Edit by Romy: The following two posts were split form Tracey's and Kami's diary
Tracey Harris wrote:
I didn't want it to be a bribe or just for when they do something I ask or want! I can see how it may be confusing though for many horses if they do not know when they are getting a treat. I also give them for nothing at times which may have been confusing for them.
I prefer to see the treats as a very simple token of communication that can be used in very complex ways
Clicker training is jusually about using treats in a very defined, black and white way. The treat is always coupled with a marker signal. Using treats that way has the benefit of being precise, of being understood easily by the horse and it teaches both human and horse the marker-reward contingency: that the treat is the fulfillment of the promise that the clicker gave. Thus the horse has the insurance that a treat will come if certain criteria were met before.
Clicker training clearly structures communication and helps greatly with food manners in that the horse is confident that food will come and it can wait calmly until it does.
This benefit of clicker training is at the same time it's biggest downside in my opinion: communication can become overly structured and abstracted. Trainer and horse may become emotionally detached from each other, making the interaction quite mechanical and as joyful as it could be.
That's where for me other ways of rewarding come into play: rewarding without a marker signal, or at least with a much more fuzzy one, like a word or even just body language. There will probably always be a marker, as we react somehow to the actions of the horse, which is perfectly fine with me and the way it's supposed to be.
Rewarding like that has the huge benefit of carrying much more subtextual content, like emotions or subtle bodily hints, even variable reinforcement is possible by just the amplitude of the reaction.
The downside again is that I am rarely fully aware of the information my reaction carries. The communication is fuzzier and so setting up rules - like food manners - are more difficult.
My preferred rule of thumb is to reward what feels good to me. Given of course that I feel good when the horse feels good as well, I can establish multiple things at once that way: I have a simple guideline for my own actions, I will be positively reinforced myself if the interaction was successful and I am automatically setting up a code of conduct for our relationship.
Like that the interaction comes very close to a human-human interaction and thus more authentic than for example when a human is expected to "talk horse".
Also, questions like whether a treat is used as a bribe, can be quite easily answered in my opinion. When I bribe someone, I use a reward that is offered beforehand to make that person do something she would not do voluntarily. Usually that person also would not feel good afterwards, but guilty or having been forced. If that applies to a situation with my horse, than the treat was used as a bribe.
Since bribing is usually connected with concepts like moral and ethics, it's debatable whether it could apply to horse at all. Maybe 'luring' would be more fitting, but I think my answer has already gotten long-winding enough, so I stop right here