Practice makes perfect. To master a new skill, you need to repeat it several times. But the question is; is it helpful to repeat the same exercise in a higher frequency in succession for a better learning curve? Uta König von Brush, PhD, a researcher at the University of Giessen, has researched this!
For this study, 20 horses learned the same skills: backing up, lifting hind legs and turning their head. Negative reinforcement was used to teach skills. Pressure was applied to certain parts of the body until the horse showed the desired behaviour and then the pressure was released. This is also called yielding. The horses were trained two days a week for 6 weeks. Half of the horses learned the skills by practicing them three times per training session and the other half by practicing them six times per session. The scientists evaluated the horses’ performance in each training session and gave them scores from 1 to 6 based on the quality of their responses to the signals, the amount of pressure needed to elicit responses and the speed of the responses.
The study showed that the horses that did the exercise 6 times per session performed better during the first training sessions than the horses that had to do the exercise 3 times per session. But in all other sessions, up to the 12th and final session, the horses performed just as well whether they repeated the task three or six times. Any additional repetitions therefore make no difference in how well or quickly horses learn a new skill.
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