Punishment Is Reinforcing?

Punishment is reinforcing to the punisher. The girls were talking today about their friends who ride traditionally, even those that know about R+, but they use whips and harsh bits and even spurs if their trainers tell them to. Its hard for the girls growing up here to understand why their friends, who are good people and do really love their horses, would knowingly hurt their horse. Because using aversives, punishing the horse, is reinforcing to the rider. We kick, the horse goes, this is fun for us. The horse does something we don’t like, we swish a whip at this and scold them, the horse stops doing the thing we dislike. This is reinforcing to us. Controlling an object or animal through force works – it gets us what we want, and often very quickly, this reinforces the person in control. So while the love and care may be there, it doesn’t outweigh the reinforcement history of having fun riding and being in control.

But what happens when a behavior that was reinforced stops being reinforced? What happens when the horse finally has enough? When they say “no more”?! Well the same thing we see in any animal, the behavior has an extinction burst. We call this a “temper tantrum” in laymen’s terms. When something that used to work stops working. We simply do it bigger and more extremely than before.

So when we are reinforced by using aversive control methods, punishment or R-, when it stops working, we escalate it. At some point it likely will stop working, because animals aren’t inanimate objects, eventually they get sick of getting pushed around. While they may remain compliant for a while, things change. If a pain issue pops up, if a strong distraction happens in the environment, if we finally ask for too much… the horse may finally say “NO”. At that point, the extinction burst happens.

Even for the olympians. Even for the people at the top of the horse industry, they are subject to the same emotions inside all living beings, the same behavioral science. They too have extinction bursts, temper tantrums, when a behavior that was reinforced stops working. So they get out their switch and beat the horse harder.

How can we expect to teach our children empathy, compassion, and doing the right thing (even if the wrong thing feels better)? When the top role models of the industry demonstrate these values? Aren’t we supposed to remind children to make kind and healthy choices, even if the wrong choice sounds more fun or cooler (drugs?)? 🤔

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