The power of praise can not be overestimated! Horses will go out of their way if they feel your honest appreciation and love. Etienne Beudant said “„Demand little, repeat often, praise a lot!“. How can we understand this?
First, “demand little” does not mean that our horses are not intelligent enough to understand, so we ask only very little of them. It is rather that you set your training up for success by giving your horse a task you know it can do well. New exercises, for instance, are split into parts. Just like a dancer practices all the parts of a move separately, we make sure our horses can do all the elements required and also, that they truly understand all the aids involved. “Demand little” is about creating a training style in which you can say “yes!” all the time. If we ask too much at once, or too unexpected, we set our horse up to fail und diminish his confidence. By nature, horses seek cooperation and communication, so if we create the environment in which they can do so, they will.
“Repeat often” does not mean that we should drill exercises but rather that we give the horse a chance to find its balance in a new movement and make it his own. Moreover, by practicing what is familiar, we give our training a strong fundament of things the horse already knows, that we can come back to, and that we can build on. If we have, through repetition, made our horse understand that, for example, it should bend around our inside leg, then any time the horse loses the bending in an exercise we can simply remind him of it. This only works if the horse knows what it means and what he is supposed to do. Moreover, practice is the mother of all skills, so if we want our horse to flourish, we have to allow him the time to grow and become confident. If we repeat often, we also help our horses to build up the muscles required for an exercise and we will build his physical strength, too.
At the same time, repeating something the horse doesn’t understand or that is uncomfortable for him will not be of much help. Then we only make him feel insecure or even afraid. Training a wrong movement over and over will promote the growth of muscles that we don’t like to see so much in a healthy horse, such as a big underneck. If we ask something of our horse that can cause him pain or that is detrimental to his health, our praise will not be praise but an apology.
If you like to spend time with your horse, then “praise a lot” should become your second nature. But do you know what praise is for your horse and if he interprets what you do to praise him really as praise? There are many things we can do to reward our horses. We can give a goodie, a scratch, a little break, a friendly touch. It is up to you to find out what your horse truly likes and perceives as praise. For instance, a food reward can be tricky, because many horses just see it as food and push you to have more of it. Even when your horse has excellent feeding manners and is polite, he can have problems seeing food as a reward and not his birthright. But there are horses that love to chew on something and it gives them just the right amount of motivation.
Some horses really love to be touched, others don’t like it at all. And for some horses, having a break is the greatest thing in the world while others just take a nap. Don’t praise your horse the way you want, but the way he wants, that increases his motivation, and that doesn’t cause any problems.
The word “reward” has a sense of “You did what I asked, so here is your trade-off” to it. That’s why I like the word “praise”, because you compliment, even applaud your horse for what he has achieved, it has a sense of proudness and celebration to it. You will see in a horse’s eyes if he is praised a lot or just mechanically rewarded. Our emotion will pass on to him and will make him a proud and beautiful animal. Personally, I found the praise with my emotions the most effective. If I am truly and honestly happy about what my horse did, then he will understand this easily and will love being with me.
I would love to hear your thoughts about this, so fee free to leave a comment 🙂 Have a great Sunday with your horses!