All animals, including humans and horses, respond to the same powerful principles of learning. One of these principles, classical conditioning, is responsible for horses learning many things we don't mind them learning, but also many, many things we never want them to learn. In order for classical conditioning to occur, a horse must experience the pairing of something 'neutral' with something that has meaning to the horse. For example, the sound of a chain being undone on a g
I see horses for a variety of behaviour problems, such as aggressive behaviour, general anxiety, specific fears about various things or events, or issues related to separation from other horses. These issues can occur during routine management, in-hand, or when ridden.
No matter the horse behaviour problem, before I even see the client I am usually giving them some 'triage advice': advice meant to help the client see an immediate reduction in the frequency and/or intensity
When you train your horse, are you making deposits in the trust bank account, or are you making withdrawals? Many horses I see have trust bank account balances in the red. Dr Susan Friedman was the first person I heard describe the relationship we have with our animals as a trust bank account. It's a nice way of picturing the trust we have with a horse we are training. Put simply, every time we set training up so the horse can successfully behave as desired and avoid causing
A common complaint from horse owners is that their horse is mouthy when haltered. The horse mouths or nips them, or the halter or leadrope, when they try to put the halter on or remove it.
Horses behave this way for several reasons. For example, the horse may want to engage socially with the human, but because they have not been taught acceptable ways to do so they resort to behaviours they might use with another horse. Another common reason for mouthy behaviour is anxiety.
As I type this, I am on evacuation alert at home due to a wildfire burning, uncontained, 2 km south of my home in our remote community. The fire began Wednesday. Due to unprecedented conditions, it spread rapidly through the forested valley. There is one road into our valley, and one road out. This road is currently closed to all but emergency traffic. The fire has crossed the road, and in the process burnt power lines that feed half of our community. Tragically, three homes
I am fortunate to be able to work from home during the Covid-19 crisis. Between work, I've been spending more time training my own horses and dogs. I thought I'd start a new blog series, #WhatIAmTrainingWednesday, showcasing what I am currently working on with my own horses.
Here is a video of a skill I have recently been teaching my mare Viveza: how to be ponied off of a bicycle. Viveza is already comfortable being around bicycles, whether stationary or moving. Had she not
Horse owners are all too aware of how a physical injury can temporarily sideline - or even permanently lame - their horse. This knowledge leads most owners to do their best to minimize physical injury: raising foals with maximum turnout opportunities properly conditioning their horse for the demands of their ridden work ensuring adequate rest and recovery periods between training maximizing turnout ensuring their horse's living spaces are free of hazards using well-fitting ta
A shaping plan puts to paper exactly what steps you will take to teach a horse a new, wanted behaviour. Taking a few minutes to write a shaping plan can help you achieve better results, faster. It can also help you trouble-shoot, should you run into any problems during training.
As you can see in this clip, I usually write no more than ten steps when crafting a shaping plan. While this shaping plan addresses how to teach a horse to accept fly spray, you can use a shaping pl
Most people only check in one location on the horse's body when determining the tightness of a girth or cinch - just above the horse's elbow. But horse's can have different conformation in this area. This can affect the perception of the girth or cinch's tightness, and result in a false reading as to its true tightness. As seen in this clip, I advise checking the tightness of your girth in two locations: just above the horse's elbow, and where the girth contacts the sternum.
Almost every interaction we have with a horse affects their confidence. No matter our horse training goals, this confidence - in themselves and in us - should be a top priority. Learning how to recognize and respond to a confidence threshold - a place where the horse might lose confidence if we proceed - is an important skill for trainers to have. How the trainer responds at these thresholds can affect the horse's confidence. Horses may lose confidence when being taught how
Teaching your horse to willingly put the bit in their own mouth is easily done using positive reinforcement and shaping. Positive reinforcement is something added to the horse's environment that makes a behaviour more likely to happen again in the future. In horse training, it is usually a small tidbit of tasty food, given immediately after a desired behaviour occurs. Shaping means to take a complex end goal behaviour, like having a horse put a bit in their own mouth, and br
What's a start button, and why should it be part of your horse training? A start button is a way for an animal to give consent to something that the trainer would like to do with the animal. It allows the animal to communicate to the trainer whether or not they are ‘ready’ for the event to happen. The benefits of start buttons are twofold. While it might seem counter-intuitive, teaching an animal that they have some perceived control over what is done with them is both empowe
Do horses love being ridden? We need to talk about the elephant in the room. It might be hard to discuss, but it needs to be talked about. Ready? Horses (likely) don't love being ridden. I say “likely”, because while scientists have yet to devise a way to accurately ask large number of horses how they feel about being ridden, there has been research done that looks at horse preferences as it relates to ridden work. For example, whether horses prefer to stay and work in an ar
If you haven't read Part One of Expanding Your Horse's Comfort Zone, it's here. Welcome to part two, where we talk about: ‘Just right’ discomfort: What is 'discomfort'? And how to choose an appropriate level when stretching comfort zones Too much discomfort: What happens to your horse in Manure Hits the Fan Zone, and why it should be avoided during horse training Discomfort and uncomfortable, for the purposes of this post, don't have to be dirty words. They both just essentia
One small shift in how you think about horse training can change the way you train horses, forever. And you'll have a dead horse to thank for it. Horse training or behavior modification is all about affecting behavior. Behavior is anything the horse does that we can observe. Cocking a leg at rest. Performing a flying lead change. Stepping into a trailer, or pulling back when approaching a trailer. Lowering the head for bridling, or raising the head when a bridle approaches.
Spring is made for trail riding. It's not too hot yet. The mosquitoes are still sluggish. And if you're like me, after a long winter you are itching to leave the arena - just you and your favorite equine, off to see some country. But does your horse share that desire? To be successful and stay safe trail riding solo requires the horse be good at two things: accepting temporary social isolation, and having solid basic training. For the purposes of this article we are going to
Good horse training involves not only identifying training goals, but also where to begin.
After all, if you don't know where the horse is starting from, how can you make a plan to train them? You might want your horse to load in the trailer, or to consistently change leads when cued. Maybe you want to canter bareback and bridleless. Or you just want to halter break your filly. It's relatively easy to identify end goals when training horses, and it's important to do so - bu
“Don’t pet your horse when he’s afraid. You’ll just reinforce his fear!” A classic! This myth is also said about dogs and kids, and applying this myth to a fearful animal (or child) results in continual work for animal behavior professionals and psychologists alike. Fear is an involuntary emotion, not a behavior. While behaviors can be reinforced, and made more likely to happen again in the future, emotions cannot. As such, no matter how hard you try, soothing or stroking (se