Classical conditioning can be used in training, but it is often difficult to get the reward to the horse at exactly the
moment that he is performing a desired behavior. So, we need a bridge from the behavior to the reward. This is
where operant conditioning can help.
Operant Conditioning -
In the 1930's a scientist named B.F. Skinner studied animal behavior and how they learn. (For the purpose of
this lesson, I will refer to horses even though this learning theory applies to all animals.)
His theory is that changes in behavior are a direct response to events that occur in their environment. The basis
of this theory is that horses become "conditioned" by learning that a behavior receives either a positive or a
negative result. Behaviors that receive a positive result will be repeated. While behaviors that receive a negative
result will be extinguished.
In clicker training with horses, we will be rewarding positive behaviors and ignoring or extinguishing negative
behaviors. We will do this all in a calm and positive way. We will not get angry with the horse or punish them
I will teach you how to use a clicker (or another "Yes" reward marker - such as the word "good" or a click with
your tongue, etc.) to form an association for your horse called a "bridge signal".
And I will teach you the proper way to use a "No" reward marker - such as ignoring the horse or using the word
"No" or "Wrong".
Corrections applied properly are allowed and will be discussed later. I think some people think positive method
training uses no corrections. This is not true. We correct our horses, but in a non-violent, non-confrontational
Information presented is for educational purposes only and is not intended
to replace professional opinions or recommendations.
Consult your veterinarian for advice about any medical condition or
treatment needed for your horse
Classical Conditioning -
Many of you have probably heard of Pavlov's
dog. Pavlov rang a bell and the dog
associated it with food and began drooling.
In horses, it can be the sound of the feed
bucket moving around. It causes them to
start to nicker or become restless in
Or, maybe you have an electric fence. It is
not long before the horse realizes that
touching the fence results in a shock. So,
the horse stays away from the fence.
Classical Conditioning is your horse learning a simple association between two events. They
hear the feed bucket, they know food is coming.
Operant Conditioning is your horse learning to operate in his environment. He learns that if he
chooses to perform a particular behavior you have requested, a click (bridge signal) and a reward