There we have the two (or three) most important words for horsemen (and horsewomen).
If, when your horse does something well, you say “good boy” or “good girl,” you’ll find your horse not only happy at being good but becoming better. Maybe even eventually, his or her best.
Do you give your best to someone who doesn’t say anything when you try? I don’t. Maybe that’s a weakness in my character, but it’s a weakness I share with the horses.
Naturally, when you say it you have to mean it. Your tone is important. But you don’t have to be boring. You can vary what you say.
“That’s a good girl!”
“What a good girl!”
“You’re a very good girl.”
“You are such a good girl.”
“Good, good girl!”
I’ve ridden with trainers who told me not to make a big deal about something that wasn’t a big deal, and not to praise unless something is truly praiseworthy. I’ve worked with natural horsemanship trainers, too, who believe that silence is golden.
After trying it their way, I now do it my way. I like it a lot better, and so do the horses.
If you’re training your horse (and if you’re riding or handling horses, you’re a trainer whether you like it or not), it’s your job to let your horse know that he or she is on the right track. Even if that means praising lavishly for something that’s only a tiny bit better than it was the last time.
Captain Etienne Beudant knew the secret, too, and he said it much better than I can:
“Ask for much, be content with little, and reward often.”