How to combine positive and negative reinforcement in horse training

More and more people are introducing positive reinforcement in their trainings with their horse. And they feel like they need to make a choice. Either training their horse only with positive reinforcement, or only with negative reinforcement. But I don’t believe you NEED to make a choice!


But first: What is the difference?

Positive reinforcement (R+) is where you ADD a reward when your horse shows you what you asked for.

Negative reinforcement (R-) is where you REMOVE the cue when your horse shows you what you asked for.


For example

+ When I give the cue for Aslan to do a Spanish Walk and he shows it off, I click and reward for that with a treat.

+ When I practice with mounting and Aslan stands still when I’m stepping on the step, I click and reward with a treat.

– When I’m on a walk with Aslan and there is a car trying to pass us, I gently pull his rope to move him away from the car and take that pressure of the rope when Aslan moves.

– When I’m riding Aslan and I want him to start walking, I gently squeeze my calves and let go of Aslans belly as soon as he starts moving.


Combining them

With Aslan, I combine both positive and negative reinforcement. I use clickertraining in all my trainings. No matter if I ride, work in hand, go on a walk, lung, work in liberty or teach a trick. It’s so integrated in our ways of working together, that I even use it when the vet or trimmer comes over. Clickertraining is an amazing tool to teach your horse at what exact moment he did what you wanted. It prevents a lot of frustration and miscommunication if timed correctly and used consistently. At the same time, I use negative reinforcement to ask Aslan to keep an active pace by moving the whip behind him. But then if he would respond by showing a huge difference in the activeness of his movements, then I will click and reward for that as well. It’s a constant puzzle, like everything with horses. And I’m not saying I will never only use R+, but with this blog I also hope to inspire people to use R- and R+ however feels right to them and their horse. Telling people who are new to these terms to only use one can scare them off, while it can be so inspiring and educational to use both and experiment with what works for them. 


Want to learn more about this? Check out this youtubevideo of mine about Clickertraining and how to start with it!