Rachael is one of my clicker students. Unfortunately her yard got hit with strangles this summer, stopping all her plans.
Her horse, Seamus, got it too, but now he’s feeling better he’s still confined until the whole yard has the all-clear. So, how do you keep a confined, injured, ill or box-rest horse interested and engaged? Teach him games with the clicker of course!
Rachael’s done a great job keeping Seamus occupied and building their connection and relationship while he’s confined to a field pen.
Check out her videos:
1. Seamus knows the words ‘duck’ and ‘boat’
2. Seamus picks up his rubber ducks and puts them into a bucket of water
Boredom is the biggest problem for confined horses, often resulting in stable vices such as weaving or cribbing. Clicker training gives you tons to teach your horse which doesn’t require movement, enabling you to keep your horse calm and happy for the duration of his confinement. Best of all, it builds your relationship together and you have loads of fun!
What you teach can vary hugely from improving things like spooking, medical procedures, picking up feet, horsey sit-ups etc, to just having fun and teaching tricks. Rachael used clicker training to teach Seamus to stand for having his temperature taken and other necessities, here’s her email to me after she succeeded in taking his temperature (with Seamus’s cooperation! Not an easy task with Seamus, who makes it known when he’s not happy!):
“All bad news 😦 except for the fact that I took his temperature 🙂 🙂 Yeah! I am very thrilled and excited about this as it’s the best bit of clicker
training I’ve done. That was the missing bit of the puzzle when you told me to go back to his favourite game (target) when he made progress !
(I know you’ve shown me it before but I just hadn’t twigged it properly)
I made a small pen in the field and it only took me 45 min and the best best thing is – he could have booted me or wandered off or whatever and he chose to let me do it. I was so delighted with him and with myself too – necessity is a wonderful thing to concentrate the mind.”
Good work, Rachael and Seamus!
I’ve just fininshed teaching a four day Clix Camp, which was a fantastic few days and everyone made huge progress with their horses. There were 6 people on the course and a lovely range of horses, which gave everyone more of an insight into how to use Clicker Training in different situations.
See all the photos here!
We had an ex-racehorse, Monica, who needs to calm and focus on her rider, instead of blocking her out to run as she’s been trained to do in her past. Her owner, Jane, has done loads of brilliant work with her with the clicker already, building her focus, trust and working on supppleness, balance and body awareness on the ground. Our main focus this weekend was to take more of that into the ridden work.
Bobby, the gorgeous cob, gave us all some food for thought! He LOVES learning new things but is reluctant to perform behaviours he knows already, seeming to get bored quickly. So we had some great brainstorming sessions on techniques to try and how to find a balance between old and new behaviours. He was an absolute superstar at “show me something new”, in which the animal has to offer a new behaviour after every click – something most horses find really difficult. What a brainiac!
Alfie is already a good all-rounder – riding, driving, tricks etc which Elaine has taught him already. This weekend we were working on some balance and body awareness exercises such as getting all four feet onto the platform for hind leg awareness and beginning teaching shoulder-in in hand. He was also brilliant with the hula hoop and very very nearly flicked it over his head after just four 5 minute sessions! It won’t be long before he’s got that in the bag!
Khalil showed us all how to work with a spooky objects. Rachael’s own horse, Seamus, currently has strangles and so is undergoing a lot of veterinary visits as well as being spooky about things touching him – plastic bags, clippers etc. With him being restricted to his yard until every horse is clear, it’s an ideal time for Rachael to focus on his spookiness. Khalil was a perfect subject to show us how to do it and was brilliant for Rachael, working on plastic bags, ribbon, umbrellas, hula hoops etc.
Roisin has come on leaps and bounds in the past few months and is super keen to work. Rachel has done some amazing work with her with the clicker as she used to be extremely head-shy, spinning in circles if something touched her ears. With the aid of a green cloth, she has taught Roisin to be enthusiastic about having things on her head and it’s now one of her favourite games including bridle, reins, fly masks, everything – success! A perfect example of how to turn something scary into something fun.
Casper is a super little pony most of the time, but his one problem is that he tends to plant if he doesn’t want to go forward. So we were working on improving his walk-on cue and looking at making forwards more fun for him.
As for us, our brains worked extremely hard, and we also used some exercise balls too look at our own balance and body awareness, especially in relation to riding. 3 participants also went off one evening for a fly in my Dad’s microlight, which they thoroughly enjoyed!. Thanks everyone for a super weekend!
See all the photos here!
One not-so-sunny weekend in May, Jive Pony visited our farm in North Yorkshire for a great weekend of learning clicker training and teaching vaulting (watch the video at the bottom of the post!).
Becca, Rosie and their 4 horses arrived on Friday evening and we started bright and early on Saturday looking at clicker training. They’ve both trained their horses really well (as proven by the amazing shows they do!), but they wanted some more structure and techniques, which is why they came to me to learn some clicker training.
We started with the youngsters as they’ve each got their own problems – Rosie’s Casper gets anxious away from home and separation anxiety away from his fieldmate and Becca’s Navvy can get a bit pushy and focus more on trying to get to the treats instead of what he’s supposed to be doing! Luckily, clicker’s a great way to get the focus off the treats and onto the behaviour (seems a strange one, I know, to those of you who are new to this but it’s true, I promise!) and Navvy was much more polite and focussed around the training in no time. This left some time to work on some of his tricks like refining his nodding and teaching him to put his head down, a great calming behaviour.
Casper was quite anxious to start with when he was in the barn, neighing to Tinker and staying glued to the fence, so we started with him where he could see Tinker and gradually moved further away, until he was calm even when his friend was out of sight. Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for separation anxiety, you just need to do loads of it, gradually increasing their comfort zone, but it was a good start getting Casper calmer and focussed on Roise instead of another horse. Once Casper had calmed down a bit we were able to teach him some more advanced behaviours too…wow, what a quick learner! Because Rosie has done loads of training with him, and he’s naturally bright, he’s a very fast learner and incredibly body-aware. Rosie wanted to teach him horsey sit-ups to help improve his back and his balance and he was rocking his weight back onto his hind feet in no time!
Then we played with the older horses, Tinker and Ronan, who lack enthusiasm sometimes as they have to perform their tricks over and over again and have been doing it a while. It was time for everyone to play a bit so I got some toys out (ball, jump, pedestal, tarpaulin etc) and they just started to have some fun. The other important thing to remember for older horses is to keep teaching them new things as this keeps them switched on and they really love the learning process. Although their horses are really well trained, both Becca and Rosie found that the clicker adds so much more clarity to the training and starts to open up more possibilities, as well as learning extra techniques to keep their horses focussed and engaged.
Toby and I then did a little show (by this time it was getting dark – we’d been clicker training for 12 hours!) and showed off his amazing collected – extended trot, shoulder-in and other tricks all at liberty. They were very impressed at his movement and enthusiasm, especially as Rosie said he looked like a little old man walking down the yard! He started learning how to balance and collect age 18 and we’ve been working on it for 3 years now and he’s just getting better and better!
Sunday, it was Jive Pony’s time to work and my time to learn as 12 of us were to have an exciting day of vaulting lessons. It was absolutely brilliant, everyone enjoyed it hugely and all 6 members (horses and humans) of Jive Pony were professional and fun! Watch the video to see how far we all got and then see Becca and Rosie show us all how it’s supposed to be done!
To see all the photos from the weekend click here.
Thank you very much to Becca and Rosie (click here to read their take on the weekend) and we’ll hopefully repeat the experience sometime soon!
It was the Open Day at Hope Pastures Equine Rescue Centre at the weekend and Toby and I travelled down to Leeds to be the entertainment again.
The show went really well, despite the howling wind which was causing Toby to be a bit excited and spooky. By the end he had a bit of a fan club and enjoyed kissing lots of girls after his performance!
Afterwards, I left him in the arena and came back after getting a cuppa and a piece of cake to find him lined up at the arena fence thoroughly enjoying the attentions of several of his fans!
Other attractions at the Open Day included lots of stalls selling everything from homemade and organic produce, books, toys, games to second hand clothes (picked up a lovely Accessorize bag!), as well as a balloon artist, rope makers and musicians. Hope Pastures does great work helping needy equines and I was pleased to be part of their Open Day.
James is back in the UK for the first time this year and last weekend was his Yorkshire course, hosted at our farm in the Dales. As ever, it was another brilliant long weekend, and we all have tons more to work on to improve our riding. After 2 beautiful weeks of sunshine, the weather was a bit iffy with a lot of wind, some rain and chilly temperatures – a bit of a shock for James who came here from California!
The weekend started off with an evening presentation at Scotch Corner hotel, many thanks to the 40 people who squeezed into the small and only room they weren’t refurbishing! I talked about clicker training, how it works and why it’s the most effective method for training anything to any horse – from basic stable manners to high level performance work.
Then James followed the break, talking about why the alignment of the bones is so important to riding and how Tai Chi principles can be applied to riding to make a world of difference to your seat. He explained what comprises your seat (pelvis, lower lumbar spine and femur bones) and how using his techniques helps you gain a truly independent, secure and effective seat. Sorry there’s no clip of this – the camera ran out of battery and the bit we got involved James meandering off on a tangent about typical Tai Chi notions, fish and chips and Calendar Girls! Very entertaining but unfortunately we missed the bits which were relelvant to riding!
The next day started off in the village hall, having a go on Heike’s unicycle! Not quite part of the course, but it was great fun although very difficult! Then we did James’s Tai Chi groundwork. I think everyone felt a bit stiff and creaky after the winter! Once we’d all loosened up a bit, it was over to the farm for a delicous hot lunch and then the riding lessons (for those who could tear themselves away from the fireside!).
This is the format of James’s courses – Tai Chi groundwork in the morning to discover where you’re stiff and imbalanced and looking at how this would affect your horse. For example, if you carry more weight on your right, the chances are your horse falls out on the left rein and in on the right rein. If you have a tight lower back, you will struggle to receive your horse’s movement through your seat and, as a result, your horse will find lifting his back and engaging his hindquarters much harder. Once you’re aware of these spots the next, and much more difficult, step is to try and remedy it. Daily stretches and body awareness exercises help hugely, James has 2 DVDs covering his stretches for riders for the upper and lower body – please contact us for more details.
After a decent stretch, it’s onto the horses and what a difference in your riding when you’ve spent 3 hours doing Tai Chi before you get on!! Not really practical on a regular basis, unfortunately! I had 2 lessons on India, who’s rising 5 and has done little ridden work in the school. She’s incredibly responsive to my tiny changes of weight, so as a result, she’s quite wobbly to ride, very different to older, experienced horses who have learnt to compensate for these rider imbalances! I was working on fine-tuning my seat to help control the weight and then using turning my bellybutton to encourage her to lift her back and engage her hindquarters.
I also had 2 lessons on Toby working on canter and trotting downhill without stirrups. The trotting stretched out my tight right hip a lot, so I had to get off and stretch it out in the middle of the lesson as it was quite painful! What a change, though, when I got all the pieces together, sitting trot downhill was easy and balanced!
Everyone who rode did really well, although Bobby wins the ‘most fantastic mane’ competition! Thanks to everyone who participated, riding and on the ground, thanks to Donna Etherington who took these fantastic photos and a huge thanks to James who gave us a great course yet again!
February has been primarily about getting Toby and India going again after their break leading up to New Year, they’re now fully back into the swing of things and doing great! I’ve also been teaching lots, too, so thank you to everyone who’s been braving the icy temperatures to have your lessons!
India is rising 5, so we’re working on getting her really comfortable and happy under saddle, braver going out into the big, wide world as well as balance and transitions on the lunge. Her Spanish Walk is coming along nicely, too! Toby is still quite rotund, despite being ridden out over the Yorkshire Hills as much as possible! So, still working on fitness and, at 21 years old, it’s important that I keep up with all his stretching and strengthening exercises to keep him sound and happy. These include pilates or sit-ups (see below), in-hand work to engage his hindquarters and keep him supple. We’ve also been working lots on getting him to engage his abs to support his back while free-lunging and his collected to extended trot at liberty is starting to take shape, now. He’s had a lot of physical problems and gets stiff and sore easily, but these exercises and regular Equine Touch are keeping him young! I’m also competeing in an indoor TREC competition on Toby next week, so I’ll let you know how that goes!
Watch this Training Diary video to see some of the things I’ve been up to with Toby and India over the past month.
Core Strengthening Exercises for Horses
Pilates or sit-ups for horses, are a great way to improve core strength, abdominal muscles, back lift, balance , body awareness and shifting the weight onto the hindquarters. It’s surprisingly easy to train using Clicker Training, and most horses seem to love doing these back lifts once they’ve been taught how to. This Highland Pony is great at them and her movement is incredibly light and elevated (when she can be persuaded that going forwards is a good idea! Typical Highland!). For everyone who came to the Scunthorpe Talk, this is another video which I unfortunately didn’t manage to show due to technical problems! Big thanks to Hilary and Lottie for this video!
Finally, on a non-horsey note, other things I’ve been up to this month include a fabulous week of snowboarding in sunny France and my first trapeze lesson at Sheffield circus school!
Happy New Year! Sorry, I know it’s a bit late, but I hit the ground running after new year and haven’t stopped since! I’ve been teaching, training my own horses, been to my first Phillipe Karl course and done a talk on clicker training in Scunthorpe.
The talk in Scunthorpe went really well, with loads of interest in clicker training so hopefully I’ll be seeing some of you again in the near future! Unfortunately, there was a bit of a technical problem with the projector connections so I was unable to show all the videos. But, I’ve taken some of the clips and am putting them up here!
The first one is a fantastic piece of clicker training by one of my clients, whose horse needed to use an inhaler due to respiratory problems.
More clips coming soon, I’ll keep you posted! The other talks went down really well, too. Isobel Harker from Spillers talked on the importance of keeping weight off our horses and headline speaker, Gillian Higgins, looked at how horses move and the importance of building core strength. A great day all round!
For those of you who don’t know, Phillipe Karl is a French Classical trainer and author or Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage. His approach is based on respect for the horse and training for soundness and performance without using force and pain. I was impressed with how the horses on the course freed up in their movement, becoming more balanced and lifted through the back. At this stage, he ensured all horses had their noses in front of the vertical, which was lovely to see, as he emphasized that high head carriage and vertical flexion is an aim, not a means of schooling. I’m auditing the course and it’s 3 courses per year for 3 years, so I’m really looking forward to seeing the work develop and trying it with my own horses, too. For more info visit Phillipe’s website.
With my own horses, I’m on a fitness tirade with Toby, who is distinctly round after his break before Christmas, despite the lack of grass and cold weather! India has come back from her time off more mature once again and ready to work. She’s back to following be around the yard bugging me to work with her and galloping down to the gate as soon as she sees me! It’s wonderful to have that enthusiasm from her. With her, I’m currently consolidating a lot of the work we’ve been doing, so getting back on her and ensuring she’s calm and attentive, getting her out and about, body awareness exercises and, of course, tricks like fetch and spanish walk which we both love doing.
Finally, my clients have been teaching me tons, as ever. A big lightbulb moment happened just after new year, teaching someone with a lovely cob, who gets a bit anxious when being worked. We had been looking for signs of calmness to click and treat, such as head down, ears forward etc, but not getting anywhere fast. Eventually I suggested that the owner think only about herself, her own breathing, how she walks etc, not even looking at her horse. Instantly he calmed down, walking easily by her shoulder, a relaxed expression on his face. Well, talk about pressure – even looking at this horse proved to be too much! I’ve since tried this technique with several clients with anxious horses, and they all instantly took their lead from the handler and became calmer and more focussed. I also used similar techniques when riding India, focussing on exactly where I wanted her to turn, stop etc and keeping all my focus on my own body and what I was doing. She became more balanced and seemed to respond to only my thoughts. Give it a go, you may be surprised by the results!