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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I sent another email to Patricia Barlow-Irick owner operator of the 501C Mustang Camp who gentles wild horses to BLM adoption standards and has taken entire gathers from the National Forest.

My email:

Hi,

I'm back again with another question.

Of the 600 horses that have been brought to your facility, has there been any that were so traumatized from previous handling that they could not be successfully gentled using the methods you do use?

Thank you very much,

...................................................................................................................................................................................................

Her Response:

No, some just take longer. If humans become associated with traumatic events, it can be challenging to re-associate them with positive things in the animals appraisal of the world. But it can be done.

..................................................................................................................................................................................................

That's encouraging
 

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That is definitely encouraging!
 

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This post made me curious about how they train the horses. It sounds like they get them ready for initial adoption by getting them used to being handled on the ground in preparation for saddle training.

From their website:

"We teach using a mixture of positive and negative reinforcement during the basic skill training because in the future of these animals, adopters are most likely to use pressure/release methods to work with their mustangs. An animal learns to learn.

If the horse has been held under adverse conditions and already has a negative opinion about people, the initial acclimation may take too long using only positive reinforcement. It may be necessary to break down the barriers and reformulate the animals’ understanding of humans through other techniques."
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
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The biggest mistake people make training a horse (per the video):

"Leading....The horse starts going past us. You say "whoa". The horse goes, "I know how to to do that. Great. Stop. I know how to get the person to say "Whoa!"

Oddly enough, I've yet to have a horse who wants me to say "Whoa". When leading, my horse may be ahead a bit, behind a bit, or beside me. Not a big deal. If too far ahead or behind, he gets tugs on the rein opposing him getting too far ahead or behind. Not "punishment" but just, "You've chosen the wrong answer. Find another one."

She mentions a dog who jumps on you, and is then re-directed to "sit". The dog sits and is rewarded. So the dog jumps on you deliberately to create a situation where you want to "re-direct" and then the dog gets its reward. My dogs? If they jump on my, they ram themselves into my knee. I don't whip them, beat them, scream, etc - but I block them. Then THEY figure out the behavior is not helpful to them and they stop doing it.

Excessive reliance on positive reinforcement then creates a different problem as the dog or horse learns to manipulate the system. Perhaps the answer is to not have a system, but work with each horse individually.
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What I failed to realize back then was that by ramping up the intensity of my leg pressure, for example, while I did get the result of him moving away from it, I had obtained the result I wanted with a substantially negative byproduct. Yes, he moved off my kicking leg, but the sharpness of my kicks had made him more nervous and anxious. Now I had to deal with a more reactive horse, which meant very often I would feel the need for stronger rein contact to control the nervousness that I had actually created. As I used stronger rein contact, the horse got even more nervous, and the downward training spiral had begun. What I was doing was forcing the move away response rather than teaching the move away response...

"So, how should I have obtained the response? He didn't listen to my light leg pressure. Why shouldn't I use more if he fails to respond? Well, because of what I just said. Harder and harder pressure makes him more nervous. The way to get him to move is not to bang on his sides, but to 'pester' him until he moves.

I have never read any book about riding that talks about 'pestering' a horse. They always use the terms like 'Apply the aids,' as if the horse will magically understand what the heck that means.

But think. Why does a horse swish his tail at a fly? Because the horse knows the fly will bite him if he doesn't get rid of the thing. The horse is not terrified by the fly. The fly isn't an attacking mountain lion. It isn't even a stinging wasp. It's a fly. Even an annoying fly will get a horse to respond, but it is not a panicked response.

In a way, we riders need to be mildly annoying flies..
." - Denny Emerson, Know Better to Do Better, Mistakes I Made With Horses (So You Don't Have To)
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At some level, most of us figure that out some way along the path. The problem with "punishment" isn't that it is "punishment", but when it is OVER-punishment. Horses bitterly resent excessive reactions and too many (where I live) are excessive. When positive reinforcement can get the same result, then it ought to be used. But mildly annoying :This does not profit you" responses do not provoke the horse. When timed correctly.

In 1890 - these ideas are not new - James Fillis wrote:

"A horseman who has great delicacy and tact, will stop the animal at the first time and pat him. But the less tact he has, the less capable is he of judging if the time is in cadence. Such a man will continue in his attempts to catch the cadence, and will succeed only in upsetting the nerves of his horse. These remarks explain the fact that a clever and tactful horseman will obtain all he wants from his mount, without making him either vicious or unsound. Being able to recognize the slightest sign of obedience, he immediately stops the work, in order to make the horse understand, by pats on the neck, that he has done well. The quickness with which he perceives the slightest signs, saves him from overtaxing and disgusting the horse, and provoking him to battle, which will wear them both out.

The unskillful rider, who is slow in catching the cadence, will continue to use the spur, in order to obtain several cadenced times, and to be sure he is right, and will thus punish the horse, who, not knowing why he is punished, will defend himself, while the rider is spurring him. The result will be, that when he wants the horse to again do the passage, the animal will think he is going to be punished, and will become mad at the approach of the spurs.

Hence, the important point is to recognize the slightest signs of good will, and to be content with little. If the horse does not fear the approach of the legs, and if we are not too exacting, a time will always arrive when he will take up the cadence of the passage with ease and pleasure. We may then ask more; because, as the horse understands us, there will be no fear of over-exciting his nervous system. (pg 284)
"

The key isn't "positive reinforcement only", but learning to read the horse, to punish like a fly and how "to recognize the slightest signs of good will and...be content with little". That takes time and experience to learn. And a willingness to learn from the horse versus having a system.
 

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Perhaps the answer is to not have a system, but work with each horse individually.
This goes for any training type or any mix of training types. That’s just good training. Good training means considering the individual’s needs. :)
 

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The key isn't "positive reinforcement only", but learning to read the horse, to punish like a fly and how "to recognize the slightest signs of good will and...be content with little". That takes time and experience to learn. And a willingness to learn from the horse versus having a system.
I agree that positive reinforcement only is not key or the answer to every situation. For every horse, I think it is important to assess their individual needs. For instance, with Maverick, I do not use treat & clicker training because he has a history with food aggression (not his fault, folks I have no say over wouldn’t stop giving him treats and getting scared when he started approaching with pinned ears and rewarded bad behavior despite me begging them not to... then I had to deal with the results) and I do not think that, with my limited experience with +R, that it would be advisable or even safe to try +R treat only training around him. I think that as soon as you put the treats away he would get p’d off and his food aggression would resurface. And I do not want to have to have treats on me 24/7 to be safe with my horse. That is not a bond.

So I use 90% negative reinforcement with Maverick. He does fine with it, he is never upset by -R itself. When he does sometimes get upset is when he is searching and searching for an answer and can’t quite figure out what the answer is. Like I do when I’m working on a really hard math problem I just can’t get right. When that happens, I let him do what I wish I had been allowed to do when I got upset by those tough math problems. I give him a break. When he gets frustrated (ear pinning, tail swishing, or wide eyes often indicate this) I wait for a good effort and then I relieve pressure even if it was not the right answer. As a sort of “Okay, you’re trying really hard and I can see that. Take a break, and we will come back to this later.” Then we may work on something else for a while, like I often do now, working on a different subject after I get burnt out on math. If he has gotten so frustrated that I think he needs a full break until the next time, I work on something I know he can do, to rebuild his confidence, and then we quit for the day. I think that’s an important thing to remember. Building their confidence, never tearing it down. If you leave a situation with an overall less confident horse, you failed. That’s not to say you can’t get up and try again tomorrow and build their confidence back up and succeed tomorrow, but it does mean that you have to look at the situation and say “Okay, this is where I went wrong and I need to fix it. We can try this to fix it.”

With Dixie... she is not as calm and level-headed as Maverick. -R is fine with her when we are working on maneuvers and the like. But when it comes to desensitizing some amount of positive reinforcement is necessary, otherwise she is not mentally present in the situation. It is that simple.

The same with Pistol. -R is fine for teaching him maneuvers, and he can actually be desensitized without too much difficulty with -R most of the time. But +R really speeds up the process a little, even when it is just pats and scratches and not treats.
 
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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
but it does mean that you have to look at the situation and say “Okay, this is where I went wrong and I need to fix it. We can try this to fix it.”
From where I sit, your post is filled with some pretty solid thought.

FWIW, Patricia does use both aversives and a mixture of -R and +R in her training. Because of her experience in the field and educational background and extensive review of both her websites, I have decided to follow her instructions and experience closely in my upcoming efforts. I already have her 26 steps downloaded and will purchase the book that gives more details about it. There are also videos on training to saddle which I found interesting, particularly in the safety aspect of it.

Here is a paste from one page if her website. Bold print by me.

Paste:


During the initial acclimation phase of Mustang Camp training, we use respondent conditioning as the most direct method of calming the animal and setting its attitude towards humans. We want to form an association in the horses mind between us and pleasure. When they see us, we want them to expect positive things. During our second phase of training, the animal learns all the basic human interaction that is needed for basic horse-keeping. We teach using a mixture of positive and negative reinforcement during the basic skill training because in the future of these animals, adopters are most likely to use pressure/release methods to work with their mustangs. An animal learns to learn.
If the horse has been held under adverse conditions and already has a negative opinion about people, the initial acclimation may take too long using only positive reinforcement. It may be necessary to break down the barriers and reformulate the animals’ understanding of humans through other techniques.





✓ Check list of skills you need to know how and when to implement in order to succeed:

☐ How to use respondent conditioning to set an animals expectations.

How to use appetitives and aversives to provide appropriate consequences for behaviors.

☐ How to use habituation, systematic desensitization, and counter-conditioning to control fears.

☐ How to avoid problems and accelerate learning by managing latent learning.

☐ How to avoid problems associated with flooding and learned helplessness.

☐ How to keep training records.

☐ How to break tasks into tiny lessons that keeps the animal succeeding.


 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
BTW, by using aversives, it should not be assumed she uses +P. She doesn't. -R is based on applying aversives with a release. When I get her book and training manual, it'll be interesting to learn if she even uses -P.
 
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I really think discussions of P+, P-, R+ & R- are best left to professionals. If I ask Bandit to turn right by nudging him with my left leg, and stop nudging when he turns, did I merely give a cue? Was I "punishing" him with leg pressure and "Rewarding" him when I stopped? And would BANDIT ever make such distinctions himself? I understand a professional's need to categorize certain behaviors as a part of studying training methods but find them far too vague for daily use. I also observe they are highly emotional words, often provoking an unenlightening emotional response. Specific examples allows calmer, more rational discussion of what works or does not work well. IMHO. Particularly since one horse may have a very different response to the exact same external stimulus.
 

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BTW, by using aversives, it should not be assumed she uses +P. She doesn't. -R is based on applying aversives with a release. When I get her book and training manual, it'll be interesting to learn if she even uses -P.
Btw I find it rather... Twisty logic that you are differentiating as to whether a punisher with a release is called a punisher. Yesterday you were saying it was all abusive, yet today you have jumped on this lady's bandwagon. So I'm not trying to guess at what your idea is today.

I don't agree with your interpretation above, which implies it's only punishment if it's without release - eg. applied in absence of the behaviour you're intending to punish. That is not really a punisher - that, IMO would be more appropriately labled pointless & abuse. I am thinking this interpretation of yours would explain your logic behind you telling everyone that uses punishment, we are abusive.
 

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Here is a concept of general horse training that works well with mustangs - at least the two I own:

When the front door is locked, look around for the back door. George Morris, who I gather could be a jerk himself, put it this way:

"With most Thoroughbreds [Note: Arabians, Mustangs, good horses], force simply doesn't work; equestrian tact does. The English call such sensitive horses "high couraged", a characteristic that can be a double-edged sword. No horse will give you more if you can channel his energy in the right direction, but no horse can fight you harder if you abuse him. Pushing and pulling will backfire and is akin to stepping on the gas and the brakes at the same time in an automobile. Finesse, compromise, and an indirect approach to the problem - "going in through the back door" - will usually get the job done much better than confrontations, force and fights."

It goes back to what James Fillis wrote in a book that has remained in print for 130 years: Tact. When meeting resistance, don't try to break down the front door. Take a step back. Move around. Look for the unlocked back door. Back down - but don't give up. Speak softer, not louder. Look for a way to get some of what you want. Or maybe even reassess if you really want it at all. Many horses are know fighting. Let's face it: They fight and punish each other all the time!

So...don't fight. Learn "Quiet Persistence", not direct opposition. Be nimble, not strong and certainly not proud. Give options, not ultimatums. Don't insist on the whole loaf. Take a slice today if that is all, and then a slice tomorrow. And another slice next week. Time can be your enemy or your friend. You choose.

Of course, I only have two mustangs. Not 600. And I've worked with about a half dozen horses total, not thousands. But a lot of extremely experienced people have come to the same conclusion. 12 years with horses hasn't cured me of my temper, but it has certainly taught me a little about compromise. "Mutually Acceptable Compromise". Because when you find yourself on top of 900 lbs of uncompromising muscle, life sucks!
 

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I really think discussions of P+, P-, R+ & R- are best left to professionals. If I ask Bandit to turn right by nudging him with my left leg, and stop nudging when he turns, did I merely give a cue? Was I "punishing" him with leg pressure and "Rewarding" him when I stopped? And would BANDIT ever make such distinctions himself? I understand a professional's need to categorize certain behaviors as a part of studying training methods but find them far too vague for daily use. I also observe they are highly emotional words, often provoking an unenlightening emotional response. Specific examples allows calmer, more rational discussion of what works or does not work well. IMHO. Particularly since one horse may have a very different response to the exact same external stimulus.
This would be textbook negative reinforcement. Every time you give a horse a cue, you are training, which is why it is important to be consistent. When you nudge, you put pressure. When he responds, you remove pressure.

I think of working with horses in this way. As soon as you set foot near a horse and interact, you are training whether you realize it or not. Your goal, after every interaction with the horse, should be to leave him better off or better “educated” than you found him.

For those who are confused out there: “Negative” means “something is being removed” and “reinforcement” means “the correct response is being encouraged”. On the other hand, “positive” means “something is being added” and punishment means “an incorrect behavior is being discouraged”. (I know bsms likely knows this. But this is for those who don’t know.) So positive reinforcement means “I am providing a pleasant stimulus in response to a desired behavior to encourage it.” Negative reinforcement means “I am removing an unpleasant stimulus in response to a desired behavior to encourage it.” Positive punishment means “I am inflicting an unpleasant stimulus in response to an undesired behavior to discourage it.” Negative punishment means “I am removing a pleasant stimulus in response to an undesired behavior to discourage it.”
 

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Btw I find it rather... Twisty logic that you are differentiating as to whether a punisher with a release is called a punisher. Yesterday you were saying it was all abusive, yet today you have jumped on this lady's bandwagon. So I'm not trying to guess at what your idea is today.

I don't agree with your interpretation above, which implies it's only punishment if it's without release - eg. applied in absence of the behaviour you're intending to punish. That is not really a punisher - that, IMO would be more appropriately labled pointless & abuse. I am thinking this interpretation of yours would explain your logic behind you telling everyone that uses punishment, we are abusive.
From a psychological point of view, the difference between positive punishment and negative reinforcement is mostly the intent. If you’re discouraging an unwanted behavior, that is (at least an attempt at) positive punishment. If you’re encouraging a desired behavior, that’s negative reinforcement.

I think everyone who works with animals or who has children could benefit from taking PSYC1101 or whatever the name for it is. That class really helps you understand conditioning. Of course, I’m aware not everyone can afford it. But if anyone is interested in learning more about conditioning I bet I can find them some videos I watched when I took the class online and send them to them if they are interested. ☺

My personal belief about what separates abuse from correction or acceptable -R comes from five points.
  • Does it traumatize the subject? If yes, it’s abuse.
  • Was it clearly unnecessary? If yes, it’s probably abuse.
  • Was it excessive? If yes, it’s abuse.
  • Did the subject display signs of severe discomfort, fear or pain directly related to the action? If yes, it’s abuse.
  • Was there a purpose to the unpleasant action being inflicted? If no, it’s abuse.
 

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I went and found the video that we watched for the conditioning portion of PSYC1101 if anyone is interested. This is Crash Course and he talks a little fast. If you have difficulty with that, you can always slow down the video by clicking the three dots near the video on YouTube, then pressing “playback speed”, and then selecting .75x or lower. I did that a lot when watching these videos.
 
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From a psychological point of view, the difference between positive punishment and negative reinforcement is mostly the intent. If you’re discouraging an unwanted behavior, that is (at least an attempt at) positive punishment. If you’re encouraging a desired behavior, that’s negative reinforcement.
(probably many of us have taken psychology in college, I have)

I don't really think this is true. Intent does not include how the horse perceives what is being done. I might intend to move a horse over by reefing on his nose with a chain and stopping when he complies. But that is positive punishment rather than negative reinforcement because the horse believes he is being punished, even if he is not exactly sure why.

The principles as outlined by @bsms are very true. Any of the modalities we've discussed can be used without cruelty, and without being perceived as unfair or abusive by the horse.

Yesterday I was thinking about this, as I was using negative reinforcement with my horse. He was standing and I was ready to ask him to move forward. I removed the slack from his lead, and that was all the pressure there was. When he began walking forward, I let the line slack again. "Negative reinforcement" can be as gentle as you want to be.
Just as "Positive punishment" can be something as gentle as stepping toward a horse that is rushing in to bite you and making a loud clapping sound.

But having the tact, the ability to read the horse, to know when to back off and when to show the horse what is right, all of those are far more important than the method you use.

I've read some who think if you use negative reinforcement in training, that you must escalate pressure until a horse responds. Or even hold a pressure until it becomes uncomfortable for the horse. That's not necessary. The key is that the horse understands what you are asking, not that the pressure gets to a level that the horse feels he must respond to. A cue also does not need to be held steady in negative reinforcement. Sometimes you might use a light touch, then repeat it. Such as when teaching many rein cues.

If I only removed the slack from the line, but my horse did not understand I wanted him to walk forward, that does not mean I need to add light pressure, and then heavier pressure, or steady pressure, until the horse walks. In positive reinforcement training, the trainer may wait until the horse gives the right answer. This also is true of negative reinforcement training, but it is simply the cue that is removed when the horse chooses correctly rather than a treat given. This creates the association in the horse's mind, not the strength of the cue applied. A cue can be your palm resting lightly on the horse's neck. How aversive can that be? "Negative" reinforcement only means that the cue is removed when the right answer is reached.

A cue does not in any way have to be aversive. The cue can be a word. I can say trot every time the horse trots. Then later, when the horse is on the lunge, I can say trot, trot, trot, trot and then when the horse finally trots, say good boy. Soon he will understand what trot means and pick it up when I say the word once. It's not that he finds my voice saying trot aversive, so he is trying to get me to stop saying it. LOL. Well, maybe my voice is that annoying.

But it is the same with applying a physical cue. If I lay my leg against the horse, without pressure, and wait until he moves, then remove it, soon he will understand that this means to move away. I do not need to increase pressure, squeeze, kick, or make it aversive. He does not yet know what those things mean either, so it is kind of pointless.
 

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A cue does not in any way have to be aversive. The cue can be a word. I can say trot every time the horse trots. Then later, when the horse is on the lunge, I can say trot, trot, trot, trot and then when the horse finally trots, say good boy. Soon he will understand what trot means and pick it up when I say the word once. It's not that he finds my voice saying trot aversive, so he is trying to get me to stop saying it. LOL. Well, maybe my voice is that annoying.
I could be wrong, but I believe that this would be considered a conditioned reinforcer.
Conditioned reinforcer: a stimulus that gains its reinforcing power through its association with a primary reinforcer.

Take, for example, Pavlov's experiment with the dogs. The dog's primary reinforcer is the food smell that causes the behavior of drooling. When the sound of a bell is associated with the food, the bell becomes a conditioned reinforcer to the dog and the bell sound alone eventually elicits drooling.

In your example, whatever form of reinforcement you used to teach your horse the trot cue is a primary reinforcer. The word "trot" being spoken elicits the behavior that you shaped and conditioned with your primary reinforcer, making it a conditioned reinforcer; so your chosen method of reinforcement is comparable to the food the dogs smelled, and the word "trot" is comparable to the bell in Pavlov's experiment. Hope this makes sense.
 
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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
I went and found the video that we watched for the conditioning portion of PSYC1101 if anyone is interested.
I liked it so much I had to go find #12 that talks about cognition.

 
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Here we go again 🙃

So I'm leading my 3yo filly between the roundpen and the barn on a windy day and she flips out and tries to bolt on the lead, so I take a good hold of it and let her hit the end of the lead and then bring her around and when she tries to squirt away again, I give the lead a couple good attention getters and make her back off out of my space because she's pushing me around and that is unacceptable.
That was abuse by the definitions in this thread. So I should have "prepared" her better? I just had her in the roundpen for a half hour and she was an angel, soft and well mannered, I even had my flag stick flapping in the wind and rubbed it all over her body, she backed up on the lead just following me without touching the lead, I stop and walk backwards, so does she) So I should have let her throw the fit and gave her a treat when she settled down after she battered me into fences and drug me half across the country? Sometimes sunshine and rainbows just aren't realistic.

Where I'm going here is that the concepts of some of these methods of training sound great, and professionals can have varying degrees of success with them, but it is unrealistic to think that someone relatively inexperienced is going to have the same success. Regardless of the type of training they use. Anyone who is inexperienced with a young horse is going to struggle, make mistakes (which, from reading about +R or whatever you're hung up on @trailscout, you can create a total disaster if your timing is not absolutely impeccable, impeccable timing is created from experience, you can't learn that from a book or a video), and put themselves at risk.

It doesn't matter what type of training you wish to use, inexperience is inexperience any way you slice it.
 
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