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5 Benefits of using a Shaping Plan in Horse Training

In positive reinforcement training we need our horse to think about what we want and to make a conscious decision to do it.

We don’t push, pull, force or threaten our horse in the right direction and release the pressure, force or the threat when he does the desired behaviour. No, we have to create an environment in which he can use his brain.

In order to learn, your horse needs to be in thinking mode.

This self-imposed challenge to ask the horse to use his brain, demands proper preparation from the trainer:

  1. We need to think about we want in advance, in order to
  2. Set our horses up for Success.

How do you Set your Horse up for Success?

You only have a marker (to mark the behaviour), a reinforcer (to strengthen the behaviour) and your brain to make it happen.

Shaping plan_hippologicYou have to guide your horse with your clicks from where he is to where you want him to be, the desired behaviour. In order to do that successfully you need a plan. This is called a ‘shaping plan’. You need to shape the behaviour step by step.

Shaping Plan

A shaping plan is your written approach to train a specific behaviour.

It describes every little step (criterion) in the process to train the desired behaviour. This process is called ‘splitting’ behaviour.

When you split the behaviour in small enough steps, it is easy for your horse to understand what you want (and what he will be reinforced for).

It gives in detail an objective description of the desired behaviour, your goal behaviour. A good shaping plan also contains a description of the circumstances of the training: where you train, the date, the name of the horse, the trainer, what reinforcers will be used and how many good tries will lead to the next criterion.

With a good shaping plan you can guide your horse with clicks to the desired behaviour.

If you split the behaviour in small enough steps, you create enough stepping stones to go from A to B to C to D (Desired behaviour).

If you don’t have enough steps, you get stuck. That is called ‘lumping’ behaviour and your horse can’t make the jump from behaviour A to C. He gets stuck and doesn’t understand anymore where you want him to go.

If you go back to your shaping plan you can see that B is missing. It is easy to come up with an extra stepping stone if you already have a direction of where you want to go.

Purpose of a Shaping Plan

  1. You know what your criterion for a click is
  2. You know after how many successful tries you go to the next criterion
  3. You know what the next criterion is (for what behaviour you will click and reinforce)
  4. You know what reinforcers you are going to use and which ones you’ve used in the past
  5. You know when to give your horse a break.

Training without a shaping plan

What happens if you don’t make a shaping plan? You set yourself up for failure and frustration.shaping lumping hippologic

  • Without a plan of approach it is much harder to recognize if you are making progress.
  • Without a written plan you easily forget what your starting point was and you might not celebrate your successes enough
  • You will miss ‘click-worthy’ moments because you haven’t set parameters what is click worthy and what is not.
  • It is harder to raise your criteria
  • It is also harder to be flexible in your training and adjust as soon as frustration in you of your horse occurs. You don’t have an alternative ready and it is harder to go back to the step where your horse still was successful. As you get more experienced in writing shaping plans, you will notice that you become way more creative in finding solutions to challenges that occur in training.

5 Benefits of a Shaping Plan

  1. If you get stuck you get yourself unstuck way faster because it is easier to see where you need to add an extra step, need to change your reinforcer and/or go back to where your horse was still successful.
  2. The more you practise the more experience you get in splitting behaviour. You will ‘lump’ less and prevent frustration and other undesired emotions and feelings in training
  3. Once you’ve written a good shaping plan you can re-create your training successes with other horses. Even years later, just because you’ve written it down.
  4. It is easier to be flexible in training and come up with an alternative step if you get stuck because you’ve given your training approach already so much thought.
  5. A good plan will speed up your training.

One of the Key Lesson I teach is how to write and use a shaping plan. Shaping plans are your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement training.

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_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners create the relationship with their horse they really, really want and teach them how to get results in training.  
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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.

HippoLogic.jpgSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I improve the human-horse relationships by reconnecting you with your inner wisdom and teach you the principles of learning and motivation, so you become confident and knowledgeable to train your horse in an effective and FUN way. Win-win for horse and human.
All HippoLogic’s programs are focused on building your confidence and provide you with  a step-by-step formula to train horses with 100% positive reinforcement.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.

 

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