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ivyschex 11-24-2008 06:01 PM

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?

God bless,


smrobs 11-24-2008 09:01 PM

I believe that simple praise is a very motivating reward. I don't like to use treats to get the reaction that you want because a horse can become just like a dog in their reaction to too many treats. They will do the action you ask and then immediately come looking for a treat. They will eventually notice when you have no treats and then they will not want to do the action unless you go get a treat. If you watch herds, after reprimanding the colt or lower standing mare, the lead mare will release the pressure ( walk away) and often later you will find them grooming each other. Horses are herd animals and as such, they naturally want to please the herd leader. Most of the time, that leader is us. After they complete the desired action, a kind word or a scratch on the neck will let them know that they have pleased us and that makes them happy. Always, there are more than one way to get the desired action. If you like to use treats and they work then good for you. I don't believe any form of reward is wrong if we get the desired results.

Spirithorse 11-24-2008 09:15 PM

Here's how I look at it: if the horse is young/inexperienced/learning something new I apply pressure (which motivates the horse) SLOWLY. If I were to apply pressure too quickly it would scare the horse or make him mad. I release the pressure (reward) at the very slightest try and give the horse time to think.

If the horse is experienced and knows for 100% certainty what I'm asking and he says, "Eh, I don't wanna" then I will add pressure quickly but release (reward) when the horse puts effort in to what I'm asking. Then I give him plenty of time to think and dwell on what happened.

In either case I always start with the slightest suggestion, as soft as I can. With horses who are innately unconfident/flighty, etc. the release of pressure is enough of a reward. But for horses who are innately dominant and confident the release of pressure alone may not be enough to motivate a horse to WANT to do things. These horses need incentive and their moto in life is "What's in it for me?" So this is where using treats/grazing/scratching itchy spots/stopping and resting STRATEGICALLY comes in to play.

ivyschex 11-24-2008 09:54 PM

My point in this whole article is to distinguish between release of pressure and "reward." Horses can certainly learn from the release of pressure, and quite well too. But I wouldn't call it a reward.



WesternPleasure27 11-24-2008 10:38 PM

Okay, so what if your parent won't stop pestering you about cleaning your room, so you do, and then they leave you alone?

Also, if you get ice cream whenever you clean your room as a reward, what happens when you don't? Or, would you clean JUST to get ice cream?

ivyschex 11-24-2008 10:44 PM


Originally Posted by WesternPleasure27 (Post 197089)
Okay, so what if your parent won't stop pestering you about cleaning your room, so you do, and then they leave you alone?

Also, if you get ice cream whenever you clean your room as a reward, what happens when you don't? Or, would you clean JUST to get ice cream?

I really didn't want to start an arguement on this issue. I just wanted people to start thinking about what they mean when they say "Pressure, release, reward.

I agree, that food reward is not the end all, be all. I don't think that everyone should "treat" their horse for every thing they do.

As for the pestering, yes, one might clean their room, to get it to stop, but it is not a reward, per say, it is a relief to have them stop. You don't love them for stopping (well, at least not until you are an adult :lol:).

Thanks for the comments.


WesternPleasure27 11-24-2008 11:34 PM

See, but I say "pressure, release"
The release is the reward.

Zab 11-24-2008 11:59 PM

Well written.
I say that knowing you did something right (and horses do know when you're pleased with them) is a big reward for a lots of horses. I can see how many horses gets all ''wheee!!! :D" when I really feel happy with what they've done. I don't even have to praise them (but I try to do i anyway).
My own horse prefers stroking and cuddling to treats, actually, when I first got him he refused to take anything from the hand. Now he takes it willingly, but he looks happier if you stroke his forehead.

(I don't really give treats.. but I like to put a bucket with some extra food for him when he gets in from being worked. As if I give back the nutricion/calories he used in the work. I learnt that in a place where the horses wasn't ridden regularily; their normal food was enough to keep them well, but a little extra after work kept them in the right shape even if they were working harder than usual for a month. Or if they sometime got sick or lame, you didn't have to think of cutting their food, it was done naturally since they didn't work.
Anyway.. my instructor gives him treats after the ride.. she told me I shouldn't look. x)

GottaRide 11-25-2008 08:57 AM


Originally Posted by WesternPleasure27 (Post 197138)
See, but I say "pressure, release"
The release is the reward.

This is what I go by as well.

Horses learn from the release. Do the right thing and the pressure will go away. It comes down to conditioned response training. Lots of repetition.

jeddah31 11-25-2008 05:02 PM


Originally Posted by WesternPleasure27 (Post 197138)
See, but I say "pressure, release"
The release is the reward.

exactly right.

When this phrase is said, that's what it means. It's a phrase to indicate simply pressure and release, and the release is the reward for the horse showing the horse that it has done the correct thing.

This is just another example of people taking a simple one meaning phrase and trying to complicate it. Adding reward to the equation is changing the phrase thus taking away it's meaning.

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