Using Food As Positive Reinforcement For Your Horse’s Training

Using food as positive reinforcement in training has a mixed reputation in the professional horse training world.

Some support this training strategy and implement when training their horses, while others believe offering food as a reward can instill bad behavior such as nipping, stubbornness, or biting.

man-feeding-a-horseHowever, when used correctly, this horse training technique is a very valuable asset, both in reinforcing positive behavior and increasing your bond with your equine companion.

Using food as a reward can also help with training and ensure the horse actually listens to you.

Why Food Rewards Get a Bad Reputation

  • Feeding treats to your horse for no apparent reason.
  • Implementing the wrong treats feeding protocol.
  • Feeding other horses without the trainer’s permission.
  • Using horse treats as a ‘bribe’.

Ensuring Positive Reinforcement with Food and Horse Training

Research conducted by French equine behavior researchers found that rewarding horses with food on good behavior helps the training process. This is because the horse will be paying more attention to their trainers, i.e. their behavior will be positively reinforced in every training session in hopes of getting rewarded again.

Attention is an essential element, especially in the learning and memorization process. This means an attentive horse will perform better if the trainer is using food as a reward.

Important Note: Be aware that your horse will view you as a food vending machine and you might be unconsciously teaching that it’s acceptable to grab and bite at people for horse treats. You will have to nip this behavior in the bud by teaching your horse proper manners. The ‘nose bump’ technique is often used as it is an effective communication tool in horse etiquette.

Why Rewarding Your Horse with Food Can Be Successful

Positive reinforcement with food is possible if the technique is used correctly. Following are reasons why this horse training technique may just work.

  • Food treats and rewards can help spark your horse’s interest in the training.
  • Horse treats can be intermittently used, with very good results.
  • This reward system can be used to develop manners in your horse.
  • A behavior can turn into a conditioned response. The trainer may reduce frequency of treats after this happens.

The most important thing is to teach your horse good manners when training with food. Following are the essential points that will help with that:

  • Know of your horse’s behavior.
  • Know what you wish the horse to do (in training and otherwise).
  • Do NOT reward your horse’s unwanted behavior.

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