“Rub a horse to reward him”, “Let him rest, release pressure, and he’ll be happy.” or “A horse (or dog) will do anything for a cookie.”
While this is true, it’s deceiving. There’s timing involved. Some dogs couldn’t care less about treats (I have two of those at the moment!). If you’re boring your horse half to death, a rest isn’t at all a reward. The opposite, actually!
Although you mean well, a rest would only be a release or a reward of some sort if the horse had been doing something physically or mentally challenging, etc. prior. If I get into the habit of doing the same thing with my animal every day, over and over again, they’re going to just hate it. Then to say, “And now… guess what?? You get to stand still as a reward!!”
That’ll get you a snort and an eye roll.
Then if you were asking your horse to do something new, exciting, or just challenging, they’ll be looking for that rest… It’ll feel so good to finally stand still, that it will help move your training along at full speed. Same goes for the good old rub and pat. If I’m constantly rubbing my horse, it could get annoying.
Some horses love it of course, but it also needs to be well-timed. We should remember: when it comes to these things, not all animals react well to the same reward. Just like humans – some like loud, excited applauses and other like a nice smile of recognition. One isn’t better than the other, they just come across differently to different people.
If I don’t go petting a certain horse all over, that doesn’t mean I don’t like him or he didn’t “deserve” it. Usually that horse just doesn’t like it – it annoys or agitates him, or he simply doesn’t find it comforting. Sometimes a reward is only rewarding when we really earned it. Not just rewarded every five minutes for doing close to nothing.
Take it away, Glenn Stewart:
“A rest for a horse when they are looking for one is a release. A rub when they are looking for one is a release. A well timed rub or rest after a horse has been physically and mentally stimulated becomes somewhat of an addiction for them and something they look for and crave rather than something they have to put up with.”
- Glenn Stewart