Good Girl!

I’ve noticed many riders, like me,?also do?dog agility.?It’s easy to spot the riders, of course. None of?us?have?trouble understanding which “lead” the dog is on, and many of us–at least those of us who spent years in the h/j ranks–will say, “Our dog dropped a rail” instead of? “Our dog dropped a pole.”? Semantics aside,?I’ve?noticed that dog agility is actually helping?my horse training?(well, actually I’m a far better horse trainer than dog trainer, but that’s another topic). As you might imagine, treats, aka “cookies,” are huge in dog agility.? It’s a rare dog that doesn’t think treats are a nifty reward for their work.? And they all love to be told, “Good Boy!” and to see and hear excitement coming from Mom for a job well done! But, OK,?you’re reading this to hear about horses, not dogs,?so here’s the horse connection: Horses can be trained with treats, too, and I think it’s very underutilized.?I decided over?three years ago to incorporate them in my horse training, and I’ve greatly increased my “good girl” comments and pats while riding. We quickly taught two new horses where their stalls were, so everyone didn’t have to be hand led into the barn every night, by placing a treat (target for the agility lovers) in their feed bucket. And, of course, I never catch a horse without giving her a treat. So, when they see me, they come running. My schooling sesssions are filled with pats, praise and confidence-building action that Sally’s doing what I want. You can even get a treat pack to put on your belt or belt loop to give a sugar cube while you ride, if you’d like to. I use no negative reinforcement; that’s saved for serious offenses like biting or kicking. Errors are treated neutrally, without comment one way or the other.? But I reward good work! As my favorite riding instructor always said, “How does the horse have a clue he’s doing what you want if you don’t tell him'” ?He can’t! Imagine how frustrating that must be. So, the old grain-bait to get a horse in the trailer is a good one; in fact, I read a research study not long ago confirming horses will respond to treats (amazing! they could have just asked me!).? But the researchers determined that horses? work for pay. We need to use that trick more often. And please don’t tell me treats make horses bite. That’s because you’re allowing the horse to bite. He or she needs to be reprimanded for biting, just like kicking. Those are two offenses that are absolutely not tolerated. Horses are smart,?so they’ll know the difference.? This summer, get an air-tight?pet-food container and fill it with treats, so they’re always handy. And use lots of verbal?praise! It’s got to be tough to be a horse. Horses are smart, and they’re sensitive, and I believe some of them, like Sally, are right proud of themselves, too. We need to let them know that they’re doing well and motivate them to continue.? After all, carrying us around for an hour or more is a lot of hard work!

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