Grass Training Step 1

Here is step 1 in your free mini course Grass Training. If you want to join our in depth online course, then click here. There’s still room for you.

Biggest pitfalls in Grass Training

Do you know the biggest pitfall most horse lovers fall into, when they want to teach their horse manners on grass? They use negative reinforcement or punishment to train it .

Pitfalls in Grass Training

They don’t do this on purpose. And hey, to be honest: I’ve fallen into this pitfall myself!

This is what happened:

  • I held the lead rope extra short so my horse couldn’t reach the grass, if he pulled he’d feel pressure. Especially with a rope halter. Yes, it can hurt when they dive strong and quick into the grass and yet … he would dive into the grass the next opportunity he got! 

So no real training (behaviour modification) there. Only prevention. And only as long as I kept the lead rope tight!

What else did I try?

  • Yes, I wiggled the lead rope when my horse took a bite until he’d lift his head. In training terms this is P+ (positive punishment: adding an aversive in order to decrease a behaviour (the grazing)). This tactic hasn’t given me long lasting results…. You? (In the course I explain why this won’t work)
  • I mixed these together with a click and treat for good behaviour.

It still didn’t work. With these techniques I never gotten long lasting results. Only very short -in the moment- results and my horse seemed to forget the whole spiel already after our ride. So frustrating!

Therefor I didn’t had the confidence to trust the process of pure R+ (positive reinforcement) until…


I started to be really precise and take a good look what was I doing that was R-, R+, P- and P+ in my training? I let go of everything NOT R+ and …. I got really, really good results!

This was a difficult process, but since I’ve been through this myself and helped hundreds of people do it, I can do this very efficiently now.

So don’t fall into the pitfall of using R- or P+ in Grass Training. Not even a little bit!

Step 1: Start using only Positive reinforcement and TRUST the process!

  • Click and treat for desired behaviour
  • Use high (enough) value appetitive to reinforcer the wanted behaviour
  • Start small: make a shaping plan to help you start small

In the course I will explain in more detail how you can shift to 100% R+ and why you will get long lasting results.

I also share 6 other reasons people are not successful in teaching a solid Stop Grazing-cue and what you can do to change them.

What do you think is your pitfall in Grass Training? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Happy Grass Training!

Join HippoLogic’s Facebook group

Become a member of our Happy Herd on Facebook and get access to my Facebook LIVE’s.

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Easy Treats Ideas for Clicker Training Horses

Are you curious what other people use as reinforcers (food rewards) in training?

I like dry, chunky reinforcers that are easy to feed and keep my pockets fairly clean.

Easy to use are ‘dry’ food such as:

Choosing the right reinforcer: don’t be afraid to test and change
  • Alfalfa pellets
  • Grass pellets
  • Alfalfa cubes*)
  • Timothy cubes*)
  • Timothy/Alfalfa cubes*)
  • Chaff
  • Carob
  • Oats
  • Black sunflower seeds (high calorie! Can be mixed in with lower value pellets or hay cubes)
  • Home baked treats
  • All commercial dinner pellets/dinner grain (nutritious and low sugar in comparison with commercial treats)

*) Warning: Pay attention to the hardness of the cubes. Some kind of cubes are really hard and need soaking first. Horses can also choke in them if they are not chewed well. A good way to test hardness is to see if you can break the cubes by hand. Other cubes are so dry and concentrated they become very voluptuous when dehydrated. Horses can get thirsty after eating them dry. Provide water.

Dry, but slower to deliver/take out your pocket/let your horse eat from the source

Freshly plucked grass can be a really good reinforcer
  • Handful of fresh grass
  • Handful of dandelions leaves
  • Handful of hay
  • Thistles (Kyra likes the flowers and leaves)
  • Blackberry leaves

Moist (and usually a bit more messy) reinforcers are:

Apples and carrots are high value food rewards for most horses
High in sugar and usually high in value: apples and carrots
  • Carrots
  • Winter carrot: sticks or chunks (not slices!)
  • Apple pieces
  • Pear pieces
  • Banana
  • Cucumber
  • Celery

Other reinforcers that you can use are:

Messy but good value and healthy

Some people use Cheerios as treats in training
Soaked beet pulp or dinner grain make good reinforcers
  • Soaked beet pulp
  • Soaked bran
  • Other dinner mashes

Unhealthy treats (usually high value)

Some people use Cheerios to train their horse
  • Cheerios (even ‘low sugar’ ones) and other breakfast cereal
  • Commercial horse treats (usually loaded with molasses/sugar)
  • Tic Tacs (small, which can be good and strong taste)
  • Mints
  • Sugar cubes

High value vs low value

The choice of reinforce depends on the horse, time of year and behaviour I train. Sometimes it’s also just plain practical: what do I have?

I always aim for the lowest value reinforcer. It sounds cheap, but the lowest value is still high enough to keep the horse engaged and willing to work. So for the horse it’s great. It’s easy to go from low to medium and high value, but going down in value can be risky. I usually use food that is meant as ‘dinner’ for horses: cheap (it comes in 15-20 kg bags), healthy (balanced nutrition value) and handy (dry, easy to hand feed).

What do you use? Do you have tips that I can add here? Share them in the comments.

More about Using Treats in Training:

Train Your Horse to be Safe around Food and Food Rewards

The value of your rewards

3 Tips for treats in Training

Join HippoLogic’s Facebook group

Become a member of our Happy Herd on Facebook and get access to my Facebook LIVE’s.

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
Get your free 5 Step Clicker Training Plan.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Key Lessons for Horse Trainers

Earlier this year I wrote about the key lessons (your keys to success) for horses. Not only the horse needs to be set up for success, but also the trainer. These three Key Lessons are for Trainers*). They will help you reach your goals quicker and enjoy the journey more: a training plan, a shaping plan and a training diary.

*) This was written in 2015, meanwhile I kept developing myself as R+ horse trainer and as positive reinforcement coach. I found three other indispensable skills or traits for Trainers that help you become successful quicker, communicate clearer and help you avoid struggle and falling into common pitfalls and I added them to HippoLogic’s Key Lessons for Trainers.
6 Key Lessons for Trainers are 1) Training plan,  2) Shaping plan (and splitting behaviours), 3) Training journal, 4) Accountability partner, 5) Learning theory (principles of learning and motivation. Not only for horses but for humans too!) and 6) Emotions in Training (not only equine emotions, but also human emotions). I teach them in my online programs and also in my R+ accountability and support group.

Training plan
If you know what it is you want to achieve, it is easy to distill a step-by-step plan from your goal. The difficulty is to determine: what are your goals and how important are they?

Goals
Ask yourself: is my goal really my own goal or is it more or less influenced by others? It is harder to achieve a goal if you lack intrinsic motivation . You can’t always influence the extrinsic motivators so if they disappear what’s left?

If your motivation is to get compliments or approval from your fellow equestrians and nobody notices it, it can be a real disappointment. It will be much harder keep going. Or maybe you are working on something your instructor wants you to do and you don’t see the value in this particular exercise.

If you’ve been teaching your horse something because you like it and you enjoy the process of teaching it, you will feel the satisfaction of your accomplished goal much longer. Therefor you will be looking forward to working on your next goal.

_dream_goals_ HippoLogic

Intrinsic or extrinsic motivation
So, think about your equestrian goals. Ask yourself if it is really you that wants to achieve it, or is it someone else’s goal? Think about what it feels like when you’ve accomplished your goal. Do you want it because you like it, or do you want it to get approval of an outsider or maybe you think you are supposed to do it.

I know a lot of people who don’t ride their horse for various reasons. They all feel more or less pressured all the time to defend their choice to outsiders. I know some of them will ride because ‘it is expected’. As you can understand this kind of motive will not give pleasure. Riding can become a real struggle.

Letting go 
Sometimes you have to let go of goals. That can be painful. Keep in mind that is is OK to change your mind and your goals. It is easier if you understand why you want to let go of your goal(s).

If you don’t like to ride your horse because you’ve discovered that you have a fear of riding (a real taboo for equestrians) you can choose to work on your fear with a trustworthy instructor who respects your boundaries. Or, you can choose to let go of your riding goals. If you know what motivates your choices it is also much easier to ‘own your story’.

Sometimes you discover that your goals or motivation have changed and that it’s time to redefine your goals. It is much easier to work on a goal that you really want, than a goal that has been expired.

Keep track of accomplishments
One way to keep yourself motivated is to keep track of your achievements by keeping a training journal.

Most people have a tendency to compare themselves to others, which is almost never a fair comparison. I’ve heard someone once saying: “You always compare the best of others, to the worst of yourself.” Yes, sometimes this is true. Better compare yourself with… yourself. The only fair way to do this is to keep track of your own journey and to realize often how far you’ve already come.

It is your journey and as long as you are making progress you are doing a good job! Keep that in mind.

Next time I will write more about shaping plans.

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what you think is a valuable skill in clicker training and why.

HippoLogic.jpgSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I do this by connecting you with your inner wisdom (you know what is good for your horse if you look into your heart) and sharing the principles of learning and motivation so you become confident and knowledgeable to train your horse in a safe and effective way, that’s FUN for both you and your horse. Win-Win!
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin