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Relationship between number of conditioning trials per training session and avoidance learning in horses

Applied Animal Behaviour Science 36(4): 291-299

Relationship between number of conditioning trials per training session and avoidance learning in horses

Sxiteen horses were used to determine if number of trials given per training session (5, 10, 15 or 20) affected learning performance in an avoidance conditioning task. The horse had to move from one side of a test pen to the other during an auditory cue presentation to avoid aversive stimulation. A pen 8 m times 3.6 m, divided into two equal sections by a 13-cm diameter plastic pipe lying on the ground, was used as the test pen. Painted plywood panels were fastened to the fence in half the pen to help horses distinguish visually between the two parts. A 10-s auditory cue was used as a signal for horses to move from one side of the test pen to the other. A 20-s intertrial interval was used. Training sessions were conducted every third day. Each trial was recorded as an avoidance (the horse completed the task during auditory cue presentation and avoided aversive stimulus) or an error (the horse received aversive stimulus). After completing ten consecutive avoidances (criterion), the horse was removed from the study. Numbers of training sessions, trials, avoidances and errors until reaching criterion were recorded for each horse. Horses varied greatly within these variables with ranges of 3-18 sessions, 37-121 trials, 20-68 avoidances and 17-53 errors to criterion. No differences were detected (P gt 0.05) in the number of conditioning trials per training session (treatment) for the mean number of trials, avoidances or errors to criterion. Number of training sessions to criterion differed (P lt 0.01) among treatments, indicating that an optimum number of learning trials per training session might exist. Mean sessions to criterion for horses receiving 5, 10, 15 and 20 trials per session were 15.1 +- 1.3, 5.8 +- 1.1, 5.3 +- 1.1 and 4.6 +- 1.1, respectively. Regression analysis indicated that 16.2 trials per training session would minimize number of sessions to criterion. Although it is widely assumed that learning efficiency in horses is decreased when intense activity is concentrated into a small number of sessions, these results indicate that moderate repetition of training activities is needed for efficient learning.

Accession: 002477894

DOI: 10.1016/0168-1591(93)90127-b

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