Pressure and release… The missing language of a quality partnership Part 1A majority of unwanted horse behavior stems from the animal responding with defensiveness toward any form of pressure. Spatial and physical are the most common types of pressure people use to communicate with horses. If there is physical resistance and mental distrust towards pressure, this can lead to a wary partnership between horse and human.
An overlooked factor in creating a quality partnership is the rider recognizing the horse’s efforts by offering a release. Think of the release as an acknowledgment or “thank you” towards the horse for his effort. It is the only encouragement the rider can offer to the horse to inspire him to keep trying.
The timing of the release is crucial and can be offered in a multitude of ways. It can be physical, such as decreasing the use of an aid or slowing the pace; a spatial release could be encouraging a horse to “think through” a scenario. A rider lacking sensitivity and awareness unintentionally creates constant pressure on their horse.
Mistrust can begin when the horse complies with the initial pressure, and a rider continues to “take” or demand more of the horse. Eventually, the constant pressure with no release is too much for the horse, who begins displaying resistant (fussy, busy, defensive) behavior. If the horse’s movement still appears “manageable,” his concerns tend to be ignored, or worse, the rider’s response is to create MORE pressure in an attempt to “make him” do something or to contain his resistance.
What does this vicious cycle teach the horse? Every time he displays he has a problem, he is going to have more pressure applied to him. Eventually, the horse has had “enough” and uses his size and muscle to get bigger, stronger, or perhaps more intimidating. The obvious unwanted physical behavior is often the symptom, rather than the root cause.
A common practice is to mask the unwanted behavior, with quick and easy “fixes” such as using a more severe tack. Adding equipment, working the horse harder and longer, and all forms of pressure, lead to increased resistance from the horse.
Instead, it should feel like a respectful conversation between the rider and their horse, not a screaming match. The rider should ask something of the horse with minimal energy and effort, through clear and specific communication. The horse can and should respond in a polite and willing manner.