Creating a safe ‘default behaviour’
Benefits of teaching your horse to be ‘Patient’
- Your horse learns to pay attention where he is in relation to you and he learns where you want him to be: next to your shoulder, standing with 4 feet on the floor, neck straight and a relaxed body posture, as if he is ‘patiently waiting for your next cue’.
- This exercise increases safety and therefor makes a great default behaviour. A default behaviour is a wonderful communication tool that only you and your horse will understand, but is also safe for other people. In case of frustration, insecurity, nervousness or when your horse doesn’t understand you, he will offer his default behaviour: ‘Patient’.
- Helps create trust between horse and handler because it keeps everyone safe
- Provides clarity for horse and handler. While your horse is aligning you can think about your next cue or what to do if you feel frustrated. (When the trainer feels frustrated that is usually a sign of ‘lumping‘)
- Key Lesson Patience is Your Key to Success in teaching your horse many other useful behaviours like standing for grooming, ground tying, standing for mounting, staying calm in stressful situations, waiting for cues, mat training and so on.
If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons below (under the video!). I’ also would love to read your comments, I read them all!
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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to help equestrians create the relationship with their horse they’ve always dreamt of. I do this by connecting them with their inner wisdom and teach them the principles of learning and motivation, so they become confident and skilled to train their horse in a safe and effective way that is a a lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
Watch the video:
Not too long ago I wrote a blog about the ‘boring basics‘ which appeared not to be boring at all!
I realized that maybe some equestrians still consider basic exercises as ‘exercises’ or ‘basic’ while they are so much more. I consider HippoLogic’s Key Lessons (Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement training) not as basic exercises but as tools. Important and powerful training tools.
In this series I will explain how you can turn exercises into valuable training tools.
Key Lessons for Horses
The 6 fundamental exercises in clicker training that can become your most valuable tool are:
- ‘Table Manners’ for horses
- Mat Training
- Head Lowering
From exercise to training tool to success strategy
At first the Key Lessons are goals in training, but once you master these exercises you can start using them as tools. They will help you get other, more complex behaviours. Once you are using them as tools you will notice that they become your success strategy. That is what I teach in my 8 week online course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training.
1. ‘Table Manners’ for Horses
This exercise starts out to teach your horse what humans see as ‘desired’ behaviour around food and food reinforcers.
This exercise starts out to teach people to train their horse not to mug them and to be ‘polite’ around food. With ‘polite’ I mean the food always goes to the horse, never the other way around. Treats need to be carefully taken off of the hand with their lips, not the teeth. Only the treat is eaten, not the fingers and so on. Basically you just teach your horse not to forage for food. You train them to suppress their natural exploration behaviour.
Once your horse knows the fastest way to the treat (wait for the marker/click) you can teach your horse more complex behaviours, like going to his target when you arrive with hay or a bucket of grain.
In the exercise ‘Patience’ you teach your horse to stand next to you, with his head straight and his neck in a comfortable horizontal position. In this way your horse can’t ‘mug’ you (explore/forage).
‘Patience’ changes from a ‘simple exercise’ to a valuable training tool once you make this your horses’ ‘default behaviour’.
Normally you put a cue to a behaviour once your horse masters an exercise. You will raise the criterion from ‘Well done: click‘ every time he displays the behaviour to ‘You can only earn a click after I gave a cue‘.
In a default behaviour you don’t use this criterion: you will reinforce the behaviour also when it is on the horses initiative.
Once ‘Patience‘ becomes a default behaviour and your horse is a well seasoned clicker trained horse, he will use this exercise in his communication to you.
He will display his default behaviour when he doesn’t know what to do or doesn’t understand your assignment or when he gets frustrated. He does this because he knows this behaviour will never be punished. He also learns it will almost never be ignored. So this becomes his tool to communicate with you.
Check out my webinar about this subject:
If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons below. Or post your comment, I read them all! Comments are good reinforcers.
Or simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect horse women with their inner wisdom and teach them the principles of learning and motivation, so they become confident and skilled to train their horse in a safe and effective way that is a lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online 8 week course ‘Ultimate Horse Training Formula’ in which we cover all 12 Key Lesson that will change your life and help you become the best horse trainer you can be for your horse.
Here in Canada it is Winter again. Normally the climate is mild here in Vancouver, BC but this winter we’ve already had snow that’s lasted for almost two weeks.
We all know that frozen pastures limit our horses ability to exercise themselves and horses generally are more spooky and more forward in cold weather conditions. Riders with an outdoor arena can’t ride due to the frozen ground. How can you get the most out of this time of year? Here are some tips.
Work on Simple behaviours
Choose to work on some smaller, but still important behaviours that will make your life easier and improve the relationship with your horse. Does every ride start with a bit of irritation because your horse lifts his head every time you want to halter/bridle him? Does he always walk a few steps while mounting?
How does that influence your relationship? Imagine how you would feel to have a horse that would put his head into his own halter or bridle, align perfectly next to your mounting block and stand still until you give the cue to walk on?
Simple behaviours you can work on in Winter that would improve your life at the barn can be:
- A self haltering horse
- A horse that aligns along the mounting block and wait patiently for your cue to walk on (watch video)
- Head lowering
- Mat training
- Patience (standing head forward, neck in a neutral position)
- ‘Table manners‘ for your horse: teach him to stop mugging you
- Trailer loading
- Stop grazing cue (video , blog post or sign up for my free training)
Have some fun with your horse
If the weather isn’t allowing you to ride you can spend time with your horse , groom him and do a wonderful photo shoot. Maybe you can have eternalize some of your equestrian goals you worked on this year.
You can take your horse on a walk to hand graze your horse. This would be a perfect time to start teaching him how to quit grazing on a cue, since winter grass is less enticing than the juicy green Spring grass that will be back in a few months.
Start trick training and have a good time! Here is a good book that will get you started on a few easy tricks.
What does your favourite Winter training looks like?
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website
Haven’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.
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.
Here is a summary of my shaping plan:
- solid reinforcement history of the clicker
- teach Kyra to walk on a lead rope
- key lesson patience
- key lesson targeting
- key lesson head lowering
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.
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.
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.
Join my free Transform Your Horse – Grass Training
Today I wanted to make a video for the FB Grass Training FB Group. Kyra didn’t want to graze, so I couldn’t show how to start walking on grass when all your horse wants to do is graze. Never thought I could be in that position: a horse that doesn’t want to graze because training is way more valuable.
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.
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:
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 whole 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!
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 his 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: