In a typical training session, the trainer is handing food to the animal about once every 10 seconds or less. That is a lot of opportunities to practice the all-important skill of food delivery.
The biggest mistake that people make with food delivery is making it unpleasant for the animal. Everything else can be recovered from, but becoming toxic to the animal and making feeding toxic is a major problem. It can be avoided by allowing the animal to freely choose to take the food or not. This means not annoying the poor animal by following it around waving a sprig of hay. This also means not jerking the food away at the last moment because the trainer is afraid of the animal. You cannot train with positive reinforcement if you can’t deliver an appreciated reinforcer.
More common problems involve the location and timing of feeding. Food should be presented to the animal in places the trainer wants the animal to be. This means not within your personal space or next to your body, but rather delivery should take place in the animals space. It’s better to actually plan and execute a proper delivery, allowing the animal to adjust to reach the food. You will see an epic failure on my part in the application of theory to practice.
Another common problem is for the trainer to carelessly drop food. Soon the ground around the horse turns green with lost hay. The horse stops to graze, ignoring the trainer and suffering no lost opportunity to earn food as a consequence.
Bites of food should be small; not much more than a tablespoon at a time. There are a few times that this principle can be set aside, but to motivate your animal, keep the bites small. Multiple bites can be used to differentially reinforce the animal for really trying and performing well, but two tiny bites will motivate the animal much more than one large bite. We use up to five bites in a row to pay for particularly difficult behaviors like letting us hold the hooves.
In the clip, the last sequence is Denali. I am experimenting with tossing him food and he gives us a good demonstration of what a food aggressive horse does when frustrated by bad food delivery. Enjoy!