Contrafreeloading is when an animal would prefer to “work” or “play” for its reward versus simply being given food.


I had Heildof and Rusty out hoping to get them both worked with. While I played with one the other was free to roam about and graze. Rusty was happy to do so while I played with Heildorf. Those last bites of grass before winter sets in are cherished.

Then I lead Heildorf over to Rusty, let him go and grabbed Rusty.

Rusty and I were working on things when I heard a clatter behind me. Turning to look I saw Heildorf has stepped up onto the pedestal we had been working on. He was standing there looking around expectantly. Waiting patiently. I looked at the camera still set up and pointing at the pedestal but sadly no longer on and sorely regretted turning it off. I rushed back over to turn it on again! Even with all the green grass he could eat there at his disposal he would rather work for his food.

Contrafreeloading is the idea that animals in general, horses in this case, would rather do something to earn a reward than have it freely given. Obviously they aren’t going to turn down a cookie when we offer it just because we are glad to see them. When given a freely available resource though, they prefer to need to put in some effort to get it.

Is it that they enjoy the game? I hope so. If we make the effort too hard or not something they can enjoy they will happily go after the freely available resource. I’ve had that happen plenty of times when I ask for too much, or don’t explain clearly, in small steps what it is I’m asking for.

Whatever the reason that animals do this in general, I was happy to see that what Heildorf and I had been doing was apparently something he wanted to do more of. Bringing Rusty over I hurried to reward Heildorf’s efforts. Then we all spent some time hanging out on the pedestals.

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