When you think of how to do a task with your horse, do you think, “How shall I apply pressure and where?” to get the job done? If you are like most humans, you probably do; it seems to be our default setting. Horse people, especially, seem to be doers; we always think what we can do to the horse to get them to do what we want. All you need to do is have a look at all the to do articles in horsey magazines telling you what to do to your horse if you are having trouble with them. Most of what we really have to do is not much to do with the horse at all; it is to do with the way we structure our questions and thoughts when working with the horse and this will lead us to better questions and better results. This is quite simple when you just know how and when you are aware of it, so let’s look at how.
Did you know that our natural way of thinking is the opposite to what horses need? People need to experience a paradigm shift from their natural way of thinking to become good with horses so they can not only get horses to work without force, but also build a connection that goes beyond just doing tasks; you know all that fluffy stuff we love about horses. If you want results while having a rewarding connection with your horse and you are willing to do what it takes, read on.
Ok, so we do need to do something to change, but it isn’t to do to the horse – it is to do to us. Those of you who know me, Shane Ransley, will know I use the Release Method when working with horses. This article is to help you apply the method; if this is the first time you have read one of my articles then this is a good place to start understanding the Release Method.
There are 3 parts to communicating with your horse: comfort, offer, and, often overused, pressure. Comfort and offer are on the release side of things and pressure, well that explains itself. Pressure, in the release method, however, starts light and increases but doesn’t just keep getting stronger. I will explain more as we go BUT before we “do” all these things to our horse how about we think about asking a different question?
Let’s look at a common problem like impulsion: the horse won’t go without pressure or horse won’t stop without pressure. If you have something different you would like to work on, just see if you can apply the same principles in the task you want better. So, the problem is the horse won’t go and the human thinks, “How can I apply pressure to get them to go?” The horseman thinks, “How can I get my horse to want to go?” The first question will lead you to a pressure answer and the second question will lead you to a comfort answer. This doesn’t mean that pressure is wrong – it just means we need to avoid using it as the answer to everything and our first option. So, how can we get our horse to want to go? Well, it sounds like they enjoy stopping so we will do lots of stops and call them comfort spots. Lay out a southern cross pattern: 5 markers one in each corner and one in the middle. Ride from one corner to the next going past the middle marker and stop and rest, creating a comfort spot at the corner marker. Get to where you increase in speed a little without breaking gait just before you stop and this will reward the horse for putting effort in. Make sure they get to relax mentally at each comfort spot but not so long that they go to sleep. This is a basic explanation but I hope you get the idea: use comfort not pressure. You can use the same method to speed up your turns by increasing to a trot or canter out of the turn. See how creative you can get! For the horse who runs off, then do the same task but slow them a little before stopping – then the comfort spot will reward the slowness.
I hope this helps you with your paradigm shift to thinking of comfort first. Stay tuned for more tips.