Alright, well, it's supposed to be my day off from posting, but I'm feeling so inspired by Adele's post over on the @thewillingequine blog that I wanted to chat about something I've been mulling over for some time.
Her post was all on "Corrections in Horse Training". It touches on what different types of reinforcement/punishment are, and when to use them. We know there are R+ (positive reinforcement), R- (negative reinforcement/pressure & release), P+ (positive/traditional punishment), and P- (negative punishment). Recently, though, I've found myself doing what I would call a "correction", but I'm not sure exactly how to classify it within the categories above.
Effectively, what happens, is I ask the horse for something, they don't do it, so I ask for something else to aid in the original ask. For a more concrete example, this past week I was working with a mare who was struggling with lateral flexion at a halt. Many traditional methods say to just continue to pull and pull and pull on the mouth until the horse gives. But I recognized that her stiffness was coming from her bracing her brachiocephalicus muscle (the great big one on the underside of her neck). One of the quickest ways to create a release in a braced muscle is oscillation, either oscillation of the aid, or oscillation of the muscle itself. So I asked her rider to step her into a slow walk to force that muscle to contract and release, and immediately we had soft lateral flexion. Then we would stop again, ask again, then step into a walk again if she struggled. Each correct attempt was rewarded with some wither scratches. Eventually we had lateral flexion at a halt.
My discussion here comes from that it is a "correction" in that I corrected the behavior. But does it necessitate the addition of something the horse doesn't like? Most "correction" involves either removing something they do like, or adding something they don't like. But I don't feel like we really did either, here.
I guess it is still "pressure and release with added reward" in the end when she gets it at a walk, but there's this interesting middle step, wherein the behavior is changed by addressing the body without having to make things unpleasant for her. The halted flexion improved because she understood to release that muscle, without having to escalate aversive or decrease appetitive. It's just interesting to me because correction is typically assumed to be a negative experience for the horse - but does it have to be? Thoughts? Feelings? Opinions? I'd love to hear them!