Here we are at the 5th principle! By now, you should have also reviewed the first 4 principles:

It’s not cheating to make it easy for our horses to learn.

We all know you don’t throw someone who can’t swim into the deep end of the pool! But as trainers, we sometimes focus on our own agenda and forget to look at things from the horse’s point of view.

The fifth principle, Set Up for Success reminds you not only to consider what scientists call “antecedent arrangements” but how you as the trainer are communicating with the horse. Your horse’s ability to succeed depends on the whole environment around your training session, including their instincts, emotional state, previous lessons they’ve learned (whether you taught them or not), and also your own clarity of communication.

*The word antecedentsimply means “something that comes before.

When training doesn’t seem to be going the way you’d prefer, take a pause to step back and reflect. You’ll likely find places you can improve your chances of success within these three broad categories.

1. The environment
2. Your planning

3. You

  1. The Environment. Assess your horse’s ability to succeed at a given behavior in their environment, including the impact of weather, training location, other horses nearby, change in schedule or stall mates, hunger (near feeding time or stuffed with hay), exercise schedule, etc. As all equestrians know, these will impact focus and performance.
  1. Your planning. Plan ahead by creating a shaping plan and learning about positive reinforcement tools and strategies, such as rewarding an easy, well-learned behavior when the environment is challenging. These strategies can help you avoid over-facing your horse and also help them through when environmental challenges occur unexpectedly. Be ready to take a step back out of any training session to re-evaluate your shaping plan and make adjustments. Did you make too big a leap for your horse to follow? Remember that with positive reinforcement, your horse wants to find the right answer—it’s up to you to make it easy for them to succeed.


3. You! Become aware of your own body movements from the horse’s point of view. (Horses are really good at subtle body language. Believe it or not, your horse can even notice when you blink!) Record yourself and watch the videos of your training. Are your movements fuzzy and inconsistent, confusing your horse? Practice your cues away from the horse first, so they are clear and consistent when you get to the training session. Also perfect your physical skills such as the timing of your marker, delivering rewards, and target handling away from the horse, so that they become seocond nature. This frees up your brain to focus on your horse while training. Practicing with a human partner can help here!


Here’s Jasmine leading Taz, our nearly feral horse that isn’t even halter trained, to another barn on a windy day.

This video is muted. Control the sound in the lower right-hand corner of the video.


When you’re Setting Up for Success, you’ll know how to use the environment to work for you instead of against you.

By first asking, ‘What does the behavior entail?” you can start to identify the best training conditions. For some behaviors, you may want a bright, energetic horse, for others, a quiet, attentive attitude. How can we help our horse be more inclined to give us a step in that direction? Ask yourself:

  • When does my horse tend to be more energetic? When is my horse less energetic?
  • When are they more focused? When are they least focused?
  • Is my training session at a particular time of day? Have I adjusted it and noticed a difference?
  • Is energy different on the ground versus under saddle?
  • Can I use that situation to create forward movement and a brighter response to my cue, during my training session?

Let’s say we’re trying to teach the horse to stand quietly for the veterinarian to give an injection. We’ve thought out the training plan and the steps that we intend to take in order to shape this behavior. We also want to ask ourselves:

  • Would it be better to work on this in the morning or the evening?
  • Would it be smart to work on this during the dinner feed time?
  • Would it be best to do this in a paddock with a playful foal next door?

 A lot of these scenarios will most likely bring out more energy and create distraction. We would try to think of a time and place when the horse tends to be the quietest and the most relaxed. Maybe after a day of being outside in the paddock, or after a long trail ride and their dinner, when the barn is quiet. This could be a good time to help build some success with this behavior. Once we have the behavior well-established, we can begin to vary the location and times we practice, so the horse begins to understand they will be rewarded for the same behavior in different situations. By the time the vet arrives, we’ve got a solid foundation of lots of reward for standing quietly, any time, any place!


While utilizing R+ may seem simple and straightforward, doing it well does take a systematic process. It means embracing the learning curve as you begin to implement the training. Learning to create an emotionally balanced horse who loves to solve the puzzle and play the game is VERY rewarding and well worth the time it takes to expand your toolbox..

Many successful and experienced horsemen and horsewomen have been pleased and surprised by the profound difference it makes when they use positive reinforcement in their training protocol.