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5 Benefits of using a Shaping Plan in Horse Training

In positive reinforcement training we need our horse to think about what we want and to make a conscious decision to do it.

We don’t push, pull, force or threaten our horse in the right direction and release the pressure, force or the threat when he does the desired behaviour. No, we have to create an environment in which he can use his brain.

In order to learn, your horse needs to be in thinking mode.

This self-imposed challenge to ask the horse to use his brain, demands proper preparation from the trainer:

  1. We need to think about we want in advance, in order to
  2. Set our horses up for Success.

How do you Set your Horse up for Success?

You only have a marker (to mark the behaviour), a reinforcer (to strengthen the behaviour) and your brain to make it happen.

Shaping plan_hippologicYou have to guide your horse with your clicks from where he is to where you want him to be, the desired behaviour. In order to do that successfully you need a plan. This is called a ‘shaping plan’. You need to shape the behaviour step by step.

Shaping Plan

A shaping plan is your written approach to train a specific behaviour.

It describes every little step (criterion) in the process to train the desired behaviour. This process is called ‘splitting’ behaviour.

When you split the behaviour in small enough steps, it is easy for your horse to understand what you want (and what he will be reinforced for).

It gives in detail an objective description of the desired behaviour, your goal behaviour. A good shaping plan also contains a description of the circumstances of the training: where you train, the date, the name of the horse, the trainer, what reinforcers will be used and how many good tries will lead to the next criterion.

With a good shaping plan you can guide your horse with clicks to the desired behaviour.

If you split the behaviour in small enough steps, you create enough stepping stones to go from A to B to C to D (Desired behaviour).

If you don’t have enough steps, you get stuck. That is called ‘lumping’ behaviour and your horse can’t make the jump from behaviour A to C. He gets stuck and doesn’t understand anymore where you want him to go.

If you go back to your shaping plan you can see that B is missing. It is easy to come up with an extra stepping stone if you already have a direction of where you want to go.

Purpose of a Shaping Plan

  1. You know what your criterion for a click is
  2. You know after how many successful tries you go to the next criterion
  3. You know what the next criterion is (for what behaviour you will click and reinforce)
  4. You know what reinforcers you are going to use and which ones you’ve used in the past
  5. You know when to give your horse a break.

Training without a shaping plan

What happens if you don’t make a shaping plan? You set yourself up for failure and frustration.shaping lumping hippologic

  • Without a plan of approach it is much harder to recognize if you are making progress.
  • Without a written plan you easily forget what your starting point was and you might not celebrate your successes enough
  • You will miss ‘click-worthy’ moments because you haven’t set parameters what is click worthy and what is not.
  • It is harder to raise your criteria
  • It is also harder to be flexible in your training and adjust as soon as frustration in you of your horse occurs. You don’t have an alternative ready and it is harder to go back to the step where your horse still was successful. As you get more experienced in writing shaping plans, you will notice that you become way more creative in finding solutions to challenges that occur in training.

5 Benefits of a Shaping Plan

  1. If you get stuck you get yourself unstuck way faster because it is easier to see where you need to add an extra step, need to change your reinforcer and/or go back to where your horse was still successful.
  2. The more you practise the more experience you get in splitting behaviour. You will ‘lump’ less and prevent frustration and other undesired emotions and feelings in training
  3. Once you’ve written a good shaping plan you can re-create your training successes with other horses. Even years later, just because you’ve written it down.
  4. It is easier to be flexible in training and come up with an alternative step if you get stuck because you’ve given your training approach already so much thought.
  5. A good plan will speed up your training.

One of the Key Lesson I teach is how to write and use a shaping plan. Shaping plans are your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement training.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners create the relationship with their horse they really, really want and teach them how to get results in training.  
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Benefits of Key Lessons in Clicker Training (3/3)

When you start clicker training your horse you might want to start with something fun and exciting. I call my basic clicker exercises ‘Key Lessons’. HippoLogic’s Key Lessons (Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement training) are not basic exercises, they are actual training tools. Important and versatile training tools.

In this series I will explain how you can use a basic exercise into a valuable training tool.

Key Lesson Hippologic

Key Lessons for Horses

HippoLogic’s 6 Key Lessons are:

  1. ‘Table Manners’ for horses (safe hand-feeding, waiting for food reward)
  2. ‘Patience’
  3. Targeting
  4. Mat Training
  5. Head Lowering
  6. Backing

From Exercise to Training tool to Success strategy

When you start teaching your horse the Key Lessons they are simply your goals in training, but once you master these exercises you can start using them as tools. They will help you train other, more complex behaviours.

Once you are using them as tools you will notice that they become your success strategy. That is what I teach in my online course Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training. 

Key Lesson Head lowering

Head lowering is a very simple exercise to teach your horse to do, yet it is very helpful in so many situations. It can be useful in haltering and bridling tall horses, asking your horse to inspect a scary object on the ground or to help your horse to calm down.

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Head lowering can also be a valuable tool if you have to lead your horse under something like a horse agility obstacle or a doorway.

It is helpful teaching your horse your cue to give him permission ‘you may graze now’ (Key Lesson Targeting comes in handy to teach him to stop grazing) or to let him stretch his neck under saddle or while driving.

A calm horse has no problem lowering his head or keeping his head down. This head position is associated with behaviours like grazing and exploring. Both pleasurable experiences.

One of the first behaviours a horse displays when he is in distress or gets nervous is to put his head up so he can see, hear and smell what is going on. If your horse doesn’t want to bring his head down it can be an indication he is not relaxed. Asking your horse to lower his head can help him calm down. Especially when it is taught with positive reinforcement and the horse has to decide himself to lower his head!

Key Lesson Backing

Backing might be less versatile than all the other Key Lessons, but it isn’t less valuable. Backing certainly deserves its place in the list.

Backing can make all kinds of situations more safe. For instance if you have to lead your horse though a gate that opens inwards it is very handy if your horse knows to back up on a simple hand or voice cue. What about unloading your horse from a trailer? I’ve been in situations where a horse didn’t want to or couldn’t back up and it makes it very hard to unload a horse, I can tell you.

_ keylesson backing hippologic clickertrainingIf a horse mugs or bites backing helps create space immediately between you and the horse. Then you can make a plan how to address the undesired behaviour. Backing also can be helpful in behaviours like teaching your horse to align with the mounting block or ask him to lift his hoof if he is standing on your lead rope.

Last but not least backing can be used as an agility exercise to strengthen his muscles under saddle or in groundwork.

 

Read more

How you can turn basic exercises as ‘Table Manners’ for Horses and ‘Patience’ into tools is discussed in part I.  Read here part II where you can learn how to use Key Lessons Targeting and Mat training to train complex behaviours.

Please share

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! Comments are good reinforcers.

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 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 my online 8 week course ‘Key Lessons, Your Key to Success in Positive Reinforcement Horse Training’ that will change your life.

How to Keep Track of Your Training (the easy way!)

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a dog trainers blog about using a calendar to keep track of your training days. It sounded really easy to implement and it would help you stay motivated to train your pet. It takes only 5 minutes each day.

All clicker trainers know that only 5 minutes of training a day can already have a huge impact on your horses behaviour after only a few weeks. I thought, let’s try it! (more…)

4 Easy Ways to Start a Training Journal

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Kyra, April 2011 (click to enlarge)

People think I have a really ‘easy to train’ horse. They say: ‘Kyra is so sweet’ when they notice that she is always so willing to work with me. Indeed, that is how it looks today.

My secret is to set goals and a prepare a step-by-step training plan. To keep me on track, I keep a training journal. If I get the feeling I don’t make progress, I just read back and I realize that I do make progress. This is really motivating.

Keeping a journal is a simple tool to make sure that you and your horse are developing in the right direction. The direction of your dreams!

Here are 5 ways to keep track of your progress:

1. Use an agenda and simply write down in a few words what you’ve accomplished every training session. Formulate it in a positive way. You can keep the agenda in your tack locker or at home. Make sure that before you leave the barn or as soon as you arrive home, you take 1 or 2 minutes to make some notes. Or use a mason jar, see https://hippologic.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/530/ This method is quick and easy. I’ve done this for years.

_Liggen

Kyra, September 2013 (click to enlarge)

2. Keep a journal in Word. This makes it very easy to duplicate your notes to internet, adjust text and use a spelling control. Another advantage is that it’s very easy to import pictures into your journal. Using a Word file can make it harder to keep the notes short, but it is a joy to read back. It does take a little discipline, because after you come back from the barn you have sit down behind your pc immediately. It is amazing how quickly you forget about what you practiced 2 days later, if you can recall your training at all. Writing things down also helps you to think things through.

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Kyra, March 2012 (click to enlarge)

3. If you are not a writer, try one of my favourites: create a photo journal.  Every month I take pictures of my accomplished goals, like Kyra entering water (see above) or mastering the smile (picture on the right) . At the end of each year I select the best pictures of each month and I put the prints into photo album. I write the date and the goal next to each picture. This is the best way to show off share your progress with friends. An excellent choice for young and developing horses. You can see how they grow and change.

Training journal

4. Use Excel to write down every building block of your goal and simply tick off each baby step with the date. It takes a lot of preparation, but saves time on a daily basis. I started this when my friend showed me her really impressive Excel sheet. She wouldn’t share all her time consuming preparations with me, so this didn’t work out for me: I soon quit. Too much effort. You have to write down every training step in advance, in order to work properly. If you exactly know what you are doing, this is the way for you. Very scientific, not easy. Skip this one.

Gespot!

Kyra, May 2009 (click to enlarge)

5. Video your progress. This, my readers, takes courage! You have to film yourself when your work is still ‘work in progress’. To accomplish the first baby steps of a bigger goal doesn’t mean it already looks impressive. To me it does, because I know the basics are the most difficult. If the foundation is firm the rest will be peanuts. Soon. Take in consideration that you will notice that you are wearing the same coat for years, but if you have a grey it is really nice to see at least her coat changing every season!

Personally, I use a combination of all of the above, except number 4.

Please, let me know in the comments below which one works best for you!

Read here the article about How to use a training logbook in an effective way. It contains a free downloadable logbook.

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website

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