Training With a Twist Positive Reinforcement Horse Training

Training With a Twist Positive Reinforcement Horse Training

To help horse owners gain their horse's trust and to help their horse gain confidence through Positive Reiforcement and Counter Conditioning.

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Operating as usual


When horses roamed the plains, they did exactly that: they roamed. They drifted along, grazing and mostly walking in straight lines. When horses worked for a living, they continued to walk those straight lines, pulling a plow from one end of the field to the other, pulling a milk wagon from one end of town to the other, or pushing cattle from one end of Texas to the other. As they transitioned from work animals to recreation vehicles, they generally continued walking, jogging, or cantering in reasonably straight lines, going from one end of a trail to the other.

Of course, not all work or recreation involved strict, straight line movement. They were asked to cut cattle, which often required them to work laterally, with sudden starts and stops and jolts and jerks. They were asked to perform military/dressage maneuvers, with significant lateral movement and transitions. They were asked to foxhunt, which required them to work over fences and around obstacles. They were asked to participate in sport, such as polo, which again required stops, starts, bursts of speed and lateral work. And, of course, they were asked to race, which required speed, but generally on straight line tracks or long ovals.

As they transitioned into show and competition arenas, however, they shifted away from straight line activity. We changed the game and asked them to become focused athletes and runway models. In doing so, we put them into smaller and smaller spaces and asked them to perform more and more patterned behaviors. Basically, we put them into patterned, repetitive movements—mostly in circles... little, tight circles. And they started to fall apart, experiencing more and more issues with joint problems, soft tissue injuries, and general lameness concerns.

We blamed their failures and breakdowns on bad breeding practices and poor genetics; we blamed their failures on bad farriers and inadequate veterinarians; we blamed their breakdowns on poor training and conditioning, poor horse keeping practices, bad nutritional practices, and any number of other things. And, while none of these should be disallowed, the fact remains that we changed the game and put them into those little, tiny circles and repetitive activities. So, let’s look at equine anatomy, and specifically, let’s look at that in relation to athletic maneuvers and activities.

First and foremost, the horse is designed to be heavy on the forehand. We fight against that concept, asking them to engage their hindquarters, to “collect,” and to give us impulsion. And they’re capable of doing so… but they’re not designed or “programmed” to sustain such activity for any length of time. When they do this in “natural” settings and situations, they’re playing, they’re being startled or frightened, or they’re showing off. None of these are sustained activities.

Likewise, when they do engage, they’re generally bolting forward, jumping sideways, or leaping upwards. And they're typically doing that with a burst of speed and energy, not in slow motion. Ultimately, their design is simply not conducive to circular work. Each joint, from the shoulder to the ground is designed for flexion and extension—for forward motion, not lateral motion. In fact, these joints are designed to minimize and restrict lateral or side-to-side movement.

Equine Behaviour and Training Association, improving equine welfare through management and training.

If you were ever curious as to how to recoginse fear in horses, this link has some Great video examples with explanations telling you what body language you are seeing!
Its worth a look!😊⚘🐎

Nature | PBS

I felt that this clip had a lot of helpful and useful info on recognizing body language.

Horses have more emotional awareness than you think.

Calculator: How much weight can my horse carry? - Good Horse

Incase you were ever wondering how much weight your horse can/should carry, check out these weight calculators that will give you a Safe Estimate.
You NEVER want to overload your horse because that is when health problems begin.🐎❤😊 Use this calculator to work out your horse's weight carrying ability. User friendly, easy to understand and backed up by the latest research.

Have a safe July 4th🐎❤🎉✨🇺🇲🎇🎆

Happy Easter 2020! I hope everyone is safe and well and finding time to work with their horses and ride where and when they can!🐰🐣🐥🐇🐎

How to make a horse a friend. One cowboy's partnership with horses

This is a Great video that shows how Beneficial it is to have a Confident and well seasoned horse with you to help train an unconfident and unseasoned horse!
Enjoy!🐎😊⚘❤🐎 Jimmy Anderson, a cowboy and colt-starting champion, says that this meeting of minds between humans and horses is key. “Horses are really amazing at how much...

The Restart Program

"Always have an out!"

Ever had an old cowboy share that bit of wisdom?
I was always reminded that when working with horses you should always have your escape plan well thought out. Get comfortable with scaling the round pen rail, leave the stall door open enough to escape if things go sideways. Horses, after all, are big and potentially dangerous and safety is key.

These people meant well, no doubt.

But here is my take on it now.
When neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp shared his findings of the emotional systems in animals he discovered that FEAR can turn to RAGE if escape is not possible.

Traditional training can sometimes rely on tools and methods that activate a fight/flight response.

Removing a horse from his herdmates, confining him to a small space or by halters and ropes are all interventions that may create fear. When horses are fearful, as prey animals, they have a tendency to flee. But by preventing flight with the aforementioned restraints in play, we may leave the FEAR system in the brain and activate instead RAGE. RAGE then will serve to inhibit FEAR and the animal who was about to run for there life to safety is now ready to fight to protect himself. And so we have the kicks, the bites, strikes or charging behaviour that can be tremendously dangerous.

Rather than planning an "out", it would be better to understand your horse, their natural behaviour and the environment to avoid potential disasters.

So how do we do this? Here are some useful strategies:

1. Think about where you train. 🧠

When training it is often helpful to ensure your horse has companions near and/or be in an area where they feel safe and comfortable. This could mean training where they can see their friends in a field or bringing another horse into the stable with your horse or just being somewhere where he is familiar and calm.

2. Train in an area that allows sufficient space to move away from "scary" stimuli.😱

A round pen, in my opinion, does not offer enough space if the horse needs to take up some distance. A field or arena may be more suitable.

3. Pay close attention to your horses emotional state.

Observe them when they are in their paddock relaxed with the herd. What does your horse look like when relaxed? How does this change as you catch them, as you lead them? If you are noticing your horse is becoming tense (high head, tight muscles, tight lips, snatching food, eyes larger and rounder) you are at or above a threshold. Dial back to regain relaxation.

Observe your horse

4. Train in protected contact.

We begin training the vast majority of our horses behind a barrier to start. It helps both of us feel safe until some basic communication can be established.

5. Train with positive reinforcement.🍎
When we reinforce behaviour with something the horse likes, we activate different systems in the brain, predominantly SEEKING, CARE and PLAY. These systems cause the brain to release different chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine, that are responsible for good emotional feelings.

Follow these guidelines and you will maximize safety while building greater connection, trust and confidence in your horse. Over time it builds resilience that will reduce fear and reactivity by fostering positive conditioned emotional response as well as teaching appropriate responses.

Here is a "back in the day" photo when having an "out" was indeed a good idea. But when we know better, we do better! 🤓

This is a Very interesting article that makes Perfect sense! It talks about how the behavior of "lip licking/chewing" during training where trainers thought the horse was "thinking about what it learned", is Actually called a Displacement Behavior, where the horse is resorting to doing a behavior its "comfortable " with when presented with a stressful situation. 🐎⚘


For #TBT Recent research finds licking and chewing is not used as a submissive signal by horses, but that it occurs after a stressful experience, likely as a response to a dry mouth.

There is a popular belief amongst some trainers that if a horse is ‘licking and chewing’ during training they are submitting to the trainer. Some even believe the horse then sees them as their 'leader'. One example is the practice of chasing a horse forward in a round pen until they give up, stop fleeing and start licking their lips and chewing repetitively. This chewing is then interpreted as submissive behaviour.

Many trainers are using this behaviour as a way to measure how well their training is working, but this is only an assumption as up until now there has been little scientific research available on this topic.

Of course making assumptions about horse behaviour in this way is very dangerous ground and can often compromise horse welfare.

Last year at the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) conference a fascinating study was presented that finally addressed this topic. I want to say a huge well done to Margrete Lie and her team for being prepared to tackle this touchy subject.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This is the official press release I wrote about the study for ISES:

"Horses sometimes lick and chew during training and this has often been interpreted as a sign that the horse is learning or showing ‘submission’ to the trainer. However, a new study suggests that this non-nutritive licking and chewing behaviour is a natural behaviour that is shown after a stressful situation.

To gain insight into the function of licking and non-nutritive chewing behaviour in horses, a team of equine scientists from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences observed the social behaviour of feral horses under natural conditions.

M.Sc. Margrete Lie and Prof. Ruth Newberry spent 80 hours observing feral horse herds in Ecuador and collected data on 202 sequences of behaviour when licking and chewing behaviour occurred. Margrete Lie presented her findings at the 14th International Society of Equitation Science (ISES) conference in Rome last week.

The team wanted to investigate whether non-nutritive chewing was performed to signal submission to another horse and also to study whether horses performed the behaviour in between stressed and calm situations.

To find out whether non-nutritive chewing was performed to signal submission the researchers tested the idea that when one horse (the aggressor) approached another horse (the recipient) in a threatening manner, the recipient but not the aggressor would perform the behaviour. The team observed and recorded different behavioural sequences that involved aggressive interactions (for example if one horse herded or threatened another) and recorded whether the chewing behaviour was performed by either horse.

The results were fascinating: the team found that the chewing behaviour was performed by both the approaching and the recipient horses. Non-nutritive chewing was actually performed more often by the aggressor than the recipient, refuting the assumption this behaviour is a submissive signal.

The researchers also investigated whether non-nutritive chewing occurred between tense and relaxed situations. When observing the horses’ behavioural sequences, they found that the majority of the behaviours before chewing were tense and the majority of behaviours after chewing were relaxed. The chewing behaviour occurred when the horses transitioned from a tense to a relaxed state.

The researchers concluded that chewing could be associated with a switch from a dry mouth caused by stress (sympathetic arousal) to salivation associated with relaxation (parasympathetic activity).

The results of this study suggest that non-nutritive chewing was not used as a submissive signal by horses in the contexts observed, but it occurred after a tense situation, likely as a response to a dry mouth.

The research team acknowledge that further research is required to measure the stress responses associated with non-nutritive chewing. However, this study does highlight that licking and chewing likely occurs after a stressful situation and may be used as a behavioural indicator that the previous situation was perceived as stressful by the horse."

To view the ISES position statement on the use/misuse of leadership and dominance concepts in horse training please visit:

From researcher Margrete Lie:

“We looked at feral horses living with as little human interference as possible to see how they behaved in their natural habitat. It was important to look at completely natural behaviour and therefore we wanted to see horses living without restriction. These horses were living in a 334 km2 national park, and in the area we observed there were a little under 200 horses. No stallions had been removed from the population as is so common in domestic horses.”

“It was interesting to see how often the horses performed the chewing behaviour and also how clear it was that all individuals did chew – not only ‘submissive’ individuals.”

“The study showed that the horses were chewing between calm and relaxed situations, but it does not say if chewing comes as a response to relaxing or if chewing helps them relax. To able to look at this more closely I believe a more controlled study with stress measurements is needed.”

Researchers: M. Lie1,2* and R.C. Newberry1

1. Department of Animal and Aquacultural Sciences, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, P.O. Box 5003, NO-1432 Ås, Norway

2. Hesteglede, Ås, Norway

#TBT #ThrowbackThursday #Horsebehaviour #Horsewelfare #Horsetraining International Society for Equitation Science

Here is a very useful post I found that shows how to recognize pain in a horse. The more you study the facial expressions on a horse, the easier it will become for you to be able to identify discomfort and pain in your horse. REMEMBER....sometimes if your horse is or seems to be acting out when training or even riding, he may actually be in some pain or discomfort and its your job to derermine How much pain your horse is in and stop what it is you are doing and assess the pain.

Did you know that not only can horses grimace, but there's a scale to tell you the degree of pain the horse is in, based on his grimace? From a study by Dalla Costa, Minero, Lebelt et al. that can be found at

Found some great info to share on why you should not "move a horse's feet"

MOVE THOSE FEET. He won’t have time to focus on what he thinks is scary.

MOVE THOSE FEET. He’ll realize acting spooky just brings about more work.

MOVE THOSE FEET. He’ll learn he doesn’t have the energy to do that.

MOVE THOSE FEET. He’ll start using the thinking side of his brain.


It is often suggested that a horse who is anxious excited or spooky should be made to move to bring him down a notch. “Move his feet,” is an all too common recommendation for a horse who’s energy is up. But, is this good advice?

We know that naturally, when a horse runs, his adrenaline rises. If the problem we are trying to solve is a horse who’s energy is up, why would we think that adding more energy would make things better? A lot of time, it makes things much worse. But, ultimately the horse becomes tired and eventually has to slow down and the rider feels like they won.

Fast work does not slow the mind. It winds the horse up even tighter, before it finally tires the body while creating another negative, high energy experience. Loping circles, doing roll backs, lunging with lots of changes of direction, are not the best way to calm an edgy horse, but rather a great way to amp things up even more and make a scary situation even scarier or an anxious horse even more anxious.

What should you do instead?


Go back to something your horse knows how to do well.

Go back to an area your horse is more comfortable.

Allow the horse a moment to relax and then try again.

I teach my horses a head down cue. It’s helpful for many things on the ground like haltering and bridling, but also because horses relax when their heads are down. If my horse feels edgy, we do slow work and I focus on getting them into a nice, long, low stretch. I reward them for these moments. And, they release. They blow out their nostrils and take deep breaths. Only when they are relaxed can they learn anything anyway, so it does no good to chase or run them all over God’s green earth.

Once the horse is relaxed you can start to work back up to whatever it is you were trying to do in the first place. Slowly.

If your horse is anxious, nervous, spooky, high energy, or whatever, realize that out in the pasture with his friends, when you’re not around, he’s not any of those things. YOU are putting him in situations that cause him to feel this way and it is YOUR job to properly prepare him so he can meet your expectations. Start wherever he is comfortable and gradually expand that comfort zone by keeping the horse relaxed and creating positive experiences using counter conditioning.

That means if your horse is worried on the trail, start at the barn.

That means if your horse is scared of the trailer, start fifty feet away.

That means if your horse is amped up away from his friends, start near his friends.

That means if your horse is afraid of the far end of the arena start by the gate.

Chasing or running your horse to overcome these emotions is not a solution. It’s a band-aid. You’re tiring your horse, not training him.

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