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Assessing equine preference for food versus human contact: A replication

Horses have been trained through negative reinforcement for centuries. However, as studies show that positive reinforcement is an effective training technique for horses, it is important to discover what a horse finds rewarding. Food is the most-used positive reinforcer, but food is difficult to administer while riding a horse. I undertook a modified replication of Kieson et al. (2020) to investigate how rewarding horses find human contact compared to food. Eight horses were taught to touch a symbol (X for food and O for scratches) to access the reinforcer associated with the symbol. The number of touches on each symbol were counted and recorded. In the final preference assessment, the number of touches on each symbol were compared. All horses preferred a food reinforcer. A progressive ratio task was also performed by seven horses, where the schedule of reinforcement for the horses’ preferred reinforcer was thinned and the non-preferred reinforcer was offered on a FR1. Most of the horses continued to touch the preferred reinforcer at increasing response requirements, with one horse switching to their less-preferred option at FR3. Overall, the replication supported the original results in that the horses showed a preference for food over human contact. For most horses, this remained the case even when the reinforcer was thinned.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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