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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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Positive/Negative Reinforcement

Hi Franklin

First of all I would just like to thank you so much for the Demo at Vowley Farm, Wiltshire on 12th May. I feel very fortunate to be at the first UK Demo which will be the first of many I'm sure and I will watch closely for future dates, hopefully you will be back soon. Some of the things you said touched me deeply, almost like you knew me and I found your quiet manner and inner peace truly wonderful, my aim is now to bring peace to my horse and be a safe place for him to be. Thank you and I'm sure my horse, Harvey sends his thanks too.

I appreciate you are very busy but if possible I would really value your opinion on the positive and negative reinforcement controversy that I hear so much about at the moment.

Pat Parelli uses a great deal of both, where as Ross Simpson ( ex-Parelli instructor ) says horses do not learn from negative reinforcement and long term it can actually be detrimental to your horse leading to Conditioned Suppression for example. Kelly Marks, who is the UK's leading Monty Roberts instructor, says positive reinforcement is the best way to work with your horse but you also need a little negative to get the desired results. Confusing!

I prefer a gentle positive approach but my friends tell me I am not dominant enough with my horse. I am trying to build my confidence again after a bad fall, resulting in a badly broken clavicle and extensive soft tissue damage, so I really want to get the leadership/partnership balance right and deepen the connection and communication with Harvey who can be quite dominant at times.

Look forward to hearing from you, all my best wishes.

Hi Susan,

Sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. I have been traveling so much it has been hard to keep up with emails. Lets see if I can respond now:

I do not agree with negative reinforcement. I do believe in great leadership and positive communication. That can mean firm and precise communication as well. Horses are looking for, and require, quietly strong, confident, precise, balanced leadership and guidance. This is what they get from their herd leaders in the wild. Of course the herd leader sometimes 'nails' another horse with a swift kick to make a point. As a human, I prefer to lead the horse into appropriate activity (action) and direct its energy to working at something in order to make my point. That something can be as simple as tight circles around me, which is good effort and work for the horse. It will also focus the horse on me as a good leader. I can actually put the horse to work easily, safely and quickly. This modifies any behavior I do not want. From biting, kicking, not going straight or backing properly, almost any behavior of a horse can be modified by putting the horse to some good action that is easy, but work for the animal. After the action offer the horse a place of peace standing quietly by your side by stopping and saying WHOA! If there is any behavior you do not want again, put him to work making small circles. Do this as many times as it take for the horse to learn if he does what you don't want he goes to work.

You do not need to dominate your horse, you need to be able to lead him confidently, skillfully, precisely, sometimes firmly but with compassion and kindness always. It is easy. Just bring your best to the horse, just as your would your child. Thank you for your question.......

Sincerely, Franklin

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