Traditional horse training relies heavily on negative reinforcement and punishment which can be aversive and cause poor welfare. Food-based positive reinforcement is a promising alternative training method, but "common knowledge" in the horse world claims that it increases mugging for treats. Trainers are also concerned about having to carry a mechanical clicker and if positive reinforcement is actually better than current techniques. I completed two studies to address these concerns. The first study evaluated the effects of using food-based positive reinforcement on horse-human interactions and the efficacy of using a clicker vs mouth click vs no marker. We found no significant difference between marker types. The second study compared using positive reinforcement versus negative reinforcement when training a novel frightening task. Either technique required a similar amount of time. Positive reinforcement, however, led to less conflict behaviors such rearing and startling.
This research was conducted at Truman State University with Dr. Kelly Walter.