Conditioned Response

Voice Aids
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography
noun, Psychology
1. a response that becomes associated with a previously unrelated stimulus as a result of pairing the stimulus with another stimulus normally yielding the response.

Here are some examples in relation to horses:

Leg Wraps = Trailer Ride

Once your horse starts trailering often enough, whether for shows or for clinics or trail rides, one of the things that happens is that your horse begins to relate shipping wraps to going on the trailer.

My mare knew right away, even without having to see the trailer. As soon as the leg wraps were on, she would be going for a ride. 

Bucket Sound = Treats

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You might be familiar with this one! It doesn't take long for a horse to "love" you enough to walk right up if you carry a bucket out to the gate.

Clucking Sound = Trot

(Or any alternate sound you use for each gait.) We don't often think of the theory behind this, but we are always using a conditioned response technique to encourage our horses to move from a voice aid.

Human Stepping Forward = Horse Stepping Back (or Sideways)

This is how you keep yourself safe as you stand beside a 1000-pound horse! 

What other kinds of conditioned response situations can you think of, as it relates to the horse?

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  1. Conditioned responses are unrelated, as per the definition you offered. Yielding physically to a physical pressure is related so isn’t exactly a “conditioned response.” Your bucket example is, however, and quite closely parallels the most common example of CR, Pavlov’s dogs salivating when they heard the bell ring. The most common example used today in animal training is clicker training. Animals are conditioned first to respond to a food reward, then the clicker sound itself.

    The question attached to CR is whether you want your horse to focus on the sound of a clicker or YOU. Personally, I want 100% of the focus on me, not on how to get the reward.

    Thanks for offering good stuff. I share your articles regularly.

    1. Thanks for the correction! Edited. Although, when I do a bit of Internet research, many people list “pressure” as a conditioned response in horse riding. But I’m thinking that this is precisely the difference between an “aid” and a “cue”. The aid is a physical stimulus whereas a cue is a completely unrelated stimulus.

  2. The sound of my footsteps in the aisle bringing my mare to her stall door and her picking up the next hoof to be cleaned?

  3. My horse has trained ME with her nickering…She started this by nickering at me when I prepared to dismount after a ride. Now every time she wants something from me she nickers 🙂