Positive Reinforcement (R+) is a wonderful way to teach a horse what you don't want, simply by focusing on and rewarding the positive behavior or even the smallest steps taken in the right direction.
But What If the Horse:
- charges people? Do I then still use R+?
The answer is not a hard Yes or No, simply because we tend to forget that we are ALWAYS teaching our horse, even if we're walking them from the stall to the pasture: Interaction means exchange of information. Especially with wild/feral or severely traumatized horses, there simply isn't always time or space to use R+, like when a horse is biting or charging you. However: there are things I do to make sure that I can use R+ without getting myself hurt, or creating a 'dangerous' horse;
The 1st thing I do, is an Assessment, where I focus on getting to know the horse/his history, what he knows and doesn't know. The Friendly Game and working in Liberty are excellent exercises during Equine Assessments. If necessary, I spend the first few minutes outside of the round pen to safely start our communication without having to use R-.
The 2nd thing is Emotion Regulation: a groundwork session during which I establish how much built-up stress the horse is carrying and how easy they can let go. How? By first observing the horse's Stress 𝘙𝘦𝘴𝘱𝘰𝘯𝘴𝘦𝘴, and second by observing his Stress 𝘙𝘦𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘴𝘦𝘴. This tells me exactly where the threshold of this particular horse is, and in return I tell the horse that I won't cross this boundary. Win-Win!
These 2 groundwork sessions set the tone for the rest of the training; now the horse realizes that I speak his language and I'm not here to hurt him. Communication, Trust and Respect are already (re)established before the actual training has even begun!
In a nutshell:
R+ is a wonderful tool that you can apply on all types of horses, but it is often overlooked how important it is to actually KNOW the horse that you're training. This will prevent you from accidentally triggering unwanted stuff in your horse (like old trauma) and it helps you to stay below the threshold; the less stress they'll experience, the more and better they are at taking in new information.
Don't forget to be fully aware of your surroundings, your horse and your body language/energy while handling (and not just riding!) your horse. This will prevent unwanted behavior like biting, that can easily escalate into something worse: by then it will be extremely hard, if not impossible to only use R+ to reduce this behavior.
Set yourself up for success!