Using Pressure with your Horse Positively

Pressure - Guiding the dance

Why simply increasing pressure to convince your horse to do what you want is just enforcing submission and not establishing positive leadership.

Increasing pressure establishes submission and compliance, not leadership

Applying, and then incrementally escalating, pressure to get our horses to respond as we want them to is often presented as exercising leadership - But it isn’t.

Escalating pressure until a horse submits will only achieve exactly that – performance by submission.

Yes, if the threat is strong enough, then the horse will do its best to avoid the promise of discomfort.

But the subsequent performance will be executed with an attitude of compliance not co-operation or desire.

Applying pressure in this way provokes a response of avoidance and escape not feel and connection.

It’s about attitude

This isn’t challenging the maxims of ‘...making the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy...’ or being’…as assertive as necessary, but as light as possible…’.

It is about attitude towards the horse and how you apply these concepts to guide rather than presenting as a ‘do it or else’ scenario.

Wrong attitude limits the potential for relationship and performance

A Boss type mentality is certainly capable of getting a horse to perform.

The horse will learn to execute its tasks to avoid the pressure and may learn them very well.

An observer may then marvel at how the Boss approach has achieved such a well-behaved, responsive, and performing horse.

After all the horse responds to their commands without question and to the best of its ability.

But, the truth is that the horse is focused on escaping the threat of pressure…and probably wishing they could escape their Boss too.

What’s not being seen is the horse’s mental and emotional state

Observers wont necessarily recognise the religious manner in which well-drilled activities are performed, technically correct but without heart.

Inevitably, when operating through compliance the horse is likely to have a spirit of unhappiness that will somehow show up in its body language and behaviour.

However, this may often go unnoticed as the symptoms can be subtle and the focus of observers is typically on the spectacle of the horse’s technical performance before anything else.

Many don’t look past the technical performance to even consider the horse’s life energy and spirit in performing.

Some may not even realise anything is missing, maybe because they have never seen a ‘whole horse’ performance where the horse’s body, mind, and spirit are all being cared for

Even those that have witnessed such a thing, often didn’t identify what the extra ingredient was that made a performance special.

This is especially true if horses are seen to perform technically the same and the difference is only in the intangible elements that come from within.

Not leadership

Of course, there is also the alternative possibility that the horse will show more extreme opinions to being ‘bossed’, but more often than not they have learnt this just brings more trouble and unhappiness.

Either way, under this culture of pressure, if the horse shows any signs of disharmony, then they will be the one that gets the blame for poor attitude and behaviour.

This isn’t leadership.

It is simply issuing the declaration that “…if you don’t comply then things are going to get more uncomfortable for you until you change your mind…”.

At best it’s a form of authoritarian management.

At worst its dictatorship, sometimes brutal.

I believe this is a misinterpretation and corruption of ‘...making the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy...’ and has nothing to with what the originators of the phrase had in mind.

It’s not a good deal for the horse, and the handler is missing out on the potential available from having a positive relationship with their horse.

Superior performance through nurture and inspiration

Contrast with the picture of a team member under Leadership that has nurtured their development, and supported trial and error without a pressure penalty.

The team member doesn’t worry about trying, they are not intimidated by new challenges, and they trust their Leader to be on their side.

As a result they have heart and enthusiasm in what they do.

It looks totally different.

The relationship with the Leader is totally different.

There is no condemnation just an expectation to try their best and appreciation when they do, even if they get it wrong.

If the team under leadership could be seen alongside the team under a Boss who drives by pressure, then the difference would be seen.

Even if what was being seen was technically equivalent, there would be something else intangible that would raise the bar and capture attention.

Leave a Comment