Pt. 1 - Release

Pt. 1 - Release

Question:  

 Skilled riders release their when they sense the horse is going to respond or when he begins to respond. If the release comes before the action is complete, how can it function as a reward?

Can normal aids be so light they cannot punish the horse?

Answer:

The language of the aids is a command language that uses touch to give a horse information about what we want him to do. It contains two types of cues, commands and corrections. Commands are used before horse does anything. Corrections are used after he has responded. The rider uses corrections to give the horse feedback about his response. If the rider accepts his response and does nothing, then this negative action tells the horse he has responded correctly. If more aids are applied immediately, they tell the horse his response has not been correct.

Release is a critical component in this language. Depending on the skill of the rider, command aids may end when the horse has responded, when he begins to respond, or when the rider senses he is going to respond. The more skilled the rider, the sooner he will give the release. Release is often described as rewarding the horse. How can it function as a reward if it given before the horse has begun or completed his response? This explanation confuses motivation with the communication of information.

The difference between information and motivation is simple. The aids give the horse information on what his rider wants him to do. His understanding them is a mental function. His motivation to obey them is an emotional function. Aid application must be linked to a moment in time, but the horse's willingness to obey comes from his emotional attitude and general relationship with humans. If a horse does not respond correctly, he may not understand the command or he may not be willing to obey it. All two often horses are punished for misunderstanding and that will inhibit their willingness to obey.

I believe that the confusion between these two function began horse people saw behaviorism as a way to dominate or manipulate their horses. For many years, this discipline has dominated our thinking about animal training. In a typical experiment, the test subject is placed in a specific location and expected to use trial and error learning to discover what he is supposed to do. If he succeeds, he is rewarded. If he fails, he is punished. The reward is food and punishment is an electric shock. Rewards are often described as positive reinforcement and punishment as negative reinforcement.

If reward and punishment are used to explain release, then the application of the aids must be defined as a punishment. When they are released, stopping the punishment is supposed to function as the horse's reward. For both commands and corrections, normal aid application cannot function as a punishment if light aids are used and such subtle cues are one of the goals of good horsemanship. Since corrections occur after the horse's response, severe ones can function as a punishment, but fear or pain can shut down the horse's ability to think or learn. 

Information Resources:

Ladendorf, Janice M. Human Views and Equine Behavior: Self Fulfilling Philosophies and Communicating with Horses, 2013.