Feel more successful in riding and training your horse

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._safe hand feeding_hippologic.jpg

Success strategies

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.

Targeting

For me, a shaping plan to teach a green (non-clicker trained) horse would look like this:

Training steps in training plan by Hippologic

Now I would give myself a head start and write down:

Steps:

  • 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.

 

_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.
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Tips to re-train undesired behaviour in horses

In another post I explained the power of a variable reward schedule and how to use it into your advantage. A variable ratio schedule is the most powerful reward schedule because it takes the longest for a behaviour to become extinct. How can you use this information in re-training undesired behaviour?

‘Extinction’ of behaviour

Extinction means that the behaviour will never be displayed in a certain situation. There is 0% chance of a reward, so therefor the behaviour has become ‘useless’ in that situation.

This is what we want to accomplish when a horse displays undesired behaviour, like kicking the stall door. We want to ignore the behaviour in order to make clear that this will not get him anywhere.

Why does it often seem not to work at all (ignoring undesired behaviour)?. It is because of a natural occurrence in learning that is called ‘extinction burst’.

Extinction burst

Once the owner decides to ignore this undesired behaviour in order to let it become extinct (0% chance of a reward so therefor displaying the behaviour has no value for the horse anymore) the behaviour will first show an ‘extinction burst’.

Extinction_Graph

Extinction, extinction burst and spontaneous recovery graph from study.com

During the extinction burst the horse will show an increased amount effort in the hope for a reward. If one decides to ‘reward’ (read: react) to this undesired behaviour in any way, even if it is with shouting at the horse in an attempt to punish this undesired behaviour, chances are that the horse regards this as his reward. After all, it is the receiver (horse) who determines if something is a reward.

How to handle it

If the horse kicks a door in order to get your attention and he gets what he wants, it is a reward. Every time an extinction burst is rewarded it takes longer for the behaviour to become extinct.

So if you expect the horse wants your attention, make sure he doesn’t get it. Every time he kicks his stall door walk out of sight or turn your back. In this way you make sure you don’t give him attention for kicking the door.

Extinct behaviour

If you want to let a behaviour go extinct the extinction burst is the most important moment not to reinforce.

This is also the  moment most people are tempted to react. The person interprets the increased undesired behaviour as ‘the horse hasn’t learnt anything’ and because the bad behaviour increased (instead of decreased) they feel the need to interfere in the hope punishment will solve this.

Spontaneous recovery

A second, smaller extinction bursts can occur over time, which are called spontaneous recovery of behaviour. In the case of our horse kicking the barn door, he might show the behaviour  again but less extreme. When the extinction burst(s) don’t get reinforced the behaviour will go extinct.

Undesired behaviour

In dealing with undesired behaviour we always want to know what caused the behaviour, so we can work on that too.

Sometimes it is really hard to determine what reinforces a certain undesired behaviour. If the behaviour is ‘self rewarding’ just ignoring the behaviour won’t work. The horse will get his reward regardless what you are doing. Then you have to figure out how you can reinforce the opposite behaviour more than the undesired behaviour or find a way to prevent it.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

This kind of self rewarding behaviour is hard to re-train

Rewarding the opposite behaviour

In the case of door kicking you can ignore the noise and start rewarding the horse for ‘four hooves on the ground’. In this way you communicate what it is you do want from the horse: standing still. Use the reward he wants for the undesired behaviour: your attention or during feeding time the food.

This approach works really well, but it takes a lot of effort from the trainer. You must be paying attention when the horse is standing still and is quiet. That can be a bigger challenge than just ignoring the door kicking.

Make sure everybody is on the same page if you want to re-train behaviour like door kicking. Ask everyone to follow the simple rules: go to horses that stand still and look for attention, ignore the door kickers.

Remember this

Every time an extinction burst is rewarded, the behaviour becomes stronger. Something you want in training desired behaviours, not in re-training undesired behaviours.

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below. Or post a comment, I read them all! Or just hit the like button if you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect horse women 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 reinforcer) or visit HippoLogic’s website and discover what else I have to offer.

Setting your horse up for success: context shift

Horses learn in a certain context. Each change in the context of training your horse should be considered as a new criterion. Use this to set yourself and your horse up for success.

What is a ‘context shift’?

If you want to teach your horse something new, like targeting, practise this in the beginning always in the same place, the same context. Maybe you start this exercise in the round pen or in his stall where you can train with protective contact (a barrier).

After a few session in which your horse made progress you might decide that you want to train without the barrier. Now you’ve changed the context. Expect a change in performance and lower your criteria in the beginning so you can give your horse confidence. If you always trained indoors and you ask the same exercise outdoors, your context (indoor/outdoor) has changed.

_context_shift_horse_training_hippologic

Not only the horse experiences ‘context changes’

If your horse masters the exercise and you want to show it to your friend or film it: the context changes for you. Have you noticed that it is suddenly much harder to perform at the same level when some one is watching? 

Why horse and rider perform much better at home

The same thing happens (for rider and horse) if you train for a competition and you as team perform great at home. Once you are in the dressage ring in a new place, with white fences your horse never saw before and you know there is a two person judge watching you, the context in which you have practised has changed. A lot. No wonder is doesn’t go as smoothly as it always goes at home, with your own instructor who you trust. Again, start lowering your criteria and set yourself up for success: consider the first competitions in a strange environment as training. Boost your horse’s confidence by communicating what you want. Positive reinforcement is an excellent way to communicate what you want and see more of.

How to handle context shifts

You will soon notice that you only have to lower your criteria (and your expectations) just a little bit and for a little while. If you don’t do this, the chances of getting dissapointed and/or frustrated are much bigger. Also for your horse it is much easier to learn to generalize certain aspects of the surroundings that have nothing to do with the cue for the behaviour.

Conclusion

You can use the context in teaching new exercises to your advantage, then if you want to teach your horse to generalize certain things in the setting you can change the context of your training. In this way the horse learns to generalize and he will soon learn is important to pay attention to (your cues) and what is best to ignore in order to get a click and reward (for instance certain things in surrounding, that are not part of your cue).

Related articles

Set you horse up for success: Splitting behaviour

Setting your horse up for Success: Short sesssions

Sandra Poppema
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How to teach your horse anything

Whenever an idea forms about what I want to teach my horse Kyra I set it as a goal. I then start writing a training plan and make a shaping plan to achieve this goal.

Goal setting

My goal in this example is teaching Kyra to stand still, next to a mounting block, until I mounted and give the cue to walk.

Shaping plan

After I set my goal I make a shaping plan. I think about all the possible steps I have to teach Kyra to achieve my final behaviour: standing parallel to the mounting block so mounting is safe and easy for me. I have to teach her to stand still when I’m mounting, put my feet into the stirrups, taken the reins and I am ready to ask her to walk.

I write all these steps down. I don’t even have to bring it to the barn. Just writing it down makes me focused.

A few of the building blocks of this goal are:

  • making her comfortable near the mounting block
  • teaching whoa
  • mat training
  • hip targeting (to be able to align her to the mounting block)
  • aligning with the mounting block without stress
  • waiting until I have mounted
  • and walking on queue

_mountainblock_hippologic

Context learning

Horses learn in a certain context. I use this into my advantage when I am teaching Kyra something new. I practise as much as possible in the same circumstance (context).

If I have a portable mounting block I always put it in the same place in the arena to practise. I will only put it in another place if she has already mastered lining up in the first spot.

I lower my criteria a bit when I change something in the context she learned the behaviour. In this way I always set Kyra up for success and I always have a good feeling too!

Set it up for success

I always take into account my horses emotions when I teach her something new. I recently saw a video in which the trainer put the mounting block next to the track in order to mount. Unfortunately this was the place where her horse was the most nervous (‘trapped in between the fence and the mounting block.) She made her training much more difficult than it needed to be.

For Kyra the most comfortable spot in the arena was in the middle where she has the most space and couldn’t hurt herself. Secondly I noticed that facing the door was more comfortable for her than facing the opposite side of the arena. I guess she likes to know where the exit is… After all it is an enclosed area and horses are flight animals.

Practising

Then I started to practise the steps in my shaping plan. I usually go up one criterion if Kyra masters it three times in a row.

Latent learning

After a few days of practise I give Kyra a break or I train something completely different. Often something she has already mastered. After giving her a ‘weekend’ off she performs much better. This latent learning is very valuable to me. It saves time!

Rinse and repeat

After a short break I lower my criteria a bit and start with some repetition to give her the confidence that she knows what is expected. After that I can move on very quickly.

Context shift

After Kyra has mastered the basics of the new behaviour, I change one thing in the context. I put the mounting block somewhere else in the arena. Not too far away from where she was used to.

Generalize

After a few times of putting the mounting block in different spots in the arena, I noticed that Kyra generalized the mounting block. Time for a real change: a different kind of mounting block.

I started practising with benches in the park, fences, rocks etc. Now Kyra is used to all kinds of mounting blocks and she is very safe to mount.

This is the general ‘recipe’ I use in teaching my horse new behaviours. You don’t have to use positive reinforcement training to use this in your training.

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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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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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‘Grass Training’: Teach Your Horse to Ignore Grass

Haven’t we all experienced that a horse pulled you towards some grass in order to grab a few bites? Isn’t that annoying? I think it is! grass training Hippologic clicker training horses

I didn’t want to be pushed around anymore by my horse every time there was some juicy patch of grass growing around. Grass is everywhere! I decided to look for a proper, force-free way to teach my horse more desired behaviour around grass.

I tried a few different approaches, before I found one that works well, gave me a solid result and is totally force-free. I would like to share it with you.

Define ‘proper behaviour around grass’

_teach your horse to ignore grass_hippologic_grazing_mannersIt took me a while to teach Kyra to behave ‘properly’ around grass. With ‘properly’ I mean: no more pulling me towards grass, wait until I give the ‘graze’ cue and ‘stop grazing and come along’ if I ask her to. I was tired of pulling Kyra off the grass.

Preparation

I must say before you can start training this you need a bit of preparation and… lots of practice time. After all, what is more enticing than grass? Well, a click can be…

What really helps is already have a solid history of click & reinforce. Secondly a horse that walks with you properly and the key lessons ‘head lowering’, ‘patience’ and ‘targeting’ are required to make this challenge most likely to succeed.

Shaping plan

Here is a summary of my shaping plan:

How I trained it

I started to reinforce lifting Kyra’s head while grazing. Why? Because this is the first step to move away from the grass. I began with leading her to grass and I would cue her to graze. Then I just waited (very, very patiently) until she lifted her head by herself. That is the moment I wanted to capture and reinforce.Enjoy trail rides again after grass training

I can’t stress how important it is to wait until the horse moves (his head) away himself. I tried other methods like pulling the head up/preventing the head from going down or asking Kyra to target while grazing in order to lift her head, but reinforcing her own head raise worked best.

High value treats

Every time she would lift her head , I clicked and reinforced Kyra with a very high value treat. One that could compete with grass. After she ate the treat I immediately gave her the cue to ‘graze’. Here is when the key lesson ‘head lowering’ comes is really handy.

I also clicked and reinforced the ‘graze’ cue. But instead of offering a treat off of my hand, the reward was to graze as long as she wanted.

Every time she would lift her head again, I clicked, reinforced and would then give her the ‘graze’ cue.

Next step

After a certain amount of training sessions, which Kyra enjoyed very much (!), I noticed that she started to lift her head more often during grazing sessions. This is a perfect time to add a ‘lift head up’ cue. The key lesson targeting helped me a lot.

So my next clicker session looked like this:

  • walk to the grass
  • give the cue ‘graze’
  • wait until Kyra lifts her head
  • click and reinforce
  • give her the cue ‘graze’
  • let her graze until I thought she was likely to lift her head up again, ask ‘touch’ target stick
  • click and reinforce
  • cue ‘graze’
  • et cetera.

In this way she is always reinforced for whatever I ask.

Raising the criterion

After several sessions I noticed that Kyra didn’t seem to mind lifting her head up anymore. She was eager to see what I had to offer her. The ‘diving into the grass’ behaviour was gone. She seemed so much more relaxed on grass.

I thought this would be the perfect time to raise a criterion. Now I wanted to lift her head and take one step forward before I gave the ‘graze’ cue again. I literally built this behaviour step-by-step.

The final step in this process was to teach her to wait for the ‘graze’ cue when we would walk on or approach grass.

Result

Now I can ask Kyra to leave grass at any time. She is very willing to come with me. She never pulls me towards a patch of grass and I never have to pull her off of the grass. Win-win, for her and for me.

Kyra turned from a I-need-to-graze-now-and-store-fat-before-winter-comes-horse into a I-see-grass-so-what-horse. She knows she can trust me and is allowed to have her share… only when I say so.

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Today I wanted to make a video for the FB Grass Training FB Group. Kyra didn’t want to graze, so I couldn’t show how to start walking on grass when all your horse wants to do is graze. Never thought I could be in that position: a horse that doesn’t want to graze because training is way more valuable.

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
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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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!

If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons  below. Or post your comment, I read them all!

Or simply hit the like button so I know you appreciated this blog. Thank you!

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I connect horse women 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 course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training.
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Key to Success: make a Shaping Plan

Read the article you’re looking for here: https://clickertraining.ca/key-to-succes-make-a-shaping-plan/

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Sandra Poppema, BSc

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Teaching horse people to make training a win-win and bond with their horse so they can enjoy their time together.

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Key Lessons for Horse Trainers

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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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Children and Horses

Maybe a better title is “Parents and children in barns”. It is so normal to teach children “Don’t run in the stables, don’t pet strange horses and don’t walk behind a horse”. Does it help? I have seen so many times that parents, mostly moms, keep yelling the same phrases for years. Without results. Why would that be?

I am not a psychologist but I did read a lot about Neuro Liguistic Programming (NLP). The brain works like this: it focuses on the most important piece of information in the sentence:  “run”, “pet” and “walk”. The brain has trouble focusing on the negative (the don’t), so the brain processes the rest: “…run in the stables”, “…pet strange horses” and “… walk behind the Bond bteween child and horse_hippologichorse”. Does that make sense? Do you see it happening? Yes, that is how the brain works. Do not think about an elephant. (I’ve always had trouble thinking of an pink elephant). A simple rule is: focus on what you do want to happen in the barn. On how you do want your child to act around horses.

Here are my rules in the barn:

  1. Always walk in the stable
  2. Use your “indoor voice”. Horses have sensitive ears.
  3. Ask permission before feeding or petting a horse
  4. Ask: “Is it safe?” and wait for an answer if there is a horse you have to walk by.
  5. You can give the commands to our horse, but mommy click & treats the horse.

These rules were wonderful for a 3 year old. Along the way, kids get more responsibilities and that means rules can change or other rules are added.

Sandra Poppema
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5 Reasons to make a planning for your horse

I like to think about the future and I like making plans for me and my horse! I like to think about what I would like to achieve with Kyra. What would it feel like if we accomplish it? Here are 5 good reasons to make a planning to help you make your equestrian dreams come true.

1- Writing your goals down necessitates you to reflect about them
Questions you can ask yourself are: What do I want to achieve? Is it realistic for me at this time? Is it realistic for the horse I have now? Are my old equestrian dreams still valid? What would be on your list of (ultimate) equestrian goals? Write it down!

2- Once you’ve made a list, you can work systematically on your goals
Take a goal from your list and divide it into as many training steps as you can think of. These are your building blocks.

Even when you have the feeling you are ‘not training’ one of the goals on your list, you are probably working on a valuable preparation for one of your goals. Your subconscious will take care of that once you have written them down.

3- If you have written down your long-term goals, it is much easier to divide them into achievable training steps
Dividing your big goal into a one year plan with 12 smaller monthly goals or even smaller weekly goals will motivate you. These tiny building blocks are easy to accomplish, so you can be proud of your horse and yourself. Set it up for success: make your goals reachable.

4- In rough times it is always uplifting to see your list of goals and what you have ticked off already
Keeping a training journal will make it easy to look back on your accomplishments. It will remind you of all the challenges you have already faced. Looking back on those goals now, often gives you the feeling they were easy to reach, but you know they were challenges at the time. Just like the challenge you are facing right now. If the challenges seems too big, make the training steps smaller.

5- Working with small goals will help you see the ‘big picture’
If you can see the big picture, working on smaller goals is and stays interesting. These will keep you going, because once you have made a plan it’s easy to see how all the behaviours you train are interrelated with different goals on your list.

For example: you have a yearling and one of your big goals is to participate in competitions. Prerequisites for this goal can be ‘trailer loading’ or despooking exercises. If you can see how training your yearling to go willingly into a trailer now, will support your goal to take him to a competition ground in the future, it can be very motivating to start training trailer loading today. The same goes for despooking. If you can start your yearling to get used to all kinds of objects, music, strange terrain and so on, it will be a great asset when you are ready to compete.

_10 year equestrian planning_hippologic

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

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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

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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

Key to success: make plans

What is a training plan? Is it really necessary to write it down? Isn’t that time consuming? These are the things people ask when I talk about training plans and shaping plans.

How a training plan can help you (purpose)
You don’t have to make a training plan, but it will help you become a better clicker trainer faster. Why? Because it forces you to think about your training goal, your approach and all the steps you need to take to get to your goal.

If you are at the barn and you don’t know what to do, a plan can help you move in the right direction.

level4

Difference between a training plan and a shaping plan
Your training plan contains all the behaviours you want to teach your horse, in your shaping plan you write down the step-by-step approach of each behaviour.

Goal setting
First thing you have to think about and write down is your goal. What it is it and how would you recognize it when you achieve it? That is a hard question to begin with. That is one of the reasons people would like to skip this step. If you avoid it, it doesn’t exists, right? Wrong!

How can you achieve your goal if you don’t know what it is you’re looking for? How can you enjoy a satisfied feeling of accomplishing something if your goal is so vague you can’t even write it down? I know it is hard, but when you practise it this will become easier and easier over time.

It’s OK to start ‘big’ and write down a vague goal, the next steps will help you through the process of making it more clear.

Shaping plan
Once you have determined a goal it is easy to divide it into little training steps, the building blocks of your end behaviour. This is how you shape a behaviour.

Ask questions like: what does my horse need to do in order to achieve the goal? What skills must I train first? And think about the training tools that can help in this process.

Training steps in training plan by Hippologic

Criteria
Try to visualize and write down how many times your horse must do a certain behaviour before you raise the criterion. It doesn’t have to be accurate right away, but thinking about it helps when you are at the barn training your horse.

If you have set the criterion ‘Horse touches target when it’s near the ground’ you can raise it after he has done it three times. Then you hold the target in another place where the horse has to reach for it: maybe more to the left and then more to the right.

Rewards
It is also very important to write down which reward and how much of that reward you will be using. Some rewards will wear down their value over time in some horses.  Some horses are more motivated if they get a variation of rewards.

Experiment and write down what you’ve learned about your horse. It is fun and very educational to read it back one day.

_shapingplan_hippologic

Personalize your plan
Another very important part of your training plan is to put in specific information about the target animal and things for the trainer to remember. If you read your training plan before you start training it can help you remind you of  certain things like: I have to click first and take the reward out my pocket (instead of taking the treat before I click). Or remember that this horse has separation anxiety and training him works best if there are other horses in sight.

Results
Write down your results in order to start the next training at the point where you stopped or so you can take one step back to refresh the horses memory and raise the first criterion after one time instead of three times to improve and get to the next steps.

Starting a training journal can be very simple and it doesn’t have to take much time. Sometimes a few simple keywords or just circling the training step where you have stopped is enough to help you remember.

Have a creative clicker training!

 

_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.
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10 Tools that changed my Training Approach (V)

This is the final part of this series where I talk about the tools I have learned to use since I started using clicker training. I didn’t use them all right away and I use more than these ten I write about here. I hope they may inspire you to try something new. Click to read part I, part II, part III and part IV of this series.

# 8 Barrier
Before clicker training I never considered working with a barrier between me and a horse, even if it was a dangerous horse.  __safety_hippologicI just had never thought of it using it as an aid in training. Too bad, because training with a protective barrier can reduce stress in human and horse.

Now I use a barrier when I teach people clicker mechanics. When you start using clicker training it’s really difficult to handle a horse, a target stick, a clicker and present a reward all at once. With a barrier, the new trainer doesn’t have to deal with a horse in hand while he is learning new skills or listening to me.

When you use a barrier between you and the horse you prevent the horse from coming towards you. A lot of horses are interested as soon as they discover there is food involved in this new training method. They don’t know yet how to act in order to get more clicks. A barrier helps prevent self rewarding behaviour like putting his nose into your pocket to take the treats out. Of course a barrier can also be used for other safety reasons.

Another advantage of using a barrier is that the horse is at liberty and therefor has more freedom to communicate to the trainer how he feels about the training session. If he stays and looks engaged he would still like to earn some more clicks and rewards. If he is walking away he might need a break or it could be a sign that his brain is full, he’s bored or something else is more interesting.

#9 Stopping
I’ve learned that if I want to get the maximum result out of my training sessions I have to give my horse a break. Not only breaks between individual training sessions, but also after a few days of training. When I taught my horse a new skill and I practised it a few days in a row I always give my horse a “weekend” or a day off. In these days I don’t train new skills and I don’t repeat any of the new behaviour. I might leave her in the pasture or we just do something she already knows well.

In my experience horses perform better after their “weekend”. When the horse has had time to ‘sleep on it’. Sleep is thought to improve the consolidation of information.  In my experience giving a horse a holiday of a few weeks per year instead of working 365 days is a good way to keep the motivation high.Smile your weekend starts here. By HippoLogic

The hardest tool but also the most rewarding tool is to know when to stop. If you stop when your horse is performing at his best, you are a good trainer.

Stop when you have thoughts like:”It was probably a coincidence that he did it, we’ll try it again” or “I want to be sure he got it”. The behaviour just before those thoughts must be jackpotted. The horse performed extremely well and should be rewarded with a break.

After a jackpot you have to stop what you were doing and give the horse a break. After the break you can ask something else. Really, if you ask it the next day chances are higher that the horse starts with the criterion you ended and jackpotted the day before.

If you think you have to ask your horse “just one more time” because you are so excited he did so well and it is so rewarding for you to let him do it again, you don’t set yourself and your horse up for success. When your horse is performing a new skill and he meets your criteria for the behaviour, he will only perform less then expected because in your subconscious  you will raise your criteria slightly. “If he could do this, he can do that, too”. This is why a training plan is really important.

You set yourself up for success to stop when you are really exited “he did it!” Really! I know it’s a hard thing to do, but the reward for you will come next time: he will remember.

#10 Training plan
One tool all clicker trainers should use is a training plan. In a training plan you write down your goal. Describe what behaviour you want to teach your horse and include all the training steps you require.

In your training plan you should also mention the information about the animal you are training (species, gender, age), the surroundings (indoor arena, outdoor arena, stall) in which you train, what tools you want to use (target stick, mats etc) and what behaviour your horse needs to learn first. It can create a lot of training ideas.

Include all the steps/ training sessions you can think of and write down the criteria the horse has to meet in order to get a click & reward. Don’t forget to mention what rewards you will be using and after how many repetitions you will go on to the next behaviour. If there are specific things to think about for the trainer or to take into consideration for this specific animal write them down too.

It seems like a lot of work, but a form in Word is easily made. You will gain a lot of knowledge by using training plans and keeping a journal. The time investment it takes to write it down will pay itself back tenfold in results. Have fun!clicker training plan

Let me know what tools you use that changed your perspective or attitude in training your horse. I’d love to hear about it.

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book your video consult today!

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Best Basics: House-training for Horses

When I put a picture on Facebook of Kyra pooping next to the poop bin in the indoor arena, a lot of people asked me how I potty trained my pony.

_Horses_only_washroom_byHippologic

 

 

Clicker training

Kyra was already clicker savvy, so she knows really well that after a click of my clicker, she will get a reward. The click pinpoints the behaviour. In order to get more of the wanted behaviour, the best results are obtained by rewarding the animal while (s)he is doing the wanted behaviour or within 3 seconds after the wanted behaviour.

A clicker acts as a bridge between the wanted behaviour and the moment of giving the reward. So I didn’t have to reward her within or during the wanted behaviour, I only had to ‘bridge’ (click) during the behaviour that I wanted to capture and then bring her the reward. That came in handy at liberty.

Start easy

In the beginning my criterion was really low. In my mind I divided the indoor arena in two halves: the half with the poop bin (light green rectangle) in it and the other half.

Every time she needed to poop I asked her very gently to maintain gait until she was in the “proper half” of the arena if possible. Often we didn’t reach that half. Maintaining a trot was never possible, but at least she kept walking. A few steps.

It wasn’t really about maintaining gait, but more about making the wanted behaviour easy.

_house-train_potty-train_horse_hippologic

If she needed to go poop and we were in the half of the arena where the poop bin is located (green striped area), she was allowed to stand still to take her washroom break. Why? Because pooping while walking, trotting or cantering leaves a long trail of poop.

Like I said, I don’t like to waste time on poop scooping in the arena. On top of that I clicked and rewarded her with a handful of treats during pooping. She learned that pooping was rewarded sometimes, whereas other times it was not. It was up to Kyra to figure this out. And she did!

Raising my criteria

After a certain period I realized that Kyra was 100% of the time pooping in the half of the arena where the bin is located. That was a sign for me to raise my criterion.

I divided the “designated poop area” in half again (pink striped area). So now the space where I let her stand still to poop and click and reward her for pooping was about a quarter of the arena size.

After a while she discovered that the had to go poop in a certain corner of the arena. Every time I had the feeling that she “got it”, I raised the criterion and made the “allowed area” a bit smaller in my mind (dark blue striped area).

Correcting my mistake

The poop bin is located in the same corner where the shavings are stored. Kyra thought she had to poop in the shavings, which was an obvious mistake (yellow/orange area). After all, her stall is full of shavings where she poops in. So I began to watch her closely, because she usually pooped in the shavings when she was in the arena all by herself. This was a learning point and failure is the best way to success (I decided to ‘fail forward’ and adjusted my training).

Under saddle I could catch her going in the shavings one time and gently let her out of it. She only had to take one or two steps (towards the bin). Then she pooped next to the bin and not in the shavings. She had earned herself a jackpot. [read here more about -> “rewards and jackpots“<-] After a few times she learned that “in the shavings” wouldn’t get her a reward.

Goal

Now my goal is to let her poop in the bin, so I don’t have to clean up at all. Wouldn’t that be awesome? I’ll let you know when we get there.

UPDATE (Jan 2017)

Here is the sequence on this blog: I accomplished my shittiest goal ever! In which I tell you about how I taught Kyra to poop in the manure wheelbarrow. It even has a video! Go on and check it out!

What’s holding you back?

4 Main reasons people get stuck in training their horse (free training)

 Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.

Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.
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10 steps to your dream horse

airs_above_ground

I dream about ‘airs above the ground’

1 Think about your dream

What would your ultimate dream with your horse look like? What are you doing? Who is involved? Are you excited (eventing) or relaxed (trailriding)? Take your time to figure out what your ultimate dream really is.

2 Set goals

What do you need in order to achieve your goal (see #1). What skills do you and your horse need? Make your goals S.M.A.R.T. SMART goals Hippologic

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement (e.g. dressage)
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress (e.g. dressage test level 1 with X points)
  • Assignable – specify who will do it
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved

3 Learn more about reward-based horse training

Reward-based horse training makes the results (behaviours) very reliable. Antoine de Pluvinel (1552 -1620) already said: “You can never rely on a horse that is educated by fear. There will be always be something that he fears more than you. But, when he trusts you, he will ask you what to do when he is afraid.” In reward-based training the horse is allowed to ‘ask questions’ and make mistakes. He will simply learn quickly because he is rewarded by something pleasurable when he ‘gives the right answer’. That makes the horse looks actively for the right answers. In other words: he will be eager to work with you and do as you ask.

4 Divide your big goals into smaller goals.

Make a list of all the behaviours your horse needs to master. Make for each behaviour a list with as many steps as you can think of to describe all the building blocks of the behaviours you want to teach your horse. The smaller the steps, the easier it is to achieve them. Think about your criteria: when are you going to the next behaviour? And write down what rewards you will be using. Remember: it must rewarding for the horse. It is the receiver that determines the reward, not the trainer. You might be reinforced by money, I bet your horse doesn’t care about it.

[-> click here to learn more about dividing big goals into small building blocks <-]

 5 Set up for success

Make sure the right answers are made easy for your horse and the wrong answers a bit more difficult. If your horse outsmarts you, change the setting. Remember: it is your goal to reward your horse as much as possible!

6 Start training

Try it and prepare to fail. Try again. Every time you fail is it just another step closer to your goal. Learning is a process. Not only for your horse, but also for you as trainer! Enjoy your journey. Keep notes, see #8.

_reinforcingscratch2

This is rewarding

7 Reward the slightest try from your horse

Yes it is time to reward! Ask again and reward his successes. His successes are yours! Go to the next step after 3 times. Increase the difficulty slightly.

8 Write down your achievements

See this post to learn about 4 easy ways to keep a training journal! [-> Click here <-]

9 Adjust training where necessary

And don’t forget to give your horse a break or holiday. My horse performs the best after a break. It keeps fascinating me how well a break works. I wish I could give my horse only breaks and still perform.

10 ENJOY time spent with your horse.

Smile! Make pictures, poems, write a blog and enjoy even more! Enjoy not only training sessions, but also spent some ZEN time together!

Sandra Poppema KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA