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Build a reward based foundation for your horse part 1

Depending on what trainer or system you choose to work with these behaviors might be called different things and be somewhat different but here are the behaviours I use in my own training and teaching. I put a lot of emphasis on different target behaviours and environment setups and it is the most important shaping technique in my foundation as a horse trainer and teacher.

And for myself: This is a question I nowadays answer very differently from earlier where I would go more into your individual journey with your horse and your specific need and based on this start a little bit different. And yes it is very true behavior is a study of one but nowadays all horses get the same introduction to form the base of our relationship.

Where do we start?

As reward-based trainers we start with the rewards. A thought out structure for how we deliver our rewards in different settings is a ride skill for sure but to teach different ways to deliver different treats and to teach our horses what these different ways mean. Offering good consequences for working, cooperating or just being in your presence is where we start. We want to build a long term relationship.

With these skills we can form our two core skills and the four big foundation behaviors. Our building blocks, the foundation we rely upon. Behaviors we can use as default behaviors and for building other, more complex, behaviors. Everything in my training can be traced back to rather simple basic skills. With those we form the other ones and I would count for maybe 10-15 more of them depending on the horse. Our foundation gives our horses clarity and structure as well as offers choice and control for our horses.

Why do we want them

Our foundation leads to balance. Emotional balance as well as physical.

The language metaphor has been used several times, I really like it.

First we start with the ABCs then we start to put these single letters together to form words and when we can form words we can start making sentences. Which sentences you then later choose to form is more dependent on which direction and what your individual horse needs.

Both language learning and training foundation behaviors require patience, consistency, and repetition in order to be effective. It is important to start with the basics and build gradually, reinforcing the behaviours we want to see more of.

Ultimately, the goal of both language learning and training foundation behaviours is to create a means of effective communication that allows for mutual understanding and cooperation between individuals.

So with this said, our core skills and foundation behaviours are the basic skills we train our a horse’s to do in order to create the language for communication, to help the horse (and us) to be safe, independent and confident. These behaviours form the foundation for more advanced training.

So what are they?

Two core skills:

  • Pause & Connection

And the four basic foundation behaviors:

  • Hoof Target

  • Nose Target

  • Free Walk

  • Parking

Teaching free walk with a reversed round pen

With these 6 behaviors we form all the others. In my training, literally everything can be traced back down to these 6. So these are my building blocks, my default, my most terasured basics. And this is also why I put so much time in building them to a high level of fluency. Fluency and foundation behaviors

A fluent behavior is one that is performed consistently and accurately in response to a cue, regardless of distractions or changes in the environment. When a horse has been trained to perform a behavior fluently, they should be able to do the behavior smoothly and without hesitation.

Some characteristics of a fluent behavior includes:

  • Quick and accurate response to a cue

  • Smooth and controlled execution of the behavior

  • Ability to perform the behavior consistently, even in different environments or under distractions

  • Confidence and self-assurance in performing the behavior

Want a longer version as a podcast? You'll find it here:


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