Pressure can be identified as anything that makes your horse experience negative emotions such as being uncomfortable, overwhelmed, frustrated, anxious or panicked and can run through a scale of mild to more intense. Although pressure can come in many different forms and intensities it is possible to identify the most common responses exhibited by each horse, we can then work on redirecting the horse toward finding release, relaxation, security or calmness. By modifying these RESPONSES TO PRESSURE we begin to create conditioned responses and more productive coping mechanisms to build self-confidence, alongside building trust through the belief that we can aid in diffusing difficult or uncomfortable situations.
Your horse may be more sensitive to pressure around different areas of their body, often those that have previously suffered injury or are weaker. We want our horses to be comfortable when moving around but also standing still with pressure around them to prepare them various movements and also environmental pressures.
Encouraging BODY STABILITY and BALANCE promotes active thinking on the horses’ part regarding how best to support their body and avoid falling over, into or away from the handler or rider, it is a also a starting point to installing boundaries and self-carriage in it's basic form.
By improving BODY AWARENESS and proprioception we can create new neural pathways which aid the horse in recreating useful postures, correcting asymmetry and addressing sensitivity or spookiness, particularly around the hind end or weaker areas of the body.
BOUNDARIES prepare the horse to be moved around comfortably and allow us to direct their body during handling, on the ground or under saddle. By creating these on the ground first we can smooth the transition to using aids under saddle such as the legs and reins. Using these boundaries we can begin our straightness work. Pushing into boundaries may be caused simply by asymmetry, lack of balance or body awareness or by assertively pushing back into pressure as a method of defence.
YIELDING to pressure is somewhat unnatural for a horse, using size or strength can be utilised defensively, usually before resorting to aggression. By modifying the instinct to push into or pull away from pressure we can start to change the thinking of the horse that they may redirect their body and energy in a way that is beneficial to both them and the handler or rider. Here we encourage the release of tension in the forehand and also forward motion from the hind end.
POSTURAL work promotes the activation of correct muscle groups (required to carry a rider or shift weight around the body during handling or performance) and allows the release of tension or pressure from other areas such as overworked muscles or joints.
By using the theory of activation first rather than moving straight to strength training, we can improve coordination, engagement and adjustment of the centre of balance through simple weight shifts. This can all be done under low intensity so that as strength training and physical intensity increases we can avoid discomfort or injury.
STRAIGHTNESS or ALIGNMENT allow energy to flow fluidly and be shifted more rapidly around the body without kinks or blockages, it can also be recycled, is not ‘lost’ or needing to be constantly regenerated and enables the horse to maintain spatial boundaries more easily. During training, our outside boundary should remain straight in order to maintain forward or driving motion.
FLEXION should come from the atlas/poll, BEND through the ribcage and thorax not through the neck or with loss of alignment through the shoulders. When we create flexion on one side of the body (contraction) we must still have straightness, forward and drive to support the other, alongside extension or stretch. This prevents loss of balance and disengagement which can lead to negative behaviours. Functional (lateral) flexion or bend promote suppleness, release of tension, encourages softness and efficient breathing regulation. The combination of straightness and correct flexion minimises resistance, tension and rigidity.
Our postural work, straightness and flexion start the process of building CORRECT MUSCLE TONE which in turn enables the horse to efficiently carry a rider, perform the tasks asked of them more easily and without resistance or tension.
Once we have the horse activating the correct muscle groups for longer periods of time and these responses become more conditioned, we can start to safely increase exercise intensity with a minimised risk of discomfort, lameness or unsoundness, hence improving STAMINA and LONGEVITY.
This gradual increase in STRENGTH and physical loading means the horse is capable of greater degrees of COLLECTION and therefore more advanced exhibitions or balance and performance.
By PROVIDING DIRECTION to the horse in a way that helps them to feel better physically and mentally, we are able to more effectively convince them that we can be useful as part of their team and that listening to us and directing focus towards us is beneficial to their security and well being. If this is the case our horses are more likely to TAKE DIRECTION from us and also direct questions to us, particularly in times of increased pressure, insecurity or imbalance as opposed to simply reacting.
This open dialogue is one which we value greatly, one that can significantly improve our relationship with our horse and increase the chances of our horses offering that little bit more, things like that extra moment of suspension without being asked or the harmony of increased responsiveness with the subtlest of aids. These magical moments are seldom created purely by obedience and delegation.
These are the fundamentals that make up our ENGAGE EQUINE GROUND PROGRAM to create willing, responsive and sound equine partners.
If you’d like to learn more we’d love to see you at our upcoming clinics or meet your horse to help with implementing these foundations!
CADENCE HORSE TRAINING
Striving to maintain an encouraging and inclusive culture among fellow equestrians. We're passionate about all things equine including behaviour, biomechanics, training and horsemanship!