Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Proactive vs reactive teaching

Hi everyone,

A proven way of influencing a horse's behavior is to reward desirable actions and punish undesirable actions. This is called operant conditioning. Note that this is all about consequences. Positive consequences for good behavior. Negative consequences for bad behavior. Notice also that this takes place entirely after the behavior has occurred.

Natural horsemanship uses operant conditioning but it also uses something else. Something that is proactive, that influences the behavior before it occurs. We describe it in different ways. We "set the horse up for success." We "make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult." We "make our idea become the horse's idea." This requires more mental engagement, planning, and commitment on the part of the trainer, but there are great rewards to be reaped.

One of the golden rules of natural horsemanship is to be as gentle as possible and as firm as necessary. Being proactive in training increases the opportunities to be gentle and decreases the need to be firm.



phayes said...

I found that in most cases breaking the request down into smaller steps will encourage the horse as he searches for the right answer rather than cause discomfort on the part of the horse. His reward is the release. He'll hunt for that release next time, and you'll avoid having to make the horse uncomfortable. Again, it depends on the horse.

phayes said...

I didn't let you know how much I enjoy your program. So many good ideas and suggestions that it should be required if you are a horseman. Learning never stops and pieces of knowledge can come from so many. Thank you very much for what you are doing.

Rick said...

Hi Phayes,
I agree that breaking things into smaller steps is a good strategy when the horse doesn't seem to understand the request. However, you still need to give him a reason to search for an answer. Pressure, which can run the gamut from a minor annoyance (e.g. waving your arms) to physical discomfort, is necessary for the horse to want to make a change. Otherwise, he will be fine with the status quo. The search is a search for an end to the pressure. As long as he is actively searching, there is no need to change the level of the pressure. It's only when he refuses to try that we escalate pressure.
"Pressure" sometimes carries a negative connotation with it. If you prefer, think of it as a stimulus. When a highly trained horse receives a cue from a rider, it is a stimulus, a unit of communication designed to produce a change in the current state of affairs. It could be the furthest thing in the world from physical discomfort, but is still a subtle form of pressure.

Thanks for the kind words. I really appreciate them!

grace said...

There were three things a trainer told me about.
Progressive Behaviour Modification was one. Flooding was the court of last resort.
I think Operant Conditioning may have been the third.
This guy had some of the very best flat square gaited horses I have ever seen. No big lick horses just good flat shod horses.
Everything he did was proactive.
I have been trying to achieve that ever since.