Month List

Quick Links

Are you creating a raving pocket monster by giving treats as a reward?

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   February 25, 2012 09:11


Trick Training Philosophy "Train with Trust and Communication"
Trick training is a great way to foster a fabulous relationship with your horse.  In order to have a great relationship, you have to have great trust, and great communication.  In order to make trick  training enjoyable and achievable by all, I train with grace, rather than force. Jackie Johnson


Treats as a form of reward tends to stir up passionate feelings in the horse training industry.  It seems like there are two sides to the debate, either you love using treats as rewards, or you hate it.  As a professional trick trainer, I use treats as rewards to mold my horses behaviors, where I couldn't otherwise evoke that behavior with a physical touch but, I also realise that a horse should act independent of food as a motivating factor. 

The problem with treats actually isn't the's how the handler/trainer USES the treats that CREATES the problem.  Left to its own devices, a tidbit of food is just an inanimate object, no different than a blade of grass.  When used in conjunction with training, that same tidbit becomes either a reward, or a dreaded bribe.  You can avoid creating problems with treats if you remember one simple thing....horses EARN their treats, they are NOT owed them.  Earning a treat is the same as earning a paycheque.  If you do your job, and do it well, you get your paycheque - or in the horses case, a treat.  If you fail to do your job, or fail to do it well, then you don't get your paycheque treat.  When a treat is earned, it rarely causes a problem.

So, why do some horses turn into raving pocket monsters at the mere mention of treats, and more importantly, what can you do to avoid that? When food is used as a bribe it becomes a problem, simple as that.  Some examples of bribing a horse include; 'befriending' a horse using treats to make it 'like' you, using treats to redirect a horses misbehaviour, and indiscriminately dolling out treats for lackluster effort during training.  The 'fix' for treat monsters is really quite simple!  If you decide to use food as a motivational reward, decide ahead of time what the horse has to do to EARN the treat reward, and then stick to the plan.  Once your equine friend realises that you are no longer dispensing tasty tidbits like a broken candy machine, they will change their work ethic to earn their just reward.

 Training Tips written by Jackie Johnson, for

Getting Out And About

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   February 24, 2012 07:56


Trick Training Philosophy "Train with Trust and Communication"
Trick training is a great way to foster a fabulous relationship with your horse.  In order to have a great relationship, you have to have great trust, and great communication.  In order to make trick  training enjoyable and achievable by all, I train with grace, rather than force. Jackie Johnson

Oh that dreaded time of year.  That time when you haven't been riding much due to the weather, and your horse is feeling frisky and fresh.  Frisky horses that have been cooped up for any length of time can be a challenge to even the most experienced horseman. If riding a horse in this state of energy seems like an unappealing challenge, consider just taking him for a walk on the lead instead!
Taking your horse for a pleasure walk on the lead is not something that people generally think of.  When you think spending time with your horse, that time spent generally equates to riding time.  Going for a walk down the lane, or road is an excellent bonding exercise that gives your horse a change of scenery, and exercises his mind.  These walks also allow you to reinforce your role as the leader, and assess whether or not your horse is respecting you - by walking with his head at your shoulder where it belongs.  The walks can also be 'mini-adventures' where you and your horse investigate the things that he identifies as 'spooky'.  You can gain some serious leadership points when you show your horse that the monster he is deathly afraid of is just a silly old rock, or tree, and that kind of trust, and leadership, on the ground becomes trust, and leadership, in the saddle.

 Training Tips written by Jackie Johnson, for

Rules, Discipline, Reward, Love by Jackie Johnson

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   February 10, 2012 08:56

Trick Training Philosophy "Train with Trust and Communication"
Trick training is a great way to foster a fabulous relationship with your horse.  In order to have a great relationship, you have to have great trust, and great communication.  In order to make trick  training enjoyable and achievable by all, I train with grace, rather than force.

Rules, Discipline, Reward, Love
We all love our horses but do you give your horse the love that YOU want, or the love that he NEEDS.  Left to their own devices, horses live in a complex social structure with clear rules and consistent discipline.  The horses love for routine and structure is what allows us to practice things like dressage, or reining patterns in the arena on a regular basis!  When rules are not in place, and not enforced, horses often start to develop behavioral problems, and spoiling your horse with affection might only make the problem worse!
Rules don't have to be difficult, they can be as simple as not allowing your horse to be rude when you're feeding him from a bucket.  How many times have you experienced a horse plunging his nose into a bucket of feed with complete disregard for you?  Here is a simple exercise; throw a handfull of oats into the bottom of a feed bucket and put it on the ground of the barn isle, or in his stall.  Then go catch your horse and bring him to the bucket, ONLY allowing him to eat the oats after you have removed his halter and said 'OK'.  The rule here, is that he is not allowed access to the bucket until YOU say so.  If he tries to ignore the rule, then correct him - Discipline!  Once your horse follows the rules, THEN he can get the oats from the bucket - Reward!  After he has learned to follow your rules, THEN you can lavish him with praise, and affection. 
This is a little exercise that can be done on a daily basis to improve the relationship that you have with your horse.  Although creating and establishing rules may be challenging at the start, over time it will become easier, which is a good habit for both you AND your horse.

Training Tips written by Jackie Johnson, for

Memoirs of a Horse Owner by Sam "Deworming"

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   February 10, 2012 07:44

Memoirs of a Horse Owner


Horsemanship ....... it is an art, a science, a tradition and a lifelong journey!


The articles written for  are a collection of my personal memoirs as a horse owner.  They are about my experiences and about my understanding of horsemanship.  They do not necessarily reflect the opinion of  and in some cases, they do not reflect the opinion of the majority of horse owners today.  They are about my journey toward understanding a horse.



     I purchased a horse that had a long history of making routine tasks difficult.  He was well practised and he was good at it.  He knew all about how to make people give up and go to the house. 


    His greatest performance occurred at deworming time.  As a rule, the deworming paste ended up on his forehead and all over his muzzle, on the ground and in my hair.  It is real hard to aim a deworming syringe at the mouth of a moving target and I believe he knew that.   


     Albert Einstein said that there was no point in doing the same thing over, and over, and over, and over again, and expecting a different outcome each time.  I think that applies to horses too.  If you are not getting the results that you want, it would be wise to stop what you are doing and think of a better way to ask the horse to accept the task at hand.


     It seemed to me that if I ever wanted to deworm this horse, without a hassle, and maybe even without a halter and rope, I had to stop what I was doing and think of a better way to teach him to accept deworming. 


     I knew that one of the few things that he was real good at was eating.  He'd eat his share of the grub and anything else that was left within his reach.  He was like a fat kid after a cupcake.  For the most part his oral fixation was just a nuisance.  However it occurred to me that perhaps I could get it working in my favor.    


   Although using treats to train a horse is considered taboo with some folks, I was desperate to find a solution.  The way I saw it, things really couldn't get much worse.  So I decided to give it a try.  


   I started giving him a handful of rolled oats with a syringe full of molasses on top of the oats.  After a few days, I left off on the oats and gave him a syringe full of molasses in his feed dish.  He'd lick up the molasses until the dish was perfectly clean and then he'd come back and lick the dish all over again. 


   Within a few days he was willing to lick the molasses off of the syringe.  It wasn't long before he came to the idea that he could get to the molasses quicker if I put the syringe in his mouth.  Once he was willing to accept the syringe, deworming became a simple task.  


    I know that success at any task depends on my ability to present the task in a way that makes sense to the horse.  I know that I am most likely to succeed when I am able to make my idea seem like it was the horse's idea.  Sometimes it is difficult to figure out how to do that.  Learning to work with what the horse offers is what the lifelong journey into what horsemanship is all about.


Copyright, for reprint permission contact                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           


Training Tips by Jackie Johnson "Escalating Behavior"

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   January 27, 2012 08:40




Jackie Johnson and Avro
Trick Training Philosophy "Train with Trust and Communication"
Trick training is a great way to foster a fabulous relationship with your horse.  In order to have a great relationship, you have to have great trust, and great communication.  In order to make trick  training enjoyable and achievable by all, I train with grace, rather than force.

Escalating Behavior

A fixed gaze off into the distance, and whinnying when away from the herd are two signs that your horse is ignoring you, and for a lot of horse handlers, these signs go both unnoticed, and uncorrected.  Left to escalate, the horses lack of regard for their handler can then turn to outright disrespect when they then try to run away, or completely invade the handlers space and bowl them right over.  By being attentive to, and acting on the small indications that your horse has his focus elsewhere, you can stop misbehavior in it's tracks. 
If you're in an area that allows it, asking your horse to move out as if on a longe line is an excellent way to get their focus and attention back on you.  The phillosophy is quite simple, give the horse the option to work, or rest.  If your horse has his attention elsewhere then make him work until he returns his focus back to you...and when I say work, I MEAN work!  A crisp trot at the end of the longe will be way more effective than a liesurely pleasure jog.  When your horse returns his attention to you and behaves as though he is attentive of your presence and leadership, then he will be allowed to rest. 
Once you've regained his focus, it's time to look at the underlying cause of the behavior.  Calling out to friends, and attentiveness to objects in the distance are signs that the horse doesn't have confidence in his leader/handler, and is taking the care of his well-being into his own hands.  Catching little shifts in leadership before they escalate will go a long way to ensuring that you remain the leader of your herd.

Training Tips written by Jackie Johnson, for



posted by Horse Owner Today    |   November 18, 2011 09:15

I am addressing this question perhaps more as a dressage trainer and teacher than as a veterinarian, so as such this is not a definitive answer, just my opinion of this issue.

Hyperflexion is a relatively recent and controversial topic in the world of competitive dressage horse training.  Proponents of extreme hyperflexion are few but unfortunately several are famous and successful on the world championship/Olympic stage.  They claim that flexion of the horse's jaw/head far far past the vertical for extended periods of work gives more lift to the back and more elasticity to the movement when ridden up in a more normal position during a test.  There are a large majority of trainers who occasionally during schooling use an overbent longitudinal position  [behind vertical, lower neck] and also lateral positions outside of the classic desired "frame". However these positions are used for seconds only to supple or unlock a resistant jaw or to prevent an evasion in another part of the body.  As soon as possible the horse is returned to a normal vertical frame so that the classic goals of forward through the back and soft in jaw can be achieved with the poll, not the third vertebra  or mid neck the highest point.  

There are extremists on both sides [which can occupy one for hours on youtube] with some riders clearly causing physical and mental distress to the horse. In some instances permanent physical damage to vertebrae and supporting structures can occur and/or long term or permanent psychological damage including a resigned helpless and joyless horse.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, other extremists vehemently state that all horses ridden in a bit are in pain at all times and are being abused.  

Most reasonable horsemen and trainers love and respect horses and appreciate dressage as an art as well as a sport.  They certainly fall between these extremes.  I believe that realistic and fair -minded trainers are aware that at times getting a horse to comply may involve some battles of wills and bodies but we all hope this is as brief a period as possible.  

It is prudent to remember that classical dressage changed very little over the past hundred + years as far as ideals and methods are concerned.  Todays sport horses are bigger, more powerful, athletic and more extreme movers with each generation.  It is tempting to rush these fantastic horses to the FEI levels because they apparently can, but producing a horse that keeps a sound body and mind with joy in his work for his lifetime takes as long as it ever did. When a 'new' technique surfaces, such as extreme hyperflexion, I hope that riders and trainers educate themselves, talk to people they trust and continue to use good judgement in training their horses as individuals.

Dr Lisa Wayman DVM contributor to "Ask a Vet"
-Corman Park Vet Svc
-trainer of  2 Grand Prix horses and mother of 2 young horsewomen

Hands by Conrad Schumacher

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   August 1, 2011 06:51

Steady hands are not the hands which are steady relative to the rider’s body, but the ones which are steady “in the motion of a horse"

Tags: , , , ,


Releasing Tension

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   July 28, 2011 07:18

In the last issue we discussed communicating to your horses mind and working towards releasing your horse’s fear, tension and insecurities. In this issue of releasing tension we are going to move towards the next step in communicating to your horse’s mind and reaching deeper into the body to create a soft and willing partner.


Think of horses in their natural environment and how they act in every day life. When they are threatened by predators they will run, when they are alert they will raise their heads up and perk their ears forward. When they are confident in their leadership they will be relaxed and graze with their heads down.  By observing these simple forms of body language we are able to not only create a form of communication that will allow our horse to trust us but also allow us to reach into our horse and release tension.


While your horse is wearing a halter and lead rope take one hand and pull gently down on the lead shank, remember it is not a tug of war so use just enough pressure that you can feel the tension in your horse. When you feel that tension release and your horse’s head soften downward you want to release your hand so your horse understands that softening to the pressure is what you want. If your horse braces on you and freezes up like a mule (sorry to all you mule lovers) try not to increase your downward pressure. Instead keep the same pressure but move your hand from left to right, which will create more stimulation on the halter to generate a more in depth conversation. Continue this process so you can consistently soften your horse’s head down with as little pressure as possible.


This exercise allows you to soften your horse to pressure and allow any tension, fear or nervousness to be released and put your horse in a grazing state of mind where he is trusting in your leadership. When your horse understands this exercise you can start to soften him whenever you feel his mind leave you, for example when someone slams a door in the barn or kids happen to run through the barn kicking a big pink ball and your horses attention shifts into head up and ears forward or possibly into flight mode. You can now shift his mind set to you by simply softening him and focusing him on your leadership.


Jon Cooper

Trusted Training


Jonathon Cooper

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   July 23, 2011 12:08


Jonathon Cooper  of "Trusted Training" is featured in "Training Secrets"  Ask your question today...


Dealing with the "Super Sensitive" Horse

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   July 5, 2011 06:59


“I have a Hanoverian mare that is well past super sensitive.  I bred her, foaled her out, and handled her extensively beginning at birth.  She is always trying to hide behind other horses, when she is groomed she twitches as though she is hurting (even with a hand or a soft brush), she always needs to know there is an escape open to her.  Never ever has she been abused in any way, not from birth.  A good description of her is “trying to hold a soap bubble”!  What can I do with her to make her useful under saddle, to try and eliminate some of her fear/flightiness?   She is an international caliber horse physically, however mentally she is not. I appreciate your input and suggestions.”



Fear, tension, insecurity or any form of feeling or emotion always has to be released in some form whether it is through running away, pushing out, biting, striking, and even nervous shaking. Think of it this way; when humans are angry some may yell to release the frustration or when people are grieving or upset they may cry. So too do horses express what they are feeling only they cannot hide it and will never lie to us. Meaning there is always a reason for whatever their reaction. Every horse needs to know that they are safe and that there is a leader that will ensure that safety; it is my goal to always establish that trust early and to never betray it.


In establishing trust I want to teach the horse to always look to me for guidance and in order to do this I have to have connection with their mind. Wherever the mind is so too will the feet be along with whatever emotion the horse is feeling. I talked about pressure in the last article and using your body and emotion to own the space around you, a good exercise is to turn your horse loose in the pen or on a long line and allow him to move around freely. Your goal is to have a conversation with your horses mind and when having a conversation the individual is generally focused on you. As your horse moves around generate some pressure be it a step toward your horse, a slap of your hand on your leg, a shake of the flag or a wave in the long line anything that is going to create your horse to look and engage with you. At first your horse may be all over the place like my two-year-old daughter checking in and then off to another place filled with energy. The important thing is that you use as little pressure as you can to open the conversation and to not be afraid to use more pressure if there is no response. Remember that the release of the pressure is where your horse is going to learn, so when she engages with you by looking at you or facing up to you, that you remove that pressure and let her know that a conversation with you in the right answer. We want her to want to be with us meaning we are not disciplining her for looking around but more so rewarding her for checking in with us. Play with this exercise and experiment with how much pressure you need to generate a connection with your horse; it is a fun way to have your horse respect you and look to you for guidance. In time as your horse moves from you they will be connected and not just leaving the conversation. This will also help when you go to catch your horse because she has learned to check in with you instead of checking out and hiding or walking away.



By communicating to the mind you are able to channel the emotions and energy of your horse to you rather then your horse fleeing, pushing out, fighting or being nervous, thus creating trust and a partnership. I find that too often people speak to the feet first or use pressure in a predator fashion and the horses mind is completely absent and only looking for a way to survive. We can not create leadership if we use pressure in a fearful way this will only create a horse that is only doing what it must to release the pressure.


In conclusion we do not want that soap bubble to burst in your hands and have you or your horse get hurt. We want that bubble to reflect a willingness to trust and to allow you to be the leader, most horses do not want the task of being the leader but they have to feel secure in our ability to guide them.


I will go over the next step to this process in the next issue and how to remove more of that fear in your horse and gain a better connection with their mind.


Thank you,

Jonathan Cooper

Trusted Training