Empowering Equestrians to Train their own horse with 100% Force Free & Horse Friendly methods

Posts tagged ‘trailer loading’

Tons of Winter Training Ideas

Here in Canada it is Winter again. Normally the climate is mild here in Vancouver, BC but this winter we’ve already had snow that’s lasted for almost two weeks.

_Kyra_sneeuw_hippologic.jpgWe all know that frozen pastures limit our horses ability to exercise themselves and horses generally are more spooky and more forward in cold weather conditions. Riders with an outdoor arena can’t ride due to the frozen ground. How can you get the most out of this time of year? Here are some tips.

Work on Simple behaviours

Choose to work on some smaller, but still important behaviours that will make your life easier and improve the relationship with your horse. Does every ride start with a bit of irritation because your horse lifts his head every time you want to halter/bridle him? Does he always walk a few steps while mounting?

How does that influence your relationship? Imagine how you would feel to have a horse that would put his head into his own halter or bridle, align perfectly next to your mounting block and stand still until you give the cue to walk on?

Simple behaviours you can work on in Winter that would improve your life at the barn can be:

Have some fun with your horse

If the weather isn’t allowing you to ride you can spend time with your horse , groom him and do a wonderful photo shoot. Maybe you can have eternalize some of your equestrian goals you worked on this year.

_Smile_tricktraining_horse_hippologic.jpgYou can take your horse on a walk to hand graze your horse. This would be a perfect time to start teaching him how to quit grazing on a cue, since winter grass is less enticing than the juicy green Spring grass that will be back in a few months.

Start trick training and have a good time! Here is a good book that will get you started on a few easy tricks.

What does your favourite Winter training looks like?

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website

 

 

 

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Fact Friday: Negative vs Positive Reinforcement Training for Rehabilitated Horses

Recently I started training the rescue horses at the BC SPCA. I was asked to help (re)train the horses with positive reinforcement, since that is my specialty.

Would my training benefit the rehabilitated horses in terms of welfare? Is negative reinforcement training better in terms of welfare or is a horse better off with positive reinforcement training? I found a possible answer in a study done at the University of Wales, UK.

Negative reinforcement vs positive reinforcement

The aim of their study was to compare these training strategies (negative versus positive reinforcement) on equine behaviour and physiology as the first step in establishing an optimal rehabilitation approach (from a welfare perspective) for equids that have been subjected to chronic stress in the form of long-term neglect/cruelty.

They trained 16 ponies with basic tasks like trailer loading, lead by hand, traverse an obstacle course, etc. During training the  heart rate was monitored and ethograms were compiled. In addition each week an arena test was done. The training lasted for 7 weeks.

Significant difference

After all data was compiled there was a significant difference between the two methods. They found that ‘animals trained under a positive reinforcement schedule were morekyra06062009 004 motivated to participate in the training sessions and exhibited more exploratory or ‘trial and error’ type behaviours in novel situations/environments.’ (in comparison with the horses trained with negative reinforcement).

These results support my own experience with positive and negative reinforcement. The end result of the training may be similar but the experience for the horse is significantly different between positive and negative reinforcement.

To read the full paper go to: Negative versus positive reinforcement:  An evaluation of training strategies for rehabilitated horses, 2007, Lesly Innes, Sebastian McBride

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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5 Tips to Expand your Horse’s Horizon

We have all encountered times when we think “Now what?” at the barn. Maybe you have already reached all your equestrian goals, maybe your horse became sick and needed rest, maybe you got injured, maybe you just bought a young horse, or a senior horse… We all need inspiration if we don’t know what to teach our horse next.

#1 Horse Agility (HA)
In HA you have to navigate your horse through an obstacle course while focusing on clear communication and positive horsemanship. Horse and handler are both on foot. Horse Agility can help build a very close relationship with your horse and it keeps your horse’s mind working constructively. Skills developed in HA are very useful in daily routines as well as in new and possibly scary situations. You can even enter online competitions these days where you send in a video.

#2 Trick Training (TT)
TT is a great way to improve the relationship with your horse. You become aware of your horses intelligence and it is a fun way to spent time together. There are many simple tricks that are suitable for horses of all ages, like smiling or playing fetch. Some exercises are beneficial and can increase the horses strength and flexibility like the classical bow or the back crunch._classical bow_buiging_hippologic

#3 Training husbandry skills
If your horse already knows a lot of tricks, you can start improving your husbandry skills. Ever thought of teaching your _dewormingcanbe_horse how to be dewormed easily or preparing him for oral medication you might need to give him some day? Teach him to accept eye drops or ointment, practice hoof trimming, braiding, taking your horses temperature, teach him to stand in a bucket of water in case you need to soak his feet. The possibilities are endless and you never know when these skills come in handy.

#4 Trailer loading
Best way to train this is if there is no goal or time limit yet. Read here the 4 reasons to start practising trailer loading today. If you don’t own a trailer, this is worth renting a trailer for.

#5 Water training
There are so many situations in which water is involved. During the summer months you can have fun water proofing your horse. _soaking feet in water bucket_horse training_hippologicThink of soaking hooves in a bucket, hosing down your horse, crossing water (river, water splash, muddy puddles), water obstacles in HA, going for a swim with your horse, spraying your horse with a plant spray and so on.

I hope I have given you some ideas to expand your horizons. Have fun!

Sandra Poppema
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Let’s talk about a taboo in Trailer Loading Problems

Trailer loading can be a huge issue for horse people. Why? There are 2 components in trailer loading that play a major role: the horse and the handler.

The horse plays a big role. If he is fearful to go into that little box on wheels, it makes us nervous. Who wants to stand in a small box on wheels, next to 1000 pounds of unpredictable and unwilling animal that is trying to escape instead of willingly walking in?

Fear
trailer_training_hippologicFear plays a major role in most trailer loading issues. In this blog I am not talking about the fear in horses. I think they can be trained away the easiest. I am talking about the fear of the handler leading the horse into the trailer.

Handler
I know I had trailer loading issues myself. People always thought I was joking when I said:”I have trailer loading issues” or “I have trailer fear”. Most people didn’t take the “I” in my sentence literally, but I really mean it that way.

Here are a few of my biggest worries I had about trailer loading:
– What if my horse gets injured in the trailer, during loading or during the drive.
– What if the trailer or car gets a flat tire on the highway?
– What if I get injured while loading a nervous horse into a very small space? Especially when I was pregnant this was a big fear.
– What will people think of me if I can’t load my horse?
– What will people think if they have to wait for me while I am loading? I don’t want to be a burden, they probably hate waiting, they might think I am doing it wrong, etc.
– What should I say if people want to ‘help’ me load my horse and want to use pressure or force my horse?
– What will they think of me when I decline their help? I don’t want to offend them by saying “Thanks, but no thanks”.
– What if Kyra falls down in the trailer or gets stuck again? It has happened before…
– What if she panics and runs onto a busy street?

There are other factors that can play a roll as well like impatience or stress in the handler. It can be that you’re only worried or afraid when loading your own horse. I have loaded other peoples horses smoothly when the cause was the handler.

With other peoples horses I didn’t have the fears I named above. Part of it was when the horse was in the trailer, it didn’t feel like my responsibility anymore. And I was never in a hurry because I was helping people out that were desperate and ready to take (wait) the time it took to load the horse.

Solutions
Back to my own situation. The moment I realized part of the problem was me, I was stunned. Was I part of the problem? Really? _trailer loading_hippologic

Have you ever noticed that what you are focusing on grows? My fears stayed intact because I was repeating them over and over in my mind. It is like a fire and as you keep feeding it, it grows and takes on a life of its own. Instead of being relieved that Kyra got out of the trailer perfectly fine and without any injury whatsoever, I kept telling myself that I was afraid of her being injured and developing a trailer issue.

As soon as I realized this, I started focusing on what went well and on all the improvements I had already achieved. Small improvements like every second ‘building duration standing in the trailer’, ‘standing more relaxed in the trailer’ as well as the big improvements ‘pulling me towards an open trailers to get in’ and ‘she didn’t poop out of stress’.

Training journal
Writing down my successes and filming the process helped incredibly. If you are familiar with clicker training, you already know this.

I also realized that we are in a process. It takes time and every time I could build on the foundations of trailer loading I was building on the solid behaviour I am longing for: a confident horse that loads easily and enjoys the ride.

Relationship 
I don’t get nervous anymore if people are watching or waiting while I load Kyra. I realize that the relationship I have with my horse and my horses feelings are worth much more than what I think other people are thinking. After all, I don’t know what they are thinking… I refuse to stress my horse by pressuring her, because of my (irrational) thoughts. I don’t want to force her anymore. Ever.

Circumstances
What also helped to reduce my fears, is to make the trailer and the ride as comfortable as possible. In this way I can relax better while traveling with my horse. Like a light, roomy trailer, an anti-slip floor, shavings and a hay net so Kyra can nibble away, a experienced driver who drives defensively and so on.

_trailer loading_hippologic
Enjoy the ride!
I hope you never have to deal with issues like this and when you do, I hope you overcome them too. Life is so much more enjoyable now. Taking my horse to places gives me so much joy and satisfaction, without stress and my fears. I really enjoy loading Kyra into a trailer now to go places. Oh, and Kyra does too, she literally pulls me towards a trailer if the ramp is down. Like she want to say: “Let me in. Take me with you. Let’s go!”

We are still working on a self loading horse. I am sure we can tick that off of our list of goals in 2015.

Sandra Poppema

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Training ideas for Trail riding

_trailride1Today my barn friend took me and Kyra to the forest for a trail ride, here in BC, Canada. All went well and I realized that it took me many tiny training steps to turn my 11 months old feral filly into this reliable non spooking trail horse I have today.

Basics
I had to tame Kyra first, since she was born in a nature reserve and was not imprinted on humans and things like stalls, paddocks, all the sounds in a barn and so on. Then I had to teach her some basic skills like haltering and leading. When she was about two years old I started very slowly on her education on the long reins. When she was four years old I started her under saddle. By then she already knew the basic commands walk, trot, canter, halt and she could make left and right turns.

Despooking
Kyra and I did a lot of despooking exercises over the years. In The Netherlands we had different challenges than here in Canada. Here is a list of challenges I specifically clicker trained her on:

  • walking through water
  • puddles on the street and on trails
  • pedestrian crossings and other markings on the road
  • shadows
  • overpasses
  • approaching plastic bags
  • flags & balloons
  • fireworks
  • all kinds of heavy farm equipment
  • cars & motorcycles
  • bike bells
  • cyclists with children and flags
  • cyclists on road bikes, which bike very fast and can sneak up on you because they almost make no sound. They often ‘travel’ in packs which can be very scary to horses
  • strollers & shopping carts
  • children on inline skates & skateboarders
  • road signs
  • rail road crossings
  • manholes
  • weird appliances for fresh water in the forest
  • people walking their dogs off leash

Useful trail skills
In horse agility training we practised a lot of useful things too. One of the things you encounter on trails can be a “squeeze”. A squeeze is a very narrow space. Horses usually don’t like to go through narrow spaces because it can be an ambush for predators. If horses are not used to going through narrow spaces they tend

Ready to go for a ride

Ready to go for a ride

to race through them to make the time they are vulnerable as short as possible. This can be dangerous if the horse doesn’t take into account that your legs make him wider.

On our trail ride we encountered several squeezes: gates that enclose the road with big boulders next to it to prevent cars from passing. Sometimes there was also a road sign next to it. That can be dangerous if your horse spooks and it hits you right in the face.

Getting your horse used to fly spray is also very useful in the woods here.

Trailer loading
We take the trailer to get to the forest, so in our case trailer loading is also a part of trail riding for us.

Here is the video of the trail ride:

Sandra Poppema

Best Basics: take targeting to the next level

DIY Target stick

Target stick, made out of a floater, glued to a bamboo stick covered in duct tape to prevent splinters

Of the seven key lessons in clicker training  ‘targeting’ is my favourite at the moment. I love targeting so much because it is inexpressibly versatile and I am excited because I just discovered new possibilities of this game myself.

What is targeting
In targeting you ask you horse to touch a target with a body part. You start this game simple and the goal is for your horse to touch a target stick with his nose. Once your horse knows the target meant to be touched with his nose, you can start experimenting. Hold the target a bit lower, higher, more to the left or to the right. If the horse is following the target all the time you can put a verbal cue to this new behaviour, like ‘touch’. Then you can hold it a bit closer to its chest in order to teach him to back up.

Moving targets
Once a horse knows to touch a target with his nose and it is under command you can take this game to the next level. Try asking your horse to 1_chasetargetfollow a moving target. Start easy with just a tiny step forward and build on that. Of course every step in the process is clicked and rewarded.

When your horse follows a target in walk, you can ask him to follow it in trot and even canter. If you don’t like lunging or driving your horse around in the round pen, you can use the target stick to get your horse moving. You can use the target stick to teach your horse to come to you in the pasture or entering a trailer.

It is totally the opposite of traditional methods where you use pressure to teach, so this can be difficult at start. You have to be willing to keep an open mind and keep thinking out of the traditional training box. That can be a challenge in itself.

Stationary targets
You can also teach you horse to target a stationary target. A stationary target doesn’t move and is attached to a wall in his stall, the trailer or at a gate in the pasture. You can train ‘duration’ and see if you can teach your horse to keep his nose  against the target for 2 seconds, then 3, 4 up to several minutes. A stationary target can be used to teach ground tying.

Stationary targets can contribute to safety around horses. If the target is attached on a fence in the pasture a few meters away from the gate you can use it to send a horse to touch it and stay, so you can get another horse safely out of the pasture without being crowded by horses who all want to work with you. You can put hay safely in the pasture without being surrounded with agitated, hungry horses and so on.

These are just a few training suggestions for touching a target with the nose. There are an infinite number of uses you can think of the use of a target.

Target other body parts
You can also teach your horse to touch other body parts. I’ve taught Kyra to touch the target stick with her knee in order to teach her the polka and Spanish walk.

I recently worked on the ‘hip target’ where Kyra has to step towards the target with her hind quarters in order to touch the target stick with her hip bone. This comes in very handy when she is not aligned to the mounting block. Now I can simply ask “hip” and hold my hand in position so she steps towards the mounting block with her hind quarters._Hip_target_hippologic

Teach your horse to target his shoulders. Imagine what complex movements you can create if you can move your horse’s hips and shoulder at liberty. I’ve seen people use it to teach their horses dressage exercises like travers, shoulder in and half-pass.

Kyra also knows how to target her hoof sole to the target stick, which helps with hoof care. She knows how to target the corner of her mouth to the dewormer syringe and targeting the halter makes haltering a piece of cake. My friend taught her horse to open his mouth in order to take the bit and bridle him.

Like I said: the possibilities are endless. How do you use targeting in training?

Sandra Poppema
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4 Reasons to start trailer loading today

_trailer loading_hippologicIs your horse a happy traveller? Wouldn’t it be a comforting thought if your horse would be ok being in a trailer? Every time and under all circumstances?

There are many reasons why people don’t practise trailer loading. I’ve heard: my horse is too old, my horse is too nervous, I am not going anywhere with my horse, I don’t have a trailer, I will never sell my horse, my horse is OK in a trailer so I don’t have to practise…

Fun places
Some day you might want to take your horse to fun places like new trails, a demo, a competition, a clinic or take your horse with you on vacation. Or you decide you want to breed a foal and you need to take your mare to a stud.

Moving
You never know if you have to move your horse some day. Your horse can live in the best boarding facility, but things change. That’s life.

Maybe your horse lives at your own place, you never know_corridor_hippologic if you have to sell him or due to changing circumstances he has to be transported. Or you want to take your horse to a pasture a few kilometres away and the road is too dangerous to ride or lead him there.

Emergency
In case of emergency you might have to trailer your horse to go to a clinic. Imagine that you and your horse are already stressed out due to a colic or a severe injury and then you remember your horse doesn’t like the trailer. Or your horse only wants to go in with his companion and refuses to go in alone.

If your horse is not an experienced and happy traveller, trailer loading increases the stress in an emergency situations. I’ve seen this happen. As you know, in an emergency there are always people “happy to help” (force) your horse into that trailer. Emergencies are not situations you want to start practising.

Challenge
If you don’t want or have to go places with your horse, trailer loading can be a fun challenge in your training. Especially for horses who are very nervous in narrow spaces. Consider it another training goal.

A few days of practising and rew_Keylessonmatwork2arding your horse for stepping outside his comfort zone can do wonders. It builds trust you need in other scary situations. Train to test how much your horse trusts you and how good he is in following your directions in unfamiliar situations.

Increase the challenge and ask your horse to self load. If your horse is OK with trailers, but you never travel with him, it can’t hurt to check once in a while if he’s is still comfortable travelling by trailer.

But I don’t have a trailer…
To prepare your horse to trailer load you can train the building blocks of that behaviour separately. Teach your horse to:

    • follow your lead
    • teach him to step onto unfamiliar surfaces (mats, plywood, bridges, water)
    • back-up over poles or back-up from a pedestal (step down)
    • enter a narrow corridor
    • walk under under a tarp
    •  accept the feel of a chain/rope against hindquarters.

I bet you can think of many, many more preparations that can help you prepare your horse to travel in a trailer.

Sandra Poppema

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