Ever had a boss, teacher, or coach who seemed to focus only on telling you what you’re doing wrong? We struggle when that’s all we hear. It’s hard to be confident in our performance. We may not even want to try in case being wrong gets us in trouble. We close up and play it safe, resenting the source. Though we may put up with it, our primary motivation will be “avoidance” of the criticism.
In that sort of situation, we desperately want even a hint about the right way to go. And when we follow that hint, and it works—we get told we’re RIGHT—we’ll feel GOOD. This will give us motivation to actively work in that direction again.
In the same way, when we systematically use positive reinforcement (R+) in our horses’ lives to reward the behaviors we want, we also increase their confidence as well as improve our relationship. All of this results in a happier horse (and a happier human)!
As trainers, of course it’s not possible to pretend there’s nothing “wrong” with certain horse behaviors. They may be unsafe for the rider and the horse alike. They may be annoying or obnoxious from a human point of view. There may be husbandry behaviors that must be performed whether a horse likes it or not.
What is possible for us, as trainers, is to flip our mindset and decide what we want to happen instead.
One way of doing this is getting into the habit of noticing what’s already working. No horse is 100% “bad” every moment of the day and night. There is always some behavior that you can find, if you pay attention, that is working for both the horse AND you. Even one tiny “yes” can open your eyes to possibilities of what you can reward.
Think about it this way:
- Communicate to the horse what I do want instead of focusing on what I don’t want.
- Reinforce the desirable behavior. Make it more worthwhile for the horse than the undesirable behavior.
Why we do this for the horse: Motivation Changes!
The huge reward is that by systematically and consistently utilizing R+ to teach these physical behaviors, we change a horse’s outlook on life. Just like you, when you have a coach, boss, or teacher who focuses on helping you find the right answer instead of punishing you for the wrong one, a trainer who focuses on finding the “Yes!” will create a more curious, confident, and trusting horse that wants to work.
But there’s one catch–You can’t reward behavior that isn’t occurring
What if you know your “Yes,” but it’s not anywhere close to happening? What if the horse heads for the horizon the moment the trailer door opens?
In Principle 3: Create Opportunity, we will talk about the Priority to Positive tools we use to create behavior that we can say “Yes!” to.