I am going to ask you a question, and before you read on I would like you to answer it clearly – to yourself.
Question: “Why does a horse stop or go slower if you pull on the reins?” If you answer, “Because it hurts the mouth,” I am sorry to have to break the news to you – you have failed.
But no, I'll give you another chance: “Why do you jump up instantly if you sit on an upturned tack or drawing pin?”
If you answer again: “Because it hurts” - you really do need to read every word in this book!
The horse stops – and you jump up – not just because it hurts, but to stop it hurting. By no means the same thing.
And there isn't any doubt: if jumping up didn't stop the pain, you would try doing something else. So, too, eventually, does the horse. These are not trick questions. If you really believe in and act on the answer you gave to the first, then you think that all you have to do is to hurt your horse's mouth and he will stop.
On the contrary, the important thing is to let him know – to teach him – how, by doing what you want of him, he can avoid any pain, irritation, inconvenience and discomfort the bit (or whip or spur) might otherwise cause. Good trainers do everything they possibly can to avoid hurting the horse or even letting him hurt himself. Our real goal should be never to have to hurt our horse. - Tom Roberts, Horse Control - The Young Horse
I want to mention here another experiment I made with a young horse, first handled and ridden by me and trained by me. I wanted to prove that jumping is an unnatural movement to the horse, but that any horse could become a good jumper if it was trained in such a manner that it did not realize it was doing anything unnatural. I trained it in the manner explained in the chapter on training the young horse, but every time it jumped I rewarded it generously with a good double handful of sugar, whether it did well or not. I never once used a whip in the training, maintaining that the moment the horse was punished it would associate jumping with pain.
The result was amazing. After some months of this training the horse would think of only one thing: to get as fast as possible into the jumping paddock and look around for a jump to leap over! Jumping became its obsession. When I took that horse out into the open it would still be looking for something to jump over, and when it encountered a hunt jump, wall or garden fence it would make off at a gallop and jump happily over it, then stop, look back and ask me for sugar! I could go with that horse into a huge open field with one solitary jump erected in the centre and it would immediately make a bee-line for the obstacle and jump it. - Modern Show Jumping, Count Ilias Topiani, 1954
Another good bit by Tom Roberts:
Punishment, when we use it, should be reserved for exceptional occasions. Don't think “Reward and Punishment.”
Encourage and discourage is a better guide, as it drops the term “punishment.” When riding a young horse we alternate from encourage to discourage very frequently and quite often change from discourage to encourage several times in a matter of seconds.
But the term “discourage” still has the drawback that it can include punishment; and we should discard any term that could include punishment as a normal training procedure. Punishment and teaching are “divorced.”
It is to avoid using any expression that could possibly include punishment as a normal teaching procedure that I suggest you think in the terms:
“That will profit you – that will profit you not.”
These terms mean exactly – exactly – what they say.
“To Profit” is to benefit or gain: to be better off. The profit to the horse can be any reward or encouragement the trainer may think his pupil should receive – and it must, of course, be available to give.
“To Profit Not” means that the horse will gain or benefit not at all. Just that. It certainly does not mean that he will suffer a loss or be worse off – as he would be if he were punished.
This is what is so important about these expressions – and why I use them. By no stretch of the imagination can “Profit you not” be construed as punishment. It consists of withholding any gain, reward, encouragement and profit. That, and only that.
“It will profit you not” means that the horse will not be encouraged to follow a line of conduct other than what we have in mind for him. We withhold any gain – which means we quietly continue with our demands, whatever they may be.
We persist. We quietly persist with our demands.
This gentle discouragement of “quiet persistence” is something that horses seem to find irresistible. Whenever you are in doubt as to what course to follow, mounted or dismounted, revert to “Quiet Persistence.” Your quiet persistence is the real “That will profit you not.” It discourages the horse without punishing him.
Denny Emerson has the credentials to prove he is a genuinely great rider. Here is an interesting thought from him:
What I failed to realize back then was that by ramping up the intensity of my leg pressure, for example, while I did get the result of him moving away from it, I had obtained the result I wanted with a substantially negative byproduct. Yes, he moved off my kicking leg, but the sharpness of my kicks had made him more nervous and anxious. Now I had to deal with a more reactive horse, which meant very often I would feel the need for stronger rein contact to control the nervousness that I had actually created. As I used stronger rein contact, the horse got even more nervous, and the downward training spiral had begun. What I was doing was forcing the move away response rather than teaching the move away response...
"So, how should I have obtained the response? He didn't listen to my light leg pressure. Why shouldn't I use more if he fails to respond? Well, because of what I just said. Harder and harder pressure makes him more nervous. The way to get him to move is not to bang on his sides, but to 'pester' him until he moves.
I have never read any book about riding that talks about 'pestering' a horse. They always use the terms like 'Apply the aids,' as if the horse will magically understand what the heck that means.
But think. Why does a horse swish his tail at a fly? Because the horse knows the fly will bite him if he doesn't get rid of the **** thing. The horse is not terrified by the fly. The fly isn't an attacking mountain lion. It isn't even a stinging wasp. It's a fly. Even an annoying fly will get a horse to respond, but it is not a panicked response.
In a way, we riders need to be mildly annoying flies..." - Denny Emerson, Know Better to Do Better, Mistakes I Made With Horses (So You Don't Have To)
Neither the quotes nor the video specifically discuss your issue. However, I've found them very helpful when working on a variety of issues. It often boils down to two things: Does the horse understand your request? And does your horse gain
wants from doing as you ask?
PS: A horse who has long experience with "Ask, Tell, DEMAND" may take months to learn that listening works. If so, those months are the foundation of a soft horse. A horse who wants
to do what you want is a soft
horse. A horse who feels he has to do
what you want is an obedient
horse. Not the same thing at all.