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The Positives of Negative Reinforcement

Following last month’s article “Dissecting the Dance” on rewriting the dressage training scale, we look at other ways to use learning theory to create more equitable training environments for horses in all disciplines. Horses, like most other animals including humans, do what works, and stop doing what doesn’t work. If you want to see a behaviour more often, make it work for your horse; if you want to see less of it, figure out how it is working and make it stop working. Operant conditioning, first coined in 1938 in B.F. Skinner’s The Behavior of Organisms, is about that simple. However, Skinner and the learning theorists who followed him were not thinking about horse trainers when they made learning theory sufficiently complicated so as to be mostly inaccessible and irrelevant to the average horse person. Undoubtedly, coaches are more likely to understand training principles in practical rather than scientific terms,…

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