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Positive and Negative Reinforcements

Just as ying needs a yang. Positive reinforcement needs negative reinforcement, but it is not what you think.

The Ying Yang is a Chinese concept that describes opposite, but interconnected forces. This is how positive and negative reinforcement plays into training. These two types of reinforcement complement each other and both must be present to complete the training picture.


What exactly is negative reinforcement and why is it needed? Negative reinforcement is not applying abusive force to the horse as you might think. It is the concept of applying pressure with the expectation that the horse releases to the pressure. Why is this concept so important?

Force is applied and the horse figures out how to release it without a deliberate release from the rider. What does this do? It gives the horse confidence in itself to create their own release. This confidence is so important on the road towards trust in the rider. Once the horse realizes that they can create their own release, then can then trust the aids of the rider. They can work into relaxation.

What is an example of this?

  • When the rider adds pressure to the bit and the horse softens to it.

  • When the rider applies pressure with the legs and the horse lifts the core and drops the neck.

  • When the rider holds the seat for collection, but drives the horse forward from behind and the haunches lower and the back legs take more weight.

But, this is only 1/2 of the picture. We need the other half to solidify the training.

Positive reinforcement

This is the place that we all prefer to be in! Positive reinforcement is when the rider actively releases the pressure to the horse. This can be as simple as opening the hand slightly, or releasing the pressure of the leg, or as can be as big as giving the hand completely forward and petting the neck. What does this type of reinforcement do for the horse? It solidifies the trust in the rider's aids and it shows them for certain that they performed correctly.

Both training reinforcements need to be there in order have a complete picture of the meaning of pressure release. The horse must know that they can release their own pressure and they must also trust that you will release pressure. This is how you build complete confidence in your horse.

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