There is definitely something wrong with
the way the horses are handled," wrote Skinner
(1983, p. 82) after making several visits
to a horse barn.
"Their control is almost exclusively
aversive. I am going to talk to the
teacher in charge of the horses and unless she
thinks it likely to 'spoil' the present training,
I'll try to ... shape some behavior" (p. 82).
Armed with a frying pan and a bicycle horn,
Skinner began to shape the behavior of a horse
named Mama. Using the frying pan to feed
small amounts of oats or hay to Mama and
the horn's sound as a conditioned reinforcer,
he shaped Mama to turn her head to one side.
Later, Skinner could hold Mama's head so that
a bridle could be placed on her head and a bit
placed in her mouth. But soon his investigation
was halted after a rider in the barn informed
him that he had violated a fundamental rule
of horse training: "You must not be nice to a
By positively reinforcing desired behavior,
he was found guilty of "spoiling" (p.
83) the horse. He abandoned his investigation.
These observations, presented in Skinner's autobiography,
well characterize the attitudes of
horse handlers today: Few types of behavior
are controlled by positive