Principles behind the Ransley Release Method

A thinking horse

A thinking horse

Your principles drive you but you are governed by your instincts; however, we are human and we have the ability to change our instincts to be compatible with horses!
Yes, we can do this but it will take some conscious effort and a strong focus on some principles.

To become good at the Ransley Release Method you will need to stick to some principles and reprogram your instincts.
This is only a paradigm shift for some but it can be done if you are willing to stay focused on your goal and read on

OK, so lets start changing your instincts today, here, now.Yes, online while reading. The horseman/horsewoman that lives inside you, underneath your human instincts, is only a paradigm shift away.
You would think that with it being common knowledge that we are predators and horses are prey animals that it would stand to reason that our instincts are opposite! This means if we follow our instincts of pressure to hold on to our horse in riding and ground work, they will be offended and quite likely begin a chain reaction of them following their instincts of flight or fight.
But even when people hear this, they go “yeah yeah I know that, of course” and continue on with their human instincts still in charge of their actions as they train their horse with brain washing repetition. Just stop it! Or we will waste a few more years; it is time to change.

We need to reprogram ourselves, change our non- horseman like instincts. We can do this! We are the only species that can do this! We need to give when the horse needs us to give. We need to not apply pressure first; we need to offer first. We need to be thinking: how can I get my horse to want to do this? And that is to name just a few but let’s get started.

You may have some inner conflict as you change your beliefs but this is normal so try and keep your focus on the goal. Which is to be a horseman and yes, horsewoman, I will just type horseman now but I mean both, ok?
What is a horseman? I would say a horseman is someone who understands horses and can work/play with them in such a way that they need no force, no intimidation, no gadgets. They can get horses to do things in such a way that the horse wants to do it for them, wants to be with them. You get the idea? The less tools the better the horseman you will have to be.

Us humans have a tendency to make things complex and quite often we lose track of the goal so, to help you stay on target, I have some principles for you to follow. If you have trouble with believing these principles can become your instincts, then you are not ready and this article isn’t for you yet, so we may see you later on and you can go ride your horse now!
For those of you who are interested in reprogramming yourself to be a better horseman, we will be looking at these principles:


R for release O for options P for program E for enjoy

Yes, ROPE will help you know what to do and what not to do when it comes to working with your horse. If something you are doing doesn’t have all of these principles in it, you may be wasting your time or worse.
Now these words need to mean something but they may mean something different to you than me or to your horse, so let’s look at it from a horseman’s point of view.

Release The human instinct is to tighten and hold more if the horse isn’t doing what we want and we need to change this to be able to release and release at the right time.
The key part of this principle is to offer the release first! Not pressure then release as, yes that will work and a lot of people use this, but give the horse half a chance and they will leave if they can. Applying pressure first will affect your horse’s attitude and your end result. When you ask them to try harder and put in more effort, they will either start to shut down or brace their body not reaching their full physical capabilities. They will lose their try in time, they will lose the sparkle in their eyes when they see you coming or maybe even lose it forever. So, offer release first; it is against your instincts so keep an eye on it.

Examples of offering release on the ground is light direction – what we call feel on the rope; not pressure but feel and, yes, you can and may need to apply some pressure if they don’t follow your suggestion, just as horses do with each other if one doesn’t get out of the way of another. Be careful that you do not use pressure so much that they begin to follow your feel in fear of the pressure that may come, as this will get a whole different attitude and muscle use from your horse and become a conditioned response, which is a right brain reaction not a thought process.

In riding, release can come in the form of an open leg or rein before applying pressure from the other side and, if you do have to apply pressure, make sure to go back to release after the horse has moved off of your leg otherwise you are taking away their reason to think and their reason to be more willing next time.
Let’s talk about this while it is here. We need to be teaching horses not training them; we need to encourage left brain (logic) thought not right brain (instinct). Offering release will encourage left brain development and lesson the chance of horses following their flight fight instincts as they learn to think their way through their instincts and emotional responses. Yes, it is true they can do this if we help them but we need to do it for ourselves first. I have another article that will cover this interesting subject further. But you should get the idea for now.
It is like if you tell someone what to do all the time, eventually they stop thinking and can’t do anything without you telling them. This is what using pressure all the time will do and you will lose the try in your horse, not to mention the connection, and lesson the amount of physical effort they put in for you. Slave or partner? Oh and just a thought: anything that is dominated and controlled with force, history tells us, will eventually resist and I think we have seen enough of that in horse training, thanks; it’s time to teach them.
So, use release and offer with a positive attitude that you are offering a good deal. As you would offer a friend a chair if they needed to sit because it is the right thing to do not because you are afraid of injury from them. You offer because it is polite; this is what we need to do with our horse. This is using release in our offer – it is a suggestion, so get good at suggesting good ideas to your horse and they will follow willingly.

Options The human instinct here is to give them the option to do it right and only that option! That is not options, ok?
We need to change this instinct to give them as many options as possible so we can develop our horsemanship skills and the horse’s left brain thinking. “What? Give a right brain dominant animal options? He won’t do as he is told!” Well, guess what? If you don’t give them some options, you will always have to tell them what to do and you will only ever train their right brain and leave the left brain a shrunken little grey lump in their head which, in turn, will leave you at the mercy of their right brain and whether their instincts will trigger today or not. Leading to unsafe, insecure, lack of engagement with the body etc.
Giving no options to your horse will lead you down the track of having to do more and more training hours as your horses brain shuts down to just instinct and the body loses all that energy that can only come from willing movement.

While we are talking about that willingness, we are so good at breeding that special horse that puts in full effort. How about we use training/teaching methods that will encourage and develop willingness even more? These special horses don’t need to be so rare if we could teach them better, anyhow just a thought.

Giving options to your horse not only gives them a chance to think and develop their left brain but it gives them a chance to give you some feedback and guess what? Sometimes that feedback isn’t what you want! So we need to be horseman enough not to get emotional and just re present what you want in a different way. This can be hard for some people’s ego but that is something for them to work on not the horse.
As we are teaching our horses we need to present our offer using release first and if we get a negative attitude or not the physical effort that we desire, we need to listen to the feedback and again give the horse the “Option” to give us feedback then adjust and try again if we need to. Avoid doing the same thing over and over not listening to the feedback. This becomes repetition training the right brain and the only place for repetition training is in physical training and even then you have to be careful not to do so much that their brain just shuts off and runs on instinct.

Examples of options: To ensure your horse is still thinking, give them some responsibility as often as you can in the form of options. For example, you are working on your circles and self carriage getting those muscles nice and tuned, give the reins and see if they stay on the circle or even better keep their self carriage without you holding them up. After all, that is their job and their responsibility so give it to them. If they need correction, then correct and release again. Get to where they can go further and further without correction and you are now building their left brain and they will enjoy the release. They will get so good at this that they will try to find the softness more and more and help you more and put in more effort. Yes, that is what we want: less
effort from us, better results from them. There are many more ways to give options and release and I will share more of these along with videos on my blog.

In ground work, give direction toward a jump and as the horse approaches the jump drop the direction (feel not pressure) on the lead rope. See how far away you can be and the horse still keeps going to the jump. You could do this riding, also. In clinics I get people to even face away from the jump so they don’t eyeball at the horse so it feels it has to jump. Now, as the horse gets better and better and giving you the feedback you want from your options, it can be difficult to tell whether the horse is thinking or just doing a trained right brain response as not all right brain responses are negative. I call these tricks and I am not a fan of tricks in horsemanship, maybe in entertainment but that is another article. So to check this and avoid mistakenly teaching your horse right brain tricks you need to be able to vary what you are asking at any time so, if they are doing well at a trot, can they change gait to walk just before or even stop at the jump with very little direction? If they can, this indicates that they are paying attention with their left brain and thinking “ok, what is next?” Not just drifting off into automatic. Ok, that gives you some ideas on options and more ideas are on my blog.

Program The human instinct here is to do it over and over until it is perfect then, when it is perfect, keep doing it to make it a habit, but we need to change this instinct as it shuts down the emotional growth and left brain thought of horses making them unsafe, unpredictable and detached. We need to give them achievable steps so they can grow emotionally and mentally and keep them confident.

When I say a program it means a horse training/teaching program, a progressive program with steps forward and steps back, so you need to find a foundation point to a task so you can get it better. If you do not have steps to lead you up to your goal and you just work on a task over and over with repetition training until the horse figures it, then it is just a right brain trick and, if you need to get it better, you can only keep doing repetition and eventually lose that willingness that is so important in a horse.
Piaffe is a great example, to me it should be a demonstration of the strength, suppleness and confidence in collection for a horse that has been developed with lateral moves to encourage softness and good impulsion to encourage confidence in collection, but it is often taught as a trick with the horse’s forward being shut down and force coming from behind until they trot then reward. Over and over this is done to create a right brain conditioned response. This might seem ok to some but most of these types of horses can never leave the confines of a fence as their emotional development (left brain education) was never developed.

People do the same in fly changes until people get so used to seeing jump up and swish the tail in a fly change that that is the only way they can see the fly change and know when to clap for the competitor; a good fly change you may have to look twice as it is so smooth.
Anyway, you can feel my passion on this subject. I just feel it is disrespectful to the horse to treat it like an animal/robot with tricks in place of good horsemanship. If you are at a show and it is a trick for entertainment, then that is fine as they are not there to demonstrate how good they are at teaching horses but, if you are at a competition and they use what you can clearly see as tricks in place of a program, then don’t clap!

You may have heard the saying “Never let them win and if you get bucked off, then get straight back on!” Now there is an interesting concept! How about we reword that and live a happy life? Always try to finish on a win for both of you; use a program! Start with small, easy tasks and build, then when you get up to a high level and you have a bad day, take a few steps back to one of the foundation points to the same task and you still finish on a win as you got the foundation to that task better.

For example, your horse isn’t using it’s hind in pirouettes, you go back to a walk and try again; you go back and do it at a stand still and walk out; you can even go back to ground work and yield the front around from the ground. The more steps you have to reward at, the more chance of finishing where both of you are happy. You will find if you have this plan and this mindset, you will only have to go back for a few moments and can progress back up again quicker with a willing horse.

Enjoy The human instinct here is when we focus hard on something, we lose track of the good things that are going on around us and if we are with a horse, we forget to reward.
We need to change this and look up, smile at every opportunity and think about how lucky we are to be with a horse and remember the dream that got you into horses in the first place.

Well this shouldn’t be too hard, hey? But fear, frustration, confusion, and physical effort all cause us to get focused on us. Me, me, me is what is going on in humans’ heads when they have trouble or are busy and they forget why they are there. Keep reminding yourself and reprogram yourself for your horse’s sake and your sake; you will get a lot better results if you enjoy yourself at every chance.
So, that is a mental reason, but what about physically and emotionally. Did you know that when we are a tad over focused on riding and tapped into the feel part of our brain, our body loses rhythm and we start to look down and even lean forward and down? We lose our ability to reward and release at the right time, we lose our rhythm as muscles tighten. Sort of like public speaking for most people, they lose focus, forget what they want to say and, for blokes, they can’t dance any more if people are staring at them. You get the idea. Being over focused or unhappy will lead to all bad things for rider position and staying in time with your horse.

So our body, our instincts are working against us! But hey we can change this! Focus up, smile and enjoy yourself!

Remember your ROPE next time you go out to your horse and if you enjoy my Release Method and think more people should do it for their horse, then please share this article with your horsey friends.

Shane Ransley


Shane Ransley
CEO & Co-founder
Quantum Savvy Horsemanship
Shane’s Blog


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One Response to Principles behind the Ransley Release Method

  1. Max Neale says:

    Hi Quantumsavy people , Luved the ROPE article. I have used the release way talking to the horses I handle over the years and its amazing the amount of horse trainers out there that use force rather than a nice soft feel timing and guidance. Thanks for the great reading.

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