Another area I see is people giving positive reinforcement when it isn’t deserved and often happens when they go to catch their horse. I know not all horses are easy to catch and I fully understand that sinking sensation when you walk out to the pasture when you have only 60 minutes to spend with your horse and he gives you a dirty look and heads for south end of the property. At this point you walk all the way out there hoping once you get there he will give up and let you halter him. This is where I see things go wrong: the person walks on out to the horse and starts crooning, “You are such a good boy and I love you so much.” At the same time the horse is glaring at the person, maybe pinning his ears back and worse, turning his butt to his owner. You want him to feel good about going for a ride so what is this person doing wrong? She’s telling her darling love bug that it’s OK to display herd-dominant behavior and treat her like she is the lesser horse in the pecking order. Don’t do this to yourself.
We obviously don’t want to get too negative and chase our horse away, but we can teach a small lesson here and be successful. I will admit however that this is hard to do on 10 acres. If you have a horse consistently hard to catch you may need to design a catch pen or give him a smaller paddock for a while. Given our method of using positive and negative reinforcement this is what we should do. If your horse gives you a nasty look or pins his ears back you need to make a negative noise back. I’m not real keen on using the word ‘No’, because it rhymes with ‘Whoa’.
Instead I’ve created my own negative guttural noise that my horse perceives as nasty. When I use that negative sound it’s not loud enough to scare him off, just loud enough so that he knows he didn’t just get praised for being nasty. If he goes to turn his rump to you keep a handful of small rocks in your pocket (one in your hand) and when the butt turns make the noise and toss the rock at his tail. He will quickly learn that something “gets him” if he turns his back on you. It doesn’t have to hurt him, just surprise him. Be aware of your positioning. If you are handy you can tell where to place yourself and where to move your arm to cut him off from moving past you. Your goal is to get him to face you with his ears forward, not backwards. As soon as he looks at you with a curious look, rather than a nasty look or perks up his ears, or licks his lips, this is the time to say “good boy” and sound happy about it. After awhile your horse will be much more likely to face up to you when you go to catch him rather than be nasty about it. It will take lots of repetition but I promise it works!
That said, and if your horse is very green, you may wish to read the other article on our site about How to Catch Your Horse. But no matter if your horse is green or well trained, he or she should learn from the beginning to respect you by facing you and not giving you threatening looks or actions. Again, horses learn very quickly when positive and negative reinforcements are given them correctly and consistently. When your horse does something wrong, get after him quickly, but forgive him instantly when he or she does good. Praise him – instantly and quietly. Horses are not too gracious over exuberant praise. Leave that for the family dog! Happy trails and safe riding!