When & How I Use Pressure with Horses

I talk a lot on here about listening to my horses – and pretty much doing what they say, because they usually have better ideas, or greater wisdom than I do.

But just as we have both spiritual and physical bodies, the horse is both a spiritual and physical being. In my experience, when the horse is communicating from its spiritual self, it’s pretty straight-forward and that’s where they’re usually the teacher and I’m the student.

Meditating

However, when the horse is primarily (because of course there’s some blending of selves) operating from their physical, logistical self – that is where I sometimes need to take the lead. Perhaps I have greater knowledge of constraints, or laws, legalities etc that they don’t understand, but are critical to our safety or ease of existence. For example, they may not understand that they can’t go on the landlord’s lawn and eat his grass – even though it’s not illegal, it will make our daily existence crappy if our landlord isn’t happy.

In cases like that, I will become dominant (as gently as I can!) and I will use some pressure to assert my will and get the horse to do what I believe is necessary. If you’ve had horses for any length of time, then you know that horses are dynamic characters and it’s not just all love and peace, all the time.

While I always strive to listen to the horse and discern the message they are giving me through their behaviour, that doesn’t mean I always agree with what they’re saying. And it doesn’t mean that the message is always about a me (a mirror). For example, Xadaa (Kaliah’s foal) is a very stroppy, fierce personality and she’s also a strong communicator. That’s all fine and although it can be challenging for me, I love and accept her the way she is.

Xadaa

What’s not okay is when she expresses her displeasure or annoyance by kicking at a human as a first-line, “normal” way of communicating. So she hasn’t simply amped up her messaging because no one’s listening to her, she’s using kicking as her primary language and as the first message she’s sending. Likewise with biting, or slamming someone into a wall, or clipping a shoulder. Those behaviours don’t bother many horses, but they are very hurtful to a human body.

So I need to send her an equally strong message showing that kind of communication is not okay – she needs to use other methods to communicate. In this video, I try to use our normal quiet communication, but she is not interested, so I switch to using pressure to communicate to her that kicking at humans is not okay:

I do always question myself after an episode like this, and I also check in with the horse later on and the next day to see if what I did was okay, or if it damaged our relationship, or if I need to do things differently, etc. And I certainly apologize where needed.

I also feel really uncomfortable videoing or sharing stuff like this – because it is so easily misconstrued and I don’t want anyone to think it’s okay/normal to use a whip! This was a rare, extreme circumstance – and to understand it properly, you also have to know all the surrounding factors and details. Which brings me to my next point…

Confirmation from the big guy

The really interesting thing is that about 2 weeks after this event, the horses were all clustered around the barn and paddock as I came out with a wheelbarrow full of alfalfa to distribute. If you’ve watched this video, you’ll know that Montaro (as the herd guardian) almost always helps the person distributing alfalfa by keeping the other horses away and giving you enough space to maneuver, etc. But this day – with Xadaa near Montaro and with a front row seat to the action, he behaved in the opposite way.

Montaro rushed in at me and tried to pull some alfalfa out of the wheelbarrow. Normally Montaro will move away with a chin jut, or finger point, but this time I had to use the whip to get him to back off. He also made me escalate my ask with the whip (just like Xadaa did in the video above). And then as he leaped away from me, he kicked out at me!! What?!? In the heat of the moment, I responded purely from gut instinct and I drove him further away and right out of the barn while shouting at him, “No! Absolutely not! Not okay!” As I drove him away, the other horses thundered out along with him, and I was left with a peaceful, empty paddock.

I took a deep breath and dropped my energy. As the horses (mostly Montaro) have taught me, energy rises up and becomes fierce for the correction and then poof, you drop it to the ground, it is forgotten. You don’t hold it and walk around scowling, or hurt that he could have ‘betrayed’ you, or holding a grudge to really drive home the punishment. Those are all human constructs and they are lower-level behaviours/energies that have no place in a herd, and no purpose.

What I did remain alert to, was why Montaro had behaved like that… what was the purpose? What was the message? Who was the lesson for – and what even was the lesson?

As I moved about the barn for the next hour, I began to notice that the quality of Xadaa’s energy had changed completely. The defiant, obstinate, somewhat aggressive Xadaa was gone. Instead her energy was light and much more peaceful and open. I felt safe standing closer to her, as I asked her to move over so I could get the wheelbarrow by, or close the slow feeder lid. It didn’t seem like she was personally insulted at being asked to move anymore, but now realized that it’s just part of the logistics of keeping their home functional.

It came to me in a flash that Montaro’s purpose had been for him and I to put on a show for Xadaa! As the herd guardian/leader (who Xadaa worships and follows around like he’s her dad) Montaro wanted to show Xadaa that everyone – even he – had to respect the rules of safety for humans. That even he – if he kicked out at a human – would be fiercely disciplined. And that is how it should be.

Would Xadaa have continued to be difficult and somewhat aggressive without Montaro’s teaching? Perhaps. But he sure solved the problem quickly and enabled Xadaa to transition to a much happier, freer state of being and attitude towards life with humans.

Montaro showed Xadaa that even with him kicking/threatening me, I would not back down and he would be driven away. He has made me practice this skill over the last two years! Every so often, I would be out in the middle of the field (note: nowhere to run, no trees, nothing in my hands) and he would come thundering towards me at a dead gallop, he would say, “BRING IT! Or you’re going down.” Gaaaaaah!!! And I would have to root myself, bring my energy up and flow-direct his charge around me to avoid being knocked to the ground. He knocked me down once at the very beginning and that’s how I learned that a small clip to the shoulder by a running horse is enough to send me spinning off and wind up splayed out on the ground.

Montaro galloping

For two years, both Montaro and Jax would randomly charge me in the field – training me to bring my energy up, diverting their charge to the side of me, from a pure, focused place of this MUST happen so there was no room for fear to exist – only pure laser focus with that singular objective. So Montaro could choose me to give the demo for Xadaa – not one of the barn help – being confident that I would be able to perform my role.

You could call this a nice, neat little story that I made up in my head to fit the occasion… except that Xadaa’s behaviour shifted completely and has stayed shifted. Yes, she will likely always be fierce, directive and assertive. But she is now also more mutually respectful and decent.

These highly sensitive, spicy horses can be a challenge to be in relationship with if you don’t understand their nature. Or if you try to use ‘training’ to change their core personality. But at the same time, you have to set some safety boundaries for yourself – because they are so expressive and assertive. And when they’re foals, they really don’t understand that normal horse behaviours can cripple a human. It’s a fine line to walk and we have to give ourselves lots of compassion as we muddle through – and be prepared to apologize as needed! Jax went through a phase around age 2 where he was similar to Xadaa. So giving them space and time to be themselves, and to mature to where they can actually handle their sensitivities (which can make them angry) is essential.

Audelina, Kaliah, Xadaa
When & How I Use Pressure with Horses

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15 thoughts on “When & How I Use Pressure with Horses

  • January 20, 2019 at 12:02 pm
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    Love this article! I communicate with my animals on an intuitive level and it is such a give/take wondrous, ever learning journey. Different species learning from each other… I find myself apologizing as I go, checking in often and it’s really nice to read about your experiences in your article… Like you patched up a little something for me… Thank you for sharing❤️

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    • January 20, 2019 at 7:43 pm
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      That’s great Tanya! And yes, thank god they’re so forgiving – sometimes I seem to do a lot of apologizing!

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  • January 20, 2019 at 2:04 pm
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    I had a horse once that could reprimand a pushy horse just by holding his own space, and anything that came into it (other horse included) was subject to being kicked. His intention was not to kick the other horse, but was to clear the space that he was already in and he did it by barely moving at all. It was beautiful to watch. It took all of 5 seconds, and it was done. The other horse cleared the area quickly, and then came back a moment later in a submissive posture. Peace and order was restored. And those two horses were remained great friends.

    Boundaries are so important for ourselves and our safety, and horse’s have their own boundaries as well that keep order and peace in the herd. For me, without respect of mutual boundaries (of both horse and human), there is no trust, and with no trust, there is no relationship that I would want to have.

    Love how Montaro illustrated the lesson for Xadaa. I take my cues on how assertive to be based on what the level-headed horses in the herd exert. They know exactly how much is needed. Not enough can be just as much of an issue as too much. Not enough and the problem continues. Too much and fear enters in. Just right and the problem resolves quickly.

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    • January 20, 2019 at 7:52 pm
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      Great summary Mary – you hit on all the important bits! It’s also difficult with foals because they don’t understand human frailties as well as older horses do. And they are also patterning their language after their mother. When Xadaa nurses, if her latch isn’t good, Kaliah will bite her rump and cow-kick sideways at her. She never actually kicks her or hurts her, but it’s pretty strong messaging from a human perspective. So if Kaliah has taught Xadaa (repeatedly) that those methods of communication are normal, then it’s totally understandable that Xadaa would behave that way with us.

      However, on the flip side of that… is that Kaliah’s personality, OR is she using fierce language because that is what is needed to balance Xadaa’s dominant, defiant personality?? Without seeing Kaliah with another foal, we’ll never know. I do know that if Kaliah wants another horse to move, she simply juts out her head as she steps forward, and only puts her ears back if needed. So her messaging with the other horses (and with us humans) is very mild. So that leads me to think that perhaps her kicking/biting with Xadaa is what Xadaa requires – maybe she just goes in there hard and bashes and bites Kaliah’s nipples? SO fascinating, isn’t it??

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  • January 20, 2019 at 8:47 pm
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    I know it sounds like a bit of a coincidence……but I was just thinking of you this morning Jini…about this very subject. Then I see the link to your article…so cool…that I was so in sync with your vibration! Thanks fo another spot on article! 😊
    Buck our newer family member is a big tall boy and uses his abundance to really push on humans….if allowed! I am sure he did not have horse listeners in his past (so I get why😕) and we have been getting to know each other…and he definitely tests the limits of my energy. Dreamer and Banner I can move with the slightest strengthening of my energy ..usually with just a click or intention & Bullet and I have done so much one on one time together that we have developed very good communication with just verbal and hand signals…because he use to be a pusher too. But Buck…he is teaching me to explore an even stronger presence. I actually have needed the whip more to back up my energy (in certain situations) because I am still figuring out how to ….bring it ….without the whip. I try and observe Dreamer and Banner (they are the 1&2 horses) with Buck…and even they have to really get strong with him most of the time ….because he just doesn’t respond to lighter energy cues. We are making good progress with our communication and working with Buck around food is really helping. He knows I won’t tolerate being bullied or run into especially when food is involved…..it’s funny It’s easier for me when food is in the equation because I can get fierce with my energy (if needed) no whip needed. The cool thing is, those daily feed conversations are helping us establish some beautiful guide lines and I can see it translating into all our other interactions. The one area I feel I have grown the most with is …after I bring it….letting that strong energy go….just as quick! I focus on a few deep breaths to make sure I relax and clear and then flow again with out any negative vibes or even more importantly …any anger ! Not taking things personally is so important. It’s all just energy! I so believe that saying …each horse comes to us …to teach us exactly what we need to learn or expand on.✌🏼❤️🐴

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  • January 20, 2019 at 9:54 pm
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    Yes, foals are a whole new ballgame. I would go with Kaliah’s actions with her foal are what the foal needs. I can say that as a teacher with one on one lessons with kids, there are some kids I lay down the law and they come alive. For other kids, that would completely shut them down. So regardless of my personality, as a teacher I give the student what they need, not what is easiest for me to do. Ineffective teachers make it about themselves and do what would work for them if they were the student, and then blame the student when the student doesn’t learn. I vote for Kaliah’s a masterful teacher. I’d copy her when it comes to interacting with her foal.

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  • January 22, 2019 at 12:18 pm
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    The parallels between Amalia-Firefly and Kaliah-Xadaa are slowly hitting me. Both mamas are the dark horse/third-eye/space-time wanderers and, I think, provide a link between the herds. And Xadaa has reminded you of Firefly at that age. I didn’t put it all together that they’re both mama-daughter pairs til you mentioned in the comment above how Kaliah parents – which sounds so much like Amalia’s style too. DUH. Very similar colour scheme too!

    Firefly was definitely a challenge around Xadaa’s age – using casual force to communicate and pushing me to develop a different kind of boundary. She scared a lot of people and even hurt a few. I have noticed this trait in a lot of “unconditioned” young horses, which I think leads a lot of us to wonder if we’ve “spoiled” them or taught them “bad manners” by accident. I think, instead, they have always had the chance to express themselves, and have never feared humans, and so, for the ones with big, forward personalities, there can be this growth period of finding out how far they can push everything. Where is the no? Human kids do this too – probably all social species do. And as you point out – totally normal behaviour for a foal who gets this kind of communication from her mom and herd members. I remember you working with Juno on his version of this too – https://listentoyourhorse.com/the-lure-of-dominance/

    I love how Montaro helped demo this boundary – both to show you how much energy to bring up, and to show Xadaa how it all works. Because the point (of course) isn’t to “teach that filly a lesson” or “show her who’s boss”, but to find the place where you both feel safe, both feel heard, and can build your own rapport based one who you both are.

    I’ve also noticed a sort of soft line where at a certain age, the foals are not allowed the same amount of grace from the adult horses. Whereas before they could get away with walking through everyone’s space or acting out, after a while that behaviour becomes less and less acceptable. So in that sense you’re also taking that role – “you’re big now, you can hurt me, and you have other skills with which to communicate, so figure them out”.

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    • January 22, 2019 at 9:37 pm
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      Yes, all very true!! And I continue to be careful around Xadaa as things that are ‘normal’ for the other horses, offend her and piss her off. So at the same time as knowing I had to be stronger in this incidence, I also have to be gentler and softer in my normal requests with her ongoing. As you said, that toned down ‘ask’ is what helps her feel safe.

      It’s been interesting to watch Juno go through those stages you talk about – and where/when the ‘youngster grace period’ starts to shift. The girls (Xadaa and Posa) are still given wide leeway by Montaro, Aude etc and they are not signalled very strongly, nor are consequences anywhere near as strong as for the older ones.

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  • January 22, 2019 at 1:17 pm
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    Thank you Jini – just what I needed – of course! This is something I am ever-grappling with in my formation with horses at middle age. I did not grow up with them and I am carefully developing my instincts (which can be overshadowed by my conditioning) and my relationship with them. I very badly needed this blog post today. So grateful.
    You cannot imagine how much this Listen To Your Horse means to me.

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    • January 22, 2019 at 9:31 pm
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      Awww that’s wonderful Amy! Who knew simply bearing witness and sharing our stories would end up being so helpful to others 🙂

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      • February 4, 2019 at 3:38 am
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        So helpful…so inspiring!!

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  • April 10, 2019 at 5:03 am
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    Thank you, Jini, for this topic. have been searching for a while for something as you describe. Taking the horse into account with your bounderies. It is so often translated into training, but that didn’t make sense to me. The wrong words are used for me when trainers or coaches uses them for presure release. This morning I ran into these bounderies again with my horse and I did not know where to find the right words and ideas about this, but now I have them.
    It is nice to see if you are looking for something that also comes your way.
    I am also not for presure release, but you describe it beautifully. Thank you.

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    • April 10, 2019 at 3:00 pm
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      It’s a difficult/tenous topic isn’t it Kirk? I actually Unlisted this video on my YouTube channel, because if someone just watches the video, they STILL won’t really understand what the horses are teaching here. For that, they need the whole story of what happened afterwards. Especially since I was feeling really uncomfortable about using so much pressure with Xadaa, and wondering if there was a better way. And then Montaro showed me (and Xadaa) that in certain circumstances, that approach is exactly what’s needed. It’s such a fine line. And those of us who default so easily to dominance (perhaps every human?) need to be extra cautious about when/how to use it. EXHALE. It’s a tough distinction. If you get any more insight/info after working with your new understanding, please share!

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  • April 11, 2019 at 5:13 am
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    Hi Jini, yes, it is af difficult/tenous topic. Although, I think now, when you really know how you are in such a situation and you have learned to be peaceful with your horses, and you know what their characters are like, then you can indicate where your bounderies are in a peaceful way. Even if a moment of great pressure is needed there. I really needed your topic. I am peaceful with my horses, but even in it I felt that it was a bit too much for my gelding. This morning I raised my energy in a peaceful way and exerted pressure the moment he thought he could push me again. And he immediately knew what I meant. So he knows that he is going too far, but he also needs confirmation for that, only I simply forget to state that so now and then.
    I also didn’t have to use any more pressure. We were able to communicate peacefully with each other again. So for me, thank you for this topic.

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    • April 11, 2019 at 9:27 pm
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      That’s lovely. I’m just working on a video for this Sunday where Montaro shows me yet another way to communicate a boundary – and then that VERY quiet peaceful communication ripples through the entire herd. 🙂

      Reply

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