To teach the horse how to yield to physical pressure(= direct pressure) is teaching your horse to yield to the light pressure you apply with a halter or your hands somewhere on his body. For example: I place my fingertips on the chest and push subtly. The horse can then give the following reactions:
- The horse does nothing
- The horse goes against the pressure = pushes back
- The horse yields to the pressure = goes along with it and steps back calmly
- The horse evades the pressure
In situation 1, it is likely that the horse doesn’t understand it yet. So, he doesn’t know how to react on your pressure. Or, he already knows but, for some reason, doesn’t want to yield now (then you will have to find the correct motivation for him). Or (and I will discuss that later on in this article) you work too mechanical.
In situation 2, it is often so that there is being used too much pressure abruptly. The horse then often pushes back in a reflex. But not only horses do that. Even we do it. Imagine someone pushing you against your chest. You will push back as a reflex because you don't want to lose your balance. Horses will push back immediately too if you put too much pressure abruptly. It is also possible that the horse has been taught to go against pressure by careless training. In this case, the horse has learned that the pressure will be removed if he goes against it.
In situation 3, the horse has learned that when you put a light pressure, it can yield to this pressure. Some horses do this by themselves, if they are really sensitive, but only if you’re being sensitive too! Because “yielding to physical pressure” is not the same as "evading physical pressure" (reaction 4)
The difference lies in the feeling!
During my lessons, it's often so that I show to teach the horse to yield to physical pressure and that the horse is actually a fast learner. The horse yields very good to subtle pressure. But if the owner then tries that, it doesn’t work.
Or I let someone use my own horse. My horses know this very well and, thus, yields to very light physical pressure. Still, sometimes the horse doesn’t move if someone else tries that. How can this happen, the student then asks.
The difference lies in the sensitivity of the aids, "the feel". You can work “mechanically” or you can work “with feel”.
Mechanical versus feeling
If you’re working mechanically, you exactly know what to do on a physical level. It’s this and that movement, that place, that direction, with that focus. But that’s only mechanical, it’s robotic.
But if you do it “with feel”, you make the same “mechanical” moves but you put more sensitivity in it. You’re aware about your positive intention. You feel through = you feel further than the point of physical contact, you feel to the being of your horse.
So you actually don’t ask the horse’s body to yield to the pressure. You ask the horse's mind: “Do you want to decide to yield to this pressure? Do you feel good about this?” If the mind of the horse says YES, it's body will follow.
If you “feel through” very well what is happening under your fingers, you will easily feel the slightest movement and you will react on that by releasing the pressure. You will reward the slightest try, the slightest thought of the horse: "yes, I'm thinking about yielding", you will reward.
Your timing will be better, so the reward is more effective and the horse learns faster.
And so it happens that a horse that doesn’t move because one is working too mechanical/technical, but does move when it is asked to “yield to physical pressure with feel”!