How to stop screwing your horse over
and start making sure they feel appreciated and well compensated for there hard work
In true “dad” fashion my dad is always giving random advice that in the moment usually seems silly and off-topic. He’s a big jokester so its tough to know when to take him seriously, but it turns out most of his one-liners are real gems worth holding on to.
I can remember when I was a kid he would tell me “don’t take any wooden nickels”. I had a rough idea that it meant don’t get duped but I was pretty sheltered from the ways of the world so it didn’t hold as much meaning as it does to me now.
If you’ve never heard the expression “don’t take any wooden nickels” I would highly recommend checking out this video from Tabitha Brown. It’s only a minute long and she makes such a good point about looking at what and who adds value to your life.
Thinking about the saying now, my mind shifts toward horses and how we interact with them. I see a lot of people trying to reward their horse’s good behavior with things that the horse doesn’t seem to enjoy or appreciate.
Your Horse Might Be Feeling Slighted
Owners tell their horses things like “Work really hard and then you’ll get to have a bath.”
Horses aren’t fooled by the cutesy tone. Working up a full-body sweat only to find that the reward is to patiently continue to do things you would rather not be doing isn’t encouraging for your horse- it’s exhausting.
Another example: Horse performs pattern perfectly- proud rider says “good job” and smacks him firmly on the neck three times.
Does any horse actually like to be smacked like that? It makes me think of trends that get started because of something that people saw in a movie. Like how Tom Cruise got us to all wear Ray-Bans indoors – no one is enjoying it but somehow it’s become a thing that won’t go away.
Or better yet when riders set up their relationship with their horse to be based on “do what I want and then I’ll leave you alone”. If your horse finds it rewarding for you to go away you’re definitely paying them in wooden nickels.
I don’t know about you but I want my horse to want to be with me. I want them to enjoy their job. And I want them to feel rewarded for their hard work.
So how do we stop paying our horses with wooden nickels and start adding more value to their lives while still working toward our riding goals?
First, figure out what your horse appreciates.
Maybe they love a good wither scratch or grazing while grooming or their nuts about carrots or friends are the bomb. Make a list of the things that are meaningful to your horse.
Strategically incorporate these things into their work.
But wait won’t my horse get spoiled if I start letting them do all the things they like to do? Nope, the key here is making sure that you are rewarding behavior that you want more of. For example, if you love it when your horse is quiet and attentive you should reward them with something that they find meaningful (remember NO wooden nickels) every time you catch them being quiet and attentive. At first, they may get excited and lose focus but as long as you only reward the behavior you want to get more of they’ll quickly figure out what to do to get what they want.
This is just one example but if you get a little creative you can incorporate this line of thinking into every aspect of your horsemanship.
Before you know it your horse wants to be with you, wants to do work for you, and you’re crushing your goals with a super happy enthusiastic horse. Everybody wins!