Wednesday, January 4

Feelin' the pressure!

Riding and training horses boils down to one major element. Pressure. How successful we are with horses depends on how we apply this pressure- the intensity, timing, and release. Because horses don't speak our language (and it's a good thing or I'd be out of a job) we have to use pressure to help them figure out what we are asking. We release when they have completed what we ask. When a horse is just learning, we release when they start heading in the right direction. A turn, for example, may start with the horse just tipping their nose in the direction we are signaling with the rein. If we stop here, they know they are on the right track. We can ask for a little more next time and keep the experience positive for all. This is hard for humans because we are so goal oriented and focused. It's no problem for us to work for an hour trying to get that perfect circle, but we have to take our horse into consideration. They have no idea what we want, and can only take their cues from our responses to their actions. If every time they try we are pushing for a little bit more... it's not a very good incentive for them to try at all. 

Now let's try a human world analogy. Imagine you just landed a new job in a new country where you don't speak the language. You walk into your cubicle in the new office, and on the desk is a stack of paperwork. You're not sure what it all is or how to complete it, so you sit down and wait. Your boss comes in, and points at a mysterious machine in the corner, but he doesn't speak english and can't explain what to do. You've never seen anything like it before. How would you react? Personally, I'd continue to just sit there and not do anything. Because I don't know what he wants me to do or how to do it, I would wait for him to give me better directions. I know he wants something with the machine, though, so we are having some sort of communication. Unless he changes his tactic, I'm probably not going to get the lesson. Now Mister Boss Man has two options: he can continue pointing at the machine and hope I get it, or he can be more creative with his pointing. If he continues pointing (maybe over and over again and more dramatically now) you will probably begin feeling a little stressed. He obviously wants you do to something.. NOW! So you might start taking guesses, examining the machine for a button or a sticker with directions, but ultimately, you are probably going to need more help. So, let's see what happens if he follows option number two. If he gets more creative maybe he will start by pointing at the on button on the machine, then to a piece of paper on the desk, and finally at the slot on top of the machine. If you seem doubtful maybe he will point at the paper and then down into the slot. "Oh, I'm supposed to stick it in there?" you'll think to yourself. You may still be a little unsure. Maybe you make a motion like you're putting the paper in the machine. He smiles and gives a big thumbs up- you figured it out!

Every time we ride or handle any horse, we are Mister Boss Man. We use pressure to communicate, but we have to make sure that our horses are understanding the message. It's easy to get upset that a horse isn't responding the way we want, but when we remember that they may not know what it is we're asking for, it's easier to take a deep breath and try again. The best bet with a horse is to make the steps very very small and close together. For a human looking at the end result, it can get really tedious; but the difference in the end result speaks for itself. 

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