Rewarding a horse - without treats - pats and rubs? - Page 2 - The Horse Forum
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post #11 of 31 Old 12-06-2015, 12:51 PM
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I rub, pet, scratch but don't pat. I think you can desensitize them to pats but why would you want to? I liken it to horses getting hard mouthed from too much contact or dulled to leg pressure. When I smack them I want them to know it's a correction for bad behavior and I don't want to have to hurt my hand doing it. Their reward for a job well done is verbal though. They pick up on the meaning of good boy/girl pretty quick when you use it consistently.
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post #12 of 31 Old 12-06-2015, 12:54 PM
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I think horses figure out what their owner means and interpret it accordingly. They are entirely capable of learning a pat from their owner means their owner is relaxed and happy, and they can relax and be happy too. They can learn it means, "Pressure gone, relax for the next 60 seconds". But I think it is a learned reaction to their owner rather than instinctive.

My horses seem to enjoy 20-30 seconds of wither rubs/scratches. I don't pat, so they would be surprised if I started now. I don't think they view rubs as a "reward", but I see no sign they object to them. Head rubs at the end of a ride always seem to be appreciated. I'll hold my fist, and the horse will rub its head against my fist quite hard for 30 seconds or so. Since the horse is doing the rubbing, I have to assume it feels good - at that time. But I've never had a horse keep it up for much over a minute, either.

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post #13 of 31 Old 12-06-2015, 03:11 PM Thread Starter
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My thanks all - a very interesting body of answers indeed!

Cherie your argument for not applying any pressure at all to the horse sounds interesting as its taking the concept of pressure and release beyond just training and into the reward situation as well. I do however wonder if its not a touch into the extreme end as horses do indeed use tactile contact as a form of herd bonding/socialising in the form of mutual grooming.
Would you thus be suggesting that for reward from an activity the lack of pressure in any form is likely one of the best to use (esp on an unknown horse) likely coupled with the ever prevalent good boy/girl; whilst tactile contact might be for a more social/bonding situation with the horse (ergo when its not specifically working with them for "work").



I have often wondered, especially having seen some people giving very firm pats to dogs (something I oft thought odd) if the pat is:
1) One of those things everyone sees everyone else doing and thus copy-cats the behaviour assuming that its the "done" thing to do.

2) Delivers a firm message to the person performing the pat that "yes" you've done something to reward which is more satisfying to them than a rub might be.


Having seen the way some approach things such as brushing manes/tails and instead of holding a higher point and pulling through the lower they just pull through the whole length (ergo not taking any of the pressure off where the hair connects with the horses body) if some feel that a horse; being so much larger, is somehow less sensitive to touch.
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post #14 of 31 Old 12-06-2015, 03:30 PM
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I think that using the word "praise" leads people down a wrong path, because horses don't really want to be praised, the way we would think of it. They want to be in harmony with their environment and their fellows (humans are a sort of fellow in a way) and feel safe. And they want to feel that they know how to get that harmony and safety -- that's why release is such a big teacher.

Stroking a horse is relaxing for them if you do it right anyway. But I don't think it can be used very exactly as a cue that they just did the right thing. A reward signal needs to be instant and clearly 'about' what just happened, like slacking the reins when the horse takes a step backward as requested.

Cookies are only good for training certain behaviors, mostly rather stationary ones, I am imagining, because the horse has to stand still to accept them.

I don't think patting is horrible but it is stimulating and tension-creating, even in a small way. So we might just be more aware of what we're communicating is all.

I know a whole lot of riders who give their horses treats and pats really because it's about their enjoyment, not the horse's. So that isn't communicating anything of clarity. I even have a dear friend who has this to me appalling habit of teaching her horse to kiss and 'hug' her (with her neck). The horse is just doing a trick for cookies, but for my friend, it is just as though her horse does this for affectionate human motives.

There is something so demeaning (to both of them) in this activity although I can't truly put my finger on it. Maybe this is a whole different thread . . .
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post #15 of 31 Old 12-06-2015, 03:46 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Avna View Post

There is something so demeaning (to both of them) in this activity although I can't truly put my finger on it. Maybe this is a whole different thread . . .
Might be worth another thread on it; but to my mind its a curious thing to consider it demeaning.

I say that only because in the end the action of the kiss or hug is an activity which both of the participants seek, but for different motives and desires. It's much like how a cat might head-butt your hand to induce you to stroke. The cat wants the stroke; you want to stroke the cat - thus both are appeased even if the motivations behind it are both purely selfish on both parts and very different.

I do suspect that there are lines and boundaries that make certain activities acceptable and others less so; some due to taste/opinion, others due to safety issues and preventing potential problems in the future.

In the case you present the person wants the tactile contact; the horse wants the cookie; even if the cookie becomes an element which is not always reinforced.
I would guess that the demeaning part is that the person is engaging in a manner where their perceived reward, tactile contact, is not coming from the mental source (affection) that they are potentially attributing it to (at least overtly and to others). But then we humans do this all the time - going back to the cat do we assume the cat loves us because they seek out our hand to head-butt or is it purely that the cat likes it and that your hand is the nearest and the one most associated with success at getting the affection.

I guess questions like that will remain until we can speak animal perfectly or they can speak human.
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post #16 of 31 Old 12-06-2015, 03:53 PM
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This (in my opinion of course) depends on the horse. My gelding (Cisco) becomes a complete treat hog if you even begin to try and feed him while teaching him something so he has to stay solely on pets or verbal appraisal. But another gelding I have (Cowboy) is really annoying on the fact that he refuses to pay attention to you at all unless you have some form of food with you. However he is an amazing trick horse and can do everything from "give me a kiss" to the spanish walk. So to me you need to get to know your horse (or whatever horse you may be working with) and introduce a few different techniques and see which ever they prefer. I hope this helps in any way!
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post #17 of 31 Old 12-06-2015, 04:28 PM
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At the end of about every 3rd or 4th ride, when I was untacking her, Mia would stick her head against my chest and press lightly. I'd gently rub her face and whisper into her ear, which was about level with my lips. She would do that for about 30-40 seconds, then pull her head up and look around, as if worried that someone might have seen her in a moment of weakness.

I didn't teach her that, and she arrived here hating to have her head touched. So why did she do it, if she didn't find some pleasure in it? I'm pretty sure wild horses never hold another horse's head...
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post #18 of 31 Old 12-06-2015, 04:51 PM
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I go with the release of pressure as being reward enough.

But, sometimes, if the horse I'm riding really does a good job of turning some cows or setting me up to hit a ball, I'm give a cheerful "Good horse!"

There is one that I ride that gives a little skip and seems to get more energized. Likely from the tone of my voice, but it's pretty cute anyway.
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post #19 of 31 Old 12-06-2015, 05:24 PM
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Originally Posted by bsms View Post
At the end of about every 3rd or 4th ride, when I was untacking her, Mia would stick her head against my chest and press lightly. I'd gently rub her face and whisper into her ear, which was about level with my lips. She would do that for about 30-40 seconds, then pull her head up and look around, as if worried that someone might have seen her in a moment of weakness.

I didn't teach her that, and she arrived here hating to have her head touched. So why did she do it, if she didn't find some pleasure in it? I'm pretty sure wild horses never hold another horse's head...
You know, that's why I think my reaction is odd. My horse will do similar things. I wonder if I would feel the same if my friend didn't so wholeheartedly pretend that her horse loved it just the way she did, although it took a long time to train the horse to do it. I have some kind of visceral reaction to pretending animals have emotions they don't have. They have plenty of their own emotions, no one needs to pretend they have ours (especially the ones we want them to have).

It's probably just about me.
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post #20 of 31 Old 12-06-2015, 06:30 PM
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I don't normally pet, stroke or rub my horse. I also very rarely use verbal praise, I actually very rarely speak to my horse. He prefers to be left alone as a reward. So it's always special when he walks up to me and stands near me or gently presses his head on my shoulder or chest :)
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