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

Posts tagged ‘riding school’

Improve your clicker training from the saddle

Many equine clicker trainers ask me: ‘How do you start clicker training under saddle?‘ and ‘Do you have a video of clicker training while riding?‘ They expect something spectaculair in a video.
In this blog I explain one of the biggest struggle points of taking my clicker training from the ground into the saddle.
 
I didn’t know this then and I did find a way to coop with it, but if I had know what the ‘forces’ were that I was fighting it would have been so much easier.

Recently I dedicated a blog about starting/using clicker training under saddle, read it here. I was wondering what makes it so difficult to clicker train from the saddle? What is the difference between clicker training from the ground and clicker training while riding? This is one of the reasons why it is hard to start clicker training from the saddle:

Your brain is wired to 'complete' an action

Riding: Traditional/NH vs Positive reinforcement

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The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons (2/5)

Often when I watch people ride I see struggle. I see a lot of frustration and it seems so difficult to learn how to ride. Truth is, that it’s partially in the way riding is taught, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Riding and learning to ride can be relatively easy and effortless if only the following prerequisites are met. Riding certainly doesn’t have to be the struggle it seems to be for most riders.

5 Things I would like to see more of in today’s riding lessons are:

  • Independent seat
  • Schoolmasters
  • Facts about horse behaviour
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Attention for the horses emotions

The schoolmaster

In an average riding school, children and adults who want to learn to ride, get a ‘well broken’*) horse for their first lessons. I would rather see a novice rider on a ‘well trained’ horse or even better a ‘schoolmaster’.

The definition of a true ‘schoolmaster’ is a horse that has been trained to a very high level in a chosen discipline and won’t respond to the rider until asked properly. A schoolmaster is a seasoned horse with lots experience and in a perfect condition to do this job. Schoolmasters are always older horses, often in their twenties or even in their thirties.

A ‘well broken’ horse

If one learns to ride on a ‘well broken’ horse, it usually means that the horse doesn’t respond well (or at all) to whatever the rider is doing. The purpose is that the horse won’t spook either and therefor is a ‘safe’ horse to ride.

It will walk and trot even if the rider uses the reins for balance, kicks the horse accidentally in the flanks in trot or squeezes his legs tight because he is scared. In other words the horse will do ‘his job’ despite what the rider is doing. Not a good way to learn what the proper aids really are and how they effect the horse. This is a good way to learn bad habits.

Learn to balance first

In my previous post I already emphasized the importance of an independent seat. I would

_mechanical horse_hippologic

This schoolmaster taught my son to canter. (No horse was harmed during the making of this picture)

like to see novice riders learn to balance first before they get the reins in their hands. It’s not only better for the rider, who learns to focus on his seat first but also much better for the horse.

I love the idea of learning the basics of riding on a mechanical horse and building some
confidence in the rider first before riding on a real horse. An alternative is learning to focus on your seat while the horse is being lunged. The person that lunges the horse determines gait and direction while the rider focuses on the movement and feel. It is a great way to experience a horse in motion without fear for the loss of control that may come paired with riding.

I wish I’d had a schoolmaster when I started to ride. Did you learn to ride on an experienced, sensitive horse?

*) I don’t like the term ‘broken’ because it refers to a horse that is not ‘whole’ anymore. Unfortunately that is exactly what is going on: most ‘broken’ horses are damaged and therefor they are ‘shut down’ (mentally). I wish that ‘well broken’ would be a synonym for ‘well trained’.
Sandra Poppema, BSc.
Are you struggling with applying clicker training under saddle? Visit my website to book an online consult. I will be honoured to help you and your horse out. I’ve 2 decade experience with teaching equestrians to ride and train their horses in a horse-friendly way.

Read more in this series The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons

Part I: Independent seat
Part III: Facts about horse behaviour
Part IV-a: Positive reinforcement (horses)
Part IV-b: Positive reinforcement (riders)
Part V: Attention for the horses emotions

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The 5 essentials of good riding lessons (1/5)

To be honest most riding lessons I attend look more like a ‘struggle’ than fun. Not only for the rider, but also for the horse. Does it sound weird if I say this depresses me? It doesn’t have to be like that. Really, horse riding can be easy and fun, for both rider and horse.

5 Things I would like to see more of in today’s riding lessons are:

  • Independent seat
  • Schoolmasters
  • Facts about horse behaviour
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Attention for the horses emotions

Independent seat

When I was following Centered Riding lessons I got very enthusiastic about riding again. Instead of,hearing over and over the same instructions that seemed physically impossible to follow, I now was moulded into a balanced position before I was asked to walk.

I improved my riding in every lesson

Instead of hearing ‘Keep your shoulders back, sit straight, look forward’ (which was

CenteredRidingwith Lucie Klaassen2

Riding instructor Lucie Klaassen giving a lesson about the seat, picture by Christa Balk

shouted to me for years), I was encouraged to test the unbalanced seat and then the balanced seat again. This shifted the feeling of the new position from feeling awkward to normal. It allowed me to reset my position to a proper one.

I discovered that following instructions about the position of my arms and legs are useless unless I balance my pelvis first. These type of instructions only help to mask the problem instead of fixing the root cause. This seems to happen a lot in lessons.

 A balanced seat feels very safe

A balanced seat provides a very safe feeling. If the rider is balanced a lot of tension in the body can be released and the seat becomes independent. I miss this in almost all the riding lessons I’ve attended. Novice riders are encouraged into a trot while they are not even balanced in walk. That doesn’t contribute to comfort or safely for horse and rider.

DSC_1381

Good instructors spend time to explain the seat. Picture provided by Lucie Klaassen, made by  Johan Auerstedt

Sometimes due to the unbalanced rider, the horse is protesting in some way and the instructor tries to fix that symptom. Horses are uncomfortable with unbalanced riders and can hollow their backs which causes the horse’s head to go up and against the bit or they go into flight mode and run off.

Instead of using a martingale or riding small cirkels to slow the horse down a balanced rider can fix this instantly. I have seen horses change in minutes when the rider was helped to sit balanced.

Things to look for in a riding instructor

I wish more instructors invested time in explaining and practising an independent balanced seat. Ask your instructor about his or her background. Find out if (s)he has knowledge of the anatomy of rider and horse. Instructors who have done Centered Riding, The Murdoch Method or have a background in equine or human bodywork are more likely to pay attention to the riders pelvis, where the balanced seat starts.

Tell me about your best riding instructor!

Sandra Poppema, BSc.
Are you struggling with applying clicker training under saddle? Visit my website to book an online consult. I will be honoured to help you and your horse out. I’ve 2 decade experience with teaching equestrians to ride and train their horses in a horse-friendly way.

(Lucie Klaassen is a Dutch riding instructor. Thank you for providing the pictures)

Read more in this series The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons
Part II: Schoolmasters
Part III: Facts about horse behaviour
Part IV-a: Positive reinforcement (horses)
Part IV-b: Positive reinforcement (riders)
Part V: Attention for the horses emotions

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It starts with a helmet and a whip

The first two items parents have to buy for their kids who start horseback riding is 1) a helmet and 2) a whip. Why?

Helmet
I can see why parents want to buy a helmet for their kids. Falling off of a horse or pony can be dangerous. After all, horseback riding is a high risk sport. Parents want the best for their kids. They want their kids to be as safe as possible and want to protect them the best way they can. That is why they send their kids to an instructor or riding school, who can teach them about safety and riding. The second item they buy their kids is usually a whip and after a while some proper riding boots to replace the muck boots.

dreams_girl_riding_empoweredequestrians

Photo is used with permission from Empowered Equines

Whip
Why the whip*)? Isn’t it strange that you would give your kid a whip to do … what? Inflict pain to an already potential dangerous animal? Weird, if you think about it. But parents don’t think about it, they don’t know, so they just buy whatever they are told to buy. By the riding school or their kids. Which is perfectly understandable.

The kids have no experience either, all they know is that everybody starts with a whip right away. They want to be like everybody else. So we can’t blame them. They are just starting their wonderful adventure: connecting and riding a wonderful gentle and graceful animal, a horse or a pony.

*) or training stick in groundwork

The horse
Isn’t it strange that parents who don’t hit their kids, seems to be OK with their kids hitting an animal with a whip. An animal that is not allowed to defend himself. Picture a horse that fights back after a child had to whip it on advice of the instructor.

fedupfred_extension_arm

Cartoon is used with permission of Fed Up Fred

If you ever experienced how painful a tap with a whip or encounter with the string on a training stick is, it is unbelievable that grown-ups are OK teaching their kids to inflict that much pain on an animal.

Language
Of course it is a taboo to speak about the serious pain one inflicts by using a whip. It is always the horses fault, he ‘deserves’ it, because he ‘didn’t listen’ or ‘he knows better’.

If we do have questions about the whip, the instructor tells us ‘it is an extension of our leg’. Or our arm, if we do groundwork. What they mean is: ‘If you can’t kick a horse hard enough to go forward you have to punish it and use your painful whip. That will make him go. You get immediate results’.

Of course you can’t sell it to the kids while their parents are watching, so they say: “The horse has to know that he has to listen” or “He has to know who’s boss” or “Don’t let him win”.

_Bond_between_child and horse_hippologic

Results
People do want immediate results. That’s why trainers /riders stick to hitting a flight animal: it works (mostly) instantly. Immediate results give people often a feeling of control and power. Immediate results also give the impression of being an expert.

You might have to give that up if you change your ways to positive reinforcement to teach the horse what is expected of him. No immediate results, but a better relationship instead. One based on trust and rewards, a relationship in which it is OK to make mistakes and in which the learner is encouraged to grow. Wouldn’t that be valuable lessons for novice riders?

It is the other way around
Ask yourself: who is the one who’s learning? It is the child, right? I assume that the horses in riding schools are already taught what riding aids are and how to respond properly.

So why aren’t children being taught friendly ways to make the horse move? Very often the horse can’t or won’t move because the rider hasn’t learned how to move with the horse and the horse is getting mixed signals from its unbalanced rider. I have also seen unbalanced riders that are afraid to go faster and the horse picks up on that.

The instructor is a powerful person and tells the unbalanced, frightened rider to use the whip. So the rider does, because he is more afraid for the instructor or doing something wrong. After all, what would happen to the rider if (s)he doesn’t listen ….. Horses are punished with a kick or a whip. What kind of message does that send to the kid?

Not that I was thinking of that consciously, I just felt fear for my instructor as she shouted at me to use the whip. At the same time I felt very sorry for the horse, so I often slapped my boot. That scared the horse and made it move faster. The sad thing was that I made the instructor proud, because she thought I was hitting the horse hard enough to make it move.

I was torn. I liked riding and being around horses so much, I didn’t want to give it up. So I stayed and kept on riding. I often asked myself why girls in books could ride their (rescue) horses always in a friendly way…

Carrying (and using) a whip is often played down with the phrase: The whip is just an extension of the arm.

Fear
I was very afraid of most of my riding instructors. I was there to learn how to ride. I didn’t know that they would teach me negative reinforcement methods and punishment ‘to make the horse listen’. In my memory there was always more attention for the horse ‘being wrong/stubborn/lazy’ than for my mistakes (my unbalanced seat) or my lack of communication tools and knowledge.

I thought horses liked to be ridden… I honestly thought that riding aids ought to be invisible and as small as possible. (I still believe that.) I thought I would learn to ride with my mind, like telepathically or at most very subtle aids.

After seven years at the riding school I quit my riding lessons. I realized that I would never get to that point of using lighter aids or learn to develop a meaningful bond with a horse. On the contrary: if you where ‘good enough’ you were rewarded by riding the more ‘advanced’ horses. The horses who needed to be ridden with spurs. Literally you had to earn your spurs at this riding school.

Let me tell you, by the time I was 15 years old I realized that spurs were not meant as “more subtle” aids. I already noticed that they made it easier for the rider to kick the horse forward. Not what I had in mind when I started my lessons.

fedupfred_kick_horse

Cartoon is used with permission of Fed Up Fred

Sad
It is just so sad and unnecessary that many young boys and girls learn to ride this way. That they are told to ‘dominate’ the horse instead of ways to show them how they could cooperate with the horse. That they are not told how they can motivate the horse with rewards and that they are not shown how they really can build a wonderful relationship and even a friendship with a horse.

Hippologic_horseriding_positivereinforcement

Dream
I think children need that bond with animals, especially teenage girls. My dream is of a future in which all children and adults are taught how they can respect the horses’ point of view, their needs and how to motivate them in friendly ways.

It is my dream that people learn to ride on well trained horses that don’t need to be kicked or whipped to move. It is my dream that people learn to ride without fear and it is my dream to have horses that enjoy teaching people how to ride. I know there are already people who teach this. All I want to say is: keep up the good work!

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Related posts:

Attitudes to let go off… when Clicker Training Horses

Natural Horsemanship vs Clicker Training

Keeping an Open Mind is a Challenge

Recipe for a Magical Bond

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