How Horses Learn- Consequences

My last couple of posts have been related to the learning process in horses. I have covered the Antecedents and Behaviours and today, we are looking at the final part which is Consequences. You can find the post all about Antecedents here, and you can find the post about behaviours here.

Antecedants- these are the things that happen just before your horse does something.
Behaviour- This is what your horse actually does.
Consequence- This is what happens immediately after the behaviour

Consequences, in short, relate to what happens directly after the behaviour has taken place. The consequence which occurs relates directly to what the horse has learned from the antecedent. Therefore, consequences are an important consideration in training horses. They are the final portion of a learning journey and so it is important that we, as horse trainers, get it right for the horse. There are two types of consequence- positive and negative. Let’s have a look at these in turn.

Positive Consequences

Positive consequences are when the horse does something and the outcome is pleasant. This means that the horse is more likely to do it again. Therefore, first experiences are extremely important. If the first experience with something is positive, then the horse will be more keen to repeat the behaviour.
Examples of positive consequences in training could be taking the pressure off, giving a pat or rub, scratching in a favourite place or giving a treat (though be careful with this one, it is not the best idea for the super foody horse and always give treats at the horses chest!).
It is worth noting also, that the bigger the reward, the more likely the horse is to repeat the behaviour. This will depend on each horse as an individual and what they find rewarding.

Negative Consequences

In opposition, negative consequences occur when the horse does something and the outcome is unpleasant. The horse is then less likely to repeat that behaviour. If, in training, a trainer uses negative reinforcement, the horse is more likely to be skittish, jittery and unsure as they do not know what the consequence to their behaviour will be. Whereas, if the consequences are always positive in training, then the horse is more confident and will work more willingly with you. Any trust you have built with your horse can be affected by negative consequences. You may have heard that horses always forgive but they never forget. It can be really damaging to affect the horses trust in you and it can take time to rebuild that.

Consistency

Consequences which a horse experiences as a result of a behaviour should always be the same to ensure the horse is understanding what is being asked and does not become confused. The easiest way to be consistent is to ignore the unwanted behaviour and to reward the good behaviour. That way, there are no mixed messages and the horse knows where they stand with you. There’s nothing worse that trying to work with someone who is hot and cold and who makes little sense to you in how they approach and deal with things.

Timing

Timing is key when it comes to giving a consequence. Horses are not like children in the sense that they can go away and think about what they have done and come up with a way to move forwards. Horses live in the moment. Therefore, if there is too large a gap between the antecedent, behaviour and consequence then the learning will not be connected and the horse does not understand. Really, they need to be within half a second to a second between each other. This means that you, as a trainer, need to be completely present and tuned in to be aware of what is happening and get that timing correct. Attention to detail is paramount.

So there you have it, the ABC to learning. It is complex, yet simple, at the same time. How are you using the ABC model in your everyday training with your horse? Let me know over on my Instagram @bbequines or in the comments below.

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