Reinforcement and Reward: Rewarding the Horse for Desired Behaviors and Providing Positive Reinforcement

As a horse trainer with almost 50 years of experience, I have learned that one of the most important aspects of training a horse is the use of reinforcement and rewards. Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for shaping behaviors and building trust between horse and rider. In this article, I will discuss the importance of reinforcement and reward, as well as how to use them effectively in your training.

Why is Reinforcement and Reward Important?

Reinforcement and reward are essential components of any successful training program. Positive reinforcement is used to encourage desired behaviors, while negative reinforcement is used to discourage unwanted behaviors. By using positive reinforcement, you are rewarding your horse for performing a desired behavior. This can be done through verbal praise, physical touch, or the use of treats.

Using positive reinforcement helps to build trust between you and your horse. Horses are social animals that thrive on positive interaction and connection. When you reward your horse for good behavior, you are building a positive association between that behavior and the reward. This creates a positive feedback loop, where your horse is more likely to repeat the desired behavior in the future.

Positive reinforcement is also more effective than negative reinforcement in the long run. Punishing your horse for unwanted behavior may work in the short term, but it can lead to fear and resentment in the long term. Positive reinforcement, on the other hand, builds a positive relationship between you and your horse. This makes training more enjoyable for both of you and leads to more successful results.

How to Use Reinforcement and Reward Effectively

Using reinforcement and reward effectively requires some understanding of your horse’s behavior and motivation. Horses are motivated by a number of factors, including food, social interaction, and the desire to please their rider. By understanding what motivates your horse, you can use positive reinforcement more effectively.

Timing is also important when using reinforcement and reward. You want to reward your horse as soon as possible after they perform the desired behavior. This helps to reinforce the connection between the behavior and the reward. If you wait too long to reward your horse, they may not make the connection and the reinforcement will not be as effective.

Another important factor to consider is consistency. If you want your horse to repeat a desired behavior, you need to be consistent in your reinforcement and reward. This means rewarding them every time they perform the desired behavior, at least initially. Once the behavior is well established, you can gradually reduce the frequency of the rewards.

It is also important to vary the rewards you use. While food treats are a common reward, they should not be the only one. Verbal praise, physical touch, and other forms of positive interaction can be just as effective as food treats. By varying the rewards, you keep your horse interested and motivated to perform the desired behavior.


To learn more about the use of reinforcement and reward in horse training, there are many resources available such as my book which you can pick up here:


Reinforcement and reward are essential components of any successful horse training program. Positive reinforcement helps to build trust between horse and rider, encourages desired behaviors, and leads to more successful results. By understanding your horse’s behavior and motivation, using effective timing and consistency, and varying your rewards, you can use positive reinforcement to create a positive relationship with your horse and achieve your training goals.

Training Horses with Positive Reinforcement: The Key to Success with Al Ragusin world famous horse trainer.