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Research article: Horse owners’ utilisation of positive reinforcement and its perceived effects on horse’s behaviour.

Author: Alizé Veillard-Muckensturm, 2021

Abstract

Positive reinforcement (PR) is an effective alternative that can enhance animal welfare but remain under-utilised by equestrians who favour negative reinforcement (NR). This study aimed to gather further information on the use of PR by equestrians, its impact on horses’ behaviour and how it may differ when used in conjunction with NR. Two hundred ninety-eight horse owners who reportedly transitioned from training their horses using NR to PR or a combination of the two completed an online survey. Horses were sorted into one of two groups depending on whether their owners reported solely using PR to reinforce and maintain desired behaviours or a combination of both types of reinforcement. Respondents were asked to score various aspects of their horse behaviours on a 4-points Likert scale pre and post-implementation of PR to evaluate the differences in the horses’ behaviour before and after PR as well as the potential differences between groups. Additional data was gathered on the type of behaviour trained, perceived benefits and issues of PR, tools and techniques used. Data analysis of behaviour score shows a significant decrease in undesirable behaviours and an increase in desirable behaviours post-implementation of PR which suggest that PR may improve horse’ welfare and enhance the ownership experience. No significant difference was found in the behavioural scores of the PR and PR + NR group or the types of behaviour trained but there was a significant difference in the training tools and techniques used.