A lot of western tools are all about enhancing pre-signals before we ever apply pressure…

Because in the working horse, when we are doing precision speed work, our tools might need to make up for the pre-signal we would generally apply through a slower application, and because we need to be able to communicate precisely without getting in the horse’s way, and signal on a draped rein allows that.

Thus the draped and weighted rein, swing signal of slobber straps on a snaffle, or the rotating swing signal of the curb and hackamore.

  • Note none of these mechanics work if we apply backwards traction and pull; we have to lift to engage swing action.

In signal bits, we also see loose shanks and rein chains used to magnify pre-signal, as well as the articulating braces on loose shanks on a spade.

There’s a common misconception that these tools were designed for increased leverage and pain compliance.
They were designed for increased action and signal BEFORE pressure is applied.

Same thing with the articulating spur.

Unfortunately, as we all know, they aren’t always used that way.

Note, this is not a post about whether or not we should use bits and spurs or the other tools – you do you – it’s about clearing up misconceptions.

Note that this should not be taken as a blanket statement that negative reinforcement is always benign.

We need to be VERY aware of the emotional relationships and associations that we are creating during training.

The animal’s emotional state should always be priority. However, what this does does tell us, is that that is exactly what we should be doing, is focusing on the animal’s emotionality, and not our own emotional interpretation of a tool, technique, or quadrant.

This matches with my own observations that an animal is not stressed when it receives a pre-signal for negative reinforcement pressure, as long as it knows/can discriminate that it is avoidable.

Negative reinforcement does not create a stressed animal if we employ pre-signals.
In fact, just the opposite, it creates a horse who can confidently work in and navigate the domestic world.

That is why I am a big proponent of pre-signals in our equipment and our tools, and our application in everything that we use.

This is why many working horses are more relaxed and confident in a signal bit than a non-signal bit or even bitless, and why many can relax the topline more in a properly fitted and shaped hackamore utilizing signal than in a direct-pull bitless option.

They use all that pre-signal to avoid negative reinforcement in their jobs, instead of getting pulled around like a four-wheeler, with no opportunity to avoid aversives.


“If these experiments were more widely studied, negative reinforcement would be taught differently. They clearly show that warning stimuli do not become conditioned aversives. Instead they are discriminative stimuli that provide information so the animal can avoid aversive events.

Dr. Neuman compared this to backing up your car and listening to the audible warning sounds (ding, ding, ding) that tell you when an object is behind it and provide information about how close you can get without hitting anything.

He went on to say that this goes against the prevailing (and often taught) view that negative reinforcement is bad. Yes – he did actually say “Negative reinforcement doesn’t have to be bad.” There are types of negative reinforcement that can be benign.

How do we identify them? We can only do it from our own perspective, but if we can observe the training or teaching process without being uncomfortable, then there’s a strong probability that the use of negative reinforcement is of the benign type.”


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