To illustrate this point I’ll give a totally hypothetical, entirely made up situation. Let’s say “my friend” (Okay, fine.. it’s me.) feels her horse’s canter departs need improvement and sets out to work on them during a training session. On that day, “my friend” asks her horse for several walk to canter transitions. However, after getting a good transition, “my friend” decides to solidify this exercise by asking for additional walk to canter departs (yes, I did this). She continues the exercise three more times, getting two good departs before her horse bombs the third. You see where this is going, right? I missed my window to praise my horse for the effort, even if it wasn’t a consistently good depart, at this stage of the game all I really care about is that my mare tried to give me the answer she thought I wanted. By not rewarding for that effort immediately, I told her that there’s no positive enforcement for putting that kind of energy into it. Her goal then becomes simply to avoid a negative response from me (bop with the whip or leg). My mare has explained to me, in no uncertain terms, that negative reinforcement will cause her to shut down. What I want to foster is the willingness to try her hardest even if she doesn’t understand. The only way I can create that mentality is to praise and reward her for that effort immediately.
It’s a fine line to know when to reward for effort, yet still demand perfection. Understanding your horse’s abilities, and not asking for more than they are physically capable of, requires that the rider know the horse inside and out. There will always be times where we misjudge, ask for too much, but if the majority of the time we can positively reinforce that willingness in the horse to try their hardest, then we can stop negatively labeling the horse as “lazy” and instead focus on creating a much stronger partnership.