Treatment Type: Training Techniques
Rated for: American Paint Horse
By Maddy Baker
Posted Dec. 29, 2018
I have always utilized positive reinforcement when working with horses, but within the last few years have learned more about how to make it more effective.
I'll give Pat Parelli some credit, because he has put this idea into words and made the practice well-known.
His method first has you look at your horse's personality type. He has two main categories, each split up into two:
1) Introverted and Extroverted
2) Left-Brained and Right-Brained
You can find more about what each means here:
Once you have established which personality your horse best fits into, then you can work toward choosing a reward that would provide the most incentive. Before I learned about this, I often approached working with horses with a "one size fits all" mentality. This isn't the case. Horses are just as unique as people, which means they naturally have different desires and likes.
For example, when I practiced showmanship with my mare and she did something right or started working in the right direction, I'd stop and pet her. Stopping was a helpful form of positive reinforcement. But petting her wasn't; she likes to be left alone. Now when I want to use positive reinforcement while doing groundwork, I'll allow her to stop when she's given me the desired behavior and instead of petting her, I take a step back and turn my back so that I'm not facing her. All pressure is off and she is left alone. She responds better to this. Sometimes, she will want to be pet but we've established how she can communicate this while being respectful.
Once you accurately determine your horse's personality type (I would only use the Parelli chart as a loose guide), you can decide which type of positive reinforcement works best for your horse. It could be attention, petting, treats (be careful with this one), removing indirect pressure like I did with my mare, stopping for a physical and mental break, etc.
The bottom line: regardless of personality type, is that some form of pressure should be removed when the horse gives you the behavior/action you are asking for. If you want to go a step further and use more positive reinforcement, this is your guide on how to find the right fit for your horse.