We may not like to think of it this way but most of us are taught to deal with horses through force- the application and release of pressure to achieve the desired result. For example, if a horse is jump shy and keeps running out to the left, we are advised to carry a whip on the left side and dole out a little tap to deter further avoidance. The idea being that the fear he has of doing something, like going past a scary object or going over a scary jump is outweighed by the fear/pressure from us. However in many cases this can have the effect of reinforcing the horse's fear, of the jump or scary object as this activity then equals pressure or pain. This is a classic example of how we are punishing undesired behaviours through the threat of and the application of pain, and how this method can fix a problem temporarily, but it will never really overcome that horse's fear of jumping or going past scary objects.
Many equine behaviourist’s believe that ‘naughty’ behaviours like; running-out, bolting, barging, biting or kicking boil down to three very simple things - present or past fear, pain or miscommunication. When your horse is being asked to perform an action and he is punished if it is not performed, whether by using a loud, harsh tone, a quick smack on the withers or a smack with the whip, your horse is effectively being assaulted for being in pain, feeling fear or misunderstanding what you want. Either you, the handler are not giving clear correct signals or past experience has led your horse to react in a certain way.
We have come to believe that horses need to be led with a ‘firm hand’ or ‘they’ll walk all over you’. Now, I believe, that we approach horses in this way because we are the ones who are intimidated either by fear of being hurt or fear of failure and fear of what others think of us. But, if we can only realise that empathy goes a lot further than force in the equine world both horses and their owners will be a lot happier. Horses are naturally skittish prey animals and we need to gain their trust to give them confidence. So, the next time your horse doesn’t react how you’d like, think about WHERE this behaviour may have come from and try and think how you can change your approach, asking in a calm and clear way. We must remember to separate ourselves from our horse’s behaviour because it is never about us, it is a combination of instinct and past experience that have influenced the way they act.
Do you think pressure and release is a force for good or evil?!! Should pressure have no place in horse training or is it just a case of when you apply it, and how much?