Pressure…. we all experience it, horses pressure each other, there is pressure no matter how gently we ride, there is pressure when we sit on our horses, when we use reins, right?
BIG FAT WRONG.
This is a very quick blog to explain:
The difference between PRESSURE and TOUCH
Why you DON’T need to use pressure when training/handling/riding your horse
Why it is NOT OK to do something to your horse because ‘they do it to each other’.
Why it is NOT OK to employ pressure as a training tool
1- PRESSURE wants a reaction. Pressure can increase until it gets it’s reaction. For example, a light squeeze of calves can increase to a harder squeeze, a gentle nudge, a kick, a tap with a whip etc until the desired response is achieved. So ‘light pressure’ says ‘this will increase until it becomes unpleasant for you until you do what I want’. This applies to using pressure in legs, reins, lead ropes, asking horses to move away- anything where you apply pressure and you will increase it until you get the response you are after.
Touch- sitting on a horse is TOUCH not PRESSURE. You can try, but I don’t know how you can increase the pressure of your sitting on a horse. Barring any injury or past trauma, TOUCH should not create concern in your horse that there is going to be any escalation or unpleasantness.
Touch should not be possible to escalate.
You can teach your horse to move forward by using targets and vocal cues WITHOUT using your legs. You don’t need to use pressure to motivate behaviours, you can inspire your horse to MOVE TOWARDS things and add cues to this behaviour instead of making them uncomfortable so they MOVE AWAY from something. You can actually teach your horse to MOVE IN TO A TOUCH! For example, normally, when people want their horses to move over, they start with a gentle prod and ‘over’ and that prod can become a poke pretty fast until the horse moves away. My herd… you stand on the side you want them to move to, hold out your hand or target and say ‘hip’ and they will MOVE THEMSELVES OVER until they make contact with your hand or target. See? Touch, but not pressure, they are seeking out touch, and again, this is pretty damned hard to escalate into something uncomfortable so there is no stress or threat or worry involved. With regards to riding, turning and halting cues are taught on the ground using targets first, and transferred to riding WITHOUT reins. Once the horse is happily turning in the direction of the target (and this cue is made smaller and smaller until the horse responds to a twitch in a hand pretending to hold an invisible rein) the bitless bridle and reins can be added, so the hands can be holding smiling (very loose reins falling in the shape of a smile) and the horse may look like they are responding to the reins, but in reality, they are responding to the hand or target signals, just like they would if they had no bridle on at all!
I can hear people screaming ‘BUT WUT IF U R IN DAAAAANJAAAAA!!! WULD U LET UR HORSE B HIT BY A BUUUUUUSSS?’
Don’t be a fucktard. As much as it pains me to admit it, I would shove the users of spurs and whips out of the way of a bus almost as fast as I would shove my horse. ALMOST as fast. Pretty certain that getting shoved is less aversive that a motor traffic accident.
YOU ARE NOT A HORSE. If you use pressure because you’ve seen other horses use pressure or threat to motivate behaviour, then it’s only fair to allow your horse to reciprocate in kind. I don’t really want that… Plus, my horses know I’m not a horse. They’re not idiots. So I use my BIG HUAN BRAIN to find ways to enable inter-species communication which allows us all to stay safe, relaxed and happy.
Pressure escalates. We humans are impatient creatures, we want results YESTERDAY. Who hasn’t kicked a vending machine when it hasn’t given us our can of pop? If we train using pressure, we will escalate it until we are riding/training using discomfort and pain. At the very ;least, horses who know we will escalate pressure will never be relaxed, how can they be? If they stop paying attention, the pressure ramps up! How can they be enjoyable or stress free? It doesn’t make our horses think of us as safe or friendly.
Using escalating pressure also increases the risk of over-facing your horse and findiong yourself in unsafe situations. A horse who is acting in such a way to avoid escalation of pressure can find itself suddenly in a situation where what it is facing (bin truck, cows, bus, whatever) is scarier to it than the threat of escalation, and that horse can react dangerously. A horse who is safe in the knowledge that saying no will not result in escalation of pressure is unlikely to go into that situation in the first place.
You can learn about pressure free, threat free, escalation free horse handling and riding at Horse Charming. Ciao!