Praise is important if horses are to learn something and be motivated to do something. But how do you praise correctly and what kind of praise does a horse really understand? Whether it’s treats, voice praise, or stroking – there is a lot to know about praise on the ground and from the saddle.
This is how a horse understands praise
Every horse must first learn what praise is. This is best seen in young horses that are new to treats. Most people don’t really dare to touch the thing at first and when they have put it in their mouth, they often spit it out again first. It’s the same with stroking and gentle tapping. You have to get to know that too. With food praise, however, this usually goes very quickly. So you can also include vocal praise – a soft “Brav” or “Fine” – when feeding. Later, the word alone is enough and the horse knows that it is being praised.
Why is praise important?
A study showed that riders who praise their horses frequently are much less likely to have problems in training. You could also say: Your horses have turned out to be more motivated and well-behaved. Like us humans, praise helps the horse understand when it has done something well. This is called positive reinforcement. And that helps the horse keep learning.
Crawl, stroke, or tap?
You can pat, stroke, or scratch a horse. Normally you use your neck for this. From the ground usually in the middle, and from the saddle usually just in front of the withers. Here the horses also nibble on each other when grooming. No matter what technique you choose, it is important that the horse can also understand it as praise. So you shouldn’t bang on like crazy, but praise gently and sensitively and support it with appropriate vocal praise. If you observe your horse, you will quickly find out which shape you like best.
What else can praise be?
There is another way of giving praise when riding: by leaving the reins long, you allow the horse to stretch and relax its muscles. This is a great reward when they’ve just put in the right effort and done something well. You can also let the horse rest for a moment while standing on the given reins. It is always important that it is actually a compliment for the horse. If you have the feeling that after the canter he would rather stretch at a walk instead of standing still, then you decide to do so.
Greedy for reward
Sometimes horses lose their distance when they have too many treats and downright harass people. Then it can help to give less or to go without treats for a while. You should also make sure that the horse takes the treat with its lips and not with its teeth. Adults can present a horse that hasn’t understood the need to take the reward bite carefully in a fist with it sticking out a little.