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How to train for a traditional instructor as an R+ Rider

I love learning and believe that educating myself is crucial to being a good teacher for both my horses and my students. Back in the days before I switched to positive reinforcement (R+), I really enjoyed meeting new teachers who brought fresh perspectives to what my horses and I were doing.

While I think we all need a bit of a system and a strong foundation to make things work well, it’s important not to cherry-pick and end up with a mix that doesn’t work well together.

For over 20 years, I’ve been a passionate student of the Academic Art of Riding (AAoR), which provides the structure and continuity I value. During this time, I’ve had various instructors from the AAoR and the Classical Dressage world.

How about now?

Since switching to positive reinforcement methods, I now need more specific guidance from my teachers regarding other things rather than "just" movement training.

Being okay with food reinforcers is a given for me, as I’ve used food in my training for over two decades. It feels very natural to me, and I wouldn’t dream of training with someone who wasn’t comfortable with it. With a better understanding of learning theory now, I can approach my R+ training more systematically. Before, it was more like negative reinforcement with a cookie on top. While that can work really well for some, it’s not how I want to work. I try really hard to build everything in my training from scratch with positive reinforcement (R+).

Having excellent observation skills is also an important criterion for me. This week, I trained with Bent Branderup, and his observational skills are outstanding. He notices small movements that both I and my horses make, which helps me stick to keeping my reinforcement rate up and reward my horses for small parts instead of lumping criteria together. This is especially important for more physically demanding exercises.

I also want to train with someone who has my horses’ best interests at heart and wouldn’t push their behavior beyond their current physical capacity. I need someone who wouldn’t hesitate to tell me this. For me, that creates trust.

I also come with my tools :P My targets and working with setups in the environment is what I rely on when educating horses. And I will always return back to them if I feel we need go back to basic explanations. I actually have a hard time understanding why this should ever be an issue but... I have read that also some of my R+ colleagues think targets should be phased out early because they risk alienating "us" from more traditional training. Now that is a personal choice for everyone to make but for me yes, I do want versions without a target but they are not "better" or more advanced than working with targets.

And to me: Behavior is behavior.

I might create it differently, but if you can’t see beyond a nose target to create a bend or a weight shift, it will be hard for us to communicate.

So, what adjustments do I make?

There’s no real point in having input on movements specifically if we haven’t installed our foundation first. That wouldn’t benefit me, nor would it put the other instructor in a good place if they build behavior totally differently from me.

That’s why this year was my younger horse Tiny’s first year of participating in a lesson mainly focusing on improving his physical balance with the help of the rider’s aids.

While in my teaching I start from day one to improve this with the help of working with the environment, getting instruction from more traditional trainers often relies more on my horse understanding the rein aids and leg aids. I want to make sure my horse knows at least the beginnings of this.

To prepare for having lessons, I also change to mainly working with cues coming from me instead of from the environment. My horses will, of course, still use the environment to get information, but just the fact of them wearing tack is often already an important distinction in

what is going to happen during a session and where to seek main information.

Ok that about that, maybe you wonder a bit of what we were actually doing so if you want is a short summary.

The lessons

I had really looked forward to input on our work. Here on picture is us working towards the walk pirouette on our best side. I got great input on small details in bend to improve this. Mainly sending weight a little better towards outside hind leg which actually I didnt know we were ready for yet. Thats one of the best things having lessons with someone whose eye you trust. Also in the in hand position I was surprised over how much shoulder influence we have on our primary aids. We could play around making the circle smaler and bigger with just me rotating teh shoulder a sbit. All this required a LOT of brain power from little guy and after 17 minuts I could almost hear his circuits popping and just told Bent we should finish off and talk a little bit about what we should focus on coming weeks instead.

With Boye we mainly did seat lessons. I have stuff to go with for the rest of the month and I had so much help with making room for the outside shoulder direction and transitions from lengthening to shortening. I wasn't at my best the first lesson, too much technology mess up and it was a while since Bent saw us so was also a bit too ambitious wanting to . Lucklily we had more lessons and we will take huge steps forwards if I can incorporate this new sensitivity in the how I use my seat bones this summer! Really motivated!

Frodi and I worked a lot with rhythm, both on the lunge and from groundwork position. Coming from a working walk towards school walk and trying to add in the haunches in when doing the traverse. I felt like wow Frodi, you rock and Bent really put Frodis best hoof forward so to speak.

Favorite part was also here working with the outside shoulder placement and I have a new idea on how to build this cue in my own systrem in a differenmt ways.

So all in all, couldnt be more thankful for this opportunity to train from home with a trainer I really really appreciate.


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