Pressure and Release - The Language of Horsemanship

PRESSURE AND RELEASE - The Language of Horsemanship

Throughout the years, we've taken special note of the communication between
people and horses. Training a horse and successfully riding a horse
require good communication. When there is an issue or a problem between
horse and rider, it is almost always the result of miscommunication. Riders
are sometimes speaking a language their horse does not understand. In our
explanations or training, we are sometimes speaking a language that not
every rider understands. Ultimately, all involved must understand and speak
the same language.

Understanding the basic concept of pressure and release is the key to
communicating with your horse. It is the most fundamental concept in the
relationship between horse and human and can be applied not only to riding,
but to all horse handling from near or far. You are already using these
concepts every day with other people and all animals, but perhaps you haven't put
it into words. In order to communicate with a horse, train, or correct
misbehavior, the rider must fully understand the basic concept of pressure
and release.

All horses learn the same way, by responding to your application of pressure
and release. Repetition and reward. Apply pressure (request) until the
horse performs accordingly, then release immediately, which is the reward
for accurate behavior. Horses seek the release, it is how they learn. This
is used on something as simple as asking a horse to step over an inch and
off your toe, changing leads in an arena, and something as broad as
asking a herd of running horses to change direction from half a mile off.
All communication is based upon pressure and release.

With humans, imagine this scenario to understand the concept of pressure and
release: I walk up to you standing in the living room. I place my hand on
your shoulder, look you in the eye, and gently push you back, while asking
confidently and calmly, "Step back just a step, would you?" Depending upon
our relationship, you might first respond to my touch with a bit of
confusion, but as I ask verbally and simply, you move back a step. I say
"Thank you" and drop my hand from your shoulder. Humans communicate well
together. If you had been worried about what was behind you, you would have
hesitated or looked back before moving. If you did not trust me, you might
have resisted my pressure, even pushed back, or asked "why?" If you were a
child or didn't understand English, you would have relied more on my
physical direction for instruction and my general intention, reassuring eye
contact, or attitude for understanding. However; if in my mind, my
demeanor, and my actions, I clearly conveyed to you what I wanted, you would
have moved and we would have just learned the concept of pressure and
release together. The next time I placed my hand on your shoulder and
gently pushed, you would immediately take a step back. The next time, you
might even take a step back by just seeing my hand move toward your
shoulder, or one word "back".

The exact concept can be applied to horses. In fact, you can apply the
exact actions to get the same result. The truth is, you are already doing
this every time to touch, ride, or handle your horse. You halter the horse,
apply a bit of pressure on the lead rope asking him to follow, and you
release the moment he moves in the right direction. You don't drag him all
the way to the hitch rail, you ask him once and release the pressure when he
does the right thing - moves the right direction. While riding, you ask
your horse to stop by gently pulling on the reins, when he stops you release
the pressure by dropping your hands. You do not continue to pull on the
reins when the horse has stopped. You ask your horse to move to the right
by placing a bit of pressure on his side with your left leg. As soon as he
moves, you do not continue to push him into the rail or off the cliff.

Try this, either while standing next to your horse or even from above in the
saddle: Place your hand on your horse's head, between his ears at his poll
or from the saddle at the upper part of his neck. Gently place downward
pressure on his head until he drops his head even just a fraction of an
inch. (This could happen immediately, so be ready.) When he moves his head
even the slightest in response to your pressure, IMMEDIATELY release the
pressure. You can do this without moving your hand much at all, just a
little pressure downward and immediate release when he moves the correct
direction away from your hand's pressure. Your hand can remain in place,
but remove the pressure. Now repeat. Now repeat again. Soon, you will be
able to drop your horse's head all the way to the ground by simply placing a
bit of pressure on his neck or poll and releasing it when you get the
reaction you want. If you do not get the reaction, hold the pressure or
slightly increase the pressure until he finally moves, but release
IMMEDIATELY. The horse must feel the release to learn. If you are late, it
is very confusing. You must be clear and quick, or you will be telling him
to do something he already did! (Miscommunication = Misbehavior) If he
fights it, just continue to calmly hold the pressure and wait for the
CORRECT response. If he lifts his head, continue with pressure. Release
ONLY if he drops his head. He will seek the release - the reward. You will
have communicated with him. This is basic pressure and release.

Once you understand this very basic concept, you can apply it to all actions
you have with a horse. Verbally, physically, mentally, you exert varying
levels of pressure and release to do EVERYTHING.

It is just as easy to train a horse as it is to mis-train a horse. All good training or bad behavioral
issues come from the reinforcement of this basic concept. I apply heavy
pressure in the form of a well-placed spur and perhaps a spank in the rear
to a horse that has learned to be barn sour and immediately "die" (release
all pressure) when he heads out in the right direction. I apply light
pressure, shift in balance, or maybe just "mental" pressure (intention) to a
horse with whom I communicate well when I want him to change a lead or
direction, pass sideways to a gate, or cut livestock in an alley. Being in
the groove, communicating and understanding your horse is incredible!

This is a language you and your horse already know - you do not have to
teach it, you simply have to realize it. The goal is to understand the
concept, practice the concept, and end up communicating in the same
language. With that communication, all things are possible.



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