The Power of Negative Reinforcement: How Horses Learn from the Release of Pressure

Discover how negative reinforcement shapes horse behavior and learn effective training techniques for building trust and achieving desired outcomes.

Jeremy Ricketts
Jeremy Ricketts Posted on 10 January 2023
2 Min Read Horse Training

Horses Learn from the Release of Pressure

In the horse world, negative reinforcement means releasing pressure as soon as the horse behaves correctly. This reinforces the horse’s behaviour just before the pressure is released. Inexperienced trainers use negative reinforcement to encourage unwanted behaviour. Avoid this bad mistake.

Using Negative Reinforcement to Encourage Bad Behaviour

Imagine an anxious horse passing a scary object. The horse stops and offers a token rear. The rider uses negative reinforcement by removing the pressure and avoiding the situation. Typically this means going a different way or dismounting. This reinforces the horse’s unwanted rearing and trains him to rear in stressful situations. After a while, this horse becomes a dangerous and confirmed rearer.

Using Negative Reinforcement to Encourage Good Behaviour

In the same situation, an experienced trainer responds differently by keeping the pressure on until the horse behaves correctly. This means quietly facing the fear until the horse puts a step forward and passes (with some horses this can take a very long time). The pressure is released by passing the scare and no longer being made to look at it.

Monty Roberts: Revolutionising Horse Training Through Join-Up

Article Suggestion

Monty Roberts: Revolutionising Horse Training Through Join-Up
Discover Monty Roberts' groundbreaking Join-Up technique for horse training. Revolutionise your approach and build trust with your equine partner. Become the natural leader without using force.
Find out more

Apply Negative Reinforcement in Incremental Small Steps

As soon as your horse shows the smallest sign of the correct behaviour, take away all pressure. Your horse will quickly learn and progress to what you require.


For example, when teaching your horse to leg yield apply leg pressure but the second your horse makes a sideways move take the pressure off. It will only take a few sessions for him to move nicely away from your leg.


We've covered these three essential points:


  1. Never reinforce bad behaviour by giving in.
  2. Always reward the smallest sign of good behaviour by quickly removing the pressure.
  3. Be consistent with Negative Reinforcement and never lose your temper.



Some famous horse trainers who use Negative Reinforcement:

How to enjoy Lunging an Unbroken horse at 3 Years

Article Suggestion

How to enjoy Lunging an Unbroken horse at 3 Years
Successfully lunging a broken 3-year-old horse is very important for the process of breaking in and creating leadership. This article celebrates the end result and gives some general tips.
Find out more
Jeremy Ricketts

Share this article

Hello, I'm the resident writer here at The Rideout. I've been riding horses for the best part of... well my entire life! Over the years of owning, riding, competing and looking after horses I've built up a small wealth of information.

This site owes tribute to my many hours spent in and out of the saddle learning about the behaviours, needs, and quirks of these amazing animals. From basic care and grooming to advanced training techniques, I've honed my skills through years of hands-on experience.

sign off