Soften to Pressure

I want to share with you a problem I come across regularly when I help people with horses who brace and panic under pressure.  To start, what we need to remember is that the things we are trying to get your horse to do are so far detracted from their ancestors life in the wild and what we can talk them into doing for us is nothing short of incredible.  I think if you start with this kind of perspective it may help you understand why your horse is over reacting to pressure, or why he braces up when scared in a new environment – its his instincts he can’t help it.

To give you a live example I attended a clients farm in Tasmania, Australia recently to help with some young and green horses – one of the first things we worked on is getting the horses to not overact and leave town when they feel pressure but to soften and flex laterally and come back to us for comfort.  To clarify when I say come back to us, I mean flex and stop moving their feet therefore avoiding their instinctial flight mode. When I see owners handling horses and if they play up, jump around or rear up they chastise them with their voice or body language, to me this only heightens their state of flight mode and adrenaline forcing them to stress more.  There was a time not that long ago that I thought this might be a suitable response also, however I’ve grown to learn that if we can comfort the horse through our clear body language communication and not spook them even more in these high tension situations we can become the confident leader they are searching for.  So at this particular farm we worked on every time the horse jumped around and tried to get away I would get them to yield their hind end away, essentially shutting down their engine and allowing them to think their way through the problem at hand.  So if you try to do this often enough you can captivate your horses mind quicker – and trust me you are going to want this kind of reaction if and when your horse ever does play up whilst you are on his back.

Teaching horses to soften to pressure is something I do with all my young horses before and after they are saddled for the first time.  I work on getting them to feel the new pressure be it a new cue, object or saddle; and once they have felt and enquired about the new thing I get them to soften, flex and relax.  It is imperative to be calm within yourself also, by this I mean be aware of your breathing and your body language.  I will expand more on the body language component in another blog post but essentially you should be aware of how you hold yourself around your horse and weather you are in a more dominant (predatory) position or more submissive and accepting posture. I believe this means something to the horse whereby they build up an association that when they are scared or about to go into flight mode – they have a muscle memory if you will, that allows them to soften and not overreact to situations.  Most if not all of the situations where I see riders come unstuck under saddle are preventable – by this I mean if the horse and the rider had done enough preparation and connection work at the start of their training it would allow the horse to be able to flex laterally and stand still instead of over reacting, bucking, rearing or bolting.

If this resinates with you would love to hear from you, hope it helps!

All the best.


Justin Colquhoun

Hi There! I’m Justin Colquhoun. I founded Elite Horsemanship out of a dream to make real and effective horsemanship available to anyone at any level in the horse industry.