Problems With Lateral Flexion

In this video I discuss the problems that teaching lateral flexion to young horses creates. Primarily it causes a disconnection between the inside rein and the hindquarters which leads to crookedness and unbalanced circles and turns. This can be overcome by asking for flexion but allowing the hindquarters to yield in response to the inside rein alone (not using leg pressure), instead of insisting the feet stand still.

Reward - Is It What We Think It Is?

This was oroginally posted 2 years ago, but the subjec came up in a recent discussion, so I decided to repost it. I hope it is of interest to you


Mostly when I think of rewards I think of food rewards because they are easy to understand, but I think the ideas bouncing around in my head can equally pertain to other forms of reward such as removal of a pressure (negative reinforcement) or the addition of a pat or scratch (positive reinforcement) or a softly spoken kind word (such as “good boy”).


Humans think of a reward as a prize or gift for doing something right or doing it well. It is a bonus prize intended to encourage us to keeping doing well.


However, I don’t think horses view a reward in the same way that humans do. For example, if I gave a person a box of chocolates for the help they gave me, they would see the chocolates as a reward and feel good about helping me and feel better towards me. Yet if I gave a horse a slice of apple for coming up to me in the paddock, they see it no more as a reward than they do the grass in the paddock. There is no ‘thank you’ in the horse’s thinking in accepting the apple. A horse doesn’t think of me as a nicer person or better friend because I was the source of the apple. A horse thinks of the apple as his to eat because what other possible purpose could the apple have?


Food is a very powerful motivator of behaviour. I believe it comes second in importance in modifying behaviour after safety and comfort. Eating is part of a horse’s primordial nature. They find the offer of food difficult to turn down. Even when their bellies are full I’ve never seen a horse knock back an offer of a carrot. It’s there for the taking and they take it because that what horses do. A horse does not see the carrot as a reward, but as something to grab while its available. The need to eat is closely linked to the need to feel safe and comfortable. It is not a bonus treat. Similarly the removal of pressure is linked to a horse’s sense of safety and comfort and is likewise not a reward but a basic need.


In my mind I think the conversation inside a horse’s mind goes something like this.


Horse: “Hey, give me a carrot.”

Trainer: “This horse is not trying hard enough.” No carrot is forthcoming.

Horse: “Bastard. Okay, what if I stop moving. Now give me a carrot.”

Trainer: “That’s a better try.” Trainer offers a carrot.

Horse: “Finally! What took so long? Give me another carrot.”


This is what I think is the conversation inside some people’s mind.


Horse: “Hey boss, you’re looking good. Can I please have a carrot?”

Trainer: “I’d like to give you a carrot. I really would, but could you please try a little hard?”

Horse: “Okay, I’ll try to stop moving. Now can I please have a carrot?”

Trainer: “What a good boy. Here’s your reward.”

Horse: “Thank you. You are so good to me. I love you and will try even harder next time – cross my eyes and hope to die. BTW, have you been working out?”


You could just as easily substitute the offer of a carrot with the release of the reins or something similar.


So why does any of this matter? Are we just talking semantics?


To a certain extent, I think it doesn’t matter if you call the addition of a positive stimulus or removal of a negative stimulus a reward or release or relief or any ‘r’ word you choose.  The way we use these training principles is more important that the titles we give them. However, in another sense words do matter because they influence attitudes.


To give somebody a reward has the connotation of giving them something they are not normally entitled to – a gift. But horses have no concept of a gift. By using terms like reward we are thinking we are doing something nice for our horse, yet a horse is thinking no such thing. What we view as a kindness towards our horse, our horse views as “it’s about bloody time.”


I don’t know how many times over the years I have heard people tell me that with all the nice things they do for their horse, you’d think their horse could make an effort. But of course, horses don’t think like people want them to think.


There are potential side effects from thinking of removal of a negative or addition of a positive stimulus as a reward. Sometimes (without even being aware of it) an attitude creeps into our thinking that a horse should be thankful for all the rewards we have given it. When a horse is difficult or disobedient the word ‘ungrateful’ can pass through our minds. If this happens it is easy to get angry and even use punishment to change a horse’s behaviour.


I witnessed a well-known trainer in America (who used food treats to train horses) punch a horse in the face because it bit her in an attempt to get more ‘rewards’ from her pocket. To me, the horse did exactly what being a horse programmed it to do. Its behaviour was no different to a horse who pulls on the lead rope because it sees grass a few metres away. Food is not a reward; it is an essential of life to a horse – like breathing.


I think the point I’m trying to make is that even though we talk about rewarding a horse for its effort, as an essential element of the training process the concept is entirely foreign to horses. How much this affects how we apply a reward will depend on how much emotion we attach to the term.

Happiness Of A Ross Jacobs Horsemanship Clinic

I was recently asked about the music I use in the introduction of my videos and would I play the entire piece. So here it is. It's called Wedding Invitation and available on YouTube as copyright free music. I added a slideshow of photos from recent clinics.

View it in fullscreen mode and turn up the volume and enjoy the happiness.


Horsemanship Is Serious Business - Stop Laughing!

This is what happens when two consummate professional horsemen get together to discuss the serious business of horsemanship.



A Conversation With Harry Whitney - Part 3

This is the third of 4 parts of a conversation I had with American horsemanship clinician Harry Whitney in June 2017 in Tennessee, USA.

In this video we discuss the differences between a horse's primary thought and secondary thought and how we use sympathy versus empathy in the training process.

You can find out more about Harry and his clinic schedule by going to his web site: