Training horses: Positive reinforcement, positive punishment, and ridden behavior problems

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An Internet survey was used to investigate the relationship between riders’ responses to their horse’s behavior in 8 commonly encountered riding scenarios and the frequency of generic behavior problems displayed by their horse during ridden work. There was a significant negative correlation between the percentage of rewarding rider responses to appropriate behavior scenarios from their horse and ridden behavior problem score (P = 0.007), but there was no association between punishing rider responses toward inappropriate behavior scenarios and their horses’ generic ridden behavior problem score. Consistency of reward for appropriate behavior scenarios and punishment of inappropriate behavior scenarios had no correlation with the horses’ generic ridden behavior problem score. However, riders who used a higher proportion of rewarding responses overall, even toward inappropriate behavior scenarios, had horses with fewer generic ridden behavioral problems (P = 0.011). These respondents reported using reassuring responses to calm their horse and may have had greater success by responding to their horses’ emotional state than by responding to their behavior per se.

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