From the outside, looking in, I’m sure what people have seen change in my horsemanship over the past decade is that I use food rewards.
They’re not wrong – I don’t do anything with my horses anymore without treats readily at hand, to reward and encourage my horses.
But the treats aren’t the point. They’re a very valuable tool, but they’re not the most important part.
The shift is bigger than that, more fundamental.
I was trying to narrow down the essence of it and came up with a bunch of shifts as I looking for the key one of importance.
Instead of having my horse move away from something they’d rather avoid, I’m asking them to move towards something they like.
Instead of expecting them to do exactly what I tell them to do, I try to see if I can make what I want more fun for them, so that it’s what they want too. And if it isn’t, we find something to do together that we both enjoy.
Instead of assigning blame to the horse when things don’t go well, I try to see why they’ve said no, and ask differently next time.
Instead of focusing on a final outcome, I try to see the horse’s response to every little step along the way, to make sure they’re still a willing and engaged participant.
But after all that – I think the most important idea, that has truly changed what I do with my horses is this:
Instead of looking for what they’re doing wrong, so I could correct it, now I look for the moments when I can reward them.
While this shift of focusing on the good makes training so much more fun for the horse, it also means that it’s more fun and rewarding for me as well! It’s easy to stay positive when you’re always looking for the good. And when you and your horse are looking for something worth rewarding, you’re going to have so much fun recognizing their creativity.
It’s not about the treats. It’s about looking for the good in every moment we spend with our horse.