Horses Inspired More With Tasty Rewards

Research by equine scientists in Japan has found that horses can get picky about their rewards. Horses remain more motivated to do something on command when they're rewarded with a treat they really like.

Whether they were trained with positive reinforcement of timothy hay or pelleted concentrate, the horses in this study learned just as quickly to do a task.

Then on subsequent days, some horses quit performing when the food reward was not up to the standard to which they'd become accustomed. If tasty feed pellets were what they'd learned on, horses were less likely to be motivated later by plain hay.

Indeed, the Japanese researchers found that half the horses they trained using pellets simply stopped responding altogether once the horses discovered that their reward had been downgraded to hay. The rest of the horses were considerably less enthusiastic about performing for treats when hay was handed out.

Reintroducing the incentive of pelleted feed inspired more cooperation from the horses that had persevered through hay being used as a positive reinforcement. Overall, on the days when pellets were offered, the horses responded for a reward substantially more often.

Reference

Shigeru Ninomiya, Takeshi Mitsumasu, Masato Aoyama and Ryo Kusunose. 2007. A note on the effect of a palatable food reward on operant conditioning in horses. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 108(3-4): 342-347.

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