Biggest pitfall in Grass Training Horses

Biggest Pitfall When You Train Your Horse to Ignore Grass

Some horses keep their attention on their handlers when there is juicy Spring grass growing everywhere. Most horses are not that well behaved and they’ll try to snatch a bite when they can. Why is that?

Biggest Pitfall Teaching your Manners on/around Grass

The biggest pitfall is that when we encounter a ‘problem’, we’re focused on the PROBLEM….

We want the problem to go away and therefor we’re already in punishment mode with our thinking.
We’re thinking about how we can decrease pulling on the lead rope, let our horses stop pushing us over when they discover some juicy patch of grass or ignore our cues completely when their is a green snack around…

Those are most people’s biggest frustration. You think you have a well mannered horse, until you haven’t.

Isn’t that a bit shameful? At least that was how I felt: I was feeling an incompetent horse owner/clicker trainer when Kyra was pulling me towards grass or ignoring my cues in the outdoor arena when she spotted some greens to munch on…

What is ‘Punishment’?

grass training horses
When your horse ignores you instead of grass during at liberty training…

Here is the definition (source: wiki): “In operant conditioning, punishment is any change in a human or animal’s surroundings which, occurring after a given behavior or response, reduces the likelihood of that behavior occurring again in the future.”

In order to reduce a behaviour (unsolicited snacking), you are focused on what you don’t (!) want. Therefor our brain is trying to find a solution in order to stop snacking on grass. The answer is then: punishment. The aim of punishment after all is to decrease the (unwanted) behaviour.

How to Stop your Horse if he’s Grazing in Training or Riding

Here are some examples of what people do in order to decrease (=using punishment) the snacking on grass during riding, hand walks or (at liberty) training:

  • Wiggling the lead rope until the horse stops grazing
  • Preventing taking a bite by keeping the lead rope/reins short
  • Kicking the horse’s nose with their foot (Yes, some people get this advice!)

Why Punishment is NOT the Answer

In order to get long lasting results using punishment, the punishment must outweigh the benefits of the behaviour! Which means that we must wiggle the lead rope so hard that it will cause pain (enough pain to make the horse change his mind for next time!).

Punishment is not the answer for us horse lovers, because we have trouble applying punishment in a way that works. We love our horses too much, to inflict severe punishment to make our horses change their minds about a natural behaviour (eating!!).

We usually only apply insufficient punishment, just enough to relief our own bodies from the stress and frustration or just enough to make the horse stop grazing in that moment. Therefor we never get long lasting results!

We cannot make the horse stop wanting grass because it’s a natural survival instinct to eat.

Mind shift: What Do You Need to FOCUS on?

We’ve all experienced that wiggling the rope, pulling the reins or preventing our horses from grazing or snacking doesn’t get us long lasting results. What does us give long lasting results?

Ask yourself this: “What behaviour do I want to see more of?

That’s the Key to Success in training your horse manners in grass!

Reinforcement is the Answer!

Here is the definition of Reinforcement (source: wiki).

“In behavioral psychology, reinforcement is a consequence applied that will strengthen an organism’s future behavior whenever that behavior is preceded by a specific antecedent stimulus. This strengthening effect may be measured as a higher frequency of behaviour, longer duration, greater magnitude, or shorter latency.”

If you can describe the behaviour you want to see more of, you have the key to this problem in hand! That’s why Grass Training with 100% Positive Reinforcement is so successful:

  • Your horse will ignore the grass more often (higher frequency)
  • Your horse will leave the greens for longer periods of time (longer duration)
  • Your horse will be way more focused on you (greater magnitude) and
  • He’ll react quickly to your cues (shorter latency)

These are the results I’ve seen with 100% R+ Grass Training.

What is Your Pitfall When it comes to Leading your Horse on Grass?

When you look back on the most recent event that your horse didn’t listen to you and went snacking… Or when you hand graze him and he didn’t want to stop and come along.

What did you feel? What did you do? Did you try to reduce the grazing/snacking (punishment) or were you focused on creating (reinforcing) more desired behaviour?


Let me know in the comments!

Happy Grass Training!


Sandra Poppema and Kyra

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