It’s very fun to observe how people interact with their horses. There are lots of ways that these interactions can be based in positive reinforcement….but who is the one being reinforced ?
Recently I have become more aware of how much people talk to their horses. It ranges from ‘gooooooodddd’ to a simple ‘ah’ to a full babble. All lovely stuff, if your horse knows what that means. So how does the horse know what that means, how do we check in with them to see if they understand that we are being nice to them ? How does your horse learn that the noises you make are indicating something good ? And are sounds good enough as a positive reinforcer ?
Then we have to wonder….who is it positive reinforcement for. Is the horse really understanding it; are we offering a release (negative reinforcement), or a positive reinforcer (as well as the negative reinforcer). Or are we simply making noises and not releasing ?
With every interaction with horses I try to ask myself “what’s in it for the horse?”. Is the horse doing this to gain release, avoid pressure or are they motivated to do what I ask them because it reaps positive reinforcement ? Why would a horse work for me without payment (positive reinforcement) ?
And back to the question…who is being reinforced…am I giving something that I think should be reinforcing thus simply making myself feel good that I am doing something that they should like, or is the horse really being positively reinforced for a job well done.
What is reinforcing for any learner changes all the time. We need to be quick smart at keeping on top of what is reinforcing at any moment in time. Sometimes taking a break is reinforcing, sometimes getting back to work/learning is reinforcing, sometimes its food. The list goes on.