Release training is the art of releasing a horse from pressure at the exact moment that he complies with your cue or request. It is the basis of all horse training – the holy grail of horse trainers.
Horses don’t learn from the application of pressure. They actually learn from the RELEASE of pressure.
Proper Release is the reward that the rider or trainer gives the horse for executing the proper maneuver. e: If your horse backs up one step when asked to do so, the pressure is immediately released and he finds that taking one step back always brings relief from the pressure of the bit and the rider’s legs. Soon, he heads for that sweet pressure-free spot.
The timing of the release is critical. If an inexperienced trainer waits until that same horse backs up one step but delays the release until the horse has had time to throw his head or dance two steps, the horse will learn a totally different lesson than if he had been released at the exact moment he took his first step back. The “sweet spot” will look like a backward dance. The timing could have been off by just one second, but the result could be a horse that gets unruly every time he feels the backward pressure cues.
There are several reasons that a horse may not react to a cue with the proper maneuver. If a rider’s timing is off, the cue will be confused with a “dance” of unexpected maneuvers performed by the horse to get away from the pressure but not fine-tuned to the exact position that releases it each time.
Equipment can have a profound affect on the release. It can make or break your timing.
Wrong Bit: If the bit is not pressuring in the appropriate direction or the appropriate pressure point of the mouth, the animal will move away from the intent – following the pressure release instead of the rider’s true intent, which was masked by the wrong pressure point. That’s a mouthful of a concept if you will pardon the pun. (Learn more about BITS)
Hang up: If the equipment is designed in such a way that it hangs up when the rider lets up, it will muddy the waters of the release. ie: some bitless bridles seem to have a delayed relaxation of pressure due to friction at the cross-over of the reins. (see Bitless Bridle)
Bit Balance and weight: If a bit does not hang in a neutral position (with reins attached) when a rider is totally off the reins, then it will continue to pressure the horse even after the rider takes all weight off of the reins. ie: If you want your horse to have a vertical face, the bit must be completely pressure-free when his head is in that position. A poorly balanced bit may actually hang its own weight against the mouth or curb and exert pressure even when the rider is completely off the reins. (see Bit Balance)
Shaping is the term used for GRADUALLY lengthening or fine-tuning a response. ie: After your horse reliably backs up one step, start asking for two. When that is an easy task, ask for three etc. etc. Soon he will back clear across an arena with only the lightest pressure from the bit and your calves. (see Shaping)