Young horses learn faster and have more positive interactions with humans when they receive food as a reward during training, according to a new study presented at the 34th Annual Equine Research Day held in Paris, France, on Feb. 28.

Yearlings that received grain pellets as compensation for appropriate reactions to vocal commands were up to 40% faster to acquire new skills than a control group of yearlings that received no rewards. The training primarily involved respecting the words “stop” and “stay” and remaining immobile while the trainer performed certain grooming tasks and veterinary procedures on the horse.

“What we’re hoping to do is develop techniques which will allow us to obtain the animal’s confidence in us, without using constraints,” said Carol Sankey, MSc, a PhD candidate in ethology (the study of animal behavior) at the University of Rennes in western France, and co-author on the study. At the previous Research Day event, Sankey’s team presented findings that force can result in a negative relationship between horses and humans.

yarling receives a treat during behavior study

A yearling in the study receives a food reward.

Sankey and her team devised a series of objectives that the yearlings in both the reward and the no-reward groups were expected to attain in a consecutive order. After learning to stop and stay by voice command only, each animal learned to wait patiently with the leadline draped over its neck while the trainer brushed it, picked its hooves, attached