It’s great fun to see your bond reflected in your horse doing an amazing trick like this. Of course your horse must like it, too! That’s why I teach this wih positive reinforcement and give horses a choice to do it.
If they say ‘No’ it’s great feedback to check why he doesn’t want to.
Reasons a horse refuses to lie down
The surface is too hard, too wet, too cold, too muddy
Your horse is not relaxed. Calm him down first
He’s exciting about something else happening
He’s not liking what you offer him, so the behaviour is not reinforced
He’s in pain and can’t do it
He has not yet learned to lie down on cue
In my online Trick Training class I share how you can solve these. I also teach how you can train your horse to lie down step-by-step. You can join me in a live webinar February 16, 2020
You can enter the giveaway and get a chance to win a FREE seat in this webinar (if you can’t make it that day, I have other times too).
Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to show off the amazing goals you’ve accomplished with clicker training?
Visitors at the barn
One time a Facebook friend who was eager to learn more about clicker training visited me at the barn.
On this particular day in Winter it was cold, windy and rainy. The field was muddy and when we arrived all horses where gathered around the feeding place in the field.
As soon as Kyra heard my voice she came over to the gate and while I was haltering her, I was pondering how I could show off and what I would do in order to impress my friend.
We went to the indoor arena where Kyra and I demonstrated a few tricks at liberty. I also kept it short because it was cold and when we brought Kyra back to the field, I asked her what she liked best.
Her answer was not at all what I expected!
Instead of asking me about How I trained lying down or Spanish walk, she told me that she was very impressed that Kyra had came across field, all the way to the gate. My friend assumed we had at least to wade thru the ankle-deep mud in order to get Kyra or maybe even chase her a bit before I could halter her.
To me this was not something impressive. I didn’t realize that something as simple as your horse coming over to meet you could impress people and I will never forget that feeling. She was already impressed before we started! Just by Kyra showing me she was eager to interact with me and willing to go through the mud!
From that day on, I paid more attention to what impresses horse people.
Some people are surprised that, when Kyra gets loose because I am bad at tying knots, she doesn’t run away from me and I can simply walk over to get her.
Others notice that she’s not mugging me while I obviously have treats in my pocket. While I hope they are impressed by the behaviours I spent hours training, most people are impressed by the side-effects positive reinforcement training has: a confident horse and the relationship I have with Kyra.
How does your horse impress other horse people?
Next time you’re at the barn, pay attention to what others admire about your training. What remarks do they make that tells you they want what you can do? Sometimes their sentence starts with simply with the words “I wish my horse would….
I wish my horse would be easy to catch…
I wish my horse would stand still…
I wish my horse was more like yours…
Share with in the comments what others admire about the relationship you have with your horse or what you’ve trained they wish they could.
Being successful gives me so much joy! Let’s talk about ‘success’ for a moment. This is what is mean to me. Success is what you want to achieve, not what others want for you or wanting to achieve what others have achieved.
I think the best way to ‘measure’ success is 1) Only look at your own accomplishments and only 2) compare yourself with yourself. 3) Achieving goals that you’ve written down (so you can actually achieve them and the criteria are not changing all the time). 4) Having fun and enjoying the journey is a big part of success for me!
Here in Canada it is Winter again. Normally the climate is mild here in Vancouver, BC but this winter we’ve already had snow that’s lasted for almost two weeks.
We all know that frozen pastures limit our horses ability to exercise themselves and horses generally are more spooky and more forward in cold weather conditions. Riders with an outdoor arena can’t ride due to the frozen ground. How can you get the most out of this time of year? Here are some tips.
Work on Simple behaviours
Choose to work on some smaller, but still important behaviours that will make your life easier and improve the relationship with your horse. Does every ride start with a bit of irritation because your horse lifts his head every time you want to halter/bridle him? Does he always walk a few steps while mounting?
How does that influence your relationship? Imagine how you would feel to have a horse that would put his head into his own halter or bridle, align perfectly next to your mounting block and stand still until you give the cue to walk on?
Simple behaviours you can work on in Winter that would improve your life at the barn can be:
If the weather isn’t allowing you to ride you can spend time with your horse , groom him and do a wonderful photo shoot. Maybe you can have eternalize some of your equestrian goals you worked on this year.
You can take your horse on a walk to hand graze your horse. This would be a perfect time to start teaching him how to quit grazing on a cue, since winter grass is less enticing than the juicy green Spring grass that will be back in a few months.
Start trick training and have a good time! Here is a good book that will get you started on a few easy tricks.
What does your favourite Winter training looks like?
One of the most fun tricks I ever taught Kyra is to pick up items. It is very versatile too because once your horse can pick up stuff, you can teach them to hand it over.
Kyra can now pick up and hand over a flower, her food bowl, my clicker, a dog toy, a whip and anything else she can grab with her teeth.
How to start
I started with something really easy to pick up for Kyra: a piece of cloth. In the beginning Kyra didn’t know what to do with it, so I knotted a carrot in it. That stimulated her interest.
I clicked and reinforced for small steps like touching and sniffing the cloth, then examining it with her lips and after a while she tried to grab it with her teeth. Yeey: jackpot! This took a lot of sessions, to be honest. From this early start I developed a clear strategy to set horses and people up for success if they want to train their horse to pick up items, so that they don’t have to get stuck in this part of training.
Putting a cue on the behaviour
Once Kyra understood this new trick, she wanted to grab everything off of the ground. That is the reason I started with an item that was easy to distinguish: the cloth. The cloth itself became part of her ‘cue’.
Once she learned what to do with the cloth I added my final cue to it, the verbal command ‘Pick up‘ with a pointing finger to the object I want her to pick up. After Kyra learned the cue I started teaching her to pick up other items. I bought a dog rope toy that is safe and easy to grab. I wish this would have been my training object.
Shaping the behaviour further
Later on I practised with her empty food bowl, my gloves in winter, her halter, the lead rope and so on. It turned out that it is a very versatile exercise. Then I raised my criteria and I threw the item a step away. Now I only clicked and reinforced after picking up the item that was one step away.
The next criterion was to move towards me one step with the item in her mouth. Then I taught her to hold the item until I could grab it. In this way she learned to put it in my hand instead of dropping it in front of me.
Play fetch with your horse
Now Kyra can fetch an item that I have thrown several meters away and bring it back to me. One day I asked her to pick up her toy while sitting on her back. She did it! I use a treeless saddle, so I have to use a mounting block to get in the saddle.Wow, now I don’t have to dismount anymore whenever I drop something from the saddle. Bonus!
This week I stumbled upon a lovely video of a horse that picked up three rubber rings and put them on a cone. I don’t have rubber rings, but I asked Kyra to put her toy in a bucket. That was fun too.
Here are the videos of Kyra’s tricks.
Video 1: Kyra playing fetch from the saddle
Video 2: Kyra giving me flowers (that would be a nice trick to perform one day)
Video 3: Kyra putting her toy in a bucket
Video 4: Kyra handing over her food bowl after eating
If you like the videos go to YouTube and subscribe to my channel so you won’t miss new clicker videos.
Clicker trained horses are very eager to learn new things because in their experience there is a lot of good things (clicks and treats) involved. It is fun for your horse! Want to start clicker training? Start here.
Basic behaviours: standing still while handler stands next to shoulder and targeting.
Teach your horse to follow the target that you keep behind your back, click and reinforce for every inch his head moves in the right direction behind your head. Last step is to fade out the target. More detailed instructions can be found in this book Horse Trick Training
Standing on a pedestal
Most horses like to be a bit taller and think this is a fun exercise once they have learned it. Mat training is a good basic skill to start with.
Set your horse up for success and click and reinforce for every small step like approaching the pedestal, then investigating it and touching it with a hoof, et cetera. Raise your criteria slowly.
Before you know it your horse wants to stand on the pedestal. Therefor it is equally important to teach him to backup and dismount it. Don’t forget to reinforce that, too.
Keep the sessions short (5 minutes) and repeat over the weekend.
Give your horse a short break in between the sessions.
Make pictures or a video on Sunday to record your success. Please share your pictures with me on Facebook.
More fun things to do
Explore your surroundings and take your horse for a hand walk or hand grazing session. Read here how you can teach your horse to leave the grass voluntarily.
Ask a friend to go with you. Do a photo session with your horse during the sunset.
Hide a treat under a cone and teach your horse to find it.
Have fun with your horse! If you have fun tips & tricks to share, please write them in the comment section. I am looking forward to hearing about your fun time with your horse.
Today I had a really hard time to sit down and write a blog because my horse Kyra is on my mind. Last week she was diagnosed with EMS (Equine Metabolic Syndrome): obesity, laminates (foundering) and insuline resistance are three very important components of this syndrome as well as Cushing’s.
Change of life style
Kyra needs a different life style for now: no grass, a restricted intake of calories, as little sugar as possible (only soaked or low sugar hay and no apples, carrots or other sugary treats) and more exercise (which is hard since she is very sore on her front hooves).
How trick training helped
Sometimes previous training benefits you in situations you never could have expected. So can trick training. Many tricks may seem useless when you train them, however they can benefit you in surprising ways. Here are some examples.
When the vet came I wanted him to take X-rays of Kyra’s front feet to see if there was any rotation of the pedal bone. She needed to stand on wooden blocks with her front feet to take the pictures.
1) Clicker Challenge and 2) Mat Training
Kyra knows how to stand on different kinds of pedestals, mats, tarps and last year we participated in an online ‘Clicker Challenge’. She had to stand for 5 seconds on two small wooden blocks. Exactly the same blocks the vet brought. How amazing is that!? In hindsight this was the perfect preparation for taking the X-rays.
I joked to the vet and asked if I could get a discount since Kyra behaved really well and safe. First he said ‘no’ but then he told me I actually just saved $ 50 on the bill because Kyra didn’t need sedation to make her stand on the blocks.
3) Trick training: financial benefits
When I wrote a cheque he did give me an additional discount (Thank you!). So our trick training paid off! Not to mention the stress we avoided because we didn’t have to make her do something she was afraid of. I didn’t need to stress about it, too. So, this was a triple bonus.
4) Muzzle and 5) boots
The vet also recommended a grazing muzzle so she can be in the pasture with her herd. I really have a hard time putting horses in a solitary paddock. The stress she has in there worries me. Stress has a negative impact on the immune system and wouldn’t benefit the healing of her laminates (which is an inflammation of the lammellae in the hoof).
Targeting helped me get the muzzle on in no time. Kyra didn’t seemed to mind the muzzle to try it. She doesn’t realize yet that she is rewarded by getting it on, but will miss out on the grass later in the pasture. I feel like I tricked her, but it is the best I can do if I want to get her healthy as soon as possible.
A few weeks ago I had started training Kyra to accept a soaking boot. This related well to the need to have Kyra use soft ride boots now to protect her feet and I didn’t need to start training this behaviour from scratch. It saved us a lot of time and stress when it was needed most. Having trained Kyra in all the basics and having experimented with different tricks has prepared her for a lot of different situations.
Practising for the Clicker Challenge in January 2015:
Here the video in which the behaviour of the Clicker Challenge is established and how Kyra did with the vet.
Now I hand walk Kyra daily to give her the exercise she needs. I have a really good barn friend who loaned me some horse boots that really give Kyra some relief. Thanks to the many hours of training her to ignore grass, I don’t have problems walking the street with the very juicy banks of grass.
How did trick training help you in a situation you had never thought it could be useful? Please share your story and help inspire others to enjoy trick training (more about trick training).
If you think this is a blog that someone can benefit from, please use one of the share buttons below. Or just hit the like button if you appreciated this blog. Thank you!
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.
It was 1999 when I heard about clicker training for horses. I knew dolphins were trained with a whistle and fish to reward them, but that was about everything I knew. I decided to try it out with my 21 year old pony Sholto. I learned about learning theory during my study Animal Management, but no one could tell me how to start with Sholto. So I just started…
How I started clicker training
I can’t really remember what my thoughts were at the time, but I do remember I started with some really difficult trick training exercises: touching a skippy ball, Spanish walk and a Classical bow. The skippy ball became a ‘target’ and it was really hard to change ‘touching’ the ball into pushing the ball. That didn’t take my pleasure away, though. The Classical bow was a coincidence and I was lucky to ‘capture’ that behaviour. I can’t recall how we got to a Spanish walk.
What I learned using R+
When I started clicker training I had no idea what impact it would have on my future and my whole training approach. The most remarkable changes (in hindsight) are:
I love to approach behaviour now as a matter of motivation: is the horse moving away from something or moving towards something? Is something else (than the training/trainer) more enticing? By looking at the motivation of the horse, I can now skip the whole ‘leadership’ and ‘dominance’ discussion in training.
I truly believe that I wouldn’t have grown so much as a horse trainer if it wasn’t for positive reinforcement. One of the best changes is that I learned to focus on what goes well instead of what went wrong! A change that bears fruit in all facets of my life!
How about you?
What are your most remarkable changes since you started using positive reinforcement for your horse? How did clicker training influenced you as trainer, horse lover or in your personal life?
If you can exclude physical reasons like pain from the saddle, medical reasons like hoof cracks or maybe an unskillful (or rude) rider and so on, you can look for solutions to make your horse more happy in the arena.
What floats his boat?
It is obvious: positive reinforcement (+R) of course. This way of training will make your horse more eager to work for you. With +R you will trigger your horses brain. He has to find out what made him earn that bridge signal (paired with a lovely reward). He will be challenged to think. Horses like that. Really they do!
If your horse gets bored in the arena because everything you do is very predictable, try something new. If you always ride him, try some at liberty work, long reining or horse agility. Variety is the spice of life.
Use more positive reinforcement to create a better association with the arena or ‘work’ he has to do. Change your Rate of Reinforcement, your treats or your exercises. Raise your criteria (slowly). Trick training is a lot of fun.
Challenge your horse and do something crazy together like ‘101 things to do with a cardboard box’. You can bridge & reward him for every new exercise he comes up with: touch the box with his nose, left hoof, right hoof, kick it forward, play fetch with it, shake it and so on. Don’t bridge a second time for the same idea.
Give him a ball (small or huge) to play with, or to wake his curiosity. Make sure he is not afraid of it.
Don’t forget: there is a time to work and a time to play. Do nice relaxing activities in the arena.
I like to let Kyra roll before we ride in the indoor arena on a rainy day (she loves rolling in hog fuel when she has a wet coat) or after our ride.
If your horse likes to be groomed, groom him more often in the arena. Spend time scratching his favourite spots. Watch a video about TTouch or horse massage and try if your horse likes that.
Feed him in the arena. If you have an outdoor arena where patches of grass grow, let him find them. So he can display his exploration behaviour.
Don’t forget: it can take some time before a negative association changes into a positive one. Make haste slowly.
What do you do to create variation or make the arena more appealing to your horse? Share it in the comments!
Having fun is important because it keeps you and your horse motivated. If you start positive reinforcement training/clicker training you can be overwhelmed by ‘everything you have to do differently’. Not only do things in a different way, but also exactly in the opposite way.
If you come from a traditional background training and riding horses or you come from a natural horsemanship background, you can have the feeling that you’ve been doing it ‘wrong’ all along. That’s not true and it is also not a motivating thought.
People who change their approach because they are looking for a more ethical way of training or the method they use to train horses doesn’t feel good anymore, are often attracted by positive reinforcement (R+) methods. In R+ it’s common to give the animal a voice in training. Giving the animal power over what is happening to him builds trust.
Start easy, stay motivated
Set yourself up for success. A good way of starting positive reinforcement training with your horse is to start with easy, seemingly purposeless and completely new exercises to your horse that give a feeling of accomplishment when you reach it.
Start easy and choose something fun so you will stay motivated. Be gentle with yourself: you are learning a new skill. Give you and your horse time to learn and discover.
Choose an exercise that looks impressive but is simple to teach your horse and simple for your horse to learn. Don’t start with complex behaviours before you have enough basics under your belt.
Consider it ‘fun’ time
If the new exercises seem purposeless there is no stress if you decide not to follow up with training and there is no pressing timeline in your mind (like a farrier appointment that’s coming up for a scared or green horse).
Choose something completely new. In this way the horse doesn’t have an existing association with the new things he and you are going to learn. You start with a clean slate.
If you want to practise your mechanical skills in clicker training and you are looking for suitable exercises to start with, think about starting trick training. There are several easy tricks you can teach your horse and practise your clicker skills, your timing and safe hand-feeding skills.
For a safe and fun way to start take a look at my Key Lessons (your Key to Success).
Easy and fun tricks to start with are:
standing on a mat, a tarp or a pedestal with 2 front feet
smiling (= flehmen)
simple bow (front leg one step forward and head down)
targeting (touching an object)
push a ball with his nose
What exercises or tricks would you recommend to horse enthusiasts that just started clicker 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!
We have all encountered times when we think “Now what?” at the barn. Maybe you have already reached all your equestrian goals, maybe your horse became sick and needed rest, maybe you got injured, maybe you just bought a young horse, or a senior horse… We all need inspiration if we don’t know what to teach our horse next.
#1 Horse Agility (HA)
In HA you have to navigate your horse through an obstacle course while focusing on clear communication and positive horsemanship. Horse and handler are both on foot. Horse Agility can help build a very close relationship with your horse and it keeps your horse’s mind working constructively. Skills developed in HA are very useful in daily routines as well as in new and possibly scary situations. You can even enter online competitions these days where you send in a video.
#2 Trick Training (TT)
TT is a great way to improve the relationship with your horse. You become aware of your horses intelligence and it is a fun way to spent time together. There are many simple tricks that are suitable for horses of all ages, like smiling or playing fetch. Some exercises are beneficial and can increase the horses strength and flexibility like the classical bow or the back crunch.
#3 Training husbandry skills
If your horse already knows a lot of tricks, you can start improving your husbandry skills. Ever thought of teaching your horse how to be dewormed easily or preparing him for oral medication you might need to give him some day? Teach him to accept eye drops or ointment, practice hoof trimming, braiding, taking your horses temperature, teach him to stand in a bucket of water in case you need to soak his feet. The possibilities are endless and you never know when these skills come in handy.
#4 Trailer loading
Best way to train this is if there is no goal or time limit yet. Read here the 4 reasons to start practising trailer loading today. If you don’t own a trailer, this is worth renting a trailer for.
#5 Water training
There are so many situations in which water is involved. During the summer months you can have fun water proofing your horse. Think of soaking hooves in a bucket, hosing down your horse, crossing water (river, water splash, muddy puddles), water obstacles in HA, going for a swim with your horse, spraying your horse with a plant spray and so on.
I hope I have given you some ideas to expand your horizons. Have fun!
I wanted to celebrate that lovely event by making a nice picture of Kyra holding up a flag with the text “500 FB LIKES”. She knows how to pick up things and retrieve, so I thought it wouldn’t be a big problem to make this happen. Of course is picking up and holding it something else than picking up + holding + ME TAKING A PICTURE.
Home made creation. A flag for Kyra to hold
Well, I kinda nailed it, anyway. 🙂
Holding up the flag
And here a little blooper: she just tried to “kill the flag” by stomping on it and give me a look like this: