The Fourth Way To Ruin Your Training
The fourth way to ruin your training is by not giving them a clear reward. One form of semi reward we have already talked about is release from pressure. But here I want to talk about actually adding something the horse finds rewarding. This can be a food reward, a scratch on their favorite spot, or even quitting work for the day and heading back to the barn (and friends).
Each and every time we ask something from our horses and they respond, we must give them a release of some type to teach them. Otherwise we are un-training them. I repeat…Each and every time we ask something from our horses and they respond, we must give them a release and reward of some type to teach them. Otherwise we are un-training them. As a dressage rider, I know this concept is not emphasized enough. Most dressage riders micromanage and go from one thing to the next, never really effectively communicating to the horse that what the horse did was right. They never give a full release. Remember, we are not talking about giving it all away but you have to be able to soften any aid, even your seat.
In addition, give your horse a break. Take a minute to stop, pat them, let them just stand still and chill. After a good effort or a hard movement, take these moments of break to be friendly. My horse has a great work ethic and unlike some horses will keep going and work hard. That still doesn’t mean he doesn’t need this down time during rides to process, relax and get a long release.
I use food rewards regularly. It’s called positive reinforcement and you can learn more about it by reading my blogs. I carry sugar cubes on me all the time for those special moments or when I am working on something new, particularly hard or challenging. I use sugar because of the ease of it melting in the horses mouth quickly even with a bit in.
I love how Jonathan Field talks about training. Like many natural horsemanship trainers, he has clear guidelines about communication with your horse through body signals. What I like about his approach it how much he stresses giving your horse a break. He teaches the idea of neutral. There is active neutral where you horse will maintain what he’s doing until you ask otherwise. For instance, when your horse is doing what you want, you leave them alone. He also talks of neutral where your horse will just stand still and hang out while you are friendly to him. Friendly is learning where you horse likes to be stroked and touched, so the horse associates you with friendly stuff and not just work. Spending the quality time with the horse without demands is how he creates draw, so the horse wants to be with him.
Love it! I have noticed a huge difference in my horse when I started just giving him breaks to stand still and relax during the rides. Teaching this is key. For the nervous horse, it gives them a moment to be turned off; on purpose. For the lazy horse, it gives you the opportunity to train that they can also be turned back on.