Create +R solutions in a -R environment

This is a challenge a lot of clicker trainers face. You start making adjustments in your training when you start using positive reinforcement and it works…

Then you suddenly find yourself in a traditional/natural horsemanship or other negative reinforcement or pressure-release situation figuring out how to apply positive reinforcement.

Working on stamina in trotHow do you apply positive reinforcement methods in a negative reinforcement environment? For instance: how do you deal with your riding instructor’s instructions if he/she is not a clicker trainer?

Introduction of the cue

In clicker training the trainer usually starts training the cue after the desired behaviour is established while in traditional and natural horsemanship methods the cue is introduced
before the desired behaviour is even displayed. Often there are corrections or other aversives given when the horse is not giving the ‘right answer’ right away.

Preventing a poisoned cue

One can not simply apply pressure and release and add an appetitive to introduce positive reinforcement in a traditional training method. The danger of doing so is to get a ‘poisoned cue’.

A cue can get ‘poisoned’ if the horse simply can’t predict anymore if there is an aversive (more pressure), correction  or other aversive is coming or bridge signal with an appetitive (a desired reward).

The horses history

I think it depends highly on the horses history with corrections, punishment and accumulating pressure if you can mix +R and -R in a ‘safe’ way. With ‘safe’ I mean minimizing the chances of a poisoned cue.

How to apply +R in a -R environment

That is a good question. I think it is really hard for a +R trainer (rider) to follow instructions of a trainer who thinks in a traditional way. With traditional I mean that the performance of the horse (the results) comes in first place and the horses emotions are subordinate. With +R trainers the horses emotions are more or equally important to the results.

I can imagine that it is really hard to follow instructions of a teacher/instructor or person that you have given a certain ‘power’ or at least a person who you agreed upon to follow their instructions to question their methods on the spot.

How do you do it?

What is your experience with this? Are you hiring a coach that doesn’t (really) understand what positive reinforcement is and how do you implement their instructions in a way it doesn’t confuse your horse?

Sandra Poppema
For tailored positive reinforcement training advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult!

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2 thoughts on “Create +R solutions in a -R environment

  1. Nice blog! For me if a trainer can offer knowledge that is important for me, but I can’t access it from R+ trainers, I will still take their lessons. I’ll try to explain that I work using R+ but sometimes its still hard to have a lesson and feeling comfortable about the level of pressure. However, I know my pony can very well deal with pressure so when the trainer will apply some pressure I don’t really mind, if I’m having the reins I’ll do it my way as far as possible. Of course I don’t want the pressure to escalate and if my pony really doesn’t understand something, I’ll suggest to the trainer I’ll work on it during our own time. But it’s still a bit a search for what’s best, so this is my current point of view.

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