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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
So, this is probably going to sound like a noob question, but: How do horses act/think naturally?

I've heard different three theories:

1. Horses naturally move away from pressure. Any horse that moves into pressure has been specifically taught to do so.

2. Horses naturally move into pressure. Any horse that moves away from pressure has been specifically taught to do so.

3. It depends on the horse, meaning that horses don't really act/think in any particular way.

I'm not really asking what a horse can be taught, as I know horses can be taught both (horse do what brings release blah, blah, blah).
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
I'd say it isn't pressure so much as the intent behind the pressure.
What does that mean?

I'm not sure if horses necessarily have a concept of "intent." I've always thought that horses are more concerned about what brings release and is consistent in doing so.

I can intentionally jump out from behind a bush (pressure) just to be mean, but she'll come up to me two seconds later, because I very, very rarely do that (I've only done that twice in the six(ish) years I've had her). However, if horses are so concerned with "intent", wouldn't she know I was purposefully being mean and therefore not come up to me?

What if you constantly, accidently keep hitting your horse in the head when undoing the lead (quickly pulling back on the quick release). The horse will probably become less accepting of being tied and/or being around you, even though you didn't mean to hit your horse (no "bad" intent).
 

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Horses want to stay balanced, and they want to be in harmony with their environment.

If you physically push on a green horse it will not know what you want. It'll stand there. If you push continuously and strongly, you'll likely cause them to lean into you, since you are providing a counterweight as it were. It's a way of retaining balance. You would do just the same if someone pushed on you.

That's not what trainers mean by "pressure" though.

Horses need to be taught what cues mean, and the way that is most calmly gotten across is by making the horse a little uncomfortable, until they do something to fix that feeling. With a very very green horse, just about any reaction is rewardable by a release of pressure, i.e. you stop doing that thing that made them uncomfortable. That will make them think, "I did something and the thing I didn't like much stopped! Not sure exactly what I did, but I'm gonna try to do something like that again next time." You want to reward any guess at all, at first, because you want your horse to think, and not get frustrated or frightened or upset.

Once they realize they will be rewarded for trying (the basis for all training), you can start saying, "well, pretty good but not exactly what I wanted. Try again."

"Pressure" isn't physical pressure necessarily (but can be), and release isn't turning the horse out into a field, necessarily (but also can be). It's more of a metaphor for communication.

I've probably told this story before but since it was my lightbulb moment about release of pressure I will tell it again. It wasn't a horse, it was a dog. Sheepdogs are trained by pressure and release very like horses -- only you have to pressure them without touching them, since they are normally separated from you by a considerable distance plus a lot of sheep. My dog Ty was very difficult to train, because he was a combination of extremely violent and impulsive, and extremely sensitive. Because he had a history of jumping straight at the sheep and scattering them, instead of going wide around them and bringing them to me, and been yelled at, chased down, or just called back and restarted for it any number of times, he had become frozen. He would not 'send' to go fetch the sheep any more, because he was afraid of doing it wrong. I'd ask him to go and he would just lie there at my feet with a expression of stoic suffering. By the way there is nothing on earth a sheepdog wants to do more than be sent to go get sheep, so it was a terrible war going on within him. I brought him to a trainer, who watched this and then asked me, "can you move his nose an inch?"

That is, could I put enough pressure on him (without touching him) to get him to move his head very slightly away from me. I tried.The cue for sending a green dog is to lift your stock stick in a "pushing" gesture toward the dog. I knew if I made a big gesture he would get even more glued to the ground. So I tried to make the smallest gesture I could. I moved my stick about three inches off the ground, without looking directly at him. He moved his nose a half inch away from me. I took it. I dropped my stick in the gesture of release. Ty got up without any hesitation, and calmly went out around the sheep and brought them in, completely correctly.

Why did this work? Because of two things I did right. First -- the RIGHT AMOUNT of pressure. Which for my very sensitive, already extremely worried dog, was almost infinitesimal. Second, the INSTANT release. He felt my intention and was able to respond to it because I didn't add anything extra to the soup.

This was the moment that I understood what pressure and release was.
 

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So, this is probably going to sound like a noob question, but: How do horses act/think naturally?

I've heard different three theories:

1. Horses naturally move away from pressure. Any horse that moves into pressure has been specifically taught to do so.
Horses tend to move into pressure that is IMMOVABLE, such as a post, or someone pushing on them with no indication that there is a release waiting for them.


2. Horses naturally move into pressure. Any horse that moves away from pressure has been specifically taught to do so.


Horses move away from pressure that has a variability to it. I mean, if they lean agains it, and the pressure magnifies, or decreases, they will be more likely to move away from it. Constant, unchanging pressure they do not move away from

3. It depends on the horse, meaning that horses don't really act/think in any particular way.

I'm not really asking what a horse can be taught, as I know horses can be taught both (horse do what brings release blah, blah, blah).



You wondered about "intent". This is absolutly EVERYTHING, to a horse.
A horse can totally , totally read your intent. if you raise a lunge whip near them but are not focused with it pointing AT them, they can tell the difference. Eventually, they can learn to tolerate the lungewhip moving quite near them, snapping the ground even, as long as the human being is projecting a body language that says, "This doesn't have anything to do with you".


But, the same human can move the whip, and position his body with an intent in it that says, "move over, please" . . or even "MOVE!"
Horses are masters at reading intent, if you become even halfway decent at projecting it.
 

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I'm not sure if horses necessarily have a concept of "intent.

They are very aware if another horse has an intent to harm them. They are very aware of another horse that seems to be a good mutual grooming partner.


If a human walks with intent towards a horse his head will go up along with his ears and the rest of his body. Without intent on the humans part, they'll just keep grazing.


Whether they have a concept or not I will not voice an opinion. The term concept itself is just too loaded for a forum discussion. But the horse certainly does recognize and react to intent, whether a physical act or just body language.
 

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I agree with the others that steady pressure, the horse will lean into it while inconsistent pressure will make them move away.

I have a horse that both rides and drives (OTSTB), he has spent the first 9 years of his life pulling, which means, leaning into pressure. The weight of the driver/cart is steady on the collar/martingale so the horse willingly goes into it. My guy loves to lean into pressure, which has made some of his saddle training a bit trickier.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
If people say "hard hands make hard horses"/"horse lean into steady pressure" and "my horse loves to brace/pull on the bit", doesn't that mean a rider/driver has/had hard hands?
 

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If people say "hard hands make hard horses"/"horse lean into steady pressure" and "my horse loves to brace/pull on the bit", doesn't that mean the rider had hard hands at sometime?



Or, the horse learned that there was no release given if he gave, so he stopped giving, Yes . . hard hands make hard horses.



But a soft hand , so bland that it carrries no meaning, and gives to a horse that is braced on the rein, only rewards bracing. Thus, some folks say, "I stay out of my horse's mouth, and he won't stop, . . or won't turn, or he leans on the bit . . etc". That is becasue they have released at teh WRONG time!

The need to release when the horse releases. The horse must give first. This is paramount. But, the horse's give can be very small , to earn a reward.

Peopls build in hardness by never rewarding small tries.
 

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I am on Ross Jacob's FB blog feed and he just wrote something about contact which was interesting and pertinent. If I am paraphrasing correctly, he was making the point that all "contact" is, is communication. It would be more accurate to describe contact as the combination of your hands, seat, and legs, even though most use it to mean "the amount of tension in the reins". If your horse is responding the way you want, you have correct contact. Period. He disagrees with the current dressage idea that one must never have slack in the reins, feeling that it is a rigid rule not reflective of the fluid ever-changing nature of communicating with a living being in motion. A good read.
 

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If you study mares and foals, you learn that instinctively, horses move IN to pressure. Perhaps it is being able to read the intent.....WE train them to move away, because it is MUCH easier that way.
 

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This is my idea:

A horse is like a computer. When you (quite literally) unwrap it at birth, it comes with just the operating system installed. It consists of all instincts and reflexes that allowed its ancestors to live long enough to pass on their operating system (a.k.a. genetic material).

As soon as the horse starts taking in information from the environment, it installs its own "apps" on how to deal with it - controlled by its operating system, which gives it basic guidelines on "How not to get eaten before you got the chance to pass on your genes."

"Comfort" is the opposite of "danger", thus horses are comfort seeking animals. In any given situation, they seek the point of least discomfort. Their brain, by storing away past experiences, allows them to make this search for comfort more efficient than "trial and error". This ability is what we use for training, and this ability is also what backfires on us when we don't remember that we are training our horse all the time.

The hard part in training a horse is to put the dots close enough together to take advantage of its heightened sensitivity to environmental stimuli. A herd galloping in perfect harmony, switching direction on cue, not stepping on each others' toes, is the perfect example of our shortcomings in directing our horses. This (the herd moving harmoniously at precarious speeds) is what could be if we had the ability to "speak horse" with clarity and consistency.

Comfort-seeking allows for two approaches to training: away from discomfort, and towards reward. Since we only speak horse like a tourist, it's probably best to talk to the horse with a good amount of redundancy: Apply discomfort in a way that contains a strong hint to the "right answer" and, once found, double up with a good dose of reward. Initially, you need enough discomfort to make it worthwhile for the horse to do something, and the reward makes it worthwhile for the horse to do the "right" thing (not "right" for the horse, but for us). However, if you always use a well-defined sequence of increasing discomfort (not just the first time), and you always reinforce the same correct answer, you can get to a point where it almost looks as though you direct your horse through intent. (Actually, the horse just picks up on your subtlest body language that subconsciously accompanies your intent.)
 

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“Actually, the horse just picks up on your subtlest body language that subconsciously accompanies your intent”

Exactly!! Why I always say....look to YOURSELF when your horse is spooky, nippy, not...whatever. The Horse KNOWS, and it doesn’t take any groundwork, lunging for respect, nor any other “method” for THEM to figure it out....it may take that stuff for the HuMAN to figure it out.
 

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This is my idea:

A horse is like a computer. When you (quite literally) unwrap it at birth, it comes with just the operating system installed. It consists of all instincts and reflexes that allowed its ancestors to live long enough to pass on their operating system (a.k.a. genetic material).

As soon as the horse starts taking in information from the environment, it installs its own "apps" on how to deal with it - controlled by its operating system, which gives it basic guidelines on "How not to get eaten before you got the chance to pass on your genes."

"Comfort" is the opposite of "danger", thus horses are comfort seeking animals. In any given situation, they seek the point of least discomfort. Their brain, by storing away past experiences, allows them to make this search for comfort more efficient than "trial and error". This ability is what we use for training, and this ability is also what backfires on us when we don't remember that we are training our horse all the time.

The hard part in training a horse is to put the dots close enough together to take advantage of its heightened sensitivity to environmental stimuli. A herd galloping in perfect harmony, switching direction on cue, not stepping on each others' toes, is the perfect example of our shortcomings in directing our horses. This (the herd moving harmoniously at precarious speeds) is what could be if we had the ability to "speak horse" with clarity and consistency.

Comfort-seeking allows for two approaches to training: away from discomfort, and towards reward. Since we only speak horse like a tourist, it's probably best to talk to the horse with a good amount of redundancy: Apply discomfort in a way that contains a strong hint to the "right answer" and, once found, double up with a good dose of reward. Initially, you need enough discomfort to make it worthwhile for the horse to do something, and the reward makes it worthwhile for the horse to do the "right" thing (not "right" for the horse, but for us). However, if you always use a well-defined sequence of increasing discomfort (not just the first time), and you always reinforce the same correct answer, you can get to a point where it almost looks as though you direct your horse through intent. (Actually, the horse just picks up on your subtlest body language that subconsciously accompanies your intent.)
My 4-H horse that I showed when I was a teen would walk, jog, lope, and whoa in any sequence on voice commands. I didn't realize it at the time, but I have since concluded, that the horse didn't give a hoot what I was saying. Instead, it was reading the subtle changes in my posture and seat for each change.


Another factor was probably that I rode that horse almost daily.
 

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No horse instinctively moves into pressure when the pressure comes from this:



But when I rub my horse's face, he moves into the pressure. They move into pressure they like and away from pressure they dislike.

And I love the idea of thinking of contact holistically.
 

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In my experience horses generally don't move at all with hand pressure, its the body language that does the moving.
If you watch the herd, that body language works to move away and move in, not a whole lot of physical contact unless its an emergency or reinforcement
 
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