BB HORSE CARE - Equine Bodywork & Coaching for Equestrians
Training by rewards is automatically associated with feeding the horse treats, carrots, apples or biscuits.
This is NOT meant by training with reward in this context.
It means: Encouraging horses to learn by consequences.
Training by reward needs more attention to equine behaviour than negative reinforcement training.
Its important to notice the horses subtlest test to be able to appreciate the good manner. Offering rewards at the wrong time or for the wrong reason teaches the horse bad habits.
Some reasons why edible treats are not helpful:
So what is a suitable reward for a horse???
Suitable is everything that is desirable for a horse.
What is happening in a horses brain when learning by reward?
The secret that makes reward so powerful is DOPAMINE. Its a natural chemical made by the brain, the "feel good" chemical. Humans produce that chemical too in their brain. Everything that gives satisfaction, such as food (when hungry), water ( when thirsty), listening to our favourite song, kissing our loved one, etc. All these feelings of satisfaction come from the dopamine that's associated with them. Dopamine is also the basis for developing an addiction if we constantly evoke pleasure through a drug, gambling etc.
Dopamine is a strong brain chemical.
Training by reward activates much greater dopamine release than training by negative reinforcement.
That makes lessons much pleasurable to the horses and more important for the brain. This makes the learning effect long term more effective.
But please note: There is a fine line here.
The first reward (e.g. praising your horse with a stroke on the neck) for a given behaviour is the strongest, because your horse does not expect it. It is a surprise, this boosts the Dopamine release.
The power of reward gets lost when it comes all the time ( "over praising").
We know this from humans: When we get praised all the time for the same action its nothing special anymore to get the positive feedback. Its " normal", so no big Dopamine release anymore that makes us feel good. The neural power of a strong reward is lost.
To keep your horse interested and engaged, reward new achievements instantly to built a learning effect. Then you praise the increase or next level of the achievement etc.
Often we give animals treats to make ourselves feel better. But there are a million ways to show your horse love and praise. Spend five minutes scratching his favourite spot, spend time to hand out in the paddock together just relaxing, go for an easy walk together to explore the environment. Food is just a "short term pleasure" and can create bad habits and begging attitudes in the horse.
Non - edible rewards built long term connection and trust. Relaxed gait, loose rein, a gentle stroke on the neck and a calming verbal praise have long-term positive effects.
Create power moments in your riding/training:
If your horse shows a very nice canter for a few steps, end the session, cool your horse down on a loose rein, then dismount, get the tack off, bring the horse back its pasture. These are all great moments of comfort for your horse and a great reward for the few great canter steps. Next time he will show a few more of those ( to get this great reward again...), great learning effect!!!Lots of Dopamine release.... Probably in your brain as well, as you will be happy and smile all over the face about this great canter and your success as a team.
Stay curious! Next Blog will be about the importance of relaxation within training.
For the love of horses,