As simple as it sounds, there is a right way to bridge and reinforce. And a lot of nuances. So let’s break down all the aspects of Hand Feeding Safely… ? 

Practicing hand feeding safely ensures two valuable things:

1 – Clarity for the ? , preventing confusion

2 – Safety for the trainer (you)

 If you hand feed correctly, it will deter the mugging behavior and ultimately teach your horse how to have good manners (i.e. calm head away). Check out our breakdown of the 7 Steps to Success with Hand Feeding Safely! 

As we know, positive reinforcement is introducing a desirable reward to encourage certain behavior. At Via Nova: Priority to Positive® we are exploring this from every aspect of horsemanship.

Let’s start with keywords.
Manners, Bridge Signal, and Body Language are important terms that are essential in understanding how to deliver food ? ? by hand to your horse ? during training. 

The Horse’s Body Language: ‘Manners’ (the behavior of standing calmly with head away from the trainer’s body or food) is a core aspect. Your horse knows you have food, and naturally assumes it will get the food by going for it! You want to teach your horse that the reward will come, not by excited mugging or pushing, but by waiting quietly while keeping their head away from the human and the food. The key is you are delivering the food to the horse, they are not coming to you to get it.

The Trainer’s (Your) Body Language: You want to remain calm, cool & collected. While it can be quite exciting for the horse in the beginning of the training, we want to ‘shape’ mental and physical relaxation to become an important part of the behavior.

Bridge signal: A signal that indicates to the horse when a behavior is correct. It serves to bridge the time between the correct behavior and the delivery of positive reinforcement, which is the reward of food from your hand.

Why do we CLICK when using positive reinforcement? It serves as the ‘bridge signal’ – which not only identifies the moment of ‘yes that’s it’ but bridges the time between ‘yes’ and delivering the reward. Once they learn this, the horse will associate that the click means ‘good job’ (positive) and a reward (reinforcement) will follow.

Although the bridge signal can be a whistle, the word “good” or a bell, we find that the ‘click’ sound is easily recognizable, consistent and compact.

What about aggression? My horse wants the reward and isn’t calm…

When a horse turns their head towards you, invading your personal space, and sometimes pushing or nudging you – gently, or not so gently. Mugging such as that can (and often will) happen. Food aggressive horses have learned that showing aggression gets them what they want (usually food).

Remember, anytime you feed you are reinforcing a behavior. Reinforce and reward the calm demeanor and hand deliver the food away from your body. Also be ready to reinforce and reward the steps to calm head away.

More on Mugging… it Happens, How to Deal

Mugging happens! What to do?

Watch Shawna ? deal with mugging & talk through how to handle.

TIP: Waiting for  the ‘perfect’ calm head away from your horse can create anxiety and/or aggression. The calm aspect may take time. Accept small steps towards the goal when bridging and rewarding.

We are all on the journey of Priority to Positive® – there will be ups and downs. Keep it positive!


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