Steigerwald.T New Year’s Eve Challenge

The Steigerwald.T New Year’s Eve Challenge
For almost four weeks now, people have been making funny, strange and creepy noises in the presence of their horses. They often attract incredulous shaking of the head or even criticism. I would like to explain once again what this challenge is all about.
In learning theory, the phenomenon of generalization is described by the fact that conditional reflexes and behavior arise not only from the original stimulus that triggers the reaction, but also from triggers that are similar to it. The Pavlovian dog, for example, also begins to salivate when the tone of the bell has a different frequency range.
In order to prepare our animals for New Year’s Eve, we can work with various noises, smells and visual stimuli so that they remain more relaxed during the fireworks on the critical evening – in some areas days before. When horses have stress, when there is a fireball and we don’t want to ignite rockets for training purposes, generalization helps us and them to cope with this task.
Cow bells, dog barking, tools of all kinds (hairdryer, cordless screwdriver, welding machine, compressor, circular saw, jigsaw, mixer, blender, drill hammer, etc.), engine noises (car, tractor, wheel loader, Bobcat, yard loader, moped, motorcycle, harvesting vehicles), the human voice or musical instruments are possible acoustic stimuli that we can use in training.
Optical stimuli have a stronger effect on flight animals in the dark than in the light and the factor smell/smoke is also an element that we can approach step by step during training.

Applied practically, it can look like this: “Behavior is driven by its consequences”. If my animal behaves calmly during the presentation of the corresponding stimulus, the consequence of this behavior is something pleasant. Stimulus – stop – Click+Feed. Thus it combines the actually aversive stimulus with a tasty affair. But how do we get there that this stimulus is answered by standing still? By getting closer and closer from a feel-good distance. A squeaky balloon right next to the horses ears often put them on the run. A distance of five metres, may be good to endure. Squeak-stop-click-feed-one step closer- squeak-stop-click-feed-one step closer- squeak-stop-click-feed-one step closer- etc. At some point there comes the point where my horse raises his head strongly, widens his eyes very much or snorts. At this position I repeat the stimulus until my horse can show a calm behaviour again. In the ideal case it starts to grumble when perceiving the sound and tells us that the stimulus is so positively connected that it triggers joyful expectation.
Distance, stimulus intensity, direction and predictability are the keys with which we gain access to the horse and pick it up where it can still be quite relaxed. This is important because it is the only way to strengthen the calm that we ultimately need on New Year’s Eve. So find the right stimulus to pick up your horse and amplify any desired response to noise, flutter or glow.
It is not for nothing that behavioural therapy is a popular and frequently used tool in psychotherapy to treat phobias. Some horses may not have a “real” phobia, but I see it as my task to give even those candidates who “only” walk around with their eyes open and don’t dare to touch their hay a more relaxed turn of the year.
In our Facebook group “Horse-Agility and Clickertraining” you will find many creative examples of the Challenge participants. Of course I’m also there with Wolfgang, who is much more relaxed now.
On Tuesday, December 17, at 7 p.m. you will get a free webinar with a detailed overview of the training methods and special features. The link to the webinar will be added here on Monday.

Medical Training: Cooperation Signal

Training animal friendly

When training is about potentially unpleasant or even painful procedures and manipulations on the body of our animal, we have to be particularly attentive.

A good training plan helps to visualize the individual training steps, to observe the behavior of our animal in constant comparison, and to react accordingly. The so-called cooperation signal is a great help for humans and animals. The idea is as simple as it is powerful: Only if my animal shows the appropriate signal I will start the procedure. No cooperation signal – no execution of what my horse considers uncomfortable.

The training is clearly structured: First, I teach my horse the behavior of the cooperation signal. This might be, for example, a lowering of the head, the touching of a nose target, a neck or ground target or, as for the mare Tequila, a feach.


For example:

  1. The horse lowers its neck – I touch the neck for a second – the horse is holding still – click+treat
  2. Repeat five times.
  3. The horse lowers its neck – I touch the neck for 2 to 4 seconds – the horse is holding still – click+treat
  4. Repeat five times.
  5. The horse lowers its neck – I touch the neck for 2 to 4 seconds and pinch its skin a little – horse is holding still – click+treat
  6. Repeat five times.

This means I get a direct feedback from the horse after each cycle on how the horse felt about the previous cycle. As long as the horse gives the coop signal, I receive the horse’s “go” for the next step. If my horse starts to hesitate or even quits showing the coop signal, I know that I overtaxed the horse and should adapt the next training steps. After that I offer a small aid to trigger the co-op signal, go back a few steps and apply a much lower stimulus, then click and treat again. Remember: the Great Moment of Truth always comes after the treat! If the training setup was solid enough before, I can get my horse back into the game and gradually forward to the area that initially got me a “No.”

The following video is about cooperation for mounting. Please note, the mare has received no riding training before.

Marengo’s Training Camp – Homeward bound

going for a walk

The highlight of Marengo’s seven weeks at Hof Steigerwald was to be a hike home. Sounded like a good plan, but if both participating humans are blessed with a heavy workload, it was also very ambitious. Marengo’s owner Nadine and I had 4 days available for the trip. According to the omniscient modern technology it would amount to a 106 km tour. Because our horses would be travelling with us on the trail with an average 10 km per day over gravel, pebbles, concrete, and sand, we were curious how far we would actually get. For my Shetty Wolfgang it was the first hiking tour with an overnight stay, for Marengo it was the second.

It was a hot summer’s day, during the midday heat not a bit of shade for quite a long time. What a blessing to finally enter a forest! But there the next challenge awaited us: Gravel! In order to cross streams, we were forced to stick to the main traffic routes and squeeze along the narrow sloping curbs, sometimes half a meter below street level. However, Jupiter’s paws testified to the current state of those streams. Poor boy. We picked apples, pears and plums from trees along the roads. Oh, how I like the feeling of being so well cared for! Although a little early for the season, we were treated to spontaneous nerve training sessions by passing corn choppers and agricultural machinery. Ralf and Monika Meyer from the Coldewey 2 farm near Sulingen gave us a warm welcome as they had already done when we stayed with them eight weeks earlier.

The next morning, the ponies stood on Ralf’s home-made horse scale. Wolfgang still should lose another 20 to 30 kg. Marengo had lost about 80 kg during his stay at Hof Steigerwald! Afterwards, we continued through moor gravel. And it is hot, mercilessly hot. We pass through a beautiful landscape, find blackberries, and a truly wonderful place for our midday rest. Side roads are blocked with traffic because the federal highway is closed. Finally, we feel grass under our hooves again 😉. During a break we decided to cut the day’s hike and go only a little further. Another corn chopper comes along to test our nerves, after which we are rewarded with a breathtaking view over North German heathland. Then Marcel brings our equipment for an outdoor night camp. I can only encourage everyone to indulge in the experience of a night under the stars with the background noise of chewing horses and circling crickets. This falls definitely into the category “Chicken soup for the soul.”

After the luxury of a fresh cup of coffee we continue our way. Newly purchased map shows a way that does not exist, alternative path found, gravel again, a beautiful landscape, and – you guess – some more gravel. Finally another copse, an ancient path, enchanting atmosphere, green and silent. We pass some farm houses and consider to ask for a night camp – if it was not broad daylight. On the edge of the moore our last order for a shadowy spot: Lunch break. While we keep looking at the caterpillar excavator a 500m away and pondering how quickly we would be able lead the ponies out of the way into side path, we were hit by a challenge a different sort: a bunch of peat-cars rattling by, all the while we fed our ponies non-stop to glue them to the spot.

After that adventure came the most beautiful part of the hike. Pure nature, sandy soil under your feet and hooves…pure bliss. When we got back to civilization it actually started to rain. After another short break we needed to go only a little bit further, where our wonderful husbands picked us up with the teams and brought us home. I’m soooo glad we set out! The beauty of this story is: If Marengo did not have trouble loading in the first place, I would never have come up with the idea of taking a few days off, virtually right after my Open House day and directly before next week’s seminar with Bob Bailey.

Wolfgang and Jupiter have grown even closer to my heart in these three days. There is never that much intensity in the relationship with an animal during everyday life. So, let us always look at the good things to come!

Dental Care for Horses

Tequila had massive dental problems, resulting in extractions. During post op care she should have had dental care including interdental cleaning and rinsing. But how to do that when the horse turns its head sideways as soon as the caring hands draw near to its mouth?

The answer is medical training.

There will be a two-step workshop at the VHS Bruchhausen-Vilsen, a theory part at the school on April 12, and a hands-on part on the Steigerwald Ranch, Ochtmannien, on April 26.

Training specialist for Equines

Joost Harenborg accompanied us at the very first seminar of the training specialist horse and captured the mood of this unique seminar format wonderfully.

Since the first series of the Training Specialist for Equines started in September, we have been proudly watching the progress of the twelve highly motivated trainers via our Facebook homework group. Now, we are looking forward to module 2 on November 25 and 26. The topic will be ‘signal control’.  We still have last-minute tickets for participants in the theoretical parts available.