Halter Your Horse in 3 Steps with Clicker Training

What is your biggest struggle in clicker training? Splitting behaviour? Do you catch yourself sometimes lumping behaviour?

The most challenging task for a positive reinforcement trainer is to ‘thin slice’ your goal behaviour into trainable steps. This process is called a shaping plan.

Key Lesson for Trainers: Shaping plan

One of the 6 Key Lessons for Trainers in HippoLogic’s horse training system is teaching horse people how they can make good shaping plans for their horses.

Shaping plan in 3 easy steps

Step 1 Determine your goal behaviour

Step 2 Divide it into smaller steps. And even smaller. If you can, even more baby steps.

Step 3 Write them all down

#1 Determine Your Goal behaviour

Describe your goal behaviour in a detailed way. Asking questions will help you with this description:

  1. How does the horse behave (describe)
  2. Does your horse move slow, fast or not at all in the goal behaviour
  3. Where are his feet ideally?
  4. Where is is head
  5. How does he use his neck
  6. What about his other body parts: what are they doing and how do they move
  7. Where are you: in front of your horse, next to your horse (left or right) or on your horse (riding)
  8. And so on

Example: Haltering

  1. The horse is calm and is relaxed
  2. Horse stands still (otherwise halter becomes challenging)
  3. His feet are on the ground (not on my feet), so no pawing or moving around
  4. His head is relatively low
  5. Neck horizontal (horses that keep their head high or moving are hard to halter)
  6. Tail doesn’t move (no swishing)
  7. I am in front of the horse (I know traditionally you need to stay at the left. Clicker training is not traditional. It’s OK to break some rules. I like to be in front so it’s easy to teach horses to ‘self halter’.)

#2 Divide Goal into Trainable Steps

When you did a good job describing the behaviour you have a lot of starting points to make a good shaping plan.
In your shaping plan you write down every step you need to teach your horse in order to train your goal behaviour.

It helps to remember that your horse has no clue what you want to accomplish!

Every step in the description above can help you divide the goal behaviour ‘haltering’ into smaller steps.

The first step has to be that the horse stands still and is approachable. We all know how hard it is to halter a walking or trotting running horse, don’t we?

So all the above steps in the description of the goal behaviour can be steps in your shaping plan. If you think this is undue than you’ve probably never tamed and trained a wild horse. Also for halter shy and ear and head shy horses these steps all can be necessary.

Now you have the perfect body posture trained the next step is to bring in the halter. Some of the other steps in the shaping plan of training haltering are:

  • Horse stands still and keeps his head still when he sees the halter
  • Halter can move towards the horse and the horse keeps his head still
  • Head is at a height that is convenient to halter
  • Horse keeps his head still or
  • moves slightly down when the noseband is around his nose (Key Lesson Head lowering and Key Lesson Targeting are excellent training tools to train this part)
  • Horse keeps head still when head piece touches ears (for head and ear shy horses you need to thin slice this even further!)
  • Horse keeps head still when head piece goes over his ears
  • Horse keeps head still when handler closes the halter

Each and every step in the above list can be divided even small if the horse needs it.
In your shaping plan you also write down when you want to move to the next step, what reinforcers you use and what the set up of the training environment is.

#3 Write it Down!

Studies have proven that writing your goals down help improve accomplishing it with 39%. People who share their goals and make themselves accountable (by sharing their goal with their coach or close friend) even increase their chances to 79%!

If you’ve written your shaping plan down it’s also way easier to remember. You’ve already visualized it in detail in order to write it down. Don’t underestimate the power of the pen! If you need help writing shaping plans, I happen to be a star in it! I also offer accountability for my students, so if you want to increase your chances of success, you know how to find me, right?

Read on

Smart strategy to re-train a halter shy horse with video.

HippoLogic’s Facebook group

Join our Happy Herd group on Facebook where you can ask questions, interact with like-minded people and get support on your clicker journey. In the last quarter of 2019 I will do weekly LIVE videos in the Happy Herd. Don’t miss out!

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!
Get a free 5 Step Clicker Training Plan.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

The Clicker Training Academy gives students personal support and offers online training

What is the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy? It’s an online place where you can learn to train every behaviour you have in mind with R+. We have a small, all-inclusive community in which students can thrive and develop.

  • Professional, personal positive reinforcement advice on your training videos
  • Super affordable
  • Student levels are novice to very advanced clicker trainers

Join the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy and become one of the 25 ‘founding members’ (those students who receive extra privileges because they are the first) .
The 25 founding members get a free 90-minute coaching session with me (value $150 CAD). There is still room for you!

Key Lessons for Horse Trainers

This blog has moved. Click this link to read more: https://clickertraining.ca/key-lessons-for-trainers/

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!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Training ideas for Trail riding

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

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

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

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

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

Ready to go for a ride

Ready to go for a ride

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

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

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

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

Here is the video of the trail ride:

Sandra Poppema

Kyra: trailer loading

Click here to go to my website and read the blog.

It’s full of trailer training tips!

PS Make sure you subscribe to our new blog location!

Happy Horse training!

Sandra