Impact of Training Method on Behavioral, Physiological, and Relationship Measures in Horses

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Virginia Tech


With a rise in concern for animal welfare, the equine world has started using positive reinforcement (R+); as such, horses often experience a combination of negative reinforcement (R-) and R+. I compared the effects of R- to a combination of positive and negative reinforcement (R-/R+) training. Horses were trained to walk across two visually discriminable liverpools (striped, Experiment 1; colored water, Experiment 2), each associated with either R- or R-/R+, and training type alternating across six days. I measured highest training criteria reached, prevalence of undesirable behaviors, salivary cortisol (pre- and post-training), time spent by the trainer in motionless human tests (pre- and post-training), and horses' preference for the two liverpools using concurrent choice. Across both experiments, I found no significant difference in the proportions of criteria reached between training types; horses engaged in mugging for longer periods of time in R-/R+ than R-; no significant difference between training types for the pre- to post-change of cortisol; a greater proportion of horses increased time spent with R-/R+ trainer than the R- trainer; and no difference between first choice in the preference test or time horses spent in proximity to the liverpool, based on the training type with which the liverpool was associated. Overall, I found few differences between R-/R+ and R-, which could be due to horses only having 30 min total training contact with either training, or my use of relatively low intensities of R- and R+.



Riding horses, rehomed Thoroughbreds, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, combination reinforcement