Little Things

  Horses are always testing us to see if we are paying attention and if we are still fit to be the "high horse". That's why we should always be aware of what we are doing and what we are allowing when we are around them. Believe it or not, you may just be teaching your horse bad lessons or habits because you might let things slide.

  There are things that may be acceptable for a horse to do to another horse, but not to us. Things like pinning their ears or biting for example. If you were to notice your horse about to bite you or pin their ears, you could correct it and teach him that he is not allowed to do that. The trick is to be consistent. Every time he is about to exhibit bad behaviour, you need to correct it. If you let it slide, your horse will learn that he can get away with it. It will also make you look like a weak, inconsistent leader in your horse's eyes.

  Your horse is constantly learning and testing. In a herd, once the high horse becomes weak, a stronger horse will take over the role. If we show our horses that we are weaker than they are, they'll try to take our position away from us. This means that more problems will evolve since he won't be listening to what you ask of him any more. 

  You need to make the wrong things hard and the right things easy to a horse. When the right thing is easy, they'll then discover that it must be the right answer. So if your horse pins his ears on you and you ignore it, you just allowed him to think that was the right thing to do (wrong thing easy). If your horse pins his ears on you and you react by making him feel uncomfortable by using pressure and releasing the pressure once he stops pinning his ears, he discovers that pinning his ears is the wrong thing to do (making the right thing easy). 

  Horses learn through pressure and release. The more pressure you put on your horse, the more uncomfortable he will be. Once he gets release, he then learns the right answer because it's a lot more easy to have release than to have pressure. They are sensitive to pressure as well. It doesn't take much to get a reaction. Pressure doesn't mean yelling and hitting your horse, it simply means making yourself look more intimidating by holding yourself a certain way. Sometimes even looking them in the eye a certain way will make them react. 

  The best way to learn how to use pressure correctly is by watching horses out in a pasture. Sometimes just a turn of the head and a swish of a tail is enough. You want to communicate the same way to your horse. The same goes for release. Giving a horse release does not always mean walking up to them to pet them (in fact, approaching them may only increase the pressure). In a herd, release is distance. So taking a few steps back and waiting for your horse to relax and think about the right answer can be the best form of release you can give him. 

  To give you some examples of the little things horses can do that, if you let them slide, can cause problems in the future, I have found this video. Warwick Schiller talks about some of the horses he has worked with where horses have been taught bad things because people weren't aware they were allowing them to learn these things.

Video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogk_z1LL0Pc&list=UU413ZepFqtG6Bhb8Lv7ugFA

  I hope this has given you all something to think about and that you will be more aware of what you are teaching your horse the next time you are around him. I wish you all the best of luck with teaching your horses the right things and I thank you for reading Pure Horse Sense.

  Until next time, happy riding!

The Pressures of Good Communication

  As I have said in last week's post, I will be talking about the concept of pressure and release this week. If you have not read last week's post on lunging, you can also go read that one as well. 

  Pressure and release is the way horses communicate and correct one another. The better we understand the concept and how to use it, the easier and more effective it will be for us to communicate with our equine friends.

  Some people make the mistake that horses only really put pressure on each other when they pin their ears, bite, rear or kick. In reality, they are also putting pressure on each other when they move their tail, stomp their feet or even give each other a look.

  So what does putting pressure on a horse mean? Well, it's a form of communication. Depending on whether you want to interact, train or correct your horse, you will use pressure in different ways. Let's say you want to catch your horse in a paddock and he starts walking away from you, you would use pressure in front of his drive line to prevent him from wandering off. If you are teaching a horse to lower his head, you may want to put pressure on his head until he gives in to the pressure. If your horse is about to bite you, you may want to raise your voice and move your arms to let him know he cannot do that.

  No matter how you use pressure, you also need to understand that release is the most important part. Horses learn what the right answer is when they get release from the pressure. So, when you stop your horse from walking away, release the pressure so he understands you want him to stand still before you approach him. When your horse lowers his head, release the pressure off his head so he knows that this is where you want him to keep his head. When your horse is prevented from biting you, release the pressure so that he knows that he can't get away with that.

  The same methods are used when riding as well. When you want your horse to jump over a fence, you want to squeeze your legs tighter right before the jump and then release the pressure when he takes off. When you want your horse to turn, increase the pressure on him until he has moved to the direction you want him to go to.

  When you give a horse release after the pressure you are showing him what the right answer is and there won't be any miscommunication. It seems pretty obvious, but it's sometimes forgotten. 

  Make sure you stay consistent with what you are asking of your horse to avoid confusion. You don't want to let your horse get away with something one day and not the next because then he will never stop testing you and you won't progress as quickly as you might wish.