Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Reinforcement: an Introduction

First what does it mean to reinforce? Reinforcement is a reward for a "right answer" Reinforcement is anything that increases the likelihood of a behavior recurring. What ever behavior is reinforced will then likely repeat. I like to keep this in mind when new behaviors pop up in horse training. "What behavior am I reinforcing and HOW am I reinforcing it"

The How
There are two basic types of reinforcement. Negative and positive reinforcement.
Positive- Is anything added that is rewarding when the appropriate behavior is expressed. Giving a dog a cookie for the command "sit", smiling at your partner and saying "thanks" for doing the dishes, giving a child a gold star on a completed homework assignment- these are all examples of positive reinforcement. Exotic animal trainers(dolphin elephant etc) use positive reinforcement. "Clicker" training is a gaining popularity, and also uses positive reinforcement- a topic for another post!

Negative-(not to be confused with punishment) is taking away an irritating, non rewarding, or uncomfortable stimulus. How we normally train dogs to walk on a leash is using negative reinforcement. A new puppy quickly learns that he can remove the uncomfortable feeling of tightness from the rope by walking forward, the same a horse is conditioned to move "off" a leg. The reward is in the removal of the stimulus or "aide" as we riders like to say.
Most traditional and "natural" horse training is primarily negative reinforcement. Leg and rein aides are of course negative reinforcement. You want your horse to move away from your leg, you want your horse to give to reins. This is all taught by negative reinforcement. Also Parelli's Seven Games uses negative reinforcement, along with Monty Robert's join up games. So you see in the eyes of a behaviorist the new "natural" movement is not so new or different after all!

Both forms of reinforcement have their own unique weaknesses and strengths, and just like disciplines have very passionate followers. I plan on delving into the drawbacks of each in following posts...

Bodhi News
The cold is finally here, in North Central Florida and Bodhi looks like a woolly mammoth. He just loves this weather! I am debating what I am going to do about blanketing this year. He is a Haflinger and I do live in Florida. Does he really need a blanket? Is this just to make me feel better? I am thinking about loaning Bodhi's Blankets to two ederly boarders who do not have any blankets. They are two short coated arabs that need all the help they can get keeping the pounds on this winter.

At what temp do you blanket your horses? What role does their individual winter coats weigh in your decision making process?


  1. When it's raining, we put on sheets if the horses are likely to get chilled due to the amount of rain or the temperatures - under 60s with a soaking rain when coats are thin and somewhat colder in months where coats are heavy. In winter, we rarely blanket except for Dawn, who never grows much of a coat, and some of our senior horses who have more trouble staying warm. We will blanket if temperatures, or wind chills, are getting down towards zero.

  2. Yeah, that seems practical. Floridians are so silly, the norm around here is blanket under 40 even if the horse has a winter coat! We are not a cold tolerant people :)

  3. Interesting. I'll be looking forward to your upcoming posts on training. As for blanketing, I would seriously doubt he'll need a blanket. Lend them to the Arabs.

  4. Ah, learning & conditioning 101, very well described!

    It is always so interesting to me to hear about blanketing strategies around the world. It can be hard to compare though, I think since horses acclimatize to their area so well. I'm sure what is blanket worthy in Florida is still considered pretty warm by horses here (in general).

  5. Despite her breed, Sinari is a first-class wimp when it comes to cold. Clipped or not clipped. I don't blame her, I am too.

    Take it per situation.