Why I’m OK With Combining Positive and Negative Reinforcement

This evening I read a post on HippoLogic titled “The Difference between Positive and Negative Reinforcement” by Sandra Poppema.  It inspired me to share some of my own thoughts on this subject. After explaining (accurately) the scientific difference Sandra goes on to make her case for R+ being a better approach than R- for training horses leading to a conclusion that R- should be avoided. Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a huge advocate for positive reinforcement.  I hand feed a LOT of food while training horses – much to the chagrin of many ‘never hand feed’ traditionalists.  However, I don’t necessarily agree the R- is something to be avoided. In her post, Sandra states, “The ‘release of pressure’ is not a reward: the horse will not offer ‘more behaviour’ in the hope of a more severe aversive ‘in order to earn a bigger sense of relieve’.” I take some issue with this because that isn’t how it works when done well.  I will explain. This anti- negative reinforcement mind set assumes that the horse is not actively engaging in the training.  He works only to avoid aversives and does the minimum to stay out of trouble.  I will grant that many horses do seem to be operating like that.  However, it doesn’t need to be like that. The way that I learned horsemanship assumes and cultivates a mentally engaged horse.  For the engaged horse discovers that there is, in fact, something in it for him.  Like us, horses appreciate being acknowledged.  Horses are intelligent, curious, and are wired to want to get along.  As such they appreciate and seek...

The Importance of a Balanced Mouth

I talk a lot about setting a horse up for success.  You could go back and read this article on My Secret Weapon for a reminder.  In that article I talk about seeing the little things and how they add up for the better or worse! Horses are remarkably quick studies.  They are also designed to want to get along.  In Mary Hunter’s kind review of my book she quoted one of my favorite sayings:  “If the horse knew what you wanted and was confident that he was able to do it, he’d BE doing it.”  So, if it seems like your training issues just never seem to get resolved you need to look at the bigger picture.  It is truly mind boggling sometimes how little it takes to block a horse from being able to cooperate with us. It could be your equitation is the source of the block and I see that a LOT in my teaching. But that isn’t the source I wanted to talk about today. Since moving to East Tennessee three years ago I’ve been without the support system that I had access to up north.  This included quality dental care among other things.  I’ve been having the local vet (who I do like as a vet) float my horse’s teeth.  I would have preferred an equine dental specialist but finding someone who would come to this area was a challenge.  So, this was on my radar but not until recently did the stars align to get the person I was looking for to me. For the last couple of years I’ve been encountering...

My Book Gets a Shout-Out

Mary Hunter, over at stalecheerios.com, wrote up a really lovely review of my book on her website.  I so appreciate when people really ‘get’ the message.  Here’s a quote from Mary’s review: “Sharon Foley’s underlying philosophy is that the “horse would be doing what was asked of him if only he were clear about what was wanted and was confident that he could do it.” Our horses aren’t trying to be brats or challenge us or make us angry. However, they often don’t understand what we want or why they should be doing what we are asking. The goal of good training should be clear and precise communication between horse and rider. In Getting to Yes, Sharon Foley shows us how to break training down into small steps and show our horses exactly what we are asking. By doing this we can build a mindset where we work with the horse, rather than against him, and help the horse be right every step of the way.” Thank you, Mary, for the your kind...

In Memory of Roxi – May 10, 1998 to August 10, 2010

This week we lost our beloved Shepherd, Roxi, at age 12.  I wrote this for her. There is a hole in the Universe where you used to be. I go through my day tripping over the impressions you left in my routine. Like a photograph negative I see the outline of you. But it is not you. At the door. Under the coffee table. At my feet under my desk. I get out of bed – late because you didn’t make me get up. I wander aimlessly in the morning thinking there is something I’m supposed to be doing. You would have told me. You knew our every move.  Time to go out.  Time to eat.  Time for pop tart. We were so predictable.  So trainable. I know with time the tide will wash over your footprints. Soon the movement of the Universe will fill in those holes. Too soon routines without you will feel normal. But I’m not ready to let you go. I leave your dish with three bits of kibble from that Tuesday morning where you left it. I leave your nose prints on the windows unwashed. The dog hair un-vacuumed. We want you back home. But not like this, in a metal box with the inscription “Until we meet again at the Rainbow Bridge”. by Sharon...

Grass – The Carpet of Motivation

I wrote this article several years ago.  It had gotten lost in the shuffle of updating my website.  Unfortunately the video that had gone along with it is among the missing.  But, here is the article anyway.   –Sharon Here in New England one of the things I really miss in the winter is the ability to ride outside on grass.  Or, as we like to call it, the ‘Carpet of Motivation’.  The reason it has earned that name is because of all the food rewards we’ve offered—and we’ve used just about every possible treat under the sun—none have the reinforcing impact of grazing.  I started the practice a few years ago and have since introduced several horses to it with excellent results.  The rule is let the horses tell us what they find reinforcing.  The horses tell us grazing is good! Getting Started The first thing you have to do is explain to your horse how the Grazing Game works.  Before starting your horse should already be familiar with the clicker, targeting, head lowering, and backing. Begin on the ground with the horse in a halter and lead rope and let him lower his head to take a few bites of grass, then ask him to raise his head by following your feel.  Click for any response, even a momentary hesitation in chewing.  Then let him graze again.  Just a few bites, then ask him to lift his head.  Click for reply then let him graze. If your horse doesn’t respond to your request to lift his head don’t jerk it up.  There are there several ways to illicit...