Sometimes I get caught up in conversations where people devalue the use of food as a training tool and then I stop and remind them what I’ve accomplished. I have worked with many, many horses who were very troubled. Some of them had dangerous behaviors and I could have gotten seriously hurt or killed. When I started with these horses I used protected contact and food, that was it. In every case I eventually ended up with a horse that was safe, cooperative and a joy to be around. Make no mistake, I have no doubt that if the horse was confronted with the kinds of abuse that created the behaviors to begin with, it would have most likely reverted to the behaviors it offered during the initial abuse. Regression is a fact of training life.
Then I look at the people who are criticizing me or making fun of my methods and I see them approach dangerous horses with whips, sticks, swinging ropes and round pens where the horse is driven to a point of exhaustion or is running from fright with eyes wide and nostrils flared. That’s when I ask myself who has the better training methods? I would certainly be able to get changes in behavior using all of the same tools they use, but would they be able to get behavior without using those tools? Would they be able to produce changes in a horse if they had to face the horse alone, with food as their only tool. That’s really the big question.
I have walked both paths. I would love to see the naysayers take the same journey as I did and approach a horse with food only. They will learn a lot about horses and behavior if they try that course of action. I will also be far more inclined to listen to their input if they take the time to learn more about training using positive reinforcement.