Last week I talked about “NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT’ & what it meant. This week I am going to explain “POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT.”
Whereas Negative Reinforcement means the removal of a stimulus Positive Reinforcement means the addition of something pleasant or rewarding.
However, the biggest problem with horse owners in providing a positive reinforcement is “timing.” This is the case with not just your back yard horse owner but very high level competition riders. How many times have you seen a jumping competition where the horse clears all the jumps and only when the horse reaches the exit area is he/she rewarded. And even worse the “reward” is more often than not in the form of a slap (pet). The timing from clearing the last jump to the reward can be more than half a minute. The horse has no idea why he/she is being rewarded. ( if you can call it that)
The horse can only associate the positive reinforcement with something well done if it is rewarded immediately after initiating the desired response.
I personally am not a big fan of giving food as a reward, as done incorrectly it can lead to horses becoming pushy and even aggressive such as biting. Also in many cases it is impossible to supply the food in a timely manner (to reward the behavior) as I mentioned above.
Remember whatever the horse is doing immediately prior to either the negative reinforcement OR the positive reinforcement is what the horse is learning to do to either remover the stimulus or continue doing to receive the reward.
However, in early training food can be used and in fact in time can become quite a stimulus to get a requested response as the horse learns that food follows the initial response request.
Again TIMING is the key to success.
When using positive reinforcement such as stroking your horse or using your voice remember:
- Try to use the same pressure each time you stroke him/her and learn how heavy or light your horse likes to be rubbed.
- Stroke at the withers. It helps lower the horse’s heart rate AND can be done on the ground or in the saddle – remember timing is everything
- If using your voice use the same words and same tone each time AND keep the number of words to a minimum.
- Stretch out the pronunciation of the word – goooood boy
Lastly remember when your horse is stimulated he/she puts these stimuli in a descending order and gets rid of each stimulus one at a time starting with the one bothering him/her the most so under certain conditions positive reinforcement will not be able to compete with other stimuli. Therefore when you are working with your horse keep the training as simple AND as clear as possible.
That is why I stress the use of continually trying to lighten your aid to get a response and then reward immediately. This way your horse will not be overwhelmed with the negative reinforcement. I.E spurs, whip, crop etc.
Remember FOUNDATION BEFORE SPECIALIZATION