Horse Training Demands Immediate Rewards Or Punishments

By Heather Toms

The most fundamental premise of behavioural science is that behaviour patterns and performances are best influenced by rewarding positive attitudes and punishing negative ones. This essential belief shapes the approach to the training of pets, and of more interest to us here, to the training of horses.

Somewhere else, I wrote articles about the significance of undertaking horse coaching with very clearly defined objectives. This will allow you as a coach to immediately identify when your pony is lagging and when he's done very well. You respond with a penalty or a reward as appropriate.

You must keep one thing in mind: timing is vital to ensure your pony learns his lessons well. Your reaction to your horse's performance must be immediate. Horses, especially the younger ones, have limited attention spans. We are talking of say 2 seconds here. Here is where your pony would differ from your child. You can catch your child out in some misbehaviour just as you are heading out to the office, and punish him after you return while reminding him of his morning's indiscretion. He will remember the morning. You can't do this with your horse, who will not remember and will look at you like you are nuts. You MUST reward or penalise him on the spot and immediately after his accomplishment or non-achievement.

That takes us to the logical next question: what comprises acceptable rewards, and what punishments are okay.

Broadly defined, you reward your horse with anything that pleases him. Each horse has his or her own preferred "treats", even a good rub down or scratching can be rewards that are greatly appreciated, or maybe time out from the grind.

Let's get one thing straight: relentless corporal punishment isn't in the "acceptable" class. Other than that, punishment includes anything that lets your pony know without a shadow of doubt that he is being punished. Ideally, you ought to have several options of differing extremity for punishing your pony in proportion to the scale of his blunder.

My voice is my favorite means of punishment. I find it to be the most effective and the least harsh. My voice gives me all of the variety I need. I am able to adjust my tone, my volume and possibly a physical gesture to add the required emphasis. Clearly, I spend a while teaching my pony the meaning of words, particularly words with a negative connotation like "No", once that is done, the rest is simple.

You have to do some home work before you set about training a pony. You need to have psychological lists of what actions of your horse you would approve of and what actions you would censure. You have to be prepared with the correct reward or punishment on every instance.

Consistency is the key, naturally, to ensuring your pony learns his lessons well and for keeps.

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