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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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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.  
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 Ultimate Horse Training Formula.
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This is how I plan my Equestrian Year for 2018

Being successful gives me so much joy! Let’s talk about ‘success’ for a moment. This is what is mean to me. Success is what you want to achieve, not what others want for you or wanting to achieve what others have achieved.
I think the best way to ‘measure’ success is 1) Only look at your own accomplishments and only 2) compare yourself with yourself. 3) Achieving goals that you’ve written down (so you can actually achieve them and the criteria are not changing all the time). 4) Having fun and enjoying the journey is a big part of success for me!

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3 Tips to Turn Your Training Journal into your most Effective Training Tool

The other day I was reading back in my training journal. I was in a bit of a rut and I realized how important my journal really is and what it brings me. I have accomplished more in horse training in the past 8 years, thanks to the use of my journal, than in the 25 years before that.

I used to have a ‘diary’ in which I wrote about my training, but it wasn’t helping me. My training journal became a very effective training tool when I changed how I was using it. Here is a little blurb based upon January 9th 2017,  ten months ago. It shows why I like using my journal. You will understand why I recommend it to all my clients.

 

Why writing down your goals is so important

The short term goal I wrote down in my journal in January this year was ‘cantering on the long reins over one long side of the arena‘.
_traininglogbook hippologic sandra poppema.JPGMy pitfall is -and maybe you do this too- is that I have a tendency to move the criteria of my goals all the time. The more progress I make, the more I ‘stretch’ my goal. I keep adding tiny details to it when I almost accomplished it.
The result is that I never feel ‘successful’ because I keep changing (adding to) my goal. Sounds familiar?
This doesn’t set me up for success, at all! I feel like a failure because I can never reach my goal. It is like the horizon: you can always see it, but never reach it.
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Pitfall #1 in horse training: people feel like a failure and give up.

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Success tip #1 Write. It. Down.

Is important to set your destination (not be the ‘horizon’) and divide it into smaller, achievable steps. It is important to describe it in detail. In other words: set clear criteria that you can measure. Suddenly it will be clear when you can check off your goal!
Write it down! That is so important! You won’t remember, you will add things to it if you don’t write it down. Believe me, I am doing this for 8 years and I never been so effective in my training!
I teach my clients this all the time and I see how much it helps them to look back at their goals from three weeks earlier. Then they see that they did make lots of progress and they start celebrating and patting themselves on the back and feel good! It’s awesome to see when that happens.
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Write down your goal and criteria for that goal before you start training!
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Quote from my training journal:
“When I practised long reins last Friday, Kyra cantered along one side of the arena! I didn’t realize how awesome this was. Instead I caught myself thinking: ‘This is not enough. She has to canter more collected.’ I also caught myself thinking: ‘She tried to get off the rail. I still haven’t reached my goal.
Then I stopped myself and thought: ‘This was not my short term goal: collected, and in a straight line and…, and… and…’
My goal was: Cantering along one long side of the track. Well, mission accomplished! We can do this now! Yeey us!
It was weird to realize that I reached my goal! Indeed, it was not yet a whole track in canter, but I did reach an important step towards that bigger goal!”

Success tip #2: Celebrate!

When I read back in my training journal I realized that cantering on the long reins on a straight line had been a struggle for us for over a year! So I decided I could use a little celebration to motivated me to keep going.

In order to celebrate I made a video and shared my success with my best friend, I dedicated a blog post on it and I shared it with my accountability partner. I got lots of praise and checked off my goal with a big green check mark in my journal! Wow, that felt good!

Time for the next step

My next (short term) goal is to work on ‘a collected canter along one side of the arena’ so I don’t have to run along. I will be satisfied with one stride, then two and so on, until be can do one long side of the arena. That is what I wrote in my training plan.
Another goal is to do this at the other long side of the arena (context shift), a separate goal is the other lead in canter and so on. Until everything comes together in a collected canter for minutes and including exercises as a circle.
Watch the video here:

Be specific!

Writing goals down before you start is so important. The more specific you are the better. I tell myself that the criteria I didn’t wrote down or added later don’t count as criterion to celebrate!

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Make it a habit to write your goals down first!
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By working on this one goal (‘catering on the long reins’) I provided many smaller, short term, goals for myself. That is what I like best about training: one thing leads to another.

Success tip #3: Keep track

Another important thing is that helps me succeed in my training is to keep track of my accomplishments in my journal. I do this by making videos and pictures of our accomplished goals. I tend to forget what our starting point was, which is very human. My videos and photo albums with our accomplished goals are very tangible and keep track of our journey: Kyra, from feral filly to success story.
Training journalThe feeling of accomplishment is MUCH bigger and more satisfying when you see where you really came from (your starting point) than when you only look at your latest achievement, which is always only a small part of the total of your bigger accomplishments.
When I am frustrated that things aren’t going as fast as I wish I have to remind myself that Kyra was a real wild horse and the first horse I started under saddle with positive reinforcement. I have to remind myself that I emigrated halfway the process and that this influenced our flow.
When I am frustrated the best thing is to take a look at my training logbooks, videos and photos of all our accomplished goals in order to feel better. When I do this I become always are very eager to go to the barn immediately and work on our next (tiny) goal.
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It's always the tiny goal that leads you to your biggest achievements!
- Sandra Poppema

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Read more about using a training journal successfully:

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.
Follow my blog  on Bloglovin

Setting your equestrian goals for 2017, start now!

It is already November, almost December. This time of year I like to reflect. This way I can see what my accomplishments were in 2016 (and feel good about myself), figure out what my pitfalls were (if I had any) and use this information to improve my training approach in 2017. Do you want to join me? Sign up for my newsletter to stay updated about my online courses.

Reflecting on 2016

When I read in my training logbook of 2016 I smile. I see so many small improvements we made, but all together it is a big improvement. Here are just a few of the achievements I found, reading back. The list is really too long to summarize here.

Husbandry skills

  • We worked on the ‘Carpet of Motivation‘ (I taught Kyra to ignore grass and also to stop grazing on a light cue and even leave a juicy patch of grass when I ask her to come along)
  • We worked on her behaviour during hoof trims. We practised to keep her legs longer up in the air without losing balance, don’t pulls the leg back, lift legs before the farrier starts using R-techniques like squeezing chestnuts or tendens. This seems like an on going training goal, but this year I really see a lot of improvement.
  • Haltering skills. I retrained another horse and taught him to put his head in the halter. This was such a nice little touch that I came up with the idea to teach Kyra too to ‘halter herself’. Now I hold the halter in front of her and she puts her head in there herself.
  • Improved positioning at the mounting block. Now we can do this even at liberty (thanks to the hip target), watch the video here.

Trick training

  • Hug (from this book Horse Trick Training)_tricktraining_horse_hug_hippologic.jpg
  • Simple bow
  • Score‘: Kyra picks up take an object on cue and puts it in a bucket
  • Hip target: move towards the target with her hip. She can do the hip target left and right. If I would have known that this exercise would be so easy to teach I would have started this years earlier. I thought it would be very complicated so I procrastinated starting. It comes in handy in all kinds of situations.
  • Confirm and polish Spanish walk at liberty, under saddle and on the long reins. It turned out to be very simple to transfer this exercise once she understood it.

Riding

  • Practised riding with other horses/riders in arena. Kyra acts scared and defensive towards other horses if they come too close. She has improved, but with a new horse it starts all over.
  • Improved cantering: transition trot-canter and we worked on duration of the canter successfully.

Long reining

  • Made a start with cantering on the long reins

At liberty:

  • Jumping at liberty
  • Jumping at liberty over a double jump

This is just a small selection of things we worked on. I really like to read back in my journals because it makes me realize how easy we forget the good things and all the improvements.

Goals in 2017

My goals for next year will be simply building upon the achievements from this year. I will start on lateral gaits in canter and improve the lateral gaits in trot under saddle and on the long reins. I also want to add some new tricks like catching a cloth, levade and kneeling on one knee.

My 2017 To do-list

I will also write down some fun things I want to do that aren’t real training goals but things  I like to do with my horse such as trail rides, a photo shoot, participating in _cooperative_horse_hippologica horse agility competition and practice riding a pas-de-deux. Riding a pas-de-deux is on my goal list since Kyra’s behaviour under saddle and being close to other horses could stand improving.

Do you want to join me?

Are you inspired yet? I know I am!

December will be HippoLogic’s Goal Setting Month. I am thinking hashtag #decembergoalsetting. Do you need some help to set some goals and stick with them?

If you want to get inspired or become an inspiration to other equestrians join my Facebook group Happy Herd and keep in touch! Clicker trainers welcome!

Happy goal setting!

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer online horse training courses to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that is FUN for both you and your horse.
Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free) or visit HippoLogic’s website.

 

How to use a training logbook for your horse

A training diary can be a valuable tool in achieving your training goals if you know how. A logbook is not ‘just a diary’ where you describe what you did that day. In order to get the most out of your training diary keep these tips in mind.

Purpose of journaling
The reason to keep a logbook is to keep track of your achievements and learn from it. Therefor you need to write down your goal(s) and your progress. If you don’t write these down, it is hard to remember them correctly. You can get the feeling of ‘never achieving’ because your mind will adjust your goals and your achievements like a horizon. You will never arrive… As soon as you write some of your goals down, your subconcious will start looking for ways to get there. Keeping a logbook can help you keep motivated.

Learn from experience
If you want to learn as much as possible from your experience you have to be honest and write down the things that you can learn from.

Keep it positive
Practice writing everything down in a positive way, so it is nice to read back. Instead of writing down ‘I was impatient and lost my temper’ phrase it like this ‘I became frustrated because my steps were too big. My horse didn’t understand what I wanted and I became impatient.’

In this way you will find a solution to handle the situation in the future: you ‘lumped’ your criteria. Next time you can decide to stop your training and take a moment to figure out how to ‘split’ the criteria in smaller steps or adjust the context of training so your horse will understand quicker what you want. In this way you set yourself and your horse up for success.

Read here to read 4 easy ways to start a  training journal (opens in a new window).

Training_logbook_journal_diary_hippologic2016

Lessons learned
It is also a valuable to write down all the things that went right. This makes you aware of the lessons you’ve are already learned. It also makes you aware of your strengths as a trainer. After updating your logbook for a while you will see a pattern: the points of learning have turned into things that went right. This is very motivating.

Keep it balanced
Make sure the points for improvement are not outbalancing the things that went right. We all have the tendency to focus too much on things that went ‘wrong’, but that won’t help you form a realistic picture of you as a trainer. There are always a lot of thing you have already mastered. They are important, too.

If you write down three things to change in your next training, also write down three things you are content about. This may feel uneasy to you in the beginning, but positive reinforcement is all about focusing on the things that go (in the) right (direction), in order to get more of it.

You can also split it between the things your horse did well and the things you, as trainer, did well. Example: ‘my horse was interested in my training for half an hour’, ‘my horse made progress in exercise X’, ‘I have set my horse up to succeed by keeping my criteria clear’, ‘I kept my training sessions short and sweet by counting the treats in my pocket before I started’.

Goals achieved
Celebrate achieving your goals: make a picture or video to remember, share it with friends, your coach or your accountability partner. Enjoy your achievements big and small!

Timeline
A training diary also helps you to keep track of your timeline and practice hours. Did it take as long as you expected? You can write how long your training sessions are. Maybe you are used to thinking in ‘weeks or months’ to achieve something, I think it is more useful and realistic to think in the amount of training sessions or training days.

Example: Instead of ‘It took me 3 months to teach my horse to lift his legs for the farrier’ a logbook can help you see ‘it took 12 weeks: each week we practiced 4 days. Each day consisted out of 5 training sessions of 6 minutes max.’ Now you know you only practiced 28 days (not three months/ 90 days) and each day you practiced a maximum of 30 minutes a day. The training took 14 hours in total to achieve your goal. That sounds different than ‘three months’, right?

A training diary is all about making yourself conscious. Keep it motivating and phrase things in a positive way so it will be pleasant to read back.

 

Tell me about your training logbook!

Here is the clicker training logbook I use and give away for FREE:

Free Clicker Training Logbook – Pdf file: free_training-logbook-made-by-hippologic-2016

NOTE: I made this training journal template in 2016. I am always learning and shaping my training methods. I would like to change:

  • Name 3 points that went well in training and
  • only 1 point of improvement to focus on next training.
  • Phrase it positively and
  • focus on what you want to happen (not on what you don’t want to see more of).

Please share

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below. I’ also would love to read your comments, I read them all!

If you don’t know what to say simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

HippoLogic.jpg
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.

Sign up for HippoLogic’s newsletter (it’s free and it comes with a gift) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover my online courses that will change your life.

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Power of a Bridge Signal in Horse Training

Recently I have received the same question from several people. Why do you need a clicker when you could just use your voice as a bridging signal? What are the advantages of a clicker?

Why a bridging signal is needed
If you want to reinforce certain behaviour one has to reward the horse at the moment the behaviour is still going on or within a few seconds the behaviour has stopped in order for the animal to associate the behaviour with the reward he is receiving. It is almost impossible to give the horse his reward during the behaviour, which is why positive reinforcement trainers use a bridge signal.

_hondenclicker

Bridge 
A bridge or bridging signal is a specific signal for the horse that connects the moment the reward is given to the behaviour he was doing. Most clicker trainers use a special device named a clicker as bridge. The clicker makes a click sound.

When the horse has learned that a click is always followed by a reward, the horse starts to pay really good attention to the behaviour he was displaying at the time of the click. He is smart and he wants to train you to give him more clicks. This makes the bridge signal a powerful tool in horse training: it is a simple but clear way of communicating what you want.

Animals like it when they have the feeling they can control the environment (you and the reinforcer).

Advantage of a clicker
_secret_horsetraining_hippologicA clicker always makes the same sound and therefor it ‘travels’ the same path in the brain. The horse understands quickly what the sounds means. A click is not influenced by emotions of the human voice. It doesn’t matter who presses the clicker, it still sounds the same. So other people can ride and train your horse without confusing the horse about the bridge signal. The click of a clicker can be delivered instantly. Timing is everything. The more accurate your bridge is, the easier the horse learns what you want to reward him for.

Other bridges
As long as the bridge signal  is a specific sound it can be used. I taught my horse to respond to different bridges. I use the high pitched and long stretched word “Good” as bridge and Kyra also knows that my tongue click is a bridge.

Advantages of other bridges
The main advantages of a verbal bridge and a tongue click are obvious. The first is that you always have it with you. No matter where you go you can always use your bridging signal.

The second is being able to keep your hands free. Using a clicker always requires a hand to click with. In some situations being able to use both hands can have be a huge advantage.

Disadvantages of a vocal bridge
A vocal bridge always has a little delay, because before you can speak you have to inhale fist. Your voice also can differ according to circumstances: a cold may effect your voice, but also your emotions. When I am excited or annoyed the pitch can change, for us it means the same thing because we know the meaning of the letter of a word. A horse knows the meaning of the sounds of a word. Because your voice sounds only “generally” the same every time, it makes a different, wider pathway in the brain. This sound means: a reward is coming. And this one too. And this one means the same thing. The horse needs to decide every time he hears your voice: was this a bridge or not? Therefor it can take a little longer for the horse to become “clicker savvy” with a voice bridge.

When I introduced the word ‘Good’ I still lived in The Netherlands. They generally don’t speak English to horses, so it was a safe word to use. It was a unique sound. I was the only one who used it and my horse was never trained by someone else. The difficultly with the word “Good” in Canada is that other people use it as praise (reward) instead as bridge signal. That means it might not always be followed by a reward. This can confuse the horse.

Another reason to teach your horse the click of a clicker as the bridge: other people can train or ride your horse and communicate clearly. The click sounds the same every time.

Related post: Introduce your horse to the click

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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My favourite motto is… Make haste slowly…

Is the translation of a Latin saying. A saying with a long history starting with the Romans. Festina lente, maybe you’ve heard of it.

To me this has proven a very valuable oxymoron  and it is one of my favourite personal mantras in horse training. If you take the time it takes, than it takes less time.

So many times I wanted a result right away, but couldn’t get it. These are perfect moments to remind myself: make haste slowly. To take the time to step back and rethink my strategy. Reminding myself to make haste slowly has helped me in so many ways.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Prevent frustration

If you consider your training goals first and make a plan before you start training your horse, it helps prevent pitfalls that lead to frustration. Don’t only focus on the goal, the result but also take into consideration the way that leads to your goal.

Don’t forget: you are part of a team

In horse training/riding it is not only about your results. You have to take your equine partner into consideration.

When I just started Kyra under the saddle I wanted to canter. My (classical) dressage trainer said: ‘Just wait, she will offer canter when she’s ready’. But… I wanted it ‘now’. ‘Kyra was already 6 weeks under saddle,’ was my argument. ‘If professional trainers could teach a horse to walk, trot and canter within 6 weeks after starting a horse under saddle, why couldn’t I do it?’

I took my trainers advise and didn’t push it. One day Kyra indeed offered canter under saddle. Since I use a bridge signal and rewards, I could clearly communicate to Kyra that this was what I wanted. I gave her a jackpot (a really, really reinforcing reward). From that day on ‘canter’ was part of our repertoire. I was glad I waited until Kyra was ready and I was glad I listened to the advise of my wise trainer. But it was hard…. I wanted quick results so badly.

Now I know from my own experience that Festina lente is one of the best mantras one can have when educating a horse. Learning can’t be rushed. I think Kyra’s canter wouldn’t have been so balanced if I had rushed her. I probably would have damaged our relationship by asking her something to do which she couldn’t do at the time. Something that’s very clear in hindsight.

I think ‘set yourself and your horse up for success’ goes hand in hand with Festina lente. What are your favourite mantras in horse training?

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

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