10 Tips to Train Your Horse Faster

When I started ‘training’ my free lease pony I had no idea what my plan was. Well, that is not entirely true… I thought I had a plan.

When he was born my plan was: “To start him under saddle when he was 4 years old”. That’s it. I was 12 years old. I had no idea how to do it, but I thought I knew. After all, I had read all the books in the library about horse training.

Here are 10 tips that I wished I knew back then to set myself up for success, to give myself confidence and motivate me in times of frustration. It would have made my life and that one of the pony (!) so much better.

OK, here we go.

Tip #10 Set a goal

Training_logbook_journal_diary_hippologic2016Set a goal and make a plan (see tip #8). Simply start writing in your training journal what you want to teach your horse. Eg ‘standing still at the mounting block’. Writing it down is very important.

Tip #9

Focus on what you want, instead on what you don’t want. I hear lots of riders say things like: ‘My horse can’t stand still’.

What do you visualize when you read this? You probably see a horse that walks away or doesn’t stand still. Focus on what you want to happen and phrase it that way: ‘I want my horse to stay with 4 hooves on the ground while I mount’. Now visualize it. Is this what you want?

Tip #8

Be specific. The more specific you are the better your chances of success. You know what to look for, so you also know when you are successful.

In the example above I can be more specific: ‘I want to teach my horse to align with the mounting block and stay with 4 hooves on the ground while I mount. My horse is calm and relaxed when I sit in the saddle and he waits patiently for my cue to walk on.’ What do you see when you visualize this?

If you are specific you will know exactly what your training criteria (and you have your training plan) are: 4 hooves on the ground, aligning to the mounting block, standing relaxed while being mounted, wait for a cue to walk on.

Tip #7

Find yourself an accountability partner. Someone supportive of your goals and who is not afraid to ask how you’re doing with your goals. If you want a really good accountability partner look for someone who knows more than you do about the subject and can help you specify your goals and help write down your training plan. Find someone who doesn’t judge.

Tip #6

Next step is to plan your training sessions. A plan without action is nothing but a wish._A dream without a plan is just a wish_Hippologic_equestrian goal setting.jpg You have to know when you want to work on it. Weekly lessons or a monthly meeting with your partner are a great way to make yourself accountable.

Use your calendar to plan what you will work on each day. For example training your horse to align along the mounting block on Monday, Tuesday and Friday. By the end of the month you know how much time you spent on training a specific behaviour.

Tip #5

Keep your training sessions for new behaviours short and sweet. If you train a new behaviour you only have to work on it for a few minutes. I train max 5 minutes per session when I train a new behaviour. Then I give a break or I ask behaviours that are already understood very well and are easy to perform for my horse, before I go back to train another 5 minutes on the new behaviour.

timing is everything_hippologic

Tip #4

Know when to stop. Stop when it’s (still) going well. This is very difficult, but I now know when the best time to stop is. I learned to recognize that little voice in my head that whispered ‘One more time’, ‘This was fun! Let’s do it again. (And again. And again)’ or

‘Let’s see if my horse really understands it or if it was a coincidence that he did it’. This is a good time to stop or focus on something else.

If you keep going, the behaviour will decrease and you can get frustrated. That is not the best time to stop practising, but you have to.

Tip #3

Manage frustration and other negative feelings. If you went on and on until the behaviour gets worse and/or you and your horse get frustrated: please stop. It is better to stop when you feel a little frustrated than keep going. That will never make it better. Forgive yourself, make a note in your training logbook and thank yourself for becoming aware. Awareness is the first step in improving.

Tip #2

Celebrate! Share your success with your accountability partner. Celebrate it with yourself and do something you will remember for this special moment. Take a picture or video of the new trained behaviour or share your story on your social media. Hooray! Be proud! Be happy!

Tip #1

_positive_reinforcement_clicker_training_hippologicUse a bridge signal in combination with something the horse wants. Positive reinforcement is the one thing that made all my training so much easier, quicker and more fun too! A bridge signal (or marker) is such a great communication tool. It provides clarity for yourself and for your horse and makes everything you want to train so much easier and with less frustration.

I wish I would have learned all this in the riding school I learned to ride, or from all the (five) books the library owned when I was a girl!

It would have saved me hours and hours of frustration and prevented me from many dangerous situations. I would be much more confident and saved me a lot of frustration. Me and my pony would have had more fun and a better relationship earlier on.

If you think you can help someone with these tips, please share them with the buttons below and help improve horse-human relationships! Thank you.

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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!
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Tips for Clicker Training from the Saddle

It seems complicated to use positive reinforcement during riding. Most common struggle points are: ‘It’s hard to hold a clicker and the reins in my hands’, ‘Clicker training is useful on the ground, but I don’t know how to use it from the saddle‘ and ‘If you use clicker training in riding you have to stop all the time to give a treat‘. How to address these issues?


Keep it simple!

Positive reinforcement is positive reinforcement, whether you apply it from the ground, standing next to your horse, or when you sit in the saddle. Therefor you have to apply the same rules to set you and your horse up for success: Continue reading

Setting your horse up for Succes: Short sessions

[Lees hier de Nederlandstalige versie]

We all know the fantastic feeling when our horse is learning something new very quickly. We are in a flow and our horse understands our cues and he is so smart. You don’t want to stop. Have you experienced this? I love it. How can you reproduce such a state?

Learning takes brainpower

_orenA horse’s attention span last only for a certain amount of time. After the attention span is used up, it doesn’t matter how much more you practise: you are not getting better results. If you are doing more repetitions (because it was going so well before) it will become a recipe for failure. You can become frustrated if your horse ‘suddenly’ starts making ‘mistakes’ or his performance looks sloppy. This happens when his brains is ‘full’ and he can’t concentrate anymore. Your horse doesn’t do this on purpose.

The secret to Success

Stop your training sessions while you are still making progress. This is the best time to give yourself and your horse a break. Keep sessions short and sweet. In this way you will keep progressing, but over multiple sessions, instead of progressing and then deteriorating at the end of each session.

If you end on a good note, this is where the next session will start. It will give you, the trainer, a good feeling if you end your sessions when you are still progressing. It is motivating and it will keep you looking forward to the next session.

Signs to stop your session

When I started this (ending my training sessions when we were still making progress) it was hard. No one wants to stop when it is going very well and when you are still having fun.

_short training sessions_hippologicI noticed a pattern in me before my horses achievements dropped. It seemed to be right after the voice in my head told me: ‘Just one more time’ or ‘Let’s see if she really understands it and try again’ or ‘Wow this is going fantastic let’s do this again. It is so much fun now that Kyra has mastered it’.

Sometimes it happened when someone else came to watch and I expected Kyra to perform well because she kept on improving until a moment ago. Suddenly Kyra seemed to have forgotten what I had taught her. See this post Setting your horse up for Success: Context shift.

Tips to keep sessions short

  • Count your treats before your start training (10 – 20 treats)
  • Use a timer (5 – 10 minutes)
  • Notice improvements and stop when your horse performs well
  • Stop instead of ‘trying one more time’
  • Remind yourself: better a few short successful sessions than one long one

Practise makes Perfect

Now it is much easier to stop my session at the highlight and give Kyra a break. I never think anymore ‘One more time to see if she gets it’. Now I just know she will perform this well if I stop now and give her a break.

It doesn’t matter if it looked like a coincidence that she performed so well. Even if she only did it once and I stop, she will remember next time. Especially if I jackpot her before I end the training.

Length and amount of sessions

I have experimented with the length of my sessions and the amount of sessions. As long as I keep my sessions short, give Kyra enough breaks between sessions, offer a variety of different exercises and use an unpredictable reward schedule (without discouraging or frustrating her), I can engage her for a really long time.

I also noticed that the length of a session is very personal and can vary between horses. A lot of factors influence the length of a successful training session, like the age of the horse, difficulty of the exercise, physical and emotional state of horse and trainer,  environmental factors/distraction and so on.

Do you use breaks in your training to improve performance?

Related blogs

Setting your horse up for Success: Context shift

Setting your horse up for Success: Splitting behaviour


Sandra Poppema
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