Let’s Go Back To The ABCs

Let’s talk about our ABCs, they’re the foundation of everything right?

When we look at the Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence chain we recognize that this loop is happening continuously, un-ending throughout every minute of every day. Antecedents are everything that’s happening in our environment, external and internal (hunger, thirst, social desires, etc…) they trigger behavioral responses from the individual. When the behavior happens it influences the environment and changes the antecedents, how these changes feel to the learner will determine whether they chose this behavioral option again in the future or not. If the behavior reduces a situation that the learner dislikes (R-) or if it adds something they do like (R+), the learner will likely pick that behavior again in that situation. If the behavior increases something they dislike (P+) or decreases something they do like (P-), the behavior will be less likely to happen in that situation again.

When we think about the Antecedents we have to remember that everything inside and outside our horse is part of this environment. How they feel in the moment will determine what behaviors they may choose, if they’re hungry, grazing might sound good. The internal environment of hunger (aren’t they always hungry?) triggers grazing behavior. The eating of the grass reinforces the grazing behavior. But now there is a rustle in the bush nearby, could be a predator? The horse is going to judge the value of this new antecedent. Is their hunger stronger than their sense of concern about this sound? Or is the sound so scary it’s worth giving up the next bite? The learner will judge the values of all the antecedents in the environment (remember internal as well!) and determine which behavioral response is most important at the time. When we talk about the β€œvalue” of these antecedents we don’t mean how much money they cost πŸ˜‰ We mean how strongly they matter – Aversively or Appetitively. This judgment can be as quick as a reflex (sound=bolt) or as long and drawn out in conflict (is it really with getting on the trailer for that treat?) Though often these decisions are made without much deliberation, it’s not often in natural situations where there are two things that are close to equal in value but contradict one another.

Once the antecedent triggers a behavior, the horse will pick which behavior to respond with based on their genetics (primal, species, breed, line, parents, etc..) and their personal learned history. I like to picture the horse flipping through a rolodex of behaviors to chose from πŸ˜› As the horse picks a specific behavior and it works for them, that behavior gets closer and closer to the front of the rolodex. They never truly throw out a known or instinctive behavior, but it may move to the very back of the list and be so unlikely to happen we never actually see it again. The closer to the top of the list the behavior gets the more likely it will be picked in an urgent situation where there isn’t much time to think.

Keep this in mind when train, we can move a behavior up or down the horse’s list by making it more or less successful for the horse. So if we like certain behaviors, by reinforcing them heavily and often we move that behavior to the front of the line, by not reinforcing it or by punishing it (should you choose to utilize punishment intentionally) we can move the behavior down the list, less likely to occur. These consequences can be natural or contrived. Natural consequences are just the reaction of the environment to the horse’s choices. Say the horse kicks a door and it makes a loud noise which startles the horse, the horse has just punished themselves through their own actions. No other being interfered with this situation, nothing was added or subtracted by anyone other than the active individual. As opposed to contrived consequences, this is where social learning (with their horse peers) and where human-training comes in. We control the consequences of their behavior.

This is our greatest tools as humans, as we control all the antecedents in a horse’s life, we then control every consequence to every behavior. So any behavior that happens that we don’t like – is OUR fault! Think about this before you utilize punishment πŸ˜‰ Because we have either not properly set the antecedents or not appropriately adjusted the consequences. How can you better set the antecedents and consequences to empower your horse to make good choices?

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