Can you teach your horse everything he needs to know without using pressure in an aversive way, pain or threats? Can we really get rid of our spurs, tight nose bands, crops, training sticks, whips, martingales and other ‘aids’.
Yes, you can!
You can teach a horse something with adding an appetitive (something the horse likes to
receive) or an aversive (something the horse wants to avoid or escape from). If you know what motivates a horse in a positive way, you can use that in all training situations.
Horses are flight animals and it is really easy to motivate then with fear. We all know horses that already start moving as soon as the rider or trainer reaches for a whip. That is motivation by fear. Because it triggers the instinctive flight response it is a very quick way to make the horse respond.
If you want to motivate and teach the horse to move with an appetitive, it can take longer before you get results. You have to figure out a strategy that works for that horse, put it on cue and then built on the duration of the behaviour. That can take time, even when you have more than one strategy you can try. I think there is a way to motivate every behaviour in a positive way (by adding an appetitive).
Positive reinforcement for human and horse
I am convinced that positive reinforcement is a much nicer way of training. It is not only the trainer that gets motivated positively (with the behaviour he wants of the horse), there is also something in it for the horse. Beside a reward the horse also gets a say in the matter.
Since positive reinforcement training is still a relatively ‘new’ science in the equestrian world not everyone has experienced the advantages. Sometimes negative reinforcement (natural horsemanship and traditional methods) seems quicker at first glance.
For instance when a horse on a competition ground refuses to go back into the trailer. In general the horse is already over their threshold (read: extremely stressed) and is out of learning mode. Introducing positive reinforcement at that time takes more effort than when a horse is relaxed and in learning mode. The short cut (forcing the horse into the trailer) seems faster. In reality the horse loses their trust in people. In fact the whole process of teaching a horse to like trailers and trailer rides will take much longer. Only people sometimes don’t see the whole picture. They think positive reinforcement will take longer because their wants (horse in trailer) are not met instantaneously.
As long as you have enough time (I am not talking about emergency situations) and imagination I think you can teach a horse everything with positive reinforcement. What do you think?
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