Clicker Training Horses

What is negative reinforcement


Defined simply, when you apply an aversive (however mild) and wait for the horse to give you a response that approximates what you want and then you take away or remove that aversive, chances are you will see the behavior repeat under similar circumstances.
So, think of a fly.  The fly does what it does and this action creates behavior in a horse. It is just aversive enough that most horses will do what it takes to stop the aversive.  Now if the fly really understood training, it could keep the aversive low enough that the horse would tolerate or ignore it.  But since most flies bite, most horses react with a tail swish or foot stomp. So in reality the fly is training the horse to stomp or swish.  As long as the biting remains aversive as such, the horse will continue to stomp and swish. The fly trained him to do that, even if it isn't a professional trainer.
The aversive created the behavior - the stomping makes the fly leave -therefore the stomping behavior is likely to increase, much to the frustration of horse and barn owner alike.
So how does negative reinforcement fall into training tool kits? There are some subtle ways to use negative reinforcement in a training plan. If a fly can cause a horse to pick up a leg and stomp, a person can tickle the hairs on a horse's leg and teach it to wave.
So if an animal does something because it wants to move away from a touch or pressure and the trainer understands that releasing or stopping the aversive is the way to teach the animal to do something, then a lot of people will want to use this reliable method. Just look at the oodles of clinicians promoting their NH and traditional techniques and you'll realize that training with an aversive can produce results.
Using negative reinforcement can vary from an aversive as subtle as a fly to escalating phases of pressure that eventually raises the aversive to what many would consider extreme.
It's funny about pressure though - we can scratch a horse really hard and he'll lean into it, and even step into us asking for more. In fact I've trained behaviors using scratching, but the horse was actively seeking the scratching. In scientific terms, that would be using positive reinforcement
I think it is easier to try to define these techniques when looking through the lens of how it's defined by the academicians and scientists. It clarified so much for me and I highly recommend you take the time to read more about the science behind these definitions so that you can make your own informed choices.
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