Exploring 2 Sides of Training: How Negative and Positive Reinforcement Operate

Have you ever wondered how training really works in the mind of the horse?


In the behavioral world we talk about a lot of terms like positive reinforcement, positive punishment, negative reinforcement and negative punishment. But we won't go too into the weeds with those: the two main methods of training that most folks are familiar with are negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement - respectively, the application and then the release of pressure, and the use of incentives to motivate a horse's behavior.


Negative reinforcement is traditional horsemanship: for example, you urge the horse on with your heels, and they move forward away from the pressure. Positive reinforcement is found most often in clicker training communities, where a behavior is cued for, the horse responds and then receives a reward (most often food) for an accurate response.


Understanding how horses learn new behaviors (or improve upon existing ones) is incredibly important. It's the basis for not only efficient training, but fair training. Knowing there are options beyond the application of force opens up a wider range of ways to interact with your horse in a positive and effective manner.