Pressure and discomfort- they currently have a bad reputation

Take a quick look around and it’s easy to see that people historically aren’t great at finding the center of extremes. We tend to go from one end of the spectrum to another, and use of pressure and discomfort in training is no different.

It wasn’t long ago, it was considered normal and fine to overload horses with pressure and use fear or pain to train. Questioning that mentality brought you criticism. Now, people are looking at horses for what they are – sentient beings deserving of respect.

But now, we have to be careful not to let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction. I often encounter folks who, through good intentions, are resistant to causing their horses any discomfort or thinking of the use of pressure as inherently bad. These folks often trade off momentary discomfort for the long term, and risk putting their horses on a path of stress and anxiety without sufficient skills to cope.

Pressure is a vague word- for folks to show up to a lesson, there is enough pressure to make them motivated. Internal pressure of the desire to learn, pressure of being out money for the lesson, pressure of a time they are expected to be at the barn and ready to ride. Without these pressures, many people would not maintain motivation or put in the effort to grow. Pressure does not have to be yelling, berating or threatening my students- if this amount of pressure was required, I would need to do some serious evaluation of myself and my relationship with my students.

Pressure and discomfort is what grows muscles and bones. Pressure is what is used to guide a dancing partner across the dance floor. Pressure is what massages sore and tight muscles into relaxation.

Pressure can also create tension, pain and fear – it is the thinking rider’s duty to use discretion, observe and apply pressure with a rational and empathetic mind frame.

But to avoid pressure altogether is to miss out on a rich language intuitive to all living things- and to deny or avoid preparing a horse for the pressure our physical being applies to a horse by simply existing. Everything in life takes some form of pressure. We can deny it, avoid it, or harness it to create a fluid, beautiful and real conversation with a horse.

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