4 Ways to Calm Your Horse Down

Do you think it’s impossible to teach your horse to relax? If you imagine it being like a “relax-button” that you simply have to press and your horse instantly relaxes like a ragdoll? No, not like that!

However, you can teach your horse to calm down and relax more, that he is in that moment that you need him to be relaxed! How? Training!

What is training

Training is teaching your horse to respond with a specific behaviours to a specific stimulus (cue). If you’ve trained ‘relaxation’ into a specific behaviour/context, you can recall that state of mind on cue.

We, horse people, do it all the time. Mostly the opposite of relaxation. Think of how most horses all respond and behave, just before breakfast. They are excited! They’re energetic and sometimes frenetic! That’s part of the behaviour that have been reinforced with a jackpot (their breakfast).

Reinforce calm behaviour

If you can excite them with food, you can calm them down with food. I have to say that before I used positive reinforcement I didn’t believe it could be done: teaching your horse to relax. On cue.

The only tool I had to calm down my pony was my voice. That’s what people told me to do. Oh, and to restrict his movement. How many times I’ve heard instructors shout: ‘Shorten your lead rope/reins/lung line!!’

When I was in a clinic with Shawna Karrash Kyra was very nervous, I was nervous and it was hard to calm myself down, let alone my horse. Shawna helped me to teach Kyra to calm down. That’s what we did for two days. I was looking forward to learn very advanced things and at first I was a bit disappointment we mainly focussed on calm and relaxed. I was looking forward to ride Kyra in this special occasion.

Key Lesson Patience promotes relaxation

Shortly after the clinic I moved Kyra to another property. It had a huge automatic metal gate at the driveway, which slides open with quite some noise and rattling sounds. It was there that most horses and dogs always spooked.

I decided to use my newly acquired relaxation skills to calm Kyra down when the gated opened and closed. I was glad I filmed the whole process because it only took 3 sessions to associate the rattling and moving of the gate with calmness!

It was then that the full potential of calming my horse really sank in! This was a powerful tool I now had, like a safety device!

Power of Key Lesson Mat training and Head lowering

Other examples are the self soothing power of mats (Key Lesson Mat Training) and Head lowering. I’ve seen that when clicker trained horses spook they often run to their mat. As if it’s a safety blanket. I’ve seen that they immediately calm down.

Key Lesson Head lowering also helps to calm your horse down and is an excellent way of measuring your horse’s state of mind. If he won’t lower his head, he’s might not be able to due to his state of mind.

Look what happens at 1:18 when Kyra spooks. Where’s she’s going! Now I use training deliberately to teach relaxation.

You can also help your horse to calm down by clicking and reinforcing calm behaviour and associate it with the object that scares them.
Watch these videos:
Kyra spooks at the giant ball
Kyra overcomes her fear for the mega ball (part II)
Fun and Games with the mega ball

4 Ways to use clicker training to teach your horse to relax

  1. Bridging and reinforcing calm behaviour
  2. Key Lesson Patience
  3. Key Lesson Mat training
  4. Key Lesson Head lowering

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
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5 Benefits of Teaching Your Horse to be ‘Patient’

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’._keylesson_patience_hippologic

Purpose of this exercise

This Key Lesson has many goals, to summarize it has three:

  1. 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!
  2. Creating a solid foundation for other behaviours
  3. Creating a safe ‘default behaviour’

Benefits of teaching your horse to be ‘Patient’

  1. 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’.
  2. 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’.
  3. Helps create trust between horse and handler because it keeps everyone safe
  4. 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‘)
  5. 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.

Read more:

Key Lesson Patience

Benefits of the HippoLogic Key Lessons

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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.

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