The present study investigated how stress affects instrumental learning performance in horses (Equus caballus) depending on the type of reinforcement. Horses were assigned to four groups (N = 15 per group); each group received training with negative or positive reinforcement in the presence or absence of stressors unrelated to the learning task. The instrumental learning task consisted of the horse entering one of two compartments at the appearance of a visual signal given by the experimenter. In the absence of stressors unrelated to the task, learning performance did not differ between negative and positive reinforcements. The presence of stressors unrelated to the task (exposure to novel and sudden stimuli) impaired learning performance. Interestingly, this learning deficit was smaller when the negative reinforcement was used. The negative reinforcement, considered as a stressor related to the task, could have counterbalanced the impact of the extrinsic stressor by focusing attention toward the learning task. In addition, learning performance appears to differ between certain dimensions of personality depending on the presence of stressors and the type of reinforcement. These results suggest that when negative reinforcement is used (i.e. stressor related to the task), the most fearful horses may be the best performers in the absence of stressors but the worst performers when stressors are present. On the contrary, when positive reinforcement is used, the most fearful horses appear to be consistently the worst performers, with and without exposure to stressors unrelated to the learning task. This study is the first to demonstrate in ungulates that stress affects learning performance differentially according to the type of reinforcement and in interaction with personality. It provides fundamental and applied perspectives in the understanding of the relationships between personality and training abilities.