5) How Does it Work?
This method works because we work with the horse’s natural instincts as 1) and prey animal, and 2) as a herd animal.
As a prey animal the horse’s first survival response to danger, pressure or discomfort is to flee. If he doesn’t have that option, which he usually doesn’t when working with humans, his second survival response is to brace against, both internally and externally. You may have heard the argument about whether the horse goes away from pressure or pushes against pressure. Well, his first choice, if he has the option is to go away from pressure. If he doesn’t have that option he protects himself by pushing against pressure.
As herd animal the horse communicates largely by body language. Sometimes this body language is so subtle that we don’t even see it. And if at the first sign of discomfort the horse starts limping or showing it, the predator will pick him out of the herd, or the other horse may kick him out or the herd.
So when the horse begins to feels pain or discomfort he has no choice but to block it out or cover it up. As humans we can go to the doctor or do something about it, but the horse is a survival animal, the horse has no choice but to block it out and deal with it, until it becomes so bad that it shows up in his movement or behavior or it shows up as lameness. That’s why it’s often so difficult to evaluate lameness in the horse. His nervous system is wired to block it out.
When we use a level of pressure that stays underneath the horse’s bracing response access that part of his nervous system that is able to release tension rather than guard against it. We work with the horse’s nervous system to release tension, rather than against it. And how do we know when we are working with the horse’s nervous system or against it? By reading his subtle and sometimes not-subtle changes in body language in response to our touch.
That’s where the communication comes in; the correlation between what the horse is doing and what we are doing with our hands.
This explains how it works, and also explains one more response that often comes up in the horse during the process of releasing – fidgeting. When the horse feels its body starting to release tension, he will often fidget. This could be as subtle as cautiously looking around, to walking, pawing or even pinning the ears. As a survival and herd animal it is uncomfortable for him to show any sign of releasing pain or discomfort. It’s a natural threat to his survival so he begins to fidget. This is a good sign as it means things are moving inside. When this happens, stay with it. Your horse will thank you for it.