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POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT - research




Many people don’t understand how to apply Positive Reinforcement effectively. A study by Paul Mc Greevy & Warren Smith ( 2008 ) found that only 2,8 percent of qualified equestrian coaches in Australia could correctly explain the use of Positive Reinforcement in Horse Training


WHY POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT?


There is a growing body of research to suggest a role for positive reinforcement in contemporary horse training.


Further, there is no evidence to suggest that a horse’s tendency to bite increases with the use of positive reinforcement (Hockenhull & Creighton, 2010). Rather, if the horse is never reinforced for “mugging” behaviours (such as searching cloth-ing or grabbing for treats), positive reinforcement can serve to eliminate these behaviours rather than induce them.


Finally, research indicates that there is much more room for the use of positive reinforcement than we currently employ. Studies have shown that although most horses, regardless of training method, learn a task within the required time frame, positively reinforced horses:


  • generally learn the task more quickly

  • retain learned tasks longer

  • experience less stress

  • react to humans more positively and

  • are able to generalize this training across trainers, novel tasks, and over long periods of time


In 2010, for example, Dr. Carol Sankey, a researcher in equine behaviour in France, trained 21 yearling ponies to back up using either positive or negative reinforcement. Sankey found that the positively reinforced ponies


  • learned to back up more quickly,

  • experienced less stress and

  • were more likely to respond agreeably to their trainer and to a newcomer eight months later, than negatively reinforced ponies


Interestingly, by the third session, negatively reinforced ponies, showed elevated stress levels immediately upon entering the training area and before the training actually began.


Several studies comparing positive and negative reinforcement to train yearlings for grooming, tacking up, and longlining, to retrain horses with severe trailer loading problems, or work with rescue horses to approach frightening objects report similar results.


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