I want to talk for a moment about something that doesn't get enough attention. There is a lot of talk about the power of positive reinforcement, but the unspoken tool that is equally powerful in a different way? The absence of punishment (in this case I mean actions that cause the horse discomfort or pain with the goal of stopping a behavior). In my experience, there are very few times when punishment is needed, but unfortunately it is something that is used excessively in the horse world. However when we give up the idea that punishment will get results, focus on the positive actions of the horse, & motivate them to continue those positive actions, the need for that becomes less & less.
A prime example of this idea is my handsome little dragon here.. Up until he came to live with me, he had been trained with a strict hand & whenever he exhibited stallion behavior, he was reprimanded. He knew he wasn't supposed to behave in this way, but when he couldn't control himself (as young studs do) he would get very flustered & prepare himself for punishment by raising & bracing his neck/head, squinting his eyes, & becoming very stiff in his body. He knew he was going to get checked & would shut down mentally; his only motivation to behave was that he would be punished if he didn't, & that simply doesn't work for me. There will always be situations where the stimulus is higher than the fear of the punishment they recieve, & in those situations the handler will lose control. Obviously it is important that horses, studs especially, have good safe manners - but without proper preparation, bullying a horse into behaving is less effective and more dangerous. Now with Drago, after recognizing this pattern, I began to lay the foundation for motivating him to behave under pressure by giving him more positive behavioral alternatives. Redirecting his attention to me when he encounters something that excites or scares him, so that his initial reaction is to look to me for guidance, rather than to expect me to punish him. Teaching him a few basic tools that he can easily execute so that I have a way to redirect his attention in a healthy way *Continued below*