Do you know that story about that philosopher teacher that uses a jar and fills it up with golf balls, small pebbles and sand as an analogy for creating the life you want? You can read it here.
The moral of the story is to plan your life and start with the most important things first: your health, family, children, friends and passions (horse!). Those are the golf balls.
The pebbles represent other things in life such as your house or your job and the sand represents the small stuff. If you fill the jar and you want the best of life start putting in the golf balls first and the sand last. If you put the sand in first there is no room left for the pebbles or the golf balls.
The same analogy can be used for training your horse. Most riders are focused on the sand and they don’t see the bigger picture of what they want to achieve in the relationship with their horse.
If you start planning, start with the important things like the kind of relationship with your horse you want (if that is important to you) and your bigger goals. Then you can think of the smaller goals and the fun stuff you want to do.
Do you set goals or plan the future with your horse?
PS You can sign up for free until December 31st 2016 for the course Set your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them (with personal support on our private Facebook group). Canter to my website clickertraining.ca and fill in the pop-up.
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I am reading a very interesting book. It is called Before Happiness and is written by Shawn Achor. You can look it up if you want. In this book you can find ways to improve your succes rate. The thing I like most is that I have already been using a lot of these strategies in my lessons and in my own horse training and riding.
One of the success strategies is creating mini goals, so you can feel good about accomplishing steps towards a bigger goal. In positive reinforcement we call that a shaping plan or it can refer to your training plan. In the shaping plan you write down the stepping stones towards a goal behaviour. Your training plan contains your ultimate goal, ten year plan, five year plan or (just a ) one year plan.
A good shaping plan creates clarity for the horse (the desired behaviour) and he can also feel successful after each click and reinforcer. It is like saying ‘yes’, ‘yes’ to your horse, so he knows he is on the right track.
Giving yourself a head start
One of the brilliant strategies in the book is giving yourself a head start. I used to skip this part, because it felt like ‘cheating’. Studies have proven that giving yourself a head start doesn’t feel like cheating for your brain. Instead it gives your brain the feeling that you are already half way there.
In horse training you can do the same thing. In a shaping or training plan you write down your goals and you divide them into smaller goals.
What I used to do is start writing down the first step I have to accomplish or teach my horse. I never thought of giving myself a head start by writing down a few steps that are necessary in the process but that I already have accomplished.
For me, a shaping plan to teach a green (non-clicker trained) horse would look like this:
Now I would give myself a head start and write down:
- Safe hand-feeding (check!)
- Trust in handler and not scared by introduction of a new object (check!)
- Standing still behind a barrier and paying attention to handler (check!)
This would be my head start. The fourth step would be ‘looking at target’ et cetera. In this way the trainer can already feel successful because s/he can tick off the first three mini goals.
Try it and I would love to hear how this works out for you.
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Today 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.
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.
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
- approaching plastic bags
- flags & balloons
- 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
- 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
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.
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: