Have you ever heard the saying “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”? Sweetness is much more attractive than sourness. This certainly applies to training people as well as horses. Though there may (and will be) times for correction, rewards and praises carry their weight in gold.
I’ve always learned reams of information from watching people. I watch other people take lessons, I watch training videos, I watch everything online that I can. Learning to see and read the cues of top level dressage riders is the hardest, because their goal is to have their cues NOT seen. It’s all the more fascinating how they can take a 1000+lb animal and make it do amazing things while they just sit there…or so it seems to the casual observer. What the observer doesn’t see is the hours, days, weeks, months and years that goes into training that athletic horse. It becomes very apparent in the “end product”, where they have taken short cuts or not been thorough in their training, no matter what discipline they are riding in.
One of the things I’ve learned from watching riders of all styles is the horses that progress at a more consistent pace simply because their riders took time to praise them. Giving praise and giving time to process information is vital in the training process. A pat on the neck, a scratch, a very enthusiastic “good horse!” all bring their rewards in a much happier and more “willing to work” horse.
Ever see a horse that has been pushed too hard? Even while they are doing what is demanded of them, they are still resistant. Their jaw and back lock up and their attitude becomes sour as their rider goes to harsher bits, bigger spurs and whips in their demand for their horse to measure up. This is a rider who has not learned the value of “honey”.
I know what some of you are thinking, and yes there are just those horses out there that will fight you every step of the way. Sometimes you have to win the battle of supremacy before you can win the battle based on rewards rather than one based on discipline. But how often can you trace that attitude to a bad start in life? But even after the battle, a way can be found to insert some “honey”, some praise, something positive that will eventually turn the tide. A horse that has “willingness” is highly prized but even though some horses are born more submissive than others, willingness is something that can be developed in any horse, at any time. It comes through the positive attitude of the trainer of the horse, no matter your experience level.
The next time you deal with your horse, especially one with a bad attitude, think about it. Is there somewhere you can add in a little “honey”?
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