Positive Reinforcement Training for School Horses: Its Use as Enrichment and Its Effect on the Human-Horse Relationship

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Virginia Tech


The use of positive reinforcement training has been shown to improve the human- horse relationships, but the equestrian community has been slow to replace traditional techniques with positive reinforcement training. Horse owners and trainers might be willing to add positive reinforcement training sessions to their routine, even if they are unwilling to change their primary training methods. For this study, we examined whether the addition of positive reinforcement training, in an otherwise unchanged routine, would have behavioral effects on a group of school horses. The implementation of positive reinforcement sessions increased contact seeking behavior (both proximity to and physical touch) with the trainer, but not a stranger. Horses showed similar perception in value of positive reinforcement sessions and food-toy enrichment sessions through increased anticipatory behavior, measured by behavior transition rate, compared to a control group. Providing school horses access to regular food-toy sessions is a good way to provide enrichment, but it does not increase the bond between the horse and trainer like regular positive reinforcement training sessions.