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

Posts tagged ‘training goal’

How to Achieve Your Equestrian Goals

In December last year I started to offer an online course about Equestrian Goal setting. It is one of my fun projects and the students really liked it.

What is your goal?

I enjoy helping other enthusiastic equestrians with splitting their goals into achievable steps. It has been so rewarding for me to see people achieve their own goals with a bit of help. I’ve been a riding instructor for decades and it always surprised me that experienced riders assumed I would set their goals. Their homework was: ‘Think about what you want to do with your horse” so I can help you achieve it.

I can help clients become a better dressage rider, but if they really want to be a jumper and I don’t know about it, they will never become be a good jumper if we don’t focus on some jumping techniques in the lessons.

Competitions

One client wanted to ride competitions, but her stallion hadn’t left her property for years. We trailer loaded him and drove to a nearby competition ground to practice. It was the day before the competition, so no one was there. It was a very good experience. We kept going to competitions until he was more settled being in an unfamiliar surrounding with unfamiliar horses. At home we worked on riding techniques. The day she was ready for a dressage competition, her stallion was ready, too.

Trail riding

Another client lived near a forest and she bought a horse for trail riding. She didn’t have an arena at home and trail riding_cooperative_horse_hippologic was her dream. Her horse was really herd bound and on top of that he was terrified to walk pass the mailbox at the beginning of her drive way. She couldn’t get him of the premises without being afraid to land in the ditch next to her mailbox. After a few clicker training lessons and some groundwork we went out for rides together: she on her beloved horse and I rode her bike. Mission accomplished.

Other examples of goals my student have are teaching their horse to stand for the farrier, align their horse to the mounting block/standing still while mounting, Spanish walk, cantering under saddle and trailer loading.

Some goals are simple (just one behaviour) and others are much more complex (a chain of behaviours), but they all give you that satisfied feeling when you accomplish them. I always encourage people to celebrate their successes: big and small. In hindsight the small steps are big ones!

Read more about goal setting:
It’s December, start planning for next year
How to plan your week in 5 easy steps

Are your struggling with goals you want to achieve with your horse?

Do you have the feeling you haven’t made much progress or you could have achieved more if you only had some help? This is the course for you!BANNER _Achieve Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them

Benefits:

  • Discover what your equestrian goals really are
  • Learn techniques to set achievable goals
  • Learn how to brake down a big goal into training sessions order to make it  achievable and realistic
  • Learn how to stay motivated and on track, even if you ‘fail’ or if ‘life happens’
  • Learn to track your achievements
  • Celebrate your successes with like-minded people!

Once you master the tools and techniques I hand you in this course, you can benefit the rest of your life from it.

What students said about the course

“I had a really empowering online coaching from Sandra, helping me put my problems in perspective. Now Iliana and I are really focusing on not grabbing for food wherever she goes, and with baby steps we are getting there. Lots of other things to train too, but one thing at a time I think. Thank you, Sandra, you are in inspiration!” Patricia, Spain

“Through her online course on goal setting, Sandra has given me excellent help in how to set achievable goals for my horse training. I’m now better able to see what I need to work on and enjoying achieving my goals. Thank you Sandra!” Ananja, The Netherlands

I have enjoyed all of it. The course has really helped me think about what I actually want to do with my horse. You do a good job of helping focus on a goal. Loved the advice and support.”

I have gained a lot so far. I’ve always had a bit of butterfly mind and tend to jump from one exercise to another too fast and not getting anywhere! Sandra have taught me to focus and take things in small steps. And its so helpful to read everyone else’s progress as well” (student is referring to the Facebook support group for this online course)

What I like is that they (the exercises) are very doable as you have to answer to one thing at a time. I appreciate the way you give support a lot. You are critical in a good way, not letting me feel like everything I do is already perfect but also giving advice in a good way and helping to keep sharp.
I also got a little more insight into why I find it hard to succeed with training plans and what I could do to help myself with this.”

“I think this course is an excellent idea 🙂 You are always very supportive Sandra and make this feel like a safe place (the Facebook support group) to ask questions. Funny, but I’ve met a lot of R+ trainers who a very encouraging and positive with their horses but extremely critical of their human trainers. Sandra you walk and talk R+ in all areas – with horses and people 🙂 “

Here is why and how I started to set goals for myself:

More blogs about setting goals:
Key to success: make plans
5 Reasons to make a planning for your horse

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc. Animal Management

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

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

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How to… shape behaviours

In positive reinforcement training one of the techniques to get behaviour is called ‘shaping’. In shaping the goal behaviour is achieved by splitting the desired behaviour into many tiny steps. Each step is trained separately (clicked and reinforced).

A criterion is only raised if the previous tiny step is confirmed. In this way you can build a behaviour from scratch (free shaping). You can also shape existing behaviours. This is when elements like distractions, distance or duration are gradually added.

Shaping plan
It is not very common in horse training, but writing down your training steps in a shaping plan is a very valuable tool. It will help you become better at splitting behaviour faster.

If you think before you train, you know what to do when things don’t work out the way you expect. It is much easier to understand/find which steps you skipped and what you can do next time. Even if you don’t bring your shaping plan to the barn, it is much clearer in your head once you’ve written it down.

The questions are:

What is the tiniest step you can think of to train behaviour X?
Next question is: can you split that step into smaller steps?
Then: Can you make it even smaller?

It is not relevant if you think your horse already mastered a particular step. Write them all down. One day you might train another horse that needs step 1 to start.

Start shaping
The easiest way to get experience in shaping is to build on existing behaviour and modify it.

You can work on duration. Example: your horse already knows to lift his foot for cleaning but he is not yet ready for the farrier. You can shape the behaviour into holding his foot for longer periods of time. Each second can be one of the steps to bridge and reinforce.

_keylesson_target_voet2

Not only lifting his foot is important for a farrier, but also stretching the front leg forward will help the farrier trim the hoof properly. Once your horse can do that, you can also start building duration.

You can also shape ‘distractions’ into his training. Your horse can already lift his feet for trimming, but now you want to add people and or horses walking by while you’re hold your horses foot up. Or your horse needs shoes and you want him to get used to the hammering on the hoof or the smell of a hot shoe burning the hoof. Again, start with very tiny steps to implement these kinds of distractions.

Free shaping
In free shaping the trainer teaches a completely new behaviour to the horse, for instance teaching a horse to jump at liberty over a low jump. A horse will naturally avoid a jump if he can walk around it. That is why people build chutes and chase the horses over it with a lunge whip.

Wouldn’t it be great if you can teach him to jump over it because he chooses to? If you can positively reinforce him to go over a jump he learns to like it in the process. After all: there is something in it for the horse (other than the relief of any pressure or threats taken away).

In order to shape the goal behaviour the trainer has to divide this complex behaviour into baby steps. What are the tiniest steps you can think of?

It depends on the horses attitude towards jumps and his experience with them. A general shaping plan for teaching to jump at liberty could look like this.

Each step can be divided into as many steps as your horse needs, for instance moving one step towards the pole must be repeated until the horse is so close he can step over it.

  • Look at the pole
  • Move towards the pole
  • Step over the pole with one foot
  • Step over the pole with two feet
  • Step over the pole with three feet
  • Step over the pole with four feet
  • Walk over the pole
  • Walk over the pole and keep walking for 1 metre
  • Walk over the pole and keep walking for 1 + x metres
  • Trot over the pole
  • Keep trotting after the pole for 1 metre (1+x metres et cetera)
  • Change the pole for a caveletti/low jump and start from the beginning
  • Change the place of the pole/jump and move it from the rail a bit more to the middle
  • et cetera

It can help if you can use Key Lessons like standing on a mat (standing still and sending your horse off of the mat), back up and safe hand-feeding.

Until your horse can trot or canter the arena at liberty and jumps freely and enthusiastically over all the jumps.

Have fun shaping!

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

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New Uses for ‘Old’ Tools in Clicker Training, part III

In part 1 of this trilogy I talked about how my vision and use of ‘timing’ and taking emotions into consideration changed the way I train. In part 2 I mentioned how I changed the  way I use rewards now. There is another tool I now use completely different. It is my training journal. Before my reward-based training journey began I already wrote about my training.

Diary
It started like a diary: I wrote down the things I did with my pony that day and I wrote down (preventive) medical treatments like deworming, hoof trims and so on. I still have those journals, and it is nice to reread them. Unfortunately it doesn’t give me any useful information, years later.

Training journal
Now I write my plans for the future, the training plans and I about how the training went in my training journal.

Training journalIf I reread those entries, I can see what my ambitions were, how I approached them and what I achieved. If I read back in my training plan I know which steps I took to achieve my end behaviour and in my journal I can read all about my learning points and what went well. I also have an idea now how long it took me to teach the behaviour. It is also a great reminder what I already have accomplished together with my horse. One really quickly tends to forget about these things and it is temping to only focus on what you ‘still have to accomplish’.

One of the things I did the first year was to make pictures of all my achieved goals and put them in a lovely photo album. Every month one or two goals or milestones. It is a nice reminder of all we have done.
Writing it down
Writing makes things clear. I noticed that if I write my goals down, it is already easier to achieve them. By writing them down, they become clear in your subconscious.

If I have a list of goals in my tack locker which I can see every day, it is much easier to make choices about what to train. Even if I change my original plan for the day, I will most likely choose something that is a stepping stone to another behaviour I want to work on in the future.

Do you write your plans down? Do you think it is helpful? Is it hard for you? If you don’t know where to start, find yourself an accountability partner.

Read more
4 Easy Ways to Start a Training Journal

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

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How to plan your week in 5 easy steps

If you are serious about making your equestrian dreams come true in the future start planning it today. Make it easy for yourself and start really easy if you are not yet in the habit of writing your equestrian goals down.

It can be scary to make a training plan for a whole year or multiple year. If that is the case, you can start simple and try planning just one week for your horse. Here are some ideas on how you can start.

Evaluate at the end of the week: was is nice to have some kind of schedule? Was it hard? What made it hard to stick with it? Did you like it? Did you feel like you were working on your long term goals?

Step 1 List goals
You can just start making a list of 5 things you would like to do in the future with your horse. You can also put things on your list that you are already doing, but want to do more often. There is no particular order.

Step1_ListYourGoals_hippologic

Step 2 Specify preparations
What steps do you need to take in order to reach these goals? In my case I have to go by trailer to the nearest forest, so trailer loading is very useful for multiple goals. Another preparation could be working on Kyra’s stamina under saddle.

In order to cross a shallow river for the first time I would like Kyra to go with an experienced trail horse. And I would like an experienced guide with me because I have no experience crossing rivers on my own. Another preparation is making Kyra water savvy of course. The same preparations would apply for swimming in a lake or the sea with Kyra. And so on.

These are just examples to give you an rough idea and hopefully give your some inspiration to make a training plan for one week.

Step 3 Evaluating week schedule
Think of your own week schedule and about what days and times you would go to the barn. Maybe there are days you have less time to train your horse. Do you go mornings, afternoons or evenings. In summer it can be hot so mornings and evenings are best for riding or intense training. Keep that in mind when making your schedule.

On the days I am taking my 4 year old son to the barn, I don’t plan to ride Kyra. Usually I stick to groundwork exercises on those days in order to avoid stress and frustration.

My week evaluation looks like this in the summer:

– Monday I take my son to the barn: groundwork to practise a new skill/do a short repetition of one behaviour/ do something that involves my son (let him ride)
– Tuesday I have 1- 2 hours so I could plan a trail ride or ride in the arena
– Wednesday: same as Tuesday
– Thursday:  same as Monday so I stick to a little groundwork, working in hand/long reins or hand grazing
– Friday, Saturday, Sunday: I have 2 or more hours so I could plan a trail ride or ride in the arena

In winter when days are short, trail riding is only possible during daylight hours, so I can only plan them in weekends. Now I can take another look at my goals and start planing my week.

Step 4 Planning 
Now I know what I want to accomplish and how much time I can spent, it is so much easier to make a schedule for the week.

weekplanning_example_hippologic

If I have to or want to adjust my schedule that is ok. Since I have written down my goals in step 1, I will find something to practise that will support my goals in one way or another. If someone has left a few small jumps in the arena I can practice jumping or do some flat work because I can see how that would be helpful in my future trail rides. It can help build muscle and stamina too.

It is also possible that I would choose not to practice jumping because there are more urgent goals to work on and I know that the forest or park I am going to ride in on Sunday doesn’t have any jumps on the trail.

Step 5 Writing it downweekplan_schedule_barn_hippologic
Last step is to write it down. Take your plan to the barn and hang it in your locker or another place where you can see it.

It helps me to have a copy of my plan at home in a visible spot, so I won’t forget what I have planned. The best thing of making a plan is crossing off the things I scheduled! It makes it easier to journal about it too.

Good luck planning your week schedule and let me know how it went.

Enjoy your horse!

Read more: Key to Success: Make a Plan

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Are you inspired and interested in personal coaching or do you want to sign up for the next  online course ‘Set Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them‘, please visit my website

BANNER _Achieve Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them

Keeping an open mind is a challenge

Of course we all think we are open minded, right? At least I love to think that I am open to new approaches and ideas. But when it comes to horse training I noticed that it can be a real challenge to keep the mind open. One of the challenges I took on a few years ago was to make reward-based training my only training method.

Turning a “whoa-horse” into a “go-horse”
When I started Kyra on long reins and under saddle I noticed that she was more of a “whoa-horse” than a “go horse”. The only time when she was very forward was when she was in ‘flight mode’. Not really a preferable state of mind to work with.

It was really difficult for me to find ways to activate a slow, calm horse with rewards only. The challenge was to let her decide to ‘go’ voluntarily. That is after all the whole idea behind clicker training.1_movingtarget

Experience
Before Kyra I worked with some Lusitano horses and they had way more “go” than “whoa”. Something I could easily handle. I had no experience with clicker training horses that where not motivated to go by themselves.

I noticed that my default reaction was to apply pressure if I ran out of ideas to entice a horse to go forward. “Use your whip, the horse has to listen,” said one voice in my head. The voice of my heart said: “She is doing all this voluntarily now and that is really precious to me, but I do want to trot some day…”. What to do?

I decided to stick to positive reinforcement only. I had to become very creative. No one else I knew could help me tackle this problem. I am glad there is internet now and a lot of very experienced positive reinforcement horse trainers want to share their valuable knowledge. Combining the gleaned knowledge from internet and some of my own ingenuity I made a plan. The required time-frame was still a mystery however.

Open mind
When I started Kyra under saddle I hadn’t realized that I had ‘cantering multiple tracks around the arena’ as a goal. It seemed so obvious that she would be doing that within two or three months after starting, right. That was a ‘norm’ I grew up with.

I was lucky to have some knowledgeable horse people around who assured me that she would offer ‘canter’ to me the day she was ready. That was a hard thought to digest, she cantered at liberty, why not under saddle? Other horses that got started could do it in 4 – 6 weeks. Did I really had to wait until she offered it, so I could click and reward it? When would that be?

It was difficult to trust the theory of this science based training because I felt there were no guarantees for me to get results. I had to open my mind and start trying things I had never done before. I didn’t have any experience yet with activating a slow horse with rewards. The fact that a few other clicker trainers on the internet got wonderful results with this kept me going and the theory behind the science gave me a little confidence too.

A long road
I must say it was a really long process to teach Kyra to trot even for a few minutes, but we accomplished it. She also now wants to canter multiple circles in one go in the arena under saddle, which I am really enjoying.

I think the road I took was way longer than the road of negative reinforcement would have been, where the results can be instant. But in my heart I am convinced that this longer road has been much more comfortable to travel for Kyra. After all it is not about the goal, it’s about the road to the goal that is much more important. I also know that the experience I have now will be very helpful in the future.Working on stamina in trot

So many temptations
I was tempted many times to go back to my default behaviours (pressure and release and sometimes even -just out of frustration- to use a whip or a similar device to make Kyra go). A lot of times this tendency came up more than once in a session and it was hard to resist, because I knew I could ‘teach’ her to go with pressure. Instant results are always tempting.

At the same time I was very scared that it would compromise our good relationship and the trust bond we built over the years. So every time I ‘hit the wall’ and became frustrated because I had the feeling I lacked training tools, I just stopped training.

I would go home and search the net for new ideas and I would read my training journals which encouraged me to stay on the chosen road. I have stopped a lot of training sessions over the years to prevent my frustration from taking over. Kyra ‘has won’ so many times. Just kidding, I don’t believe that nonsense. We are on the same team, so we win together or lose together. I prefer to win together.

Letting go of the desire of instant results
It was hard to open my mind and try a completely different approach like using a target or teaching Kyra to stand on a mat and then let her go from mat to mat in order to get her moving. The hardest part was to let go of the immediate results (“whip and go”) and focus on the tiny steps, the building blocks, that would lead to the end behaviour. To trust that the positive reinforcement training method would reach the same result.

It was difficult to keep the faith that once Kyra could walk slowly from mat to mat, she would want to canter from mat to mat. I didn’t have any experience with these training tools in this situation to rely on. I could see the theory that a behavior consists out of little building blocks and that you can train them one block at a time to get to the end result. I had experienced this in a lot of other behaviours I taught Kyra over the years. That knowledge kept me keep going and gave me the patience needed to accomplish trotting for a minute or cantering a circle in the future. And I did!

My biggest challenge
Giving Kyra the stamina to trot and canter under saddle is one of my biggest challenges. I think because training stamina under saddle is an ongoing challenge and the behaviour is never ‘done’. When I could canter three strides,_reinforcingscratch2 I wanted to ride a whole circle and then two. Now I am training the canter for minutes instead of seconds or strides, like I did in the beginning.

I hope I can inspire the passionate horse lovers to stay on the road of clicker training and to enjoy the ride. Even in rough times. Maybe it takes longer but the view is much, much better!

Sandra Poppema

Summer time: Training plan for crossing water

Here are just a few ideas to teach your horse to cross water. After all: Summer starts this weekend and if you love trail riding or Horse Agility you might come across water.

Goal
_water_hippologic_april2011How you start depends on how your horse feels about water, his experience with previous water crossings (previous owners might have tried it) and his character. Start making a training plan. This plan is a guideline of ideas, it is not a manual.

For example, my goal is “crossing water”. I can narrow my goal down by being a bit more specific:

– crossing water under saddle
– crossing water at liberty, or
– crossing water in hand.

Be specific
What kind of “water” do I want my horse to cross? A puddle in the arena or on a trail? A river? A water obstacle in a horse agility course? A lake? Or do I want my horse to enter the sea?

Think about preparations
What skills does my horse needs to have to make it easier? In this example it would help if my horse is not afraid of water and is already comfortable getting his feet wet. If that is not the case then the first training step can be teaching your horse to stand in a bucket of cold water with one foot.

Once he is comfortable with getting his feet wet you can practice hosing his legs off. Open your mind and try to see “all water” as potential training opportunities. Once your horse knows stepping in a puddle can earn him a reward, his ideas about water can change completely.

Raising criteria
If you start with the criterion ‘Horse puts his left foot in a bucket of water without hesitation’ you can raise it after he has done it three times. Then you can train his other foot.

_soaking feet in water bucket_horse training_hippologicStart at the beginning again with the other hoof because this hoof is a context shift for him. Maybe he is more comfortable because he knows the drill now, maybe this is such a context shift that in his mind it is something completely new. The horse will tell you and over time you will become more and more accurate in predicting his reactions. Your training journal helps you to keep track of changes in your horse.

Training journal
It is so much fun to keep a journal when you train behaviours that are completely new to your horse. You get used to his new skills easily, but if you have a photo album with pictures of each victory you accomplished together you have a wonderful reminder of your journey with your horse.

Have fun in the water!

Sandra Poppema

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