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2. Pressure and its Meaning: Considering the Full Experience

It’s a bit like a good relationship with your boss, you can respect him/her – but do you truly trust? There is always the possibility of that ultimate pressure  –  for example losing your job –  lurking somewhere in the feel between you, however distant. Does this feel the same as a relationship you have with a dear friend you can utterly count on to be in your camp, unconditionally? That type of friend, a true friend, might invite you to see a different road ahead, but would never judge your decision to do what you needed to do. Is there a difference in your openness to this friend over the boss? Who are you most at ease to be unguarded with when trying something new? When your boss or your friend really needs you to do something for them, how much of yourself are you willing to give?

Let's consider for a moment, what is happening when the horse does not respond "correctly" to a request. Note that "not correct" implies that we judge him to be  "wrong".  But what sort of responses fall into this category? Perhaps he didn’t understand and tried to do something else; perhaps his feet are “stuck”; or perhaps he needs to move his feet more than was meant. Imagine you don’t understand something and you are pressured to do it anyway – how do you feel? Incapable, lost, angry? Now imagine your feet are stuck because you didn’t notice the request, or just have no desire to move your feet, or your feet and weight in that moment prevent you from complying, and the pressure comes on – how do you feel? Surprised, threatened, resentful? Now imagine you can see a request coming through pressure, but have no idea at all what you are supposed to do, yet you know to expect more pressure if you don't move, so you run – how do you feel? Surprised, threatened, worried, afraid, terrified?

I raise these questions because I have puzzled over this pressure relationship with my own horses, what it means to them, how its presence lurks in their perception of our partnership. Eventually I understood that although my horse was responsive to requests expressed in my body language alone, he still felt pressured. The intent in the request was still rooted in pressure towards him. His other option was to evade in some way, with the promise of… pressure. Even with the consistency of a timely release, to my horse, pressure lived in the relationship between us and this did not fit him.

It boils down to this. If there is judicious use of pressure expressed within the request until the "correct" response is offered, then it follows that the meaning associated with pressure is that the horse is "wrong".  We prefer to say, "hasn't found the release", but the feel offered is that he is "wrong".  Here's the rub: if  judicious pressure is offering the feel that he is wrong, and we express our initial suggestion with the "slightest pressure", then... the horse is "wrong" before he has a chance to be "right" and find his release. And there is the source of resistance or resentment that brews in our more sensitive horses.

Yet this whole idea of "pressure and release" has tremendous value  over the approach I was taught first, which did not incorporate any consistent sense of release. The release is so helpful to the horse: it tells him he’s right. It is a very powerful way to communicate.

For more on releases and timing, see Timing the release: it’s like a box of chocolates  in "Callie" article.

By Karen Musson

Mark Rashid

RashidBookCover

"I see an 'opening' as anything that allows us to help guide, however briefly, an individual in the direction we ultimately would like to go. An 'opening' can be, and often is, a very subtle form of communication between horse and rider that can easily slip past us if we're not paying attention. 'Openings' can and do work both ways. [...] It amazes me just how small an 'opening' can actually be, whether working with horses or with people, and how easy it can be to create an 'opening' when one is needed."

Mark Rashid

"I truly believe developing the ability to see and use 'openings' effectively is only one piece of what one might refer to as the 'harmony in horsemanship' puzzle. When this idea of understanding 'openings' is brought together with the understanding of two other simlar ideas - making a connection with another indvidual, and the role distance plays in overall communication - I believe it is then that harmony in horsemanship becomes a much less daunting concept for us."

Mark Rashid

Leslie Desmond

LDaudiobook

"Bill knew about a place I did not know existed, or could exist, between a horse and a human being [...] Bill included each one of my horses in that information exchange. Over the course of many months,... he took each one by its lead rope and, later, by the bridle reins. Using what he called his 'better feel', Bill showed me and each of them exactly what he meant by what he did [...] It was not long after I made the switch from force when needed (often) to always customizing the feel I offered to a horse, that two tough horses I had misunderstood for years developed into my most reliable mounts."

Leslie Desmond

The lightest hands carry intent that is recognized instantly by the horse, as seen in the maneuvers he chooses to make with his feet. Whether that horse is ridden or handled, the lightest hands can purposefully influence the speed, direction and sequence of each foot with accuracy, in a manner that is reflected in the horse's body and on his face.

Leslie Desmond

Bill Dorrance

bilsbook

"The Real Masters Understood Feel [...] For example, De Kerbrech, (French officer in the cavalry of Napoleon III) really understood horses. He had it fixed up so the horse could succeed. [...] The first time I read Beudant's book was in the 1950s. The way he explained things, there was no doubt in my mind about what a person needed to do to get these little things working for them and their horse."

Bill Dorrance

“Feel, timing and balance: sometimes it’s best to talk about feel, timing and balance separately, and to learn how to apply each thing separately on the start. But when you apply these three things a little later in your training, then you see that each one of these things supports the other. They are interconnected and all three are real important. You really can’t get along without all three.”

Bill Dorrance

Faverot de Kerbrech

FaverotBookCover

“...plus le deplacement du poids est facile dans tous les sens, plus l'equilibre est parfait. En vertue de ce principe, on dit que le cheval est 'en equilibre' quand de simples indications suffisent au cavalier pour modifier a son gre la disposition du poids sur ses colonnes de soutien”

Faverot de Kerbrech

[Translation: ...the easier it is to shift the weight in any direction, the more perfect the balance. By virtue of this principle, the horse is 'in balance' when a simple indication from the rider is sufficient to modify the distribution of weight across the columns of support (four quarters) accordingly]

Duke of Newcastle

CavendishBookCover

"You must in all Airs follow the strength, spirit, and disposition of the horse, and do nothing against nature; for art is but to set nature in order, and nothing else."

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle

"A confrontational approach ‘Astonishes the Weak Horse […] makes a Furious horse Madd; makes a Resty Horse more Resty […] and Displeases all sorts of Horses’. The alternative however is not ‘to Sit Weak […] but to Sit Easie’, in the understanding that ‘The Horse must know you are his Master’"

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle