Exercising your laminitis horse

When your horse has or had laminitis, one of the recommendations you’ll get from your vet is to exercise your horse, so he’ll lose weight.
Where to start?

Before you start exercising

  • Make sure that the trigger for laminitis is identified and removed
  • Your horse is off all pain medication
  • You have a tested (low sugar) and balanced diet in place
  • Your vet has given you clearance for exercising your horse

Start where your horse is at

You may have to start really short walks in hand. With short I mean 5 minute walks. You can gradually build duration. Keep in mind that even a little exercise is better than none!

We have to start our horse somewhere. Starting with a short exercise regime can also help us build the habit of exercising our horse on a very regular basis!

Make exercising appetitive (fun!) for your horse

Exercising can be hard for overweight horses! They might not enjoy it. Using positive reinforcement can really help shift this for your horse.

In positive reinforcement training, you strengthen a behaviour by giving your horse something valuable for what he just did. When you use a bridge signal to ‘bridge’ the time gap between the desired behaviour and the moment you’re able to deliver a treat, your horse will pay attention to what he just did and do more of that behaviour.

Here is how you start clicker training your horse.

Use positive reinforcement to help your horse move

When your horse doesn’t want to move you can wait until he does a slight weight shift forwards, then click and give a treat. With a ‘treat’ I mean a sugar free food reward, something that is low calorie, yet still yummie for your horse.

The next step is to click for a step forwards. This way you can literary raise your criteria for a click and treat, step-by-step. That’s how I did it with Kyra. She was already clicker trained, so she understood that she had to take initiative and move.

I found it very rewarding to use clicker training to exercise my laminitis horse, because she didn’t want to move in the first place. Using force would have negatively impacted my good relationship with Kyra and I didn’t want that to happen. I’ve tried it at first, but it was clearly the wrong choice for us! She resented lunging and working at liberty in the round pen, so I had to come up with alternative ways. And I did.

Do you struggle with exercising your overweight horse and help get your fat horse fit?

Make sure you find a tribe that understand the struggles that you’re going through. When you are a clicker trainer, it can be extra challenging to exercise your horse using food rewards, because the majority of people, including vets an farriers, don’t understand this training method. They only see a horse that struggles with movement AND that gets ‘treats’.

Contact me if you would love to have support in getting your overweight horse in shape with clicker training.

Happy Horse training!

Sandra Poppema, HippoLogic

Do you really need to stop giving treats in training when your horse needs to lose weight?

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet tell you to STOP FEEDING TREATS!? You know your horse needs to lose weight and get back in shape, but How to do this without treats?

Why stopping giving Treats is a good idea

It seems like a solution to stop offering your horse treats when he’s overweight, right? If you’re giving your horse lots of dense-calorie treats without asking him to burn them off, it’s probably a good idea to stop giving those.

Take a good look at what you consider a treat: Is it calorie rich? Is it nutrition value low? Or is this just the common human approach of “treats”?
We -people- usually mean candy or other low nutrition value/high calorie foods. Right?

If you’re using real treats like peppermints (although how much calories would all the peppermints in one training contain?) are they really having that much impact on your horse’s obesity?

Or can you influence his weight with changing his management? Usually decreasing hay or grass intake and minimizing dinner grain portions have a much bigger (pun intended!) impact on your horse’s weight!

If your horse turned into a Mugging Monster, you can turn that around quickly!

Why stopping giving Treats is a bad idea

When we train horses (R- or R+) we still need to reinforce the desired behaviour from time to time. If we don’t, and the behaviour is not intrinsically reinforcing, the behaviour gets extinct.

Traditional trainers need to use their whips, sticks or ropes once in a while (depending on how much of a threat the aversive still is) to keep their horses in line. ‘The horse needs a little reminder,’ is what they say.

Same goes for positively reinforced behaviours: we also do have to remind our horses (with a treat!) what we want from them (movement).

We need to do that to keep motivation high! Whether that’s in R- or in R+. Or we’ll lose it.

When we clicker trained our horses to exercise and offer movement (walk, trot, canter, jumping, gallop), we still have to offer a treat with enough value, once in a while to keep their motivation high. That’s why it’s a bad idea to stop giving treats to (overweight) horses in training.

If you’re a clicker trainer and you suddenly stop giving treats as reinforcement, you’ll disappoint your horse. He’s expecting food rewards. When he doesn’t get them he can get demotivated! That’s another big reason why stopping with treats is a bad idea.

You can experiment with other reinforcers: things your horse will value. When you get more behaviour (movement) you’ve successfully reinforced your horse to move. When you get less behaviour or sluggish movements or a slower response time to your cues, you know you weren’t actually reinforcing the behaviour and you need to find a better appetitive!

Read my blog about How to Move Your Horse with A Click

Healthy Treats for Horses

Most of my clients find it a challenge to find healthy treats for their overweight horse. Part of it is our own mindset. We usually value “healthy treats” way less, than unhealthy snacks! That’s human thinking! We need to shift our minds!

Start thinking how a horse thinks and how he sees the world. Horses eat about 16 hours a day. That’s their nature! Therefore they will always be hungry (to a certain extent). They love low calorie/high fibre foods! That’s another huge difference between us and a horse!

Ideas to keep training with treats (the smart way)

  • Training a horse with treats, means we can use (normal, healthy) foods to motivate them in training!
  • Take the amount of food (calories) you use in training, out of their daily ration. That way using treats in training won’t contribute to weight gain
  • If you’re horse doesn’t get dinner grain/pellets/ use, alternatives. Here is a list of over 30 options for treats in training.
  • Add interesting options to the low calorie/high fibre foods in training, like cinnamon added to soaked beetpulp, r adding a few sunflower seeds in the low calorie food rewards etc
  • Balance the calorie denseness of the treats with the amount of movement (calorie burning) you ask your horse to do.
  • The more you train (and the better your horse understands what he needs to do), the less food you need! So when you train your overweight horse to move and you need a lot of food reinforcers, knowing that this won’t be lasting forever helps!
  • Once movement/exercising gets intrinsically reinforced (‘runners high’), the less external reinforcement (treats) your horse needs!

Force Free Movement Training for Laminitis Horses

Is your horse overweight? Did the vet recommended: No more treats!” or “More exercise” to get your horse in shape? Join my R+ for Overweight Horses program. We’ll address your biggest struggle in getting your horse to move with positive reinforcement. You can only join after a personal conversation, so I can tailor this 2-week online coaching program towards your horse, your situation and your needs! You can book a call here.

If you want to get better at things like:

  • Building duration in exercising your horse with R+
  • Getting your horse in shape and lose weight without a crash diet
  • Creating fun in movement training so you don’t have to keep running along

This is for you. Check out the information page here!

Sandra Poppema, BSc

Founder of the HippoLogic and creator of Force Free Movement Training for Laminitis Horses

Sandra Poppema BSc HippoLogic Clicker training coach