Best Clicker Training Tip for Advanced Horse Trainers

advanced clickertraining tips hippologicOne of the first skills I teach advanced clicker trainers is to write a shaping plan. Or shall I say: as soon as they are able to write successful shaping plans, they are advanced… Not sure.

The most common pitfall in clicker training is that people tend to ‘lump’ and make the steps too big. Their horses can’t follow and get frustrated why they don’t get clicks anymore for what they offer. All kinds of undesired and sometimes even dangerous behaviour can happen if that happens too often.

The trainer gets frustrated too: why is their horse not cooperating? They have treats for them… (if they do the right thing). The solution is to thin slice your training. That’s called a shaping plan.

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

Break up your clickertraining so every step leads to success

Shaping Plans, Do You Think it’s Difficult?

 
The challenge with writing a shaping plan for a behaviour you want to train is that you have to think about something that hasn’t happened yet.
 

Writing a Shaping Plan is a skill

 
  • You need imagination and visualisation skills, and
  • You need to know how a horse moves and reacts.
  • In order to write a good shaping plan for your horse you need to be a skilled horse person.
 

Why people get stuck

 
Lumping in clicker training means that you make the steps too big for your horse to be successfulThe reason many of my clients find it difficult and get stuck (or skip this process in training) is that they are new to it and don’t realize that they need to learn this skill. Mastering a skill takes time.
 
I have several techniques developed that I teach so that they can make a shaping plan on their own. The clients that went through my Ultimate Horse Training Formula, an 8-week online course with live classes became stars at writing their own shaping plans!  That makes a HUGE difference for them in becoming autonomous trainers.
 

Not many people have in person clicker instructors available

 
As we all know clicker instructors are still a rare species in the off line world and for my clients it’s really important that they can train (/play with!) their horses in a safe way. They like to bond and getting results with their horses.
 

Why a Shaping Plan is an essential Training Tool

 
Realizing why making a plan is so important helps in motivating my students to keep developing this skill. The reason is simple: in positive reinforcement you need to know exactly what you will click (before it happens) because:
 
1) The desired behaviour happens first, then you reinforce. Therefore you NEED to know what will happen.
 
In R- you can easily skip this step and if you don’t get what you want you make the aversive stronger (“just a bit more pressure, if he doesn’t listen”) to force the horse into the behaviour, then let the pressure go and VOILA: the desired behaviour.
 
In R+ you need to WAIT until you GET (= are given) the behaviour before you can reinforce it. HOW can you make that happen? By clicking and reinforcing (saying”Yes!” to your horse) and guide him with clicks and treats to where he needs to be (goal behaviour).
 
_clickertraining_hippologic_reinforce2) You get what you reinforce, so timing is of the essence.
 
If you have no clue of what your horse will do before he does it, do you think your timing will be good enough to get what you want?
 
Writing a shaping plan for behaviour is one of the 6 HippoLogic Key Lessons for Trainers. It’s their key to success in clicker training.
 

Imagine this

 
Imagine a very young child, let’s say 4 years old, with a clicker and treats training her Shetland pony. Do you think a 4 year old is able to clicker train her little horse successfully on her own? Why not? What skills does she miss?
Name one skills she misses and she needs to clicker train a horse on her own in the comments. Just name one and let other people chime in, too. 😉
 
Read more about shaping plans on my blog. Use the search tool in the menu on your right or start here.
 

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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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Halter Your Horse in 3 Steps with Clicker Training

What is your biggest struggle in clicker training? Splitting behaviour? Do you catch yourself sometimes lumping behaviour?

The most challenging task for a positive reinforcement trainer is to ‘thin slice’ your goal behaviour into trainable steps. This process is called a shaping plan.

Key Lesson for Trainers: Shaping plan

One of the 6 Key Lessons for Trainers in HippoLogic’s horse training system is teaching horse people how they can make good shaping plans for their horses.

Shaping plan in 3 easy steps

Step 1 Determine your goal behaviour

Step 2 Divide it into smaller steps. And even smaller. If you can, even more baby steps.

Step 3 Write them all down

#1 Determine Your Goal behaviour

Describe your goal behaviour in a detailed way. Asking questions will help you with this description:

  1. How does the horse behave (describe)
  2. Does your horse move slow, fast or not at all in the goal behaviour
  3. Where are his feet ideally?
  4. Where is is head
  5. How does he use his neck
  6. What about his other body parts: what are they doing and how do they move
  7. Where are you: in front of your horse, next to your horse (left or right) or on your horse (riding)
  8. And so on

Example: Haltering

  1. The horse is calm and is relaxed
  2. Horse stands still (otherwise halter becomes challenging)
  3. His feet are on the ground (not on my feet), so no pawing or moving around
  4. His head is relatively low
  5. Neck horizontal (horses that keep their head high or moving are hard to halter)
  6. Tail doesn’t move (no swishing)
  7. I am in front of the horse (I know traditionally you need to stay at the left. Clicker training is not traditional. It’s OK to break some rules. I like to be in front so it’s easy to teach horses to ‘self halter’.)

#2 Divide Goal into Trainable Steps

When you did a good job describing the behaviour you have a lot of starting points to make a good shaping plan.
In your shaping plan you write down every step you need to teach your horse in order to train your goal behaviour.

It helps to remember that your horse has no clue what you want to accomplish!

Every step in the description above can help you divide the goal behaviour ‘haltering’ into smaller steps.

The first step has to be that the horse stands still and is approachable. We all know how hard it is to halter a walking or trotting running horse, don’t we?

So all the above steps in the description of the goal behaviour can be steps in your shaping plan. If you think this is undue than you’ve probably never tamed and trained a wild horse. Also for halter shy and ear and head shy horses these steps all can be necessary.

Now you have the perfect body posture trained the next step is to bring in the halter. Some of the other steps in the shaping plan of training haltering are:

  • Horse stands still and keeps his head still when he sees the halter
  • Halter can move towards the horse and the horse keeps his head still
  • Head is at a height that is convenient to halter
  • Horse keeps his head still or
  • moves slightly down when the noseband is around his nose (Key Lesson Head lowering and Key Lesson Targeting are excellent training tools to train this part)
  • Horse keeps head still when head piece touches ears (for head and ear shy horses you need to thin slice this even further!)
  • Horse keeps head still when head piece goes over his ears
  • Horse keeps head still when handler closes the halter

Each and every step in the above list can be divided even small if the horse needs it.
In your shaping plan you also write down when you want to move to the next step, what reinforcers you use and what the set up of the training environment is.

#3 Write it Down!

Studies have proven that writing your goals down help improve accomplishing it with 39%. People who share their goals and make themselves accountable (by sharing their goal with their coach or close friend) even increase their chances to 79%!

If you’ve written your shaping plan down it’s also way easier to remember. You’ve already visualized it in detail in order to write it down. Don’t underestimate the power of the pen! If you need help writing shaping plans, I happen to be a star in it! I also offer accountability for my students, so if you want to increase your chances of success, you know how to find me, right?

Read on

Smart strategy to re-train a halter shy horse with video.

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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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What is the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy? It’s an online place where you can learn to train every behaviour you have in mind with R+. We have a small, all-inclusive community in which students can thrive and develop.

  • Professional, personal positive reinforcement advice on your training videos
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  • Student levels are novice to very advanced clicker trainers

Join the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy and become one of the 25 ‘founding members’ (those students who receive extra privileges because they are the first) .
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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

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  • 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.

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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!
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.

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5 Tips to Improve the Bond with Your Horse

There are many things you can do to improve the relationship with your horse. Even if you already have a great relationship you can still implement these.

1. Listen to Your Horse

Listen to your horse clickertraining.ca

Listen to what your horse communicates

Stop labeling your horse and start describing his behaviour. If you use labels you give away your power to listen. If you have a ‘stubborn’ horse, or a ‘lazy’ one or even a ‘smart cookie’ it feels if you don’t have any influence on his behaviour. Nothing is further from the truth. Study horse behaviour and spent time watching your horse.

2. Act to what your horse communicates

If your horse doesn’t want to come near a new object or doesn’t want to jump over a jump, he is telling you something about his emotions about the object. In order to improve your bond you don’t only have to listen what he has to say, you have to let him know you care. The way you do this is to make him comfortable and increase his courage and confidence about what you want him to do.

3. Break up your training in small steps

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

Break up your clickertraining so every step leads to success

Your horse has no idea what you have planned for him today and in the future. If you are teaching him something new, make sure you set him up for success and break it down in small steps. Positively reinforce him for every effort he makes, even though it might not look like the end result yet. This is called splitting behaviour in animal training. I teach my students to set and plan their goals so they become very successful.

Milestones in horse training are always based on small steps.

4. Make training, riding and taking care of him fun

Strengthen everything you want your horse to do for  you with something he likes too. Don’t think only about you want if you value the bond with your horse. The more positive reinforcement you use (the more you give), the more you get back from your horse. All people I know that started using clicker training notice very quickly how much your horse suddenly pays attention to what you do if you use a bit of clicker training.

5. Keep track of your Training

One of my pet peeves is to keep track of your training. This helps you to see how far you’ve come and how much you’ve already improved. This goes for your training as well as your relationship. My horse Kyra was wild when I got her (feral, I mean!). She didn’t want to have anything to do with me or people in general. Now she seeks out human contact and is the barn favorite. How great is her live now because of that!

clickertraining is fun

Clickertraining makes safe horses if you do it well

When you keep track (and there are many ways to do this!) you can put where you are now in perspective. We are all very tempted to only look at all things we haven’t achieved yet and that can lead to feeling like a failure. I am a fan of comparing yourself only with yourself, not with someone else. You might compare your worst with someone else’s best. That is not setting yourself up for a proud feeling!

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!

HippoLogic.jpg
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.

Take action. 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

5 Benefits of using a Shaping Plan in Horse Training

The blog you’re looking for has moved to my website: https://clickertraining.ca/5-benefits-of-using-a-shaping-plan-in-horse-training

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Sandra Poppema, BSc

Go-to person for online equine clicker training

Teaching horse people to make training a win-win and bond with their horse so they can enjoy their time together.

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Smart strategy to train a halter shy horse

Let me start by telling you that there are many ‘wrong’ ways and many right ways to rehabilitate a horse that has a halter or bridle trauma. Here is my story in which I share the wrong and the right strategy.

Problem_Haltering_haltershy_horse_hippologic

This is Punky. His problem was that no one, except the owner, could halter him.

You can see how that can be a daily stress for both horse and humans in a boarding facility, right?

Solution

The wrong way is to go straight to problem solving. That is what we humans like to do, it is natural to us and it has been reinforced all our lives that this is the way to do it.

That is exactly what I did…

dealing with problem beahviour_hippologic1

I started the ‘wrong’ way, which was pretty much what most horse trainers would do.

When I was training Punky, I thought I could skip my own Key Lessons and ‘just teach the horse to be OK with a halter’.

I thought just teaching Punky to target the halter would be the one and only step to desensitize him. I envisioned that the next step could be the haltering. Easy-peasy.

It was a bit more complex than that and I learned how valuable the HippoLogic Key Lessons really are. For all trainers.

We can’t skip steps because it is the horse who determines how many steps are needed, not the trainer.

solving problem behaviour_hippologic

How Key Lessons helped me train a halster shy horse

When I started out teaching Punky to target his halter, he became really excited about all the treats he was (in his mind!) ‘suddenly’ receiving.

Key Lesson ‘Table Manners for Horses’ (safe hand-feeding)

I needed to teach him Key Lesson ‘Table Manners for Horses’ in order to keep my fingers safe and to teach him that a food reward only can be expected after the click.

Key Lesson ‘Patience’

He started to mug me more and more. Again, I had to lower my criteria about his learning curve. I realized that I should have taught him Key Lesson ‘Patience’ (move his head out of my space in order not to mug me) before I taught him anything else.

Then, when I thought I was ready to work on ‘desensitization of the halter’ I noticed that he wouldn’t even wanted to come near a halter. Every time I wanted to halter him he put his head up to prevent me from haltering him.

Key Lesson ‘Targeting’

I decided to teach him Key Lesson ‘Targeting’ (nose and ears) so I could bring the halter near his body and ask him to touch the halter with his nose.

This wasn’t enough to halter him. Now he was OK with touching the halter with his nose and even putting his nose into the nose band, but he was still putting his head up and backing up when I wanted to pull the halter over his ears.

Key Lesson ‘Head lowering’

Therefor I needed to teach Punky Key Lesson ‘Head lowering’. Asking him to lower his head on cue turned out to be super helpful in giving Punky clarity about all I wanted from him:

  • Keep your head near me
  • Put your nose in the halter
  • Lower your head
  • Target the crown piece with your ears
  • Keep your head low so I can bring the crown piece over your ears and…
  • Keep your head down until I close the snap.

Lumping a common pitfall in training

In other words: I was lumping instead of splitting the goal behaviour. A pitfall all trainers need to beware of.

_hurry slowly_festina lente_hippologic.jpg

This was a valuable experience for me. Now I start all horses I train, teaching them my Key Lessons. No matter what I think they already can do or what I ‘think I can skip’. Building a solid foundation first, speeds up training instead of slowing it down!

Here is a video of haltering Punky, training day 4:

Here is a video of day 11, after I taught all the necessary Key Lessons:

Read more

How you can turn basic exercises as ‘Table Manners’ for Horses and ‘Patience’ into tools is discussed in part I.  Read here part II where you can learn how to use Key Lessons Targeting and Mat training to train complex behaviours. Read part III to learn how you can use Key Lessons Head lowering and Backing for advanced training purposes.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect 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 8 week course ‘Ultimate Horse Training Formula: Key Lessons, Your Key to Success’ that will change your life.

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?

1_treat

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

Tips to prevent Frustration in Riding or Training Your Horse

Every rider, every horse owner and every trainer has experienced frustration at one point. I notice that some people are frustrated more than others. What to do about frustration? Take it out on your horse? Or try to prevent it (is that even possible)?

The people who I see struggling with frustration are the people who don’t have a clear plan when they are riding or training their horse. They don’t split their goal into tiny building blocks and work their way systematically through the process. They tend to move their goals (criteria) during training, so they have the feeling they never succeed. That would be the same as having ‘getting to the horizon’ as your goal: you will never succeed!

The 1 million dollar question

If you feel frustration stop whatever you’re doing and ask yourself ‘why am I feeling this right now’? These are possible answers:

  • Are you asking too much of yourself?
  • Are you asking too much of your horse?
  • Are you comparing yourself with others (who might be at a whole different point in their journey with their horse)?
  • Are you making your steps too big (‘lumping‘), are you discouraging or confusing your horse?
  • Did you make (and write) a realistic plan before you started training/riding your horse?
  • Are you positively reinforcing yourself and your horse enough to keep going?
  • Do you give yourself and your horse enough time to process the training?
  • Who is telling you that you have to accomplish ‘this’ (whatever that is) right now?
  • Did you prepare your horse enough to this situation?

Prevent frustration

First of all: stop beating yourself up! It doesn’t help you and it only make things worse. Second: don’t beat up your horse. He can’t help it, he is just a horse. You don’t want to regret taking your frustration out on him.

If you feel frustration coming up, simply stop what you’re trying to accomplish and take a few moments to pause. Take a few deep breaths and ask yourself the questions above.

In order to prevent frustration make training goals and plan every step in the process. Make a good shaping plan and if you get stuck, pause and take another look at your shaping plan to see if you are lumping (skipping steps in the process to the goal behaviour). If you don’t know how to do this: ask help!_frustration_in_training_horse_hippologic

Frustration is not necessary!

Take baby steps in your training. Celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how small! Don’t forget to write your goals and your achievements down: we have a tendency to forget or play down our own achievements! 😉 Start a training journal today!

You’re not the only one

We have all experienced frustration from time to time. If I see frustrated riders it reminds me of me a long time ago. When I was using ‘traditional training’ (which meant: there is no plan to follow) I used to be frustrated all the time!

I must say I almost never frustrated with my horse anymore and if I feel frustration coming up I know to deal with it before damaging my relationship with Kyra.

Change your focus

Changing my focus was a big help in preventing frustration. Instead of saying ‘no’ to my horse (and myself) all the time, I learned to focused on the ‘yes’.

Instead of saying ‘why are you always walking away when I want to mount, stupid horse!’ I learned to focus on the few seconds she could (and would) stand still and encourage this behaviour. Because I now reinforced my horse with treats to stand still, of course Kyra became very motivated to display that behaviour more and more! Shifting my focus from the ‘walking away’ to the ‘four hooves on the ground’ was such an eye opener!

Calling your horse names, will not give you a good feeling, even if it gives you temporary satisfaction.

Yes, it is easy to blame your horse and call him ‘stupid’ but be honest: Does it really give you a good feeling that you have a ‘stupid’ horse?

Wouldn’t you feel better about yourself if you had a ‘handsome and smart’ horse? I think that a smart horse can only be smart if the owner gives the freedom and opportunity to show how smart he really is! Don’t call yourself or your horse names. It is not encouraging or supporting for you or your horse in any way. Start feeling compassion for yourself. Be gentle: you are on a journey, learning is a process.

Last but not least

Never compare yourself or your horse with anybody else. We might be comparing our ‘worst’ with their ‘best’. They might be in a whole different stage of their journey. If they can do something you can’t, it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything right. It is just not a fair comparison. Ever.

If you want to see it from a positive view: you now know that it (whatever ‘it’ is), is possible. And… maybe they can even help you reach the same goal or point you in the right direction!

Focus on what is most important in the world: your own journey, your relationship with your horse.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners create the relationship with their horse they really, really want. I do this by connecting them with their inner wisdom and teach them the principles of learning and motivation, so they become confident and skilled to train their horse in a safe and effective way that is a lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.

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Setting your horse up for success: splitting behaviour

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make in horse training is that they don’t set their horse (or themselves) up for success. Once you know some basics about horse training, setting it up for succes becomes easier. A common mistake is not visualizing what the goal is and planning how to communicate it to your horse.

_splitting-and-lumping-HippoLogic

Splitting behaviour

If you have a goal in mind to teach your horse, the first step to set yourself up for success is making a shaping plan. In your shaping plan you describe your goal, your starting point and how you are going to divide the goal into baby steps in order to built this new behaviour.

Split your goal behaviour into enough baby steps and train every step separately until it is mastered before you raise a criterion. In this way you train (shape) your goal behaviour in a systematic way. Each baby step is in fact a building block of the desired behaviour. So far the theory.

Splitting behaviour is not easy and this is a continues aspect to work on. Even me, after more than 16 years of experience with positive reinforcement training, I catch myself lumping behaviour. Why? Because every horse, every behaviour and every situation  is different.

You can’t possibly know beforehand what your horse is capable off, physically or mentally. You only know that until you reach a  boundary. Also the training circumstances have a great influence on the learning capability of humans and horses. Teaching your horse something new in stormy weather is probably not setting yourself up for success.

Lumping behaviour

The most common mistake is that the steps trainers make are too big for the horse. This is called lumping. The horse doesn’t understand what is expected from him. When you lump, you simply have raised (too many) criteria, too soon.

How to recognize lumping

It is quit easy to recognize if you know what to look for. You know it is time to adjust your criteria or tweak the setting of your training if your horse shows signs of:

  • fear
  • frustration
  • disinterest
  • distraction
  • anger
  • shutting down

Your horse can get disinterested in you and your training because he thinks he will never  earn a treat and simply gives up. Or he can get frustrated: ‘Why don’t I get that treat now, when I did this just a minute ago I got it.’

Trainer

This also goes for the trainer. If you feel frustrated, anxious, despair, anger or other undesired emotions, just stop for a moment. Take a break and take  few deep breaths. Get yourself into thinking mode again. Then figure out a way to split the training into more steps and start over.

Lowering your criteria is not the same as ‘failing’, on the contrary: lowering your criteria in order to follow your horses (or your own) learning curve is setting your horse up for success. A side effect is that you will succeed quicker, too

Mastering splitting

I don’t think it is realistic to expect we’ll never lump behaviour anymore. It is part of the learning experience: split behaviour enough until you notice a bump in the road. This is when you know you’re lumping. Then you split the ‘lump’ and go on until you encounter the next bump. That is ‘learning’ and it is fun.

Every time you notice that you’re lumping it is a sign that you have experience. Why? Otherwise you wouldn’t notice it and might try to solve the problem with a bit more tack, a whip or other ways to make the horse do what you desire. That is what most people do, I see this happening in the most experienced clinicians too.

Here is a video in which you can see what splitting and lumping can look like:

[Readers who get my blog via their email won’t see the video embedded. Sorry about this. If you want to see it, follow this link to my blog https://hippologic.wordpress.com]

Science of learning

I am grateful I have learned a bit about horse behaviour/body language, learning theory, learning processes and how to motivate a learner (human and horse). I don’t need to force my goals onto my horse anymore now that I have these tool of knowledge and experience.

If my training is not getting me the results I wanted or expected I take a break and regroup. Sometimes my break lasts for a few day or even a week. It doesn’t matter. My horse doesn’t win, if I stop training just because I don’t know what to do at that moment. I am always aiming for a win-win.

Force is never the (right) answer in my opinion. I treasure the bond with my horse too much for that.

Related articles

Setting your horse up for success: Context shift

Setting your horse up for Succes: Short sessions

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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.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin