There are two types of Pressure: Physical pressure and Intention pressure (threat).
Physical pressure: that is the tactile feelings such as the bit against the bars in his mouth or the rope halter bearing down on the poll at his head. It can be as uncomfortable as necessary to move him, or as subtle as an air-light resting of your hand on his joint or muscle line (as in some equine message techniques that produce relaxation).
Horse’s are large animals, but not necessarily agile or inventive. They can bully their environment, pushing through brush, bumping each other: In essence, using their size to move things out of their way.
A horse’s natural reaction to physical pressure is to resist it by moving into it. ie: When you lean into a horse’s shoulder in an effort to get his weight off of your foot, he leans right back into you, forcing his full weight onto the hoof that is crushing your toe. Just one instance where it would be nice if you were dealing with a horse who had been taught to yield to pressure. Such a horse would have moved off of your foot the moment you put the slightest pressure on his shoulder.
They have a built-in survival response, which is a “bracing” response. Teaching a horse to yield or relax (not brace) involves time spent on the ground, motivating him to move away and then reinforcing his retreat. (see Release Training)(see Reinforcement Theory ) (see Yielding)
Intention (psychological) pressure: Because horses are prey animals and not predators (that is: hunted instead of hunters), they must always be aware of a carnivore eyeing their body and sizing them up for dinner. If a horse feels threatened by another’s intentions (intention pressure) he will move away from the “pressure“. See Fight or Flight. Intention pressure is usually communicated through body language (your position, your gaze) but not touching.
Teaching a horse to yield to pressure of either type requires exact timing.
Proper Release is critical. Release is the reward that the rider or trainer gives the horse for executing the proper maneuver. ie: If he backs up one steps when asked to do so, the pressure is immediately released and he finds that a 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. (see Release Training)
Shaping is the term used for GRADUALLY lengthening or fine-tuning a response. ie: After your horse reilably 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 cue. (see Shaping)
Pressure should not be PAIN.
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