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Bribes and rewards

From: Ashleigh

Dear Jessica, can you clear up something for me? I always give my horse treats when I ride, and my new friend at the barn says that it's wrong to bribe horses and they should do things because they are trained and know what is right. I like giving my horse treats. It makes him happy and then that makes me happy! But I asked my Dad about bribes and he said they aren't good, but rewards are okay. So is a treat a bribe or a reward for a horse? Please tell me. Thanks! Ashleigh


Hi Ashleigh! You've really got a couple of different topics here: one is whether to give horses treats, and the other is the difference between bribes and rewards. Let me take these one at a time.

Horses like treats, and riders like to give their horses treats. That's fine - just as long as you're careful.

Give safe treats - nothing that's bad for the horse.

Give treats safely - on the flat of your hand instead of held in your fingers.

As long as your horse takes the treats politely and isn't grabby, you shouldn't have a problem. If he - or any other horse you ride - becomes grabby or nippy about treats, you can still feed him treats, but you should put then into his feed bucket instead of offering them in your hand.

And finally...

If you want to give someone else's horse treats, ALWAYS get the horse owner's permission first!

Now, as to the difference between a bribe and a reward. Bribes don't work with horses - or with dogs, either, because they really don't understand the concept. Bribes work best with humans, because humans CAN understand the concept: Bribing someone means giving them something they want BEFORE they do whatever it is that you want them to do. With a bribe, there's always a risk that the person will take the bribe and then not do what it was that you wanted - so even with humans, bribes aren't always very useful.

Rewards are useful with horses and dogs and humans, because they all understand the concept of getting something nice - a treat or a scratch or a pat or some praise - AFTER they do something that you want them to do. The reward functions as a sort of "thank you" or gesture of appreciation, and let your horse or dog (or employee) know that you approve of the action that just took place.

Rewards can be very useful in training horses, because they understand rewards. Bribes are usually not useful at all, becuase horses don't understand bribes. I expect this is what your father meant!

Jessica

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