Pressure, Release, ...Reward?
Pressure, Release… Reward?
Now, we probably have all heard terms similar to pressure, release, and reward, but what does that phrase really mean? Does that cute little formula really stimulate or motivate the horse? If it does, how does it work?
What is pressure? Pressure can be many things. It can be emotional or physical. Physical pressure can be as light as a touch or as harsh as blow. Emotional pressure can be as light as a thought or nearly invisible body language, to as harsh as a stressful command. If we were to study the herd structure, we see most of these pressure employed. A mother horse can guide her foal with a light touch from her muzzle; she can also forcefully protect her baby from danger. The matriarch of the herd (boss mare) can flick an ear or give a look and move another horse out of her way; she can also use very forceful body language to teach a young horse a lesson. Of course, when there is pressure there is almost always the release of pressure.
What is release? Well, presumable, it is the taking away of any pressure we were using on the horse. It should be taken immediately off of the horse when the horse responds. If we don’t immediately release pressure, we almost always confuse and frustrate the horse. The idea is to give the horse a stimulus, i.e. pressure, and get him to give the right response. The horse may respond with different actions. In the beginning, the horse likely will not know what we are asking. When the horse accidentally stumbles on the correct idea, we release the pressure. From there we move to reward.
What is reward? This concept of reward is what I want to uncover most here. Now, I have heard people say that when you release the pressure, this is the horse’s reward. Some say that when you allow the horse to rest, this is reward; or that giving a horse food is reward. Still others say that when you pet them and talk to them, it is a reward. Well, who is right? Who is wrong? Are any of them wrong?
Let me put it to you this way. Let us say you were told to clean your room. If you cleaned your room you would be rewarded. So, imagining the reward you are going to get, you clean your room. You get done and you find out that the reward you were looking forward to was that you get to sit on the couch and rest. Reward?! I don’t think so. Or perhaps you were made to mow the lawn. You mow the lawn and find out you get to rest. Certainly you are happy to rest, but you probably would rather not have mowed the lawn in the first place. Is that a reward?
So, rest from work, either hard or not, isn’t much of a reward. Most horses are required to do things, it doesn’t matter what discipline, whether they want to or not. Afterwards, they get to rest. Or we cue the horses to do something (pressure) and if they get it right, they rest. Is this what you and I would call a reward? I know I wouldn’t.
However, if someone asked you to wash the dishes (no reward mentioned) and after you finished them, you were given Ice Cream as a reward for doing your chores? Wouldn’t you consider this a reward? Would you be willing to do it again for that same reward? True, a horse can be taught many things without treats, but are they being rewarded?
It seems to me, that when you are training a horse, especially at the beginning, the horse needs lots of motivation. The question is: how do we motivate the horse. Certainly one way is to use food rewards. I think that we can call a special food a reward. Is the horse motivated with stroking and kind words? Is this truly a reward?
What is the true meaning of… Pressure, Release, Reward?