Correction vs Punishment Part 2

In this three part article a discussion of identifying the type of leader you are, examples of correction and punishment, and the side effects of each will be covered. To properly maintain equine relationships it is important to be able to look and notice the way you interact with the horses in your life. In noticing your actions, you should then be able to see the horses reactions and side effects happening- which will lead you to see correction vs. punishment. Once you’ve identified what type of leader you are and how you naturally deal with an issue- you can start looking for the differences in correcting a horse versus punishing one. While any of us are around a horse we are teaching them in some way and this next part of the article will help you understand how your horse perceives your training methods.

Part 2: Are You Using Correction or Punishment?

The definition of correction reads; the action or process of correcting something, a change that rectifies an error or inaccuracy. The definition of punishment reads; the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense, rough treatment or handling inflicted on or suffered by a person or thing. In black and white these terms are easy to understand however, there is a subtle difference between correction and punishment in horse training- with the obvious punishments not subtle at all. Some times the same action used by two different people can be the difference between correction and punishment. I’m sure you’ve heard stories about tying horses up for hours on end, deprivation of food/water, tying wooden boards to horses hind ends, owners using their toes to kick horses in bellies/heads/bodies, and so on. Any good animal steward knows that all obvious punishments are not healthy forms of correction, however good stewards can still use actions that become punishments.

Daily examples of punishment that I’ve seen range from forcing a bridle onto a horse, spending countless hours on one obstacle or issue, and ignoring signs of discomfort from the horse. Any time you are forcing a horse to do something, even for “good” reasons, this becomes a punishment in the horses mind. Spending countless hours on a specific issue in a row or normal routine can also give the horse good reason to think of this as punishment. Signs of frustration, pain, exhaustion, and fear that are over-looked by the person leading will result in the horse feeling punished as well. These descriptions can include vet calls, treatment of injury/illness, daily training, and horse owners that don’t know any better. Please understand there may be emergency type times where your horse will have to endure these situations, which can be made better after the emergency has occurred. It is important to note that the more times punishment occurs or the more severe the punishment was/is- the more time it will take the animal to move past that specific issue.

In training horses we are taught repetition and release are the keys to the horses learning process. This repetitive process is to show the horse what the desired behavior is from a specific cue. When a leader uses this repetitive process incorrectly, these actions become punishment for the horse. A fearful start to the repetitive process can easily turn into punishment for example, using the repetitive process after the lesson is learned and not providing a release or reward frequently are also examples. An example of a fearful start of a repetitive process: using an un-known object to cause the horse discomfort, while making the horse stand still until the horse accepts the object (also known as a form of sacking out). In this example you cause the horse fear, deny flight from the object, and cause the horse to blow up, ignore, or submit before removing the object. By not providing a release before the horse is caused fear (enough to show signs of moderate to high discomfort) and forcing the animal to endure the fear makes this type of approach a punishment. Using the repetitive process after the horse knows the cue- causes the horse to feel frustration, lack of confidence, and becomes punishment due to the process already having been learned. To turn these examples of punishment into correction- simply use a release of pressure or positive reward. With the fearful start: take away the object before the horse becomes uncomfortable- after taking the object away you can approach the horse again (becomes the repetitive approach and retreat process). Once the horse accepts the object, allow movement to happen during the approach and retreat process, to further over-come the fear. For the over-use of the repetitive process give your horse the specific cue and provide a release. Once your horse has responded properly to the cue three times in a row, release and move on to something else. You can use the same cue several times a day- if you also allow for other cues, lessons, and time to relax to happen.

In the third part of the article side effects of correction and punishment will be further explained. In learning more about the side effects, you will also learn how to change any negative actions that have happened with your horse.

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