Removing pressure is not a reward for your horse
Its common teaching and practice to apply pressure to a horse to encourage them to do whatever it is that you have in mind they should be doing.
You start off soft, increasing the pressure as necessary to help the horse understand that they should be doing what you are asking.
When they appear to be 'getting it' and at least making a try in the right direction, you release them from the pressure.
You are happy that they have recognised your leadership and direction.
And you feel good that you are rewarding your horse by removing the pressure that you were putting on them to perform to whatever standard you had set for the activity.
Sounds great, your horse is learning and getting rewarded, you are progressing towards your goals.
It’s a positive win-win cycle.
...Or is it?
Is releasing pressure a reward, or is it really just relief from discomfort?
Let’s follow through and test the concept...
Although you want results by using as little pressure as possible, you know that sometimes it takes more to get the desired response.
Now, if release of pressure is seen as a reward, then by the same logic, the size of reward is directly proportional to the amount of pressure being removed.
This means that the higher the pressure you had to go to and the longer you had to apply it, the bigger the reward must have been when you took that pressure away.
Respectfully, I have to say that this doesn’t make any sense to me.
If you experienced removal of discomfort I am sure that you would see it as relief and not reward.
When was the last time you went seeking discomfort as a route to getting reward?
I really don’t think our horses see removal of discomfort as anything but relief either.
Using your ability to cause discomfort is not leadership
But don’t we need to assert ourselves as leader? To up the pressure until our horse learns we have the power to make things uncomfortable and they should follow and respect us?
People frequently confuse leadership with management or being the boss through a position of authority or power.
Power can work to make others submit in preference to experiencing discomfort or worse, but it damages relationships and creates unwanted behaviours as well.
Leadership isn’t based on power or the ability to cause discomfort, its about influencing hearts and minds and not about command and control.
In reality, the leaders of a team often aren’t those in management positions or in any position of power through hierarchical ranking.
Leadership requires a different skill set.
Instead, leaders are those people that others trust and believe in to have their best interests at heart.
Leaders inspire people to willingly choose to become followers, to buy into their goals and aspirations, to be the best they can be, to give support with commitment.
Genuine, authentic leaders are the individuals that others naturally gravitate towards.
They influence their followers to enthusiastically share and work towards their goals.
They don’t make them comply and submit to their will, promising discomfort if they don't.
Leaders expect commitment and they hold others accountable, but they also identify their individual followers needs and support their development to reach their potential.
They certainly don’t threaten with pressure and then regard it’s removal a reward.
They treat followers as individuals, tailoring personalised development plans to suit, regularly adjusting them to be compatible and the most motivating they can be.
If an approach isn’t working leaders take responsibility and change it, they hold themselves accountable.
There isn't a prescriptive ‘one size fits all’ mentality, or an expectation that giving the same instructions louder and louder is going to be the answer to not understanding or a lack of motivation.
We owe it to our horses and to ourselves to develop true leadership, a type of leadership that empowers us to have the relationship with our horses we used to dream of.
We will be expanding on leadership and other topics, so if you want to lead and live your dreams sign-up to receive news and updates as well as free access to ‘Be a Leader not a Boss’ ebook.