6 steps to start riding with the clicker (4/6)

How to take positive reinforcement and use it in riding? I will share practical tips in other blogs, but let’s focus on preparation. How can you make yourself successful?

Key Lesson for Riders #4: Training Journal

The only way to know if you are making progress in riding with positive reinforcement is to keep track. A training journal is the best tool to do this. Science has proven that if you write things down you can remember it better. You can also reflect better by yourself if you put things in writing.

_traininglogbook hippologic sandra poppemaDo you want a training journal that helps you improve your riding skills? Don’t use it as a diary, use it as the powerful training tool it can be. In a diary you write down what you’ve done and how you felt about it. My training diaries from 20 years ago are all similar and I read things like: ‘I rode, it was fun but the canter sucked. I did 3 tracks and every time my pony fell to trot all by himself.’ Maybe I added my opinion about my pony that day, but this is not constructive and didn’t help me improve and develop my skills.

Only when I got my horse Kyra (she was born in a nature reserve and totally feral when I got her) I started to change how I used my training journal. That’s how I know it took me 3 weeks to tame and train her. With that I mean: Kyra changed from trying to run away from me and climb the opposite stall wall when I opened the door to a horse that actively sought out my presence, wanted to be haltered (and cooperated by keeping her head low), allowed me to touch her all over, including her legs and belly. I could lift her legs and cleaned her hoofd. And… I made a start to lead her over the premises. If I didn’t kept that journal I would have forgotten!

Tip #1 for a Training Journal that works

Keep it positive so you will read it back. If you write down how horrible rider you were today, it’s no fun to read back and you won’t learn from it!light-bulb-1926533_640

I have experimented the last 10 years with keeping journals and what made it easy and most useful. I advise my students to put at least 3 things that went well in it. It can be just 3 bullet points. This will make you feel good and motivated. I also ask my students to reflect and write down 1 (only 1!) point that they want to improve.
Did you notice I didn’t write ‘one thing that went wrong’? No I want one learning point, so next time you know what to pay attention to. This will help you learn faster!

If you had ‘failures’, call them learning points if the word ‘failure’ makes you feel bad. ‘failing’ is the way we learn. After being a success coach for 8 years I don’t feel bad anymore when I hear the word ‘failure’ because it gets me all excited: Yeey, there is something to learn! I LOVE learning! This is how most of us feel about failures. So until then, start changing your language into positive language.

Failure → opportunity to learn, learning point
‘X went wrong’ → I learned Y (canter sucked → I learned to pay attention to transitions/my balance/and so on)
My horse sucked at X → I got feedback/information about X from my horse
My horse refused to do X → My horse was [reason/cause eg scared] to do X today

Tip #2 for a Training Journal that works

Connect‘ it to your Key Lesson for Riders: Shaping Plan. Make sure you work on the things you planned to do and give yourself feedback in your training journal about the one thing you wanted and worked on. After your training you might notice that you have to adjust your shaping plan.

If you trained under saddle what you had in mind, you are going in the right direction to accomplish your dreams (step 1 Key Lesson for Riders: Training Plan).Set Your Equestrian Goals and Achieve them_HippoLogic

Of course it can happen that you decide not to go with your next step in your Training and Shaping plan. That happens: it’s too stormy and it might not be safe to ride. Write that down too and the reason you decided to change plans. You might discover a pattern after a while…

All this gives you valuable information about how you train and also how often you train. If you stick to the plan, and if you won’t you can figure out how you can change your plans. Maybe they are a bit too advanced or the opposite: not challenging enough.
Some people tell me they don’t like to do all that stuff, that’s too much effort. Those are the people who keep at the same level year after year and don’t improve their riding skills. Some even buy a different horse. This won’t solve the cause: if you’re not evolving, you won’t improve. Yes, it is work! How much are you really willing to improve? With a little bit of help it’s not hard. I provide my students with templates that are quick and easy to use. Make this a habit.

Tip #3 for a Training Journal that works

Celebrate your successes; big and small! I love to celebrate my milestones with a picture or a short video of the behaviour I accomplished. These might not be impressive to other people, but they are important to you. So make sure you share them only with your tribe: the people that enjoy your successes and know how important it is for YOU.

I have videos of Kyra of the first few rides I ever did. For an outsider they are as interesting as watching pain dry. Why? Nothing spectacular is happening for them. For me it is: This is Kyra who is my first horse that I started under saddle with R+. How exciting is that? I rode her the fourth time all by myself, with no assistance. This was also a crown to my preparation work: hours and hours of practising the HippoLogic Key Lessons, all work-in-hand, long reins, teaching her verbal cues and making her feel comfortable with me and everything around her (she was after all a wild horse).

Training journal

I also made photo books of every year with our milestones. I love to go through them, because they make me realize how much we’ve accomplished.

Questions?

Free discovery call with Sandra

If you want to get to know me or have questions about clicker training from the saddle and how I can help you with that, book your free discovery call. Plan your call in my calendar. They usually take 60 minutes because I really want to get to know you and your horse.

Ultimate Horse Training Formula, Your Key to Success 

_key to success_hippologic1

Would you like to use clicker training in your every day training, learn to use it in all situations and for all horses, even in the saddle?

Do you want…

  • a well-trained horse? Trained by you?
  • more knowledge and skills to clicker train horses?
  • more confidence in your training skills?

If you are ready to get the results in riding and training you really, really want, the Ultimate Horse Training Formula is perfect for you.

You’ll improve your training skills and you’ll develop skills trainers need in order to be successful, because my specialty is to help people implement their knowledge into practice.

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
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 HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and join my online course Ultimate Horse Training Formula in which you learn the Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Clicker Training.
Follow my blog on Bloglovin

Next blog: Emotions in riding. How they influence your results. What emotions do you want to redirect (and how to do it). Not only the rider’s emotions are important, also the horse’s emotions need to be addressed.

tack free riding bridleless bareback

Tack free riding was one of my childhood dreams!

6 steps to start riding with the clicker (3/6)

‘How do you implement clicker training under saddle?’, is a question many equestrians ask themselves. The answer is simple: the same way you implemented it from the ground! Sounds logical. How do we start best?

First you have to learn the principles of Learning and Motivation, see this part 1 of this series.

Step 2 is to set a riding goal.

Now you have set a goal, it’s time to stake step 3; you have to split it into tiny baby steps. This is called a shaping plan. How are you going to shape the behaviour into your goal behaviour?

After I share the 6 basics (Key Lessons for Riders) with you, I will start a blog about how to implement all of this in practise.

Key Lesson for Riders #3: Shaping Plan

Now you’ve a clear vision of what you want to accomplish under saddle you can start breaking it down in super small increments. Those will become your stepping stones to your goal.

A Shaping plan consist of enough small steps for your horse to be successful in your training

Break up your clicker training so every step leads you closer to success

Tip #1 for a Shaping plan that works

Each baby step must be small enough to be understood by your horse, keep your horse engaged and big enough to be a bit of a challenge (just a bit, you don’t want to frustrate or discourage him).

Your shaping plan consist everything that is going to happen in your training:

  • what you will use as reinforcement
  • how often you will repeat a criterion before moving on to the next one
  • details about where you are going to train the behaviour
  • how the set up of your training area will be
  • all criteria that are needed in order to reach your goal: duration, distance and quality.

This is a very important step! It’s also difficult therefor I give all my students a template that they can use to practise.

  • what bridge signal you’ll use
  • your cue (verbal, body langues, props)
  • duration of your session
  • if you are going to use jackpots and what for
  • and every other detail that is or can be important

Making a shaping plan and splitting behaviour is one of the most important steps in positive reinforcement. If you think too lightly about this and are not going to sit down and think it over, discuss it with your mentor/coach/instructor/friend you will get stuck later in your training process!

So take the time it takes to do it right, it will save lots of time (and frustration!) later!

Lumping in our training (by not making a shaping plan) is a huge pitfall for all of us (including me)! We think we can skip this step or ‘do it in our head’. That’s not true. Making a good shaping plan is the best investment you can make in your training!

I recommend training all behaviour you want to see under saddle from the ground first. Include these steps in your shaping plan, too. Example: to teach rein aids with R+ from the ground, then from the saddle in all gaits and the steps in between.

Tip #2 for a Shaping plan that works

Thinking about how you are going to split the behaviour and envisioning all the steps is great. Another success tip is to write it down.

It’s proven that this will increase the likelihood of success. When you write down your goal and your steps it will become clear if and where you need to be a little more specific.

If you’ve written something down you will remember it better. So when you are actually training and your horse leaps, you still know what your next step is going to be! Or, if you’re lumping, you know what your previous steps were suppose to be. It will be way easier to go back where your horse was still successful.

Tip #3 for a Shaping plan that works

Keep your shaping plans together in a designated place. The more shaping plans you make, the better. I recommend to make one for every behaviour you train, whether it’s a simple or complex behaviour._Key Lesson for Trainers_shaping plan clickertraining hippologic

After a while you will forget how you exactly trained behaviour X, Y or Z. So if someone asks you: ‘How did you train that?’ you can actually look it up and tell them!

Or when you are going to train another horse the same behaviour, you already have your shaping plan ready. You might need to tweak it a bit according to the circumstances, but it will definitely help you re-create your successes!

When can I start riding?

This is the perfect moment to go to your horse and try out your shaping plan. In my next blog I will share with you what you need to know after you’ve been riding (training).

Enjoy your ride!_cooperative_horse_hippologic

Join our Community!

  • Are you looking for professional positive reinforcement advice?
  • Do you want an affordable program?
  • Do you want to turn your equestrian dreams into reality, but you don’t know where to start?

If you have answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of the above questions look into one of the online programs HippoLogic has to offer.

Join our community for online positive reinforcement training tips, personal advice and support in training your horse.

Shape the community

If you’re interested to become a member of the HippoLogic tribe, please tell me what you want in this short questionnaire. Thanks a lot!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
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.

Start for free!

Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

Simply check the best time for you in my online calendar and click to reserve your free call today.

Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

free 60 min discovery call HippoLogic clickertraining online horsetraining

6 Steps to Start Riding with Positive Reinforcement (2/6)

‘How do you implement clicker training under saddle?’, is a question many equestrians ask themselves. The answer is simple: the same way you implemented it from the ground. So, how do we start best?

First you have to learn the principles of Learning and Motivation, see this part 1 of this series. Step 2 is to set a goal.

Key Lessons for Riders #2: Training Plan

You have to start with the ‘end in mind’: set a clear goal. The more clear your goal is, the easier it is to accomplish. When you have a clear goal you can divide it into smaller steps. Something that is very hard to do with a vague goal. Then it’s also easier to cross off each smaller step. That also feels really good: if you can cross off a sub goal. It keeps you motivated! So those are 3 valuable tips already: set a clear goal, divide it into smaller steps, cross off each step when accomplished.HippoLogic advises to use checklist and write down your horse training goals

Write your goal down in your Training Plan. Here are some more tips that will help you write your Training Plan.

Tip 1 For a Training Plan that actually works

Take a good clear look at your values! What values do you have and do they fit your goal? Maybe they don’t fit in your goal? It not, than you have to revise your goal.

Here can you find list of values, take a look and what values do you feel fit your way of horse training and horse riding? Some of my values that are important in my riding and training are are love, integrity, animal welfare, intrinsic value of the horse, honesty, skills and trust(worthy).

When I took my personal values into account suddenly it became clear: my goal to be an _trailride1competition dressage rider wasn’t compatible with my values. Animal welfare is very high on my list. In the 80’s and 90’s pulling the horse behind the vertical was very much rewarded by judges. Riding with a double bit and spurs didn’t fit either: Less is More, right? I wondered what I loved about the riding dressage competitions and if I could take that and honour my values? I loved: riding for an audience, inspire people what you can accomplish with good riding and training and how beautiful it is to see a rider and her horse in total harmony. It took a few sessions with my mentor to figure it out.

Finally I came to the conclusion that riding in a show- or demo team would fit: no judges or rules what to do and when to do it (even if the horse isn’t ready in that moment, or feeling pressured to perform at cost of the horse). If you write your own choreography and something happens you can go with the flow of your horse and still give a wonderful show.

Yes, that would make perfect sense! Suddenly I had my motivation back for riding. Then something amazing happened: I saw a small ad in somewhere. A showteam with Andalusian stallions was looking for team members! That’s how I became a member of Showteam Alegría. I was part of Alegría for years and we did many performances. Unfortunately Kyra and I moved to Canada before Kyra was under saddle, so I never actually rode but it was such a great experience and so much fun.

Tip 2 For a Training Plan that actually works

Once you’ve determined a clear goal which fit your values the next step is to divide it_reinforcing_rider_hippologic into smaller steps. What does your horse need in order to get to your goal?

‘Riding in a show/demo team’ is a clear goal, because the choreography was designed by ourselves and fitted all individual horses. The next step was to ask myself what Kyra needed to master?

If I give shows she needs to become a good traveller (trailer loading), she needs to be calm and confident around music, lots of people, applause, dogs, strollers and a million other things (despooking/mind set) and she needs to master her exercises for the performance (trick training, long reining -> “ground work”). In order to perform, the horse also needs to be OK with grooming, being washed, braided and so on (husbandry skills). So my pillars in my training plan became: Husbandry skills, Mindset, Groundwork and Riding. That’s what I teach my students to do, too.

This helped me very much to make a visual. Here is an example of a training plan for dressage test level 4. I would train all exercises of the test first in from the ground (long reins, work-in-hand or at liberty) before training them under saddle.

You can make this as detailed as you need, depending on what your horse needs. A lot of this is also applicable if you want your horse to become a reliable trail horse.

training-plan-example

Tip 3 For a Training Plan that actually works

Now you have a detailed Training Plan you can seek out the perfect instructor/mentor for the knowledge and skills you need to learn or improve. If you are not familiar with despooking your horse using positive reinforcement only or don’t know how to teach your horse lateral gaits, find some one who does. You can contact me, for instance.

Together with your values it will be much easier to find a mentor/coach that can help you achieve your goals. This safes time and money! How many clinics have you

unicorn-1981220_640

attended that you thought would be helpful and awesome only to be a disappointed and go home disillusioned because ‘in harmony’ or ‘positive horsemanship’ was not what you had in mind when you booked yourself a seat.

If you know exactly what you’re looking for, it’s way easier to find. Even if you feels you’re looking for an unicorn.

I hope this gave you some ideas.

PS I am currently working on an online workshop to help equestrians with making their own personalized Training Plan. Contact me if you’re interested in this interactive workshop. I would love to know if there is enough interest to make this happen.

Join our Community!

  • Are you looking for professional positive reinforcement advice?
  • Do you want an affordable program?
  • Do you want to turn your equestrian dreams into reality, but you don’t know where to start?

If you have answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of the above questions look into one of the online programs HippoLogic has to offer.

Join our community for online positive reinforcement training tips, personal advice and support in training your horse.

Shape the community

If you’re interested to become a member of the HippoLogic tribe, please tell me what you want in this short questionnaire. Thanks a lot!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
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.

Start for free!

Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

Simply check the best time for you in my online calendar and click to reserve your free call today.

Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

riding positive reinforcement clickertraining hippologic

 

6 Steps to Start Riding with Positive Reinforcement (1/6)

‘How do you implement clicker training under saddle?’, is a question many equestrians ask themselves. The answer is simple: the same way you implemented it from the ground.

This can be very challenging because, once we are in the saddle, we have to deal with so many unconscious rules, habits, norms and thoughts about riding that interferes with successful clicker training.

This makes it extra hard to use positive reinforcement successfully under saddle. We are not aware of the many traditions we actually have and how much of those are in straight contradiction with positive reinforcement training.riding_with_the_Clicker_clickertraining_hippologic

Become conscious of your training expectations

When you started to teach your horse Key Lesson Table Manners or Key Lesson Targeting, your first session was maybe 10-15 treats (clicks) long. That’s less than 5 minutes! Then you stopped and gave your horse a break, right? You know can achieve so much in 5 minutes or less.

Once you mounted you maybe expect yourself to be in the saddle for 50 minutes or even for an hour. The length of a normal riding lesson. Now you have let go of that idea, if you want to become successful implementing R+ under saddle when you start. On the ground you didn’t start with an hour of clicker training (hopefully), so why do this under saddle?

Your training sessions, now your riding sessions, need to be fun, sweet and short for your horse. You need to stop training a particular exercise when your horse gave his best. That can be achieved in a few clicks already.

Therefor you need a back up plan: What will you do, if your horse accomplished your criterion? I will address that in the next blog (Key Lesson for Riders #2 Training Plan).

Key Lesson for Riders #1: Learning Theory

You have to study the principles of learning and motivation in order to get the best out of your riding. In my online home-study program I explain these principles and how you successfully implement them in your training and riding. Knowing them is one thing, using them in your daily training is another. They are called Key Lessons because they are the Key to your Success!

Learning Theory is based upon what science calls operant conditioning:

Operant conditioning Horse Training_Hippologic

Here are 3 of the most important tips that will help you implement the learning theory under saddle.

Tip 1 Implementing the Learning Theory

In order to train your horse you have to know as much as possible about horse behaviour, their natural needs and it also helps to know about their physiology. This helps you to set your horse up for success.

Example: Study *) has proven that whither scratching help calm a horse under saddle. This works better than neck patting.

Tip 2 Implementing the Learning Theory

Know what is reinforcing to your horse. If you know about the natural behaviour it’s easier to guess what is reinforcing for them. We are generally reinforced by things as compliments, money or chocolate cake, horses are not.

They are grazers, herbivores, and since that is their normal diet choosing something they like to eat naturally will be a good primary reinforcer.

My horse Kyra was born in a nature reserve and when I got her, 3 weeks after she was captured, she didn’t eat apples, carrots or extruded dinner grains. So I had to find other reinforcers to train her. Since she was also terrified of humans approaching her, scratches as reinforcements where off the table, too. First I had to find out what she liked.

Tip 3 Implementing the Learning Theory

You have to know what your horse considers punishment.

If you think you reward your horse with neck patting, like you probably have learned from your riding lessons, think again: If you get more of the desired behaviour it was reinforcing, but if it didn’t it was neutral. If you get less of the behaviour it was punishing according to your horse.

Knowing the difference between reinforcers and punishment will greatly help you succeed in training.

Example: we all know mugging horse behaviour. Some horses kick their stall doors in order to… Yes, what do they want?

And what usually happens? They get what they want: attention or food.

We think we deliver a punishment by shouting at them, but if the behaviour is not decreasing there is something that is actually reinforcing the door kicking (attention or their breakfast). I have an excellent shaping plan to get rid of mugging behaviour and door kicking.

Let’s recap the basics of setting yourself up for riding with positive reinforcement:

  • Use the learning theory
  • Know what your horse finds reinforcing
  • Know what your horse considers punishing
  • Keep your sessions short and give breaks after accomplishing a criterion
  • Become aware of your expectations (‘riding needs to be an hour long’) and other customs or habits you have (‘the horse is only one treat allowed after the ride’) that will interfere with an optimal learning set up for your horse (short, sweet sessions that are easy enough to understand, yet challenging enough to keep your horse engaged).

I hope this blog gave you some valuable insights. If it did, please share this blog with your friends.

Join our Community!

  • Are you looking for professional positive reinforcement advice?
  • Do you want an affordable program?
  • Do you want to turn your equestrian dreams into reality, but you don’t know where to start?

If you have answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of the above questions look into one of the online programs HippoLogic has to offer.

Join our community for online positive reinforcement training tips, personal advice and support in training your horse.

Shape the community

If you’re interested to become a member of the HippoLogic tribe, please tell me what you want in this short questionnaire. Thanks a lot!

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
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.

Start for free!

Book a free 60 minute Discovery Session to get a glimpse of a new future with your horse. In this conversation we’ll explore:

  • Your hopes and dreams and goals so that we can see what’s possible for you and your horse

    Key to Success in Horse Training

    Your Key to Success

  • Where you’re now, where you want to go and which path is right for you
  • What’s holding you back so you can make a plan to get these hurdles out of your way.

At the end of the call I’ll give you some ideas and advice for your next step and if it looks like a fit, we can explore what it looks like to work together.

Simply check the best time for you in my online calendar and click to reserve your free call today.

Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

SourcesPhysiological and Behavioral Responses of Horses to Wither Scratching and Patting the Neck When Under Saddle ,, &

_treatpouch_hippologic

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

Continue reading

How to Turn ‘training’ into ‘fun time’ for your horse

I see a lot of people who are struggling with riding or training their horse. For example, they would love to ride a certain discipline, let’s say dressage, but their horse ‘doesn’t like it’. Would you like to change that if you could? If the answer is yes, keep on reading, if your answer is no, I am curious why not.

Motivation

Is it really your horses’ motivation that is standing in your way or is it maybe your own (lack of) motivation that is holding you back? How does one change motivation?

1_treatOver the years many riders told me that their horse doesn’t like to work in the arena or doesn’t like to do dressage. If I asked for more information it was often the rider who actually didn’t like to work in the arena or do ‘dressage’ as opposed to the horse. The times it was the horse, there was an existing negative association with the arena.

Rewards

If you think your horse doesn’t like to work in the arena ask yourself if you are ‘paying a decent salary’ to do the job. What is in it for your horse?

Is his only reward after walking with a stretched neck on a long rein a few pats on the neck at the end of your ride? How do you motivate your horse? Or do you motivate him with pressure-release? What is his reward? If his reward is not having to work anymore it is not good motivation to get started.

Reinforcers

Do you realize in order to turn a reward into a reinforcer you have to deliver the reward during the desired behaviour or within seconds after the behaviour ended. If the reward comes too late, the horse doesn’t associate the behaviour with the reward and your desired behaviour will not get stronger. That is why a bucket of grain after riding doesn’t improve your horses motivation to go to the arena or perform better in trot next time you ride. It only reinforces him to go back to his stall (where the good thing is happening).

A bucket of food after riding is usually not associated with all the exercises the horse had to perform in the arena. It is simply too long after the desired behaviour and it is not paired with one behaviour. It is more likely that he sees it as a reward for putting him back in his stall or taking the saddle off or doing whatever you where doing in the three seconds before you allow him eating his food.

Associate the reward to the right behaviour

_Ifahorselovestheirjob_hippologicIn order to motivate your horse in the arena, you have to make sure the reward is coupled to the behaviour you want to see more of. The same goes for the rider: pointing out their successes (small or bigger) while they are performing, make them feel that they are achieving something in that moment. After the ride they have the feeling they accomplished something and that they are getting closer to their riding goals.

For a horse it works similar. He wants to know what he does well in that moment. If you  use positive reinforcement you have a powerful communication and motivation tool in hands.

Working in the arena

The secret of enjoying the arena work more is learning what your horse likes and pairing it with the things you like. As soon as horses learn that ‘working’ in the arena equals being paid in a currency of their choice, their association with riding, arena work or dressage will turn around. Turn training into a positive experience with positive reinforcement.

Have more fun in the arena next time!

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Riding after a stressful day: beneficial or not?

What do you do after a stressful day: are you going to ride or not? Enjoy my video.

 

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website or send me an email with your question to info@clickertraining.ca

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The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons (4-a/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, part of it is in the way riding is taught (in general), but it doesn’t have to be like this. Riding and learning to ride can be relatively easy and effortless if 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

Positive reinforcement (+R)

Positive reinforcement is adding something pleasurable in order to get more of the desired behaviour. Example: in riding lessons most of us are taught to pat the horse on the neck in order to reward the horse for their effort. Why don’t we get more enthusiastic horses from this commonly used ‘reward’?

First of all: this is not reinforcing for horses! They don’t like it (…) and therefor it isn’t a reward. Horses have learned that the patting on their neck indicates the end of a certain exercise, for instance trotting around.

If it was reinforcing, they would like to show more of the behaviour in order to earn another reward. I haven’t seen one horse in my whole life that was eager to go back into trot after being patted on the neck. I must admit I have seen green horses occasionally go more forward after being patted on their necks, but that was only because they were turned into flight mode because of it.

Secondly, the timing of this kind of ‘reward’ sucks big time. For instance riders are in general taught to pat the horse on the neck and give it a long rein after a downward transition. Have you ever seen someone being taught to use this ‘reward’ after an upward transition?

I remember I was being told to pat the horse on the neck and giving him a long rein ‘for giving me this good (10 minute long) trot’. It doesn’t make sense scientifically… not to reward during the desired behaviour and often more than 3 seconds after the behaviour. Since riders are not taught to use a bridge signal, the horse doesn’t even know what it was for…

If you pay close attention you can see that it doesn’t cause eagerness in horses, they just ‘endure it’.

A reward has to be reinforcing the behaviour

In order for the horse to connect the behaviour with the reward the reward has to reinforce the behaviour. In other words: the reward has to be rewarding for the horse. A pat on the neck is not, a food reward usually is. And the reward must be given during the desired behaviour or announced with a bridge signal during the desired behaviour.

Reward the riding horse

Why not using a (real) reward to encourage the horse to give us more of a certain behaviour?

I have used a clicker during my riding lessons and it worked amazingly. The rider offered the food reward after each time I clicked. Even riders who never had heard of positive reinforcement or clicker training were open to try it.1_treat

None of my pupils ever said ‘Let’s stop rewarding my horse during your lessons’. On the contrary: they were all pleasantly surprised about the leaps of improvements their horses showed once we introduced a bridge signal and a real reward!

I used positive reinforcement to help improve things like the right head position during transitions, stepping more under their center of gravity with their inner hind leg in bends, teaching smooth transitions walk-canter-walk, ‘duration’ in lateral gaits, standing square and so on.

Adding a reward helps to cummunicate clearly what it is you want from the horse.

Good side effects

The best thing was the side effect of using the clicker on the horse: it helped the rider to develop their feel during a certain exercise. As soon as they heard the click, they knew the horse was doing it right. Which meant they were doing it right! After all, the horse can only do something right if the rider is helping him to perform.

As soon as the riders learned what ‘feel’ they were looking for, they could reproduce it on their own too! I didn’t have to explain anymore what it would feel like in words, but I could  just let them experience it themselves.

Rewarding works so much better than releasing (accumulating) pressure to teach a horse something new. A reward is something the horse looks forward to and engages him in riding. A release on the other hand is often more of a relief and not a reward at all.

[To be continued….]

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 II: Schoolmasters
Part III: Facts about horse behaviour
Part IV-b: Positive reinforcement (riders)
Part V: Attention for the horses emotions

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The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons (3/5)

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 is is in the way riding is taught (in general), but it doesn’t have to be like this. Riding and learning to ride can be relatively easy and effortlessly if only these prerequisites were met. Riding certainly doesn’t have to be a struggle what it seem 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

Facts about horse behaviour

If you are a horse behaviourist and you’re watching a riding lesson you hear a lot of nonsense about horse behaviour being taught to riders. I wish all instructors had to write at least one paper about natural horse behaviour before they are allowed to teach.

_Horse_behaviour_hippologicMost famous ones are the ‘be the leader’-myth and the ‘don’t let him win’-myth that refer to the idea of one alpha horse that makes all the decisions and is the dominant horse of the herd. There is no such thing in a herd. Yes, horses can behave dominant in certain situations, but decisions when to move and were to go are more based on a (part of the) group decision.

Instructors make riders believe that they have to ‘dominate’ the horse all the time. How? By being dominant in a way people are by using pain inflicting methods such as kicking the horse forward or using whips and spurs to make the horse obey. It just breaks my heart…

This is not only cruel to the horse but it is unnecessary too. I also think that most riders (who start riding because they love horses) are made insecure by behaving ‘dominant’. Horse lovers want to bond and connect with their horses.

The good news is: you can develop a friendship and still ride your horse safely. Horse lovers don’t like to inflict pain to horses, but they do so because they are taught to by the instructor, so they are acting against their own gut feeling. That’s never a good feeling.

Horses are highly social animals

The reason horses could be domesticated in the first place is because of their social structure. They depend on their herd members for survival and they are ‘hard-wired’ to work together.

If a horse doesn’t follow a cue there is always a reason:

 

  • They don’t understand the cue. All riders are different and not all riders give the exact same cues all the time.

 

  • Something else (danger or getting out of sight of a herd member) has a higher priority. They can simply have missed your cue because of that.

 

  • The behaviour has not been reinforced enough (they lack motivation) or
  • other behaviour is more reinforcing

 

  • The are physically unable (anymore). Maybe they have pain or are tired.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAHorses don’t think in ‘winning or losing’ they act on ‘surviving or getting killed’. They spook because they are afraid, not because they are ‘out to get you’ or ‘want to avoid work’ or ‘are acting out’.

I wish riding instructors would explain more about the natural behaviour based on facts/scientific research to their students and not on century old hear-say.

Horses don’t have to be dominated in order to let them cooperate, they will cooperate freely if they benefit from it. Thankfully more and more people discover the power of the use of positive reinforcement training: it works extremely well and it gives the trainer a good feeling too.

More about positive reinforcement in the next article.

What myths have you heard in riding lessons that you wish are not being taught to riders? Please share.

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 II: Schoolmasters
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 (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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5 things I wish I knew when I bought my horse

It is useful to make mistakes and learn from them, but sometimes it is better to learn from other peoples mistakes. Here are five things I have learned owning my own horse.

#1 Horses

I wish I had known more about horse behaviour, training and learning theory when I bought my first pony. I thought I knew a lot, but I didn’t realize that most of the things I knew where hear-say myths, based on traditional ideas like ‘you have to dominate your horse otherwise he will dominate you’ and you have to be ‘the alpha horse’. Turns out that there is no such thing as one leader in a herd who makes all the decisions, a herd acts more like a democratic society.

In today’s society we are lucky that there is so much research about horse behaviour and how to teach horses new skills at our hands on the Internet. Make use of it! Don’t believe everything you hear and don’t be afraid to ask (critical) questions. All the time. About everything.

#2 Instructors

A lot of instructors are still teaching the myths I mentioned above. Most of them are also more focused on results than on the way the results are reached. That makes me sad. I know all riders want results, but they also really love their horses. If they only knew they can have the best of both worlds: building a good relationship with their horse and booking results.

Knowledgeable instructors

I find it very difficult to find instructors who can explain clearly the reason for everything they teach you. I’ve had coaches who couldn’t explain why I should ride circles or what exercises it prepared my horse for. They couldn’t explain why I should ride a raising trot and why it must be on the outside leg.

Always ask what their vision is before you hire them and what they’ve learned in their education. What they liked best about it and if there are things they wished they had learned more about during their education.

I know what I missed. In my 500 page book that I had to study in order to become a certified riding instructor there where only 2 pages about didactics and no information about learning theory or how to help your clients become balanced riders. Needless to say I went elsewhere to learn this valuable information.

#3 Barn owners

This is a sensitive subject. I’ve come across the very skillful and those that are clueless. Again, there are barn owners who know a lot about horses and understand their natural needs (16 hours of high fiber, low calorie food, clean water, social needs and exercise) and the ones that think boarding horses is an easy way to make money. Be careful with barn owners that are not interested in horses themselves but started a boarding facility because they bought a horse for their daughter(s).

Before you move your horse to a new barn ask questions like: how much pasture time do horses get. Is this all year round or only in the summer? What about rainy days (weeks). Also inform yourself about their rules: what is included in the price, are you allowed to bring friends, choose your own instructor, vet and farrier?

#4 Fellow barn people

Don’t underestimate the influence your fellow barn mates can have on you. You will spent many hours at the barn. Look for a place with good vibes.

If there is a lot of drama, you won’t have a good time. In some barns people are very friendly and open to all kinds of riding styles, in other barns you are treated like outcast if you are ‘not one of them’. It is always nice to make friends and share your hobby.

#5 Farriers

Good farriers are worth their weight in gold! If you have one that does a good job, keep him/her! Since the good ones are very busy people, it is advisable to make already an appointment for the next time before they leave the barn. Especially on the first sunny days in Spring and at the start of the competition season: everyone needs a farrier. Treat them well. I provide cookies and coffee/tea/cold drink. Positive reinforcement works on people too!

What advise do you want to share with people who just bought their first horse? Please share it in the comments. Thank you!

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

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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!

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!

Or simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

HippoLogic.jpg
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I connect 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 gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training and learn how to train your horse so you can ride without aversives.
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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

4 Tips to improve your riding without an instructor

First of all: I don’t think anyone can do without a good instructor, we all need a pair of eyes on the ground and a voice that can connect ‘feel’ with ‘action’ to improve your riding.

I know there are a lot of riders that are working without an instructor as we speak, not because they think they know it all or that they feel they don’t need any help. This blog is meant for those riders. The ones who always want to improve.

Riders are without a decent instructor because they can’t find anyone who fits their needs. Maybe you are looking for an instructor who is open to clicker training and you don’t know the right person yet. Some barns here don’t allow outside instructors, it can be a financial issue, you don’t have a possibility to haul your horse to a lesson nearby, you don’t have an arena and so on.

#1 Video
Make a video while you are riding. It doesn’t have to be long, you can just film a specific exercise. You can warm up your horse and just do a few transitions walk-canter or only a few steps shoulder in to review at home. Or if you’re training for a competition you can video the exercises one at a time.

Go home, remember that you are learning and that your goal is to improve yourself. Watch the video as if it was your best friend riding. What would you say to her if she would have asked you for some tips to improve? Be kind because you’re the biggest critic of yourself. Phrase it in a positive way. Write your tips down and say: “I can improve my riding by … [fill in the blank]”. For every tip for improvement try to write down a compliment too.

If you are nervous about filming and watching it back: just film a few minutes so you can give your best. You will be surprised that sometimes if feels much clumsier than it looks! Try it, you might surprise yourself.

#2 Ask a friend
Your Hippologic_rijden_kyrafriend doesn’t have to be an instructor he or she can be ‘your eyes on the ground’. Ask  your friend to tell you specific things that you want to know. Be specific and ask her to tell you if the hind hooves are landing in the imprint of the front hooves or stepping over. If you want to improve your feel ask your friend to say “yes” every time your horse lifts up his outer hind leg. Just simple exercises like that can help improve your riding enormously and you don’t need an instructor to help you with those.

#3 Watch and learn
If you don’t have the opportunity to take lessons yourself try to watch other riders as much as possible. Go to a clinic or buy a dvd of your favourite instructor out there.

If you are a visual person you can watch videos of your favourite rider just before you go riding yourself. When you are riding pretend to be that rider. It will immediately improve your riding.

Make a video of you riding with and without having watched your favourite rider and find out if you can see the difference.

#4 Practise at home
There are a lot of good exercises that help riders improve without being on a horse. Sitting on a yoga ball while working on your pc can help your balance. There are some good instructors with a Centered Riding background who made good dvd’s to help riders, Wendy Murdoch and the Murdoch Method for instance.

Have fun riding!

Sandra Poppema

5 Tips to improve your riding immediately

#1 Keep on B breathebreathing
As instructor I often see that riders improve instantly if they start breathing again. If a rider is concentrating or ‘doing her best’ they hold their breath. What impact does that have on their body?

If you hold your breath you get tense in a lot of places. If you flex your muscles too much, you cannot move with your horse anymore. In other words you are making it so hard on your horse to move freely that it then becomes harder for you to follow your horses movement.

Experiment
If have a yoga ball or an office chair you can do this little experiment. Sit on the ball or chair and move forward and backward while holding your upper body still. What is easier? To breathe in while you are moving the ball/chair forward or backward? Why do you think that is? What happens when you hold your breath? Do you feel tension?

On the horse
While riding something similar happens when you hold your breath. Make it a habit that every time you ride along the letter B, you think: “B means breathe”.

#2 Check if there is tension you can let go
Can you wiggle your toes in your boots while riding? Is your tongue relaxed? No, check your breathing againrelax. See if you can relax as much as possible without becoming Jello. My own instructor often said: “Be like a twig: straight but flexible so you can still move and follow the horses movements”. Another tip she gave me was to imagine you “ride with your skeleton, not with your muscles”. Imagine you stack your vertebra, shoulders, neck and head in a balanced pile so you don’t have to use your muscles to keep straight.

#3 Keep your head up
Apparently your head weighs about 5 kilograms. If you tilt your head forward, to look at your horse, your balance is already disturbed. Imagine a stick with a rotating plate on it. How does the plate stay on the stick? Because the plate is balanced on the stick. If the stick was not in the middle of the plate it would fall. Your head is luckily attached to your spine and therefor it will not fall off. But your muscles have to work hard to prevent you from falling off of your horse. That causes… tension. See #2.

#4 Make a habit of checking your posture
It is hard when you ride by yourself to check on yourself. Especially when you don’t have mirrors in your (outdoorC check) arena.

Here are a few tips. Make simple reminders for yourself. For example, C stands for “Checking my posture”. Every time you pass along the letter C, you check if you can wiggle your toes in your boots and if your tongue is relaxed.  Check also if your head is straight above your vertebra.

Every time you ride along the letter B you remember to Breathe.  Ask yourself: “Am I holding my breath?”

#5 Smile!Smile 
Smiling makes you relaxed. Have you ever smiled when you were tense? That is not a real smile. Try it now. Breathe, relax and try a friendly, loving smile and feel how it relaxes your body. So don’t forget to smile while you are riding.

Sandra Poppema
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