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To help guide you to a deeper relationship with your horse.

 

Good & Nice
Two magic words

There are two little words that can attract horses’ attention, bridge the horse-human communication gap, and can open the door to many wonderful experiences. These words are “’Good” and “Nice.” “Good,” an encouraging word, tells the horse that he is on the right track. “Nice”, a rewarding word, tells the horse that he has done a great job of problem solving. This does not mean that the horse performed perfectly, but that the horse’s problem-solving efforts are appreciated.

When I use these magic words, I often follow “Nice” with an edible reward such as a piece of diced apple or carrot. I usually introduce “Good” and “Nice” to a horse by playing a “Touch” game when I am grooming. I start out by showing the horse various grooming tools and ask him to touch them with his nose.

For example, while standing an arm’s length in front of a horse I show the horse a brush and say, “Brush.” Then I tap the brush with my index finger and say, “Touch brush.” I move the brush slowly toward the horse’s nose while repeating “Good” every few seconds. When the brush finally makes contact with the horse’s nose I say, “Nice” enthusiastically and immediately give him with an edible reward. I limit my words to one or two word sentences containing a verb (touch) and a noun (brush). Each time I play this game, I move the object more slowly toward the horse’s nose because I want him to reach out to touch the object by himself.

At first horses do not understand what the “Touch” game is all about. I may repeat the game three or four times when I groom, but no more. Horses, like humans, get bored easily. If he does not reach out his nose to touch the object after three or four tries it does not matter. I try it again the next time I groom him. It is amazing how responsive horses will be after they have had time for reflection. These two words, “Good” and “Nice” relax horses and encourage them to look for solutions to questions posed to them. It is very important to ignore and not punish incorrect answers, although we must always keep ourselves safe.

When a horse persistently reaches his nose to the object, I move back a few feet so he can step toward the object. As he moves his feet toward the object, I say “Good” to encourage him. When he touches the object, I give him a very happy “Nice” and an edible reward.

Once he learns to step toward the object, I begin stroking his withers after I say “Nice” and before I give him an edible reward. That way, the caress will also become a reward and the horse will look forward to being petted. Petting a horse is an easy reward to give when riding as edible rewards are more difficult to offer. Also, cheers and applause from onlookers after “Nice” is said prepares horses for the congratulatory sounds of competitions.

When a horse is able to walk six feet or so toward me, I teach the word “Come.” I beckon to him with my hand, smile and say “Come.” I reach my hand out and say “Touch.” In the beginning, I say “Good” whenever he takes a step. When his nose touches my hand, I say “Nice,” stroke his withers and give him an edible reward. Once horses learn to come, I do not need to ask them to touch my hand. I just reward them for coming to me. My young horses love the “Come” game so much they will race each other across the pasture to see who gets the first “Nice.”

You can use “Good” and “Nice” to ask your horse to do just about anything as long as you do not scold him for wrong answers. Break activities down into very simple one-step movements. You can teach your horse how to stand square, stay, pick his feet up by himself and do tricks with these words.

You can use “Good” and “Nice” when you lunge your horse to maintain or change gaits. They are, also, very important words to use while you ride. If you use them as soon as your horse responds to your aids he will become very light in your hands. Begin by using “Good” and “Nice” at the walk and halt. When he responds well, use the words with transitions; to establish rhythm; and to collect and extend gaits. Be sure to halt your horse and say “Nice” every five minutes or so. Stroke him and sometimes give him an edible reward.

These words of encouragement and reward can help a horse learn many activities and become fluid, relaxed and confident. Most importantly, when you use these words you and your horse will look forward to the time you spend together.

This article was first printed in the Equestrian Connection: the Pacific Horse Advertiser, May, 2012.

Think of each activity or time you share with your horse as a time for creating a snap-shot or painting to place in his or her memory album. If your horse tells you that he or she does not like how a picture is coming together, stop painting it and paint one that you know your horse enjoys.

When you and your horse are learning a new activity, build on the "happy themes" you both have previously enjoyed. Only change one small element of the picture at a time. A photo with too many new elements worries your horse. Your horse finds comfort in familiar and happy experiences.

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