My horse is very much soothed by a soft, reassuring touch..it always calms him when something is happening that is scaring or confusing him and he clearly sees it as a reward when he does something good.
I think the main thing that horses respond to is the positive energy (through body language) that we send them as we pet or pat them, not just the action or feeling of the petting alone. Usually when we pet a horse we are also happy and calm and sending them a feeling of thanks for something they did or just in general, which is something they understand.
I definitely agree with kevin about the release of pressure as the ultimate reward. Often I'll do them both together in that first I'll take off the pressure, give him a quick rub and a big good boy, and then leave him alone for a bit/turn around or take a few steps away if I'm on the ground. Seems to work out pretty well.
I think petting definitely works out much better than treats do in most cases...treats tend to make nippy brats out of good citizens in my experience.
One thing I don't like, though, is the hard smacks some riders are seen doing after a successful test in shows..the ones you can really hear. I can see why the enthusiasm and excitement from the good ride would increase your energy, but I would just think that a lot of horses would feel like they just got slapped for doing something bad..
Last edited by rocky pony; 04-04-2010 at 03:55 PM.