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Enthusiasm as a reward

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  • Enthusiasm as a reward

    So, returned to riding over a year ago - primarily to give my OTTB a new job. Old H/J rider, believe we're headed to give eventing a try.

    I've had some difficulty with his behavior, with too much exuberance coming from the track, to being too assertive, to being uncomfortable at the canter, first outside, then indoors. All of the aforementioned issues have been discussed in past threads under behaviors and/or horse care. Several things have changed and now things are going well.

    So most recently, he has been cantering in the indoor and not getting all flummoxed by it. Also been doing ground poles, and he has been beautiful over a series of several in a row at the trot. I am just so proud of him. Not necessarily a big deal with horses I've ridden in the past, but it is for this horse.

    Riding days in the past was before marriage, having a son, and showing dogs. Always been positive, but guess some of my Momism's still remain. I've found myself now really, really being enthusiastic with my guy cantering well, and with other things that he was a little hesitant at, but caught on to. Lots of "good boy! good job!"s and enthusiastic pats on the neck. His reaction? Very, very responsive. Which, of course, makes me even more gleeful.

    I know, of course, that so much in the ring, and in riding, should be done subtly. But he actually responds so well to my enthusiasm, that now, how do I tone it down eventually? Oh, and also, I'm much more verbal than I used to be, and know I'll have to keep that quiet as well.

    Am always adding new challenges, so there should often be things he'll get the "atta boy!"s for. Once he gets something basic, that I don't want to let slide, though, I don't want to resort to my overzealousness continually...

    My trainer has commented in the past on my verbal commands - something which I never used to do, but which the horse gets. And which, of course, I know are not ok in competition. But right now she's in the south, so can't be here to straighten me out.

    Should I keep it up? Back off? Know I need to somehow translate this to aids, and we're still early in getting them specific. She has told me not to worry at this point - just get him quiet and consistent for now.

    Thanks! (more enthusiasm...)
    But he thought, "This procession has got to go on." So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn't there at all. H.C.Anderson

  • #2
    Obviously you shouldn't let verbal cues replace your aids (I've known a few lesson horses who knew all the basics) but I don't think there is anything wrong with verbal praise. I give quite a bit of verbal feedback to my horse during our rides. We're always working on new things, some of which are very challenging so when he gives me a great try or suddenly gets it I make a pretty big to do over it. Like your guy, mine really responds to that and I find he gives me more try afterward. Sometimes I'll also give him directions but that's for my benefit not his - he doesn't understand but it helps reinforce in my mind what I want and I tend to ride more proactively when I'm confident about what I need from him. I have not found that verbal praise at home affects the horse in the show ring at all, the only problem I can see is if you don't notice or can't keep yourself from talking to him when you're in front of the judge.


    • #3
      Herself responds beautifully to a loud "Good GIIIIRRRRLLLL!!!!"... better than any kind of physical patting.

      I can curb naughty behavior on the ground with a sharp "ACH!"

      If it's working for you... I'd say keep at it for now, until you need to think about showing (although I don't think that you'll be marked down in xc and sj for telling him he's good... I remember watching a UL rider at Rolex cheering her horse on after each fence. It was adorable!).


      • #4
        That's really lovely.

        If you have found a reward that your horse likes, keep using it with him.

        You can, however, keep the big AttaBoys! in reserve for new or hard stuff. When he's doing a good job at something he knows how to do, a swipe on the neck and something said softly might be enough. Combine this with a softer ride and you'll kill two birds with one stone: You'll teach him to accept a different reward AND have him "looking" for that more subtle ride.
        The armchair saddler
        Politically Pro-Cat


        • #5
          Strictly from a spectator point of view, I LOVE to hear riders praising their horses on the cross country course! I think it reinforces the partnership aspect of the sport and, after all, it should be fun for both of you!


          • #6
            I make sure to refrain from those kinds of praise unless I *really* mean it. My TB absolutely loves being told he's good - and will repeat that behavior the rest of his life. I talk to him a lot, but the effusive praise is kept to the times I want to make sure he does it over and over. It's very fun having a horse who clearly understands and appreciates praise, so enjoy!
            If Kim Kardashian wants to set up a gofundme to purchase the Wu Tang album from Martin Shkreli, guess what people you DON'T HAVE TO DONATE.


            • #7
              Hey, if it works, WHY not?

              With rewards of any kind, you use whatever you have that works, freely at first, then about every other time, then more and more randomly and eventually the awareness of producing the wanted behaviors themselves become the reward itself.

              All along, you again revert to over the top praise as much as you want.
              Motivating your horse all along is part of the path not a destination, really.

              I have known riders that are very effusive, but without good timing and their horses, sadly, end up tuning them out, confused.

              Have seen some come off a good Grand Prix round in Spruce Meadows happily hitting their horse on the neck and grinning and the horse is getting worried about the rider being so active all of a sudden, evidently not used to that.
              THAT is being overactive.

              Seems that you are very good at it, your horse is responding well.

              When competing, try to do it more discretely.


              • #8
                I verbally praise my horse, mostly because he hates getting patted while I'm riding. At the walk or halt it's fine, but a quick pat while he's cantering makes him throw his head in the air.

                I find I ride better if I praise, mostly because it puts me in the mindset of finding what's going well, instead of picking out the things going wrong.