Regular Positive Reinforcement training increases contact-seeking behaviour in horses

23 August 2023 -
El refuerzo positivo frecuente en el entrenamiento equino fomenta una conducta afectiva

Horses are frequently trained based on negative reinforcement. Nevertheless, recently, positive reinforcement training has become increasingly popular.

There is some evidence that horses trained with positive reinforcement show less stress-related and avoidance behaviours and show more positive emotions when comparing to those trained with negative reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement also suggests to improve relationship between horse and human because contact-seeking behaviour on behalf of the horse towards an unfamiliar person increases.

This field of study is still very poorly studied and there is a need to study the long term effects of the positive reinforcement training supplementation in regards to horses perception of the human being, their emotional state and stress levels.

The goal of this study was to investigate the effects of the addition of small but regular amounts of positive reinforcement training in the normal negative reinforcement training of privately-owned horses. Authors hypothesized that, in the cases where positive reinforcement was added, there would be improvement of the horse-human relationship, horses would become more optimistic, would should more contact-seeking behaviour of an unknown  person and diminish their long-term stress levels.

Thirty-six horses of several breeds, ages and sexes were included in the study. Animals were pseudo-randomly assigned to either a training group or a control group. Owners of the training group received specific and detailed instructions on how to perform the positive reinforcement training.

After analysing data, it was possible to verify that by adding a small but regular amount of positive reinforcement during normal negative reinforcement training, horses developed a higher contact-seeking behaviour towards an unfamiliar person. However, no effects on stress levels or emotional status were seen.

Results obtained support previous studies that state that the horses perception of a human being changes favourably when positive reinforcement is introduced in their training. The authors suggest further studies be performed, capable of finding differences in horses that are solely trained with positive or negative reinforcements.


Larssen, R. et Roth L. S. V. (2002) ‘Regular positive reinforcement training increases contact-seeking behaviour in horses’ Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Vol. 252