Important tip: Reinforce with your arm straight, away from the container. This helps to avoid mugging by teaching the horse to expect food to arrive away from your body.
Via Nova Priority to Positive® Principle 4: Shaping Behavior
Recognize and reinforce small steps to bring clarity as you progress towards your goal. This is the shaping process, and these are the building blocks on which the final behavior is built. In Hand Feeding Safely, the final behavior is Manners (Calm Head Away) – in the stall, in the barn aisle, in the arena… everywhere you ask!
In the beginning, the horse may naturally want to mug you to say, “I want that food.” You may experience a variety of responses as they try to figure it out.
Remember they are motivated to get the food! They can be very persistent, but there will come a moment, however brief, when they withdraw from the seeking. In the beginning, it could be as subtle as the horse glancing aside. This is the moment to bridge and reward.
Via Nova Priority to Positive® Principle 5: Set up for Success
It sounds easy, but it can be challenging! Success comes from making good choices – timing your sessions well, providing positive energy for your horse, as well as keeping your expectations and sessions attainable and reasonable (shaping!). With Hand Feeding Safely, you want to be what you want your horse to be – calm and relaxed. Once Calm Head Away is achieved, which will take time, you’ve got a key success under your positive belt!
Important tip: When you plan your Positive Reinforcement session(s), consider the time of day. For example, is it feeding time, which may make it harder for the horse to be calm around food? Also, consider small successes so the experience is positive – don’t wait for perfect. Learning takes time!
Important tip: Safety is paramount. If your horse is too excited, pinning its ears, or is inclined to nip, teach and practice Manners in Protected Contact, for instance from outside a stall or over a fence until your horse understands that calmness is part of the behavior that will get food. Horses vary greatly in their behavior around food, but they can all learn that waiting calmly with their head away from the food will get them what they want.
Consider the 5 Priority to Positive® Principles when working with any horse on any behavior, and come join us on the journey! Sign up for our newsletter here.