Training: Giving Your Horse Praise
You need to praise your horse a lot. It’s how the horse knows he did the right thing. Doing the right thing, so that others are happy with you is more then just a moral behavior. To a herd and prey animal, it’s survival. If you please the other members of your herd, they let you stay and protect you. If you don’t, they drive you away. You can watch horses teach this concept to bratty younger horses. Mares teach it to their foals in a no-nonsense way and older herd members teach the younger ones.
Thus, praise is one of your most successful training tools and should be the easiest to use. Praise can take the form of words, touch or treats or just the release of pressure. Usually you use all of these at different times. Allowing the horse to stop the exercise is also a form of praise. Not because the horse hates the exercise and wants to stop, but because you are essentially saying “hey you won!” which makes the horse feel happy and successful. This also carries over to the next training session, when the horse remembers and associates feelings of success with the work. With the release of pressure, the horse finds comfort in the release, not the exercise itself.
Praise should always be accompanied with a smile. This is not always easy to do when you are concentrating. But you will find that the more you smile for your horse them more you will enjoy yourself.
Praise must occur close enough to the action that the horse is able to know what he did right. Praise must be sincere. Praise should not be used to calm a horse who is exhibiting undesirable behavior. Otherwise you are just teaching him that the undesirable behavior is OK and will be rewarded! If you are using treats as part of praise, you have to be selective with your words. Many horses learn to associate the words “good” or “good boy” with a treat and will stop whatever they are doing. They can also associate treats with the tone of your voice or even your thought which is why many people don’t like to use treats. Keep your praises varied, but remember, when your horse does a good job, reward even the smallest try from him with a praise.