How to become a better Friend for your Horse

using positive reinforcement makes you a clicker trainer

In my community I focus not only on teaching horse people to train behaviours with positive reinforcement, I specialized in transforming horse owners into clicker trainers. Most horse people don’t consider themselves ‘clicker trainers’, but I believe you are if you change the behaviour of your horse with positive reinforcement!

What do I mean by that? I focus not only on how to clicker train your horse, I help you develop the trainer skills you must develop, in order to become the best clicker trainer you can be.

Clicker Skills vs Trainer Skills

Clicker skills are the tools, the techniques, the method and your system in order to train your horse..

Trainer skills are the skills that the Trainer must develop in order to learn to think in a positive reinforcement way.

Developing Trainer's Skills will increase your success rate in clicker training your horse

Do you ask yourself:

“How can I solve this with R+? “

“How can I make this (this thing *I* want) a Win-Win, so I get what I want from my horse and my horse gets what he wants so we both feel good about it and it enhances our relationship?”

“How can I prevent falling back on R- (or P+/-)?”

“How can I improve so that I get better results or teach my horse faster and without frustration?”

I’ve thought very long about what it takes to become a really good positive reinforcement trainer and The 6 Key Lessons for Trainers are the skills that helped me and all my clients the most. I call them Key Lessons for Trainers, because they are your Key to Success in Clicker Training. You can train faster, get better, more reliable and predictable(!) results and the better you’re at the key Lessons for Trainers, the less you fall back on traditional training. The less you fall back on R- (because now you have R+ solutions and ways to train), the less guilt and the better your friendship with your horse will be.

The better your positive reinforcement Training Skills, the better your results you’ll get and the better the friendship with your horse will be.

Key Lesson #1

Principles of Learning & Motivation. This not only includes knowledge of the Learning Quadrant (R+, R-, P+ and P-), as you’d expect. There is more, like:

Learning Quadrant: R+, R-, P+, P-
  • HOW does a horse learn? How does learning takes place?
  • How does your horse learns best? What increases learning (a certain level of calmness, curiosity, rewards, experience (let them do the thinking) and so on)
  • What inhibits learning and how can you avoid it (too much fear, frustration, flight/fight response, boredom, lack of interest, fear of learning et cetera)
  • What motivates my horse in a positive way (appetitives)

And(this is the part most people skip):

  • How do I -as trainer and human- learn best? Do I like learning from video, practising, reading, conversations and discussions with peers. Do I like step-by-step instruction during my training sessions or do I want to have the theory and then practise on my own and have someone to give me feedback for improving and someone I can turn to to get support if I struggle.
  • How can I keep myself motivated? Lots of clients approached me because they lost motivation do keep figuring out things on their own and reinventing the wheel. Success is a great motivator: you’re training your horse and BAM! He has learned the behaviour you wanted! Great! Now, how to keep this in his repertoire (see above, how does learning take place and how to keep your horse motivated to perform the behaviour you just trained)?
  • How do I keep momentum in my horse’s learning curve? Most reasons that people get stuck in clicker training are easily solved, if they would know how. Find a brain to pick so you won’t have to put your horse and yourself to unnecessary frustration or boredom in training.

Another part of Learning is to take into account the natural behaviour of your goal species, your learner! Horses have different natural behaviour, lifestyle and learning styles than for instance dogs, who are predators. Once you know how to tailor your training to your learners natural behaviour, you can prevent so much struggle!

Unfortunately, most horse people believe in the myths they’ve fed us over the years (“Don’t let your horse win!” “Show him who’s boss” “Make him do it”). That you (still) believe them is not your fault, you assumed that the more experienced horse person/instructor was right… Unfortunately they were dead wrong, if they taught you to use force and coercion to get what you want from your horse.

Trailer loading: a struggle for most owners

Taking into account what you’re asking from an animal (horse) that is developed over thousands of years on plains, is a grazer and browser and uses flight and flight and numbers (herd animal) to survive to go into a tiny, wobbly space, where escape is not possible and also often without fellow herd members… No peripheral vision possible in a box with tiny windows!.

Yes I’m talking about trailer loading. It’s very unnatural and goes into a lot of their natural behaviour.

And most people don’t even think about that, when their horse refuses to go in… They label their horse as stubborn, dumb, stupid or worse.

I think it’s amazing that we can überhaupt train a horse to travel in a trailer, given his natural behaviour.

If more people would understand the Principles of Learning & Motivation in a way the LEARNER benefits, too, the world would be a happier place. Wouldn’t you agree?

How do I implement the Principles of Learning & Motivation?

Practise, practise, practise. Also: making mistakes, and learning from them and trying new approaches (thinking from what your horse would like, what he *can* do (what is species specific and easy for him). Another Key Lesson for Trainers is to Track Your Training and Evaluate it! More about that in another blog. 😉 That will help you actually implement Key #1 Principles of Learning & Motivation.

Most difficult thing if you’re changing from P and R- to more R+ in training, is to train yourself to ask yourself questions so you become aware of what you’re doing and what’s happening.

3 Most Important questions in Training:

  • Is my horse making an Away-From decision? If so, you’re using an aversive or there could be an aversive in the environment (horse is scared of the trailer, a dog barks and makes your horse fearful)
  • Is my horse making a Moving- Towards decision? He doesn’t want to go into the trailer because he rather eats grass (appetitive) or wants to stay with his friends (herd) and that’s the reason he doesn’t trailer load today.
  • What motivates my horse to do what he’s doing? (Not only an important question if he doesn’t do what you want, but also a very important question if he does do it! So *you* learn what he wants and can use that next time. If he rather wants to graze the grass next to the trailer instead of going into the trailer, how can you use that information to get what you want? How can you use grass to get him into the trailer? Can you think of ways?
Enhance the bond with your horse through positive reinforcement and building trust and a clear two way communication

Are you a compassionate horse owner who wants to build a strong friendship with your horse? Would you like to understand your horse better and help your horse to understand YOU better? Get access to many online clicker training courses and a fabulous, supportive R+ community in our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Check out the link!

Not sure? Start with a free clicker training assessment to get taste of what it feels like to work with me. Discover your strong points and weaker points in training (if you have some) so that you know what to focus more on, in order to get the results you want. 

After your assessment you have a clear plan and know exactly what your next step will be in order to accomplish your dream behaviours with your horse. Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

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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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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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    Key to Success in Horse Training

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