One of the first principles of natural horsemanship is “Pressure motivates and release teaches”.
The concept of using pressure to motivate a horse to do something bothers some people. Some have unfortunately seen pressure used in inappropriate ways (abuse) that is very disturbing. The thing is, pressure is used all the time in interpersonal relationships as well as in interspecies relationships. It is how the pressure is applied that is important.
When working with horses pressure can be applied directly or indirectly. Direct pressure can be applied with or without a device. Without a device we use our hands or some other part of our body to physically touch the horse. A device can either be attached to the horse eg a halter or a bridle or it can be some that is held by the trainer which he uses to touch the horse with eg a stick, a rope or a spur. With indirect pressure again we can use only our hands or other parts of our body or we can use some device like a stick and flag or a rope. Indirect pressure means that we don`t touch the horse.
Because horses are so sensitive they feel direct pressure immediately no matter how light the pressure is. The objective is to have the horse understand what they should do to respond to the pressure. If the pressure hurts or scares the horse they will not learn to respond properly
I have heard clinicians say that we can learn from the interactions of horses playing together to determine how much pressure can be applied. If you have observed this, do you really want to ever apply that much pressure? I don`t think so.
I have found that pressure applied in the right spot can be very light but still effective. The key is to remove the pressure the instant that the horse responds, even slightly, in the way we want them to (reward the slightest try).
Try to combine cues to the horse when asking for a response. For example when asking a horse to back up you can start by wiggling the lead rope. At the same time as you are wiggling the rope look at the horses feet and push slightly with your nose toward the horse. The instant the horse starts to move back stop everything and change your focus. As the horse learns your cue you can reduce the pressure in steps until all you need to do to ask for a back up is to look at the horses feet. The look is a form of pressure and to the untrained eye the horses response seems to be magical. The goal with everything I do is to reduce the asking pressure to the absolute minimum. As this happens the horse`s responses become better and their confidence in you grows.
The methods taught by clinicians utilize pressure applied in a variety of manners. When you are considering using a program take the time to see the methods applied and decide for yourself if it is a method you are comfortable with. Never, ever, let a trainer or a clinician use a form of pressure on your horse/partner that you are not comfortable with. If it looks like the horse is afraid or worse is hurt, things have gone way over the line. Don`t let this happen!
Pressure, properly used, is nothing more than a means of communication. The objective is that this communication is almost invisible to everyone but you and your horse.