The key to good training is getting motivation and relaxation in balance. With reward-based training (clicker training), it’s usually easy to get high levels of motivation, but that can get TOO high, meaning you lose relaxation.
When your horse tries too hard, they often throw all their behaviours at you, rush through exercises, can’t stand still and do way too much (overbend or give too many steps etc). Emotionally, they get tense, easily frustrated and try even HARDER to get the reward.
In this lesson, we look at some positive reinforcement techniques you can use to increase relaxation with horses who try too hard and get all worked up during training.
Elfine is showing this through lateral work in-hand, but you can use these techniques with all behaviours from standing and leading right up to more advanced exercises. If you just want your horse to CHILL, this video is for you!
In Part 2 (coming next week), we continue this work in the saddle.
➣The CT Club is an online membership site where you can get access to hundreds of step-by-step training videos on training your horse using positive reinforcement, both on the ground and for riding. You can see this lesson unabridged in FULL, along with all the case study lessons following Elfine’s progress. Our entire approach is focused on training to help our horses find the best emotional balance and you will find specific step-by-step videos in the Foundation Course on how to increase motivation, relaxation or focus with all types of horses. The emphasis throughout all our videos on the ground and in the saddle is on how to train it with a calm, happy horse. You can find out more and sign up here. We look forward to seeing you there 🙂
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2 thoughts on “P1 Get More Relaxation and Softness in Groundwork: Stop Your Horse Rushing or Trying Too Hard”
Elfine turned her head directly to the treat pouch for her reward. I’m spending the beginning sessions training my horse to keep her head straight and not dive into the pouch. Is that not something you bother with?
Hi Susan, thanks for commenting. Yes, that is absolutely something we bother with! It’s very important to get that strong in the early stages – please check out our 3-part series on getting started: https://connectiontraining.com/how-to-start-clicker-training-your-horse-part-1/
But, once that’s strong and the horse understands it, you can relax a bit and focus on prioritising clarity or softness or whatever behaviour you’re working on. Although you want that to be strong, you also don’t want to get too focused on trying to get everything perfect, which can cause tension in both of you and actually inhibit your flowing conversation and communication. Sophie has been training Elfine with rewards for a few years, so if Elfine ever gets overly focused on the treats again, or pushier than Sophie would like, it’s easy for Sophie to gently remind her about those early lessons again if necessary.
I quite like it when my horses gently tell me that they think deserved a treat for that effort (usually communicated by looking at the treats!) because it shows they understood what behaviour we were working on and actively tried to do the right thing. But, because they’re all advanced, they don’t take it too far (grabbing for the treats or getting focused on the food and not me and the exercise we’re working on) and it’s easy to either say, “you know what? You’re right! You did a great job and I should have rewarded – here you go,” or, “hmmm, well, I see that you tried but I think you need to do a little more to get the reward,” in which case, I’ll just quietly ask again and they’ll be happy to have another go. With a beginner horse, it’s important to focus on a straight head position and calm relaxation around the food because they don’t have that established yet so can easily get confused or frustrated if you start to change things. As you progress, you can really open up the two-way conversation between you, because you both know how it works and are calm and polite with each other.
Hope that helps to explain it. Get the basics solid before moving on, so stick with what you’re working on, though you can bring these techniques into the basics, too, such as deep breathing, softening your focus and, of course, rewarding for softer, calmer moments in the behaviour.