In my Secret Weapon post I talked about how important it is to remain focused on what we want and rewarding that and only that. 

Read it here if you want to be reminded about it or missed it the first time.

In her article in Psychology Today titled, Trainers with Jackhammers Need Not Apply, Susan Friedman, Ph.D. talks about this very issue from a slightly different point of view.  And, hearing the same thing said differently is always a useful learning strategy.  She brings up two key points to consider when training (any animal, horses included):

  • Identify what you want the horse to DO and reward THAT.
  • Consider what is motivating behaviors that occur.

The first point is pretty straight forward and I’ve talked about it a gazillion times before.  The second one is important too but maybe doesn’t get as much play as it could.

Behaviors don’t just happen.  They happen for a reason… the Behavior somehow works for the “Behave-EE”.  By works I mean on some level the behavior is getting reinforced.  And the reinforcement may not have anything to do with YOU.  Horses (as we all do) are driven by needs that need to be fulfilled.  Safety, food, water, sex…  Safety is always high on the list and if often the source of problem behaviors with horses.  If they believe that their safety is at risk horses will do what they believe they must to feel safe again.  This is just one example but when ever stuff is happening, and it keeps happening, you have to accept that something is reinforcing it.  If it weren’t being reinforced it would stop.

What behaviors do you see in your horses that make you wonder, “What is reinforcing this behavior?”