Pressure and Release –
The terms negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement seem to have the world up in a bit of confusion. Firstly to define:
Positive reinforcement means the addition of something as a reward
Negative reinforcement means the removal of something as a reward
Negative sounds bad and positive sounds good right? It’s not quite that simple.
I won’t really get into positive reinforcement here, since I don’t use it, but don’t proport to tell anyone what to do- someone with a better understanding can explain it.
Pressure and release, in my opinion, is a natural and logical way for a horse to operate that they understand- but- it misses the boat in its naming. I don’t think of moving a horse away from something to a release- I think of moving a horse TOWARD and with my release.
One example of common use of pressure and release:
You kick, horse goes, you stop kicking
How it can be used to encourage relaxation and balance:
You bring the horse TOWARD your seat bone, and they look to find it and stay right under it.
The first produce light a response, the second can produce a soft, balanced response.
In leading the horse, you ask them to speed up by waving the flag or tapping with a whip. Horse speeds up, you stop tapping.
Bringing the horse toward the release: the horse is with the lead rope each step- if they get out of balance (behind or in front) a necessary aid is provided to bring the horse back to the rope.
One of the biggest benefits of this is producing flow- this means movements blend seamlessly into the next, and communication is happening on a very subtle level comfortable and enjoyable for both horse and rider. Communication is logical, easy to understand and doesn’t have to be “programmed” because it feels natural to do – like dancing. You learn the steps, learn how to get in rhythm with your partner, and soon you can produce spins, twirls and other fun movements that happen from communication in that moment.
One way has the horse often escaping our aids to get away from them – but, sometimes can be used to help, support, or explain to a horse what we mean. But to me, is a bridge to get toward the second way:
The other way has the horse with our aids, not trying to avoid them, and produces a happy, balanced horse who enjoys the aids, and does not want to escape them, but be right with them.