Now imagine that you begin shaking the bucket a bit so your horse hears the grain rattle around. Once again, you’ll notice the horse develop a sensitivity to the sound as well as create some sort of anticipatory response. As you continue, day after day, the association with the bucket builds a rich tapestry of associations and expectations from your horse.
If your horse is in the pasture and sees you with the bucket in hand, at first he may not respond as if he recognizes the bucket, but we all know that it won’t take long before the horse picks his head up and leaves what he’s doing in order to come get his goodies from the bucket.
What’s interesting is that over time, the association of positive occurrences with the bucket are so effective and compelling the horse might begin to trot or even canter in from the pasture, and in fact I know there are horse owners out there who have horses that gallop to the barn when they hear the rattle of the grain bucket. It is obvious that the sight and sound of the bucket has become a cue or signal to “come and get a good thing.” (Many horse owners are nodding their heads in agreement right now.)
So with this being the case, I think it’s fair to ask ourselves how our horses respond to our other “cues” in comparison to how they respond to the “bucket cue.”
Think about how your horse responds to some of your most basic cues. Does he have the same snappy and enthusiastic attentiveness as most horses have to the grain bucket? If so, then I’d say you have a good understanding of the principles of positive reinforcement and how to train and maintain cues.
If not, you might ask yourself how you perceive the nature of cues themselves. Do you look at cues as if they are commands? Compare a command to the “bucket cue” which generates enthusiasm, this cue is not command based, it is reward based.
How was your cue taught?