I think we often underestimate how much our horses rely on our feel, timing, and balance.
Horses are prey animals, meaning their anatomy is structured to allow them to see what is behind them or what is chasing them. This is why a horse, by nature, tends to have reactive responses, unless trained otherwise. With they way a horse’s eyes are positioned on its head, I’m not convinced that horses can see a barrel pattern or a steer very well. When we’re making a run, that horse relies heavily on our cues to know when to make a move. This is why it is so important to spend the time allowing your horse to understand the way you ask for a response.
It takes hundreds—maybe, thousands—of repetitions before a horse becomes confident in your feel, timing, and balance. Although it will take time, doing 20-25 repetitions of a pressure/release system per day is one of the best things you can do for your horse’s foundation.
Each time you release, you are starting to build trust and confidence. Although it might not seem like a big deal, those small steps are some of the best lessons that horse will learn throughout its training career. Even if you anticipate having to pick up the reins and create pressure again right after you release, you still have to create that release for your horse.
When you always have pressure on the reins, you can somewhat control your horse’s movements, but you never allow that horse to recognize when it has performed the maneuver you are asking for. When the horse stops moving its feet and gives to the pressure of the reins, that is when you provide the release. When you release the reins, you have to make a conscious effort to relax your body as well.
As trainers, it is our job to help our horse develop its full potential. Sometimes, this means slowing things down rather than speeding them up. It is easy to do the things that make a great horse, but it is also easy not to do the things that make a great horse. If your horse isn’t having fun and isn’t confident, there is a pretty good chance you are going to have a hard time having fun or building any confidence, either.