Responding appropriately to physical pressure

As soon as the horse accepts our touch (also with all kinds of materials), you can also learn that it responds to your touch and moves away from pressure.

This is also referred to as responding appropriately to pressure. In the entire handling of the horse it is necessary that the horse responds appropriately to pressure.

Consider, for example: the horse being tied, leading on a lead rope, “handling” while brushing, responding to our calf pressure and reins while riding, etc. Almost every interaction we have with the horse is related to responding appropriately to pressure.

Similarly, for example, leading the horse. It is actually simple, you bring the horse from place A to place B, but it can tell you a lot about how the horse feels about you. You can also improve the leading a lot and confirm your position as a leader. That’s why it’s probably called “lead.”

What is the use of this exercise?

This exercise teaches the horse:

– To move away for “pressure” that we exert on the horse.

– Every time you make contact with the bridle, the rope, your seat, leg or bit, you make use of pressure and the horse should react in a respectful and willing manner, without resistance.

– The horse has to learn to think instead of acting instinctively. The natural reaction of the horse is to resist pressure. This helps them escape when a predator attacks them or when something gets in their way on the route to safety.

– Overcoming a possible fearful and / or defensive attitude and teaching the horse to respond appropriately to pressure.

The better your horse responds appropriately to pressure, the easier it is to handle on the ground but also when you ride.

2 types of pressure

1. Equal physical pressure (through touch)
2. Rhythmic, no physical pressure (without touch)

A horse moves more easily away from rhythmic pressure than for equal (constant) pressure. Their intention to flee makes them respond faster, for example, to a moving rope or waving hands, but they will lean faster against your leg, your hands or the halter.

That is why this exercise is difficult, but very important. It teaches the horse to respond to pressure with a quick reaction.

To achieve real communication, giving way to physical pressure is a very important factor. If the horse is not correctly taught to respond to pressure, chances are that he will press against it. You notice this because, for example, the horse pulls on the reins, does not “want” and hardly responds to your leg or seat aid.

Important principles

Principle 1: Intention

You express your intention with a determined look. It ensures that through this look you also have the right body position and the right amount of “energy” in your body. Consider the look and posture that you have when, for example, you have to lift something heavy. You usually don’t do that with a casual look and a relaxed body.

With basic exercise 1, building trust, your gaze is soft, you are relaxed and expect nothing. In this exercise it is better to adjust your gaze, otherwise you confuse the horse. Be as clear as possible in your body language (including your face)!

Principle 2: Equal pressure

Use the pressure gradually and constantly. Not alternately or intermittently. If you want your horse to give way to pressure in a respectful way, you don’t immediately start with a huge push, but you start with a gentle suggestion and you gradually expand it until you get a response.

Principle 3: Four phases … and an immediate release

There are 4 phases to apply pressure. Phase 1 is as light as possible, phase 4 is what is needed to be effective. Phases 2 and 3 are in between.

This helps you to understand how these phases feel:

Phase 1 – Press the hairs (much like a fly)
Phase 2 – Pressure on the skin
Phase 3 – Press on the muscle
Phase 4 – Press the bone!

Points to pay attention to in phase 3

With each phase you increase your pressure (hold about 3 seconds before increasing the pressure), making it uncomfortable for the horse when he is not moving.

! The moment the horse responds by moving, or tries to respond, you TAKE AWAY ALL PRESSURE or go back to phase 1 and reward the horse (with voice, stroking or possibly rewarding with food). It is not the pressure that teaches to give way, but the removal of the pressure. As a result, the horse knows that it has reacted correctly, which is then further confirmed by a reward.

! The momentum is very important. Do not continue to press after the horse has reacted, otherwise it will become insensitive and it will cost more and more pressure every time to get the desired effect.

! Make sure you really use phase 1 and if you really have to go to phase 4. If you start too hard or never become effective enough, you will not achieve a light reaction and a appropriate respond to pressure.

Horses use these phases among herd members.
Most people don’t see these phases being applied by horses. That’s why so many people get kicked or bitten …

! Be consistent in ensuring that phase 4 is always effective. If you put pressure on the horse with your whole body, but the horse just stands still and does not respond, then you have not yet found phase 4. As soon as the horse understands what you mean and has learned that you consistently continue and are willing to use phase 4, but get the comfort and reward if it responds quickly, it will also react faster and faster to the lightest possible pressure.

Exercise without a horse

Try the different phases of applying pressure together with someone. For example on an arm and let them tell how it feels.
Feel for yourself how light phase 1 is. A horse can also feel this easily, because it also feels when there is a fly on its skin.
Feel what it’s like when the pressure is increased. Is it uncomfortable?

Principle 4: Stroke-Press-Stroke

When applying pressure to your horse, it is important to first stroke the horse on that spot. If you then let him give way to the pressure and he responds, you stroke him again in the same place. This is especially important in the learning phase.

You do this so that your horse does not react defensively when you only extend your hand to him and he already moves away. This is escape for your touch and usually indicates a lack of confidence and even some fear. Sensitive horses suffer from this faster. These are also the horses that panic when they feel “too much pressure on the bit” or keep you from using your leg aid whenever they feel anything about your leg. This is not good and these horses do not know how to respond correctly to physical pressure.

Let’s look at the exercise in practise!