For positive reinforcement, this passage from 1868 continues to challenge me:
Positive reinforcement isn't confined to food or treats. A horse who feels like a valued part of the team, who is allowed to use some degree of initiative in achieving a goal, finds a satisfaction that goes much deeper than a nibble of food. I won't pretend it is easy, and I certainly won't pretend I succeed much of the time, but "a little reflection will generally suffice to point out the means of remedying something that...if attacked with the energy of folly and violence, would suddenly culminate in the grand catastrophe of restiveness..."
A horse who sees value in being ridden will not be hard to mount. You won't have to punish him for moving at the mounting block. We teach new riders that total submission is the sign of a good rider on a good horse, then wonder why horses don't want us to get on them...or find "reward" when we get off!
"...the grand catastrophe of restiveness..." Would that all riders felt the same way!
This, this, this!
I think there are "shut down" and "blown out" horses in every discipline, but in my experience, REAL ranch horses in the American West, are some of the happiest horses in the world. They are valued for their brains. They see themselves as a partner, and are happy to do a variety of things.
I attended a "Horseman's Challenge" yesterday and will be going several times more over the course of the weekend. Five skilled natural horsemanship trainers picked 2 year old untouched BLM mustangs to start and train over multiple two hour sessions. The things I noticed, as I watched the initial hour last night was there wasn't a treat bag in sight.
I was astounded at the individual horses' desire to understand the strange creatures with them in the round pens, and their ready acceptance of the possibility of cross-species social relationships. The method that the most successful (so far) trainers used was "mirroring."
If you're running, I'll run with you, if you're resting, I'll rest with you. One trainer essentially had his colt moving at liberty with him in 15 minutes -- forward, back, walk, trot, turn.
Think about it, horses don't give each other treats. They share food, may assist with locating food, but they aren't offering each other apples and peppermints. They share presence. They share purpose. They share fun. They share fear. They investigate new, novel things. They provide a sense of security and safety for each other.
I have found with my horses that the most meaningful bonding occurs after a morning ride, when they return to their stalls and buddies and stand quietly together, breathing deeply, relaxed heads hanging, eyes gently closing. They will stand near me, breathing softly, allowing me to rest my hand on their heads or drape my arm over their necks, just being part of the herd.
My horses will calmly stand tied, leg cocked, relaxed, almost napping, but they will always have an ear or eye on me -- not in fear or frustration, but in curiosity. They load easily because they like going places and doing things. They come off a trailer in a new place with excitement and interest. They are always up for everything, barrels, cows, desert or mountain trails, tooling around a busy arena, or just fooling around at home.
We are a herd, and while shared food is a part of the social bond, it's not the biggest part. I'm not anti-treat, but also don't find them necessary at all on a regular basis.