Positive Reinforcement Has Its Rewards

Does rewarding a horse during training make a difference? Scientists recently sought to answer that question by comparing how horses respond when trained with and without positive reinforcement.

The researchers worked with twenty horses driven on long-reins in an indoor arena, focussing on training the horses to halt. Half the horses were trained using only negative reinforcement, while the other half received both negative and positive reinforcement.

After five days of training, the two groups responded equally well when asked to halt. But there were signs that the horses which received rewards during training had a demeanour different from the others.

Horses encouraged with positive handling licked their lips more, shook their heads less often, and increased their overall roundedness. All these signs indicate that giving a horse positive reinforcement during training makes for a happier horse.

Reference

.K. Warren-Smith and P.D. McGreevy. 2007. The use of blended positive and negative reinforcement in shaping the halt response of horses (Equus caballus). Animal Welfare. 16(4): 481-488.

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