Packing For Your First Event


If you are going to your first event, it’s not easy to figure out what to bring and what you can leave behind. Eventing is like three horse shows in one – different saddles, different bits.  And if it’s held over more than one day, you might need a rain sheet one day and a fly sheet for another.  Just so you don’t think you’re alone in this conundrum, here is my experience with packing for my first event.

Ode to Eventing Show Packing

Bell boots are on, hay nets to fill

Bandages and air vest – in case there’s a spill.

Studs and stud wrench this time aren’t forgotten

Take ice packs, vet wrap and plenty of sheet cotton.

Grab bridles and bits – oops, remember liniment gel!

I need a saddle for jumping and for dressage as well.

Shampoo, mane comb and scissors (don’t run)

Fly spray with high SPF for riding in the sun.

A clean anti-sweat sheet with tack cleaner nearby

And for things that need fixing, duct tape on standby.

Plenty of hoof picks with lead ropes to spare.

Did I forget anything? Oh yes, load my mare…

Thanks goodness the US Eventing Association produced these handy checklists that you can print off to help figure out what you need (and don’t).  Click HERE.

The best thing about Eventing people?  They are always willing to  lend you whatever you forgot to bring.



2016 Equestrian Paralympics

uspea logo

U.s. Para-Equestrian Association

If you are going into “Olympic withdrawal” after the excitement of the equestrian competitions in Rio, fear not.  There’s still one more event – and it’s one of the best.  The Paralympic Games featuring equestrian competition in dressage begins Sunday, September 11th.

Sport competitions for athletes with impairment have been around for more than 100 years. But it wasn’t until 1948 that these competitions became associated with the Olympics.  The first competition was in archery for servicemen and women. The official Paralympic Games first took place in 1960 in Rome, Italy and, like the Olympics, is held every four years with separate summer and winter games.

At the Atlanta games in 1996, the equestrian sport of dressage was added to the Paralympic Games.  More than 61 riders from 16 countries competed, mostly on borrowed horses.  It wasn’t until Athens in 2004 that athletes started competing on their own horses.

While dressage is the only equestrian support at the Paralympic games, driving and reining are open to para-equestrians at World Championships

This year, the Paralympics in Rio will bring together 78 of the world’s best para-equestrian dressage riders.  Like the recent Olympic equestrian events, the competition will be held at the Olympic Equestrian Centre in Deodoro.   The travel arrangements for the Paralympic horses are exactly the same as it was for the Olympic horses.

There are a wide variety of impairments that qualify an equestrian to be considered a para-equestrian.  These range from visual impairment to limb deficiency.  To compete, each para-equestrian competes in a category based on their particular impairment(s). The lower the grade number, the more severe the activity limitation.

The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), working with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), has developed the following classifications for equestrian competition:

Grade Ia – Athlete have severe impairments affecting all limbs and the trunk. The athlete usually requires the use of a wheelchair in daily life.

TESTS:  Individual Championship Test Freestyle Test

Grade Ib – Athletes here have either a severe impairment of the trunk and minimal impairment of the upper limbs or moderate impairment of the trunk, upper and lower limbs. Most athletes in this class use a wheelchair in daily life.

TESTS:  Individual Championship Test;  Freestyle Test

Grade II – Athletes in this class have severe impairments in both lower limbs with minimal or no impairment of the trunk or moderate impairment of the upper and lower limbs and trunk. Some athletes in this class may use a wheelchair in daily life.

TESTS:  Individual Championship Test;  Freestyle Test

Grade III – Athletes in grade III have a severe impairment or deficiency of both upper limbs or a moderate impairment of all four limbs or short stature. Athletes in grade III are able to walk and generally do not require a wheelchair in daily life. Grade III also includes athletes having a visual impairment equivalent to B1 (very low visual acuity and/ or no light perception).

TESTS: Individual Championship Test;  Freestyle Test

Grade IV – Athletes here have a mild impairment of range of movement or muscle strength or a deficiency of one limb or mild deficiency of two limbs. Grade IV also includes athletes with visual impairment equivalent to B2 (higher visual acuity than visually impaired athletes) competing in the grade III sport class and/ or a visual field of less than five degrees radius.

TESTS:  Individual Championship Test;  Freestyle Test

Eleven gold medals will be awarded at the Rio games.  There will be a gold medal awarded each grade level for the Individual Championship Dressage Test and an individual freestyle test.  There will also be a team competition medal awarded.

The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) selected the following to represent the United States at the 2016 Paralympic Games:

2016 equestrian paralympians

Sydney Collier (Ann Arbor, Mich.), Grade Ib, and Wesley Dunham’s Western Rose, a 2003 Oldenburg mare

Rebecca Hart (Wellington, Fla.), Grade II, and her own Schroeters Romani, a 2002 Danish Warmblood mare

Margaret McIntosh (Reading, Pa.), Grade Ia, and her own Rio Rio, a 2006 Rheinland Pfalz-Saar mare

Angela Peavy (Avon, Conn. and Wellington, Fla.), Grade III, and Heather Blitz and Rebecca Reno’s Lancelot Warrior, a 2002 Hanoverian gelding

For more information on the United States Para-Equestrian Association (USPEA), click HERE.


Photo credits:
US Para-Equestrian Association
US Equestrian Federation


Improve Your Dressage – Volunteer To Be A Dressage Show Scribe

scribeOne of the best ways to improve your dressage scores is to volunteer to scribe for a judge at a dressage show.  This gives you a front-row seat to see the ride and hear how the judge scores it.  It can help you learn just what the judge’s are looking for in each movement.  Not only will you hear the number score, you will also hear any comments the judge makes as to why they scored the movement the way they did.

The Scribe is the person who sits beside the judge during each ride and writes the judge’s score and comments onto the test sheet. The Scribe must be able to record the judge’s comments accurately and consistently. While the numbers indicate the score, the remarks will most often tell you why you received that number or what  you need to work on.

You will be required to sit quietly and concentrate for several hours just listening and writing.  The time commitment is typically four hours, but some judges prefer to have the same scribe all day. At the end of the test, the Scribe gives the completed and signed test sheet to a runner who takes it for official scoring.

dresage test score sheetA Scribe should have familiarity with dressage and the terms that may be used during a test. They must be able to record the judge’s score and remarks quickly, clearly and legibly.  Scribes must maintain confidentiality and make no remarks about any horses or riders in the competition, including but not limited to, any background information about the horse or rider, their trainer/coach, breeding, etc.  Above all, a Scribe must never repeat any of the judge’s remarks.

In addition, the Scribe helps the judge prepare for each test. At the start of each class (ex. Training Level, Prix St. Georges), be sure the judge knows what test is being performed. A spare copy of the test should be available for the judge if they need to refresh their memory. Be sure that everything the judge needs is available.  This can include a copy of the ride time schedule, pens/pencils, test sheets, whistle or bell and water/coffee if the judge prefers.

Before the first ride, discuss with the judge how he/she prefers to report scores and comments.  Establish clearly whether comments for a movement will be given before or after the score so that comments will be entered in the proper place.  Establish whether the judge wants comments abbreviated or will not accept abbreviations. If judge allows such, use abbreviations as much as possible.  You should not talk to the judge during a ride. However, if you get lost on the correct movement being scored, quietly ask what movement the next score will be for.

As the rider enters the arena, check each rider’s number, confirming it with the number on the test sheet. If the numbers do not match, find out who the rider is and locate the proper test sheet. Write the judge’s comments exactly as given. Do not rearrange or edit. At the conclusion of the test, but before giving the score sheet to the runner, review what you’ve written reflects what the judge said.  Double check that the test includes all required scores, that errors are clearly marked and that the judge has signed the test score sheet.  Some judges may wish to write their own note to the competitor on the bottom of the test, or may dictate them to you.

The United States Dressage Federation (USDF) has put together a list of guidelines for Scribes.  Click HERE for a copy.  Note, too, that it lists the most common abbreviations used when scribing.  With the permission of the judge, use this to make your job easier and more efficient.

Creating the Dressage Musical Freestyle

It’s sometimes called “horse ballet” by those that don’t understand the sport.  But actually, they are not too far off. The power and elegance of dressage combined with the beauty of appropriate music can turn our sport into art – like figure skating or, yes, even ballet.

The Dressage Grand Prix Freestyle is coming up in the 2012 London Olympics and if there’s one thing you can watch, this would be it. Unlike the dressage tests like the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special, every freestyle will be different. However, jus t like figure skating, all freestyles must contain certain movements to show the level of training of the horse and rider. To see a copy of the Grand Prix Freestyle score sheet, click HERE.

If you watch and listen carefully, you’ll notice that different riders use different types of music, based on their horse. A rider with a big, powerful horse may use music that is more majestic. A rider with a smaller, finer-boned horse may use music that is lighter and “airy.” The choice of music is probably the most important part of the freestyle, even more important than the choreography. In fact, there is a specific score for the music and the interpretation. To evaluate your horse’s way of going to different music, riders will often video having their horse ridden at all the gaits and movements they will use. They may even put a different color boot or polo wrap on one of the front legs to help visually see the cadence of foot falls and how it matches up to the music. After the video is made, you can try different types of music and see what best fits your horse’s way of moving. This is often the most difficult thing for new freestyle choreographers to embrace. They have a favorite piece of music that they desperately want to ride to. However, it may not be the best music to show off your horse and choreography. The music rarely, if ever, contains vocals as they can be too distracting when watching the artistic interpretation of horse and music. It is also rare for one piece of music to fit your whole freestyle, so be prepared to use different types of music, though you’ll notice they are usually in the same genre, e.g. all classical, all show tunes, all Big Band.

charlotte dujardin record dressate London Olympia.JPGAt the Grand Prix level, some of the riders have music choreographed especially for their dressage freestyle. This is the case for Charlotte Dujardin who rode, at the London Olympic World Cup, received a record 94.3% for her  freestyle with music composed by Tom Hunt.  To see that awesome ride, click HERE.

Here’s some expert advice from Tom Hunt on designing your own freestyle:

“My advice to anyone starting out would be to find music that really suits the personality and characteristics of your horse. Once you have a style of music that you like, whether it’s classical or pop, it is important to try and create a theme for the freestyle. That can be a musical theme that is repeated throughout the routine or music from a show soundtrack for example. It’s important that there’s a connection linking the music choices together so that the freestyle makes sense as a whole piece. This will also make it easier for audiences to stay engaged with the overall experience of the freestyle.

“Getting to grips with the differences in tempo of your horse’s paces is crucial. Make a video of your floorplan and, with a metronome, take some time to work out the BPM (Beats Per Minute) of each pace and work with music choices that complement the horse’s tempo, style and rhythm. If you have a big horse with powerful movement it is important to use music that emphasizes these characteristics.

“Another good piece of advice is to arrange the music to highlight the changes in the floorplan / choreography. This may sound obvious but it can really help a rider stay on the beat if they know where they need to be at any given point in the music. Understanding the phrasing of music can help you with this aspect when it comes to putting the music to your floorplan.”

While anyone can create and ride a musical freestyle, the United States Dressage Federation recommends that you ride at a level BELOW what you are currently showing in regular dressage. For example, if you are showing at 2nd Level, you should create a freestyle for 1st Level or Training Level.

So for all you frustrated “So You Think You Can Dance” dancers or choreographers, here’s your chance for you and your partner to show off!

dressage freestyle cartoon

Photo credits:



Equestrian Olympic Medals – Team vs. Individual


olumpic timetable

As  you can see from the schedule, there are Olympic medals to be awarded for teams  as well as for individuals in each discipline.  And if it appears that some of them are judged at the same time, they are.  It can be a bit complicated, so here are the official FEI rules as well as an explanation.

EVENTING:Blackfoot Mystery Boydandsilvamartin

The FEI rules say, “The Team and Individual Competition will be run concurrently on separate consecutive days in the following order: the Dressage test, the Cross Country test and the Team Jumping Competition to determine the Team winner.”

“The Individual final Jumping test will take place after the Team Jumping Competition on the same day. The twenty five (25) best Athletes, including those who tie for twenty fifth (25th) place on the conclusion of the Team Competition (maximum three (3) best scoring Athletes per team classification per nation) will qualify to participate.”

What it means:  Everyone does the 2008 Olympic Games 4* B  (short)  dressage test, the cross-country course and the jump course.  Upon conclusion of these three, the team medals are announced.  Then they take the top 25 scores (made up of all three components) and these horse/riders come back for another run at the jump course.  Best score made up of dressage, cross-country and this 2nd jump course indicates the individual winners.


RooseveltThe FEI rules say, “Team and First Individual Qualifier, The FEI Grand Prix Test, in which all Athletes must participate, is the First Team Qualifying Competition and the First Individual Qualifying Competition

Team Final and Second Individual Qualifier, the FEI Grand Prix Special, is the final Team Competition and the Second Individual Qualifying Competition. The FEI Grand Prix Special is limited to and compulsory for the best six (6) placed teams of the Grand Prix, including those tied for sixth (6th) place, as well as the eight (8) highest placed Athletes of the Grand Prix not otherwise participating as qualified team members, including those tied for eighth (8th) place.

In the Individual Final Competition,  the FEI Grand Prix Freestyle test is the Final Individual Competition which is limited to and compulsory for the 18 best placed Athletes of the FEI Grand Prix Special Competition, including those who tie for eighteenth (18th) place. Only the FEI Grand Prix Freestyle Competition counts towards the final Individual classification. The winning individual Athlete is the one (1) with the highest total percentage in the Grand Prix Freestyle Competition.”

What it means:  Everyone competes in the FEI Grand Prix test.  The top 6 teams come back to perform the Grand Prix Special test.  If a competitor is not a member of a team, the top eight riders will also be qualified to ride the Grand Prix Special.  At the end of those two competitions, the team medals will be awarded.  The top 18 are invited to participate in the Grand Prix Freestyle test.  The score of the Grand Prix Freestyle determines the individual medals. 

JUMPING:HH Azur Equestrian Life

The FEI Rules say Showjumping will consist of , “The First Individual Qualifying Competition; The Team Jumping Competition, on two (2) days with a possible jump-off. First and Second Rounds also counting as Second and Third Individual Qualifying Competitions;  The Final Individual Jumping Competition, consisting of one Final Competition run over two rounds (Round A & B) with a possible jump-off.”

What it means: Anyone who wants to compete as an individual starts in Round One (Individual qualifying round). The top 60 move on to the first round (qualifying) for the Team Competition held the next two days – this is actually the second round of the Individual Competition.  On the third day of competition, the Team Competition final is held.  The top eight teams compete.

This also counts as the third round qualifier for the Individuals. The scores of the Round One Individual qualifier and the Round One Team (Round Two Individual) qualifier are calculated and the top 45 individuals are asked to return to compete in the Team finals (Third Individual Qualifier).  Best individuals from Individual Qualifying Rounds One, Two and Three compete over two more courses (Round A and Round B) with the possibility of a jump-off to determine the  Individual medals.

So enjoy the Olympics and cheer on our USA Equestrian Team! For those of you who like to “judge with the judges,” I’ve linked the various dressage tests each discipline will be using for the 2016 Olympics.

Photo credits:
Schedule: Horse & Hound
Dressage –
Jumping – Equestrian Life
Eventing –

A Horse’s Road To Rio – The Competition

x countryIn August, the world’s best equestrians and their horses will arrive in Rio de Janiero for the 2016 Olympic Games.  Almost 300 horses from 40 countries will compete in both team and individual dressage, eventing and jumping. Later, the Paralympic games will take center stage.

All equestrian competition will take place at Deodoro Olympic Park, located west of Rio, the second largest Rio 2016 Games cluster.  The Deodoro Olympic Equestrian Center was built for the 2007 Pan American Games, so it already has a record of successful competitions. The center is currently used by the Brazilian Army Equestrian School and as an Olympic training center.  To accommodate the 2016 Olympics, it was refurbished and expanded.  A year before the 2016 Rio Olympic Games were scheduled to begin, the entire equestrian complex received a thorough review on everything from footing to stables to the accuracy of scoring and timing. Deodoro received a passing score.

The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) developed the OLYMPIC AND PARALYMPIC show jumping rio olympicsGAMES EQUESTRIAN VENUE AND OPERATIONAL REQUIREMENTS guide.  It outlines everything from the size of the arenas and warmups to the footing and “kiss and cry” areas. Christian Bauer was the footing advisor appointed by the Rio 2016 and recommended a sand-fiber mix riding areasPierre Michelet is the cross-country course designer. He designed the course at the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy and the CCI4* at Pau. The course will feature a sandy turf footing.

With less than a week before the Games begin, let’s wish “GOOD LUCK” to all the competitors and “SAFE TRIP” to their horses.


olumpic timetable

A Horse’s Road To Rio – Travel Documents

The Rio2016 organizing committee is doing everything possible to ensure that all horses arrive, compete and leave Rio disease-free.  To that end, extensive documentation procedures have been put in place for exporting horses.

passport from Global NewsTo verify that only those horses qualified to compete in the Olympics are brought into the country, all horses must possess a valid Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) passport or FEI recognition card.  In addition, all horses must be microchipped.  No import permit will be issued for a horse that has not been microchipped. Finally, horses must be accompanied by an Export Health Certificate.

Per the Equestrian Freight Manual (EFM), the official guidelines for shipping horses for the Equestrian Events of the 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games, within 30 days of the date of export, all horses must have the following tests completed:

a) Equine Infectious Anemia Negative Agar Gel Immunodiffusion assay (AGID test/Coggins) for Equine infectious Anemia.

b) Glanders (only for horses that will be certified in Germany) Complement Fixation Test (CFT) with a negative result at 1:5 dilution.

c) Dourine (only for horses that will be certified in Italy) Complement Fixation Test (CFT) with a negative result at 1:5 dilution.

d) Equine Piroplasmosis Babesia Caballi AND Theileria Equi Complement Fixation Test or Indirect Immunoflouresence or ELISA test for B Caballi and T Equi. A horse testing positive for Equine Piroplasmosis is still permitted to travel providing that the horse is clinically healthy.

e) West Nile Virus This test is not required if the horse has been (for the 2 months prior to export) in a country which is officially West Nile Free or if the horse is vaccinated according to a full schedule against WNV at least 30 days prior to shipment to Rio. If during the 2 months before export the horse has been in a country where West Nile Virus has been reported (currently USA, Spain, Austria) a WNV IgM cELISA must be undertaken with negative results.

All horses must remain under veterinary supervision for a minimum of 14 days prior to export to Brazil. During this period there should be no contact with horses of a lower health status

Furthermore, all horses must be vaccinated for Equine Influenza no less than 15 days and no longer than 90 days prior to shipment.  Horses must be treated for internal and external parasites within 48 hours of departure – the active ingredient of the product and the date of treatment must be recorded on the export health certificate.

The FEI Veterinary Committee has agreed that the FEI examination on arrival will be performed at the hub of departure instead of on arrival at the venue.  Once tested the animals must remain under veterinary supervision until export to Brazil. The horses will be under the supervision of an FEI veterinarian from the point of inspection and during flight.planning-and-preparation

As with the Beijing 2008 & London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Peden Bloodstock, the Rio2016 appointed Official International Shipping Agent and Stable Management Provider, will be using Hippobase to consolidate all horse & shipping information e.g. horse passport copies, attendant passport copies, addresses of origin and return, vehicle details, etc.

A word about the Zika virus and horses:  According to an article in The Horse by J. Scott Weese, DVM, DVSc, Dipl. ACVIM, “There’s currently no evidence that Zika virus can infect horses. Zika—which is a mosquito-borne virus related to West Nile virus and dengue fever— has only been found in nature in humans and nonhuman primates.”

In addition to the documentation regarding horses, there are protocols outlined for the shipping, storing and re-exporting of feed, hay, bedding and medical supplies.  From the looks of the requirements, competing at the Olympics might actually be easier than getting there!

Photo credit:  Global News
Photo credit: Peden Bloodstock



A Horse’s Road To Rio – Travel Logistics


horse watching planeIf you think the logistics at your local horse show is confusing, try coordinating over 300 horses from approximately 40 countries to arrive on time for the 2016 Rio Olympics and Paralympics.  That’s just the job of Peden Bloodstock  International Shipping Agents.  They have been appointed by the Rio2016 organization ((Rio Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad) to coordinate equine transport, quarantine, health, logistic and stable management.

With offices in German and the United Kingdom, Peden comes with extensive experience transporting horses and includes the 2012 London Olympics and the 2013 and 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy.  Peden were then the first company to transport horses “commercially” (knowing that they flew military purpose horses in World War II) by air in October 1947

To aid in coordination and logistics, the Federation Equestrian National (FEI) Equestrian Freight Manual (EFM) for use by all National Federation (NF), National Olympic (NOC) and National Paralympics Committees (NPC). The rules for the 2016 Olympics are:

All non-Brazilian origin horses must arrive in Brazil at the hub port of entry, Rio de Janeiro (GIG) airport, for the 2016 Olympic & Paralympics Games. Since some U.S. horses may already be training or competing in Europe, the hub airports where all horses will be consolidated are Liege/ Belgium, Stansted/UK (one flight for Eventing), Miami and/or New York, USA.

Rio2016 will bear the air transport cost from the designated hub airports to and from Brazil including trucking between Rio de Janeiro (GIG) airport and the Deodoro Olympic Equestrian Centre for the number of horses which are permitted to compete at the Games under the FEI Qualification System.  However, travel from country of origin to the hub airport and return is at NOC/NPC/NF expense.

Horses will be transported in “Airstables,” which are equivalent to a stall for your horse. traveling with horseThe Airstables’ dimensions may vary slightly depending on the make and model of the aircraft, but are typically 294 cm long x 234 cm wide by 232 cm high. Based on preferences, horses may be shipped one, two or three per container.  Rio2016 will pay the airfreight, fuel and security charges for horses to travel in 112 cms wide stalls (two horses per pallet) to and from Rio on flights organized by Peden. The Airstable also allows the horse to be safely transferred to and from the aircraft.  A limited number of seats will be available for attendants to accompany horses. A minimum of one veterinarian is required to be on each flight.

Most Olympic-bound horses are seasoned travelers. Careful handling keeps then calm and relaxed and medical intervention such as tranquilizers are rarely used. Horses will have access to hay and water throughout the flight. The ambient temperature will be maintained at a comfortable 63o Fahrenheit.  This sounds better than most airlines for people!

Event horses will leave July 29th from Belgium, July 30th from the U.K. and July 31st from the U.S.A. Dressage horses will leave August 1st from Belgium, August 2nd from the U.K and August 3rd from the U.S.A.  Jumpers will leave August 6th from Belgium and August 7th from both the U.K. and the U.S.A.  Horses for the Paralympics will depart from Belgium on September 3rd and the U.K. and the U.S.A. on September 4th.


photo credit: Peden Bloodstock International Shipping

Try It Tuesday: Competitive Trail Riding (CTR)

competitive trail riding 2If you and your horse enjoy trail riding, then the sport of Competitive Trail Riding (CTR) might be a good fit for the both of you. A Competitive Trail Ride is not a timed event like endurance where the fastest time wins.  It is probably closer to Eventing in that riders are out on the trail one at a time and negotiate obstacles.  There are also mandatory vet checks.  And, like Eventing, success comes from the trust and communication between horse and rider to safely complete the course.   A CTR is usually held on a weekend and can run one, two or even three days.  The competitors usually cover a distance of 15-40 miles per day.

In the United States and Canada, as well as in other countries, there are several organizations that sanction competitive trail riding. In the United States, they include North American Trail Ride Conference (NATRC).

In NATRC competitions, the horses are evaluated by an approved veterinary judge, and riders are evaluated by an approved horsemanship judge. The judging begins at the preliminary examination, usually the day before the ride, continues during the ride, and concludes at the final examination one or two days later. The equines (horses, ponies, and mules) are evaluated on condition, soundness, their trail manners, and way of going. Riders are judged on horsemanship as it applies to competitive trail riding. The judges will examine the horses at the end of a day’s ride and again before timing out on the second day. The final vet check, after the ride, is similar to the pre-ride examination. Competition is over when this final vet check is done.

Most any horse can compete in Competitive Trail Riding, but both training and competitive trail riding 3
conditioning should be a part of the program before you attempt your first event. Training aims at teaching the horse not only to obey commands, but also how to handle rough terrain and obstacles such as steep climbs, rocky descents, deep creeks, fallen limbs or logs, etc. Conditioning toughens the horse and builds stamina by improving the muscles, heart, lungs, tendons, ligaments, skin, feet, etc. In the peak of condition the horse will not tire readily. His breathing will not be as rapid as when he was “soft”, nor will the heart have to pump as fast. And since he is trained, he will handle himself better and waste less motion through inexperience and nervousness.

To find out more information, click HERE to visit the North American  Trail Ride Conference website.

.photos courtesy of the North American Trail Ride Conference

Try It Tuesday: Clicker Training


horse clicker trianing

Whether you’re trying one of the new horse sports or just continuing to work on your current discipline, clicker training can help build understanding with your horse.  Long-used in dog training, Karen Pryor’s force-free clicker training  has crossed over to other animals, including horses.  

Clicker training is a science-based training method. It traces its origins back to the work of B.F. Skinner. Karen Pryor, one of the early pioneers of marine mammal training, coined the term clicker training and helped expand the work into the broader training community.  The name “clicker training” refers to the most commonly used marker signal, which is a hand held clicker. In clicker training, the marker signal is paired with a primary reinforcer (usually food).  There are several types of clicker training:

Capturing: This is what many people think of when they first think of clicker training. You wait for the animal to perform a certain behavior, and then you click and treat. This marks the behavior and makes the animal more likely to repeat it.

Shaping: This is the essence of clicker training and a clicker trainer’s main tool. Shaping is the name used to refer to the process of starting with a small piece of the behavior you want and transforming it over time by carefully reinforcing those efforts that lead to the final behavior.

Shaping is also sometimes referred to as training by successive approximations. The key point about shaping is that in shaping you are building behavior in small steps. You get from one step to the next by selecting what behaviors you choose to reinforce and allowing the horse to experiment a bit to figure out what behavior gets clicked. It is a very creative process for both trainer and trainee.

Luring: Luring refers to using the food directly to get a behavior that you can click and reinforce. Most clicker trainers use luring sparingly or not at all as part of the reason clicker training works well is that the food is used to motivate and reward, but since it is only delivered after the click, it does not become a distraction.
Molding:  The horse or a part of its body is physically put in the desired position. If trying to teach a horse to step on a mat, pick up the foot and place it on the mat. The goal is to show the horse the desired movement and then encourage the horse to initiate the behavior on his own.

Shaping using pressure and release: This is one of the most common ways that clicker training is used with horses. It is a subset of shaping, but it is a directed form of shaping where the horse gets information about what you want through standard pressure and release cues. It is combined with clicker training so that the horse is rewarded by the release of pressure AND a treat. The addition of the marker signal adds a level of precision and timing that makes the training process clearer.
Targeting: Targeting is the behavior where an animal learns to touch a body part (with horses we usually use the nose) to another object (the target). Targeting is a behavior that is taught through capturing or shaping, but once learned, it becomes a valuable tool in its own right.
Clicker training allows you to pinpoint and reward desirable behavior. As a result the horse doesn’t have to try ten ‘wrong things’ before it gets it right. The one ‘right’ thing it does is rewarded and the undesirable behaviors ignored. With positive reinforcement horses become very eager students and lessons are quickly learned.

photo credit:

 Karen Pryor, Clicker Training:

B.F. Skinner, Operant Behavior: