Teaching a Horse to Yield to Pressure: Easy Exercises

How to Teach a Horse to Yield to Pressure

We’ve all dealt with horses that tend to fight pressure. This can look like a horse that pulls back on the lead when they’re tied or one that braces against the bit when you ask them to turn or soften. Fights pressure can make a horse difficult to deal with as well as put your horse in some potentially dangerous situations. If a horse fights pressure rather than yields to it, a situation can become quickly escalated, as a horse’s flight instinct would be to run away and flee, even if they are caught in something.

How do you teach a horse to yield to pressure? The concept of teaching a horse to yield to pressure is known as pressure and release. The horse learns the correct response to pressure by the handler releasing the pressure when the horse fulfills the desired response. I will share four easy exercises I use to teach my horses to yield to pressure. This includes:

  • Asking the horse to step forward
  • Asking the horse to lower its head
  • Asking the horse to pick up its feet
  • Asking the horse to flex its neck

 

The great news is that once your horse understands the concept of pressure and release, you can train them to do anything! In this article, I will break down the above exercises step-by-step so you can try them with your horses!

Teaching a Horse to Yield to Pressure: Asking a Horse to Step Forward

How This Exercise Will Help:

While this exercise may seem too basic, you’d be surprised at how many horses are said to be broke and trained but will fight any pressure asking them to step forward. While this exercise will benefit any horse and help them understand the concept of yielding to pressure, it will particularly help the horses that pull back when tied or throw their head up or run backward when you go to lead them forward.

I’ve seen quite a few horses get tied and end up losing their minds. They pull back as hard as they can, sometimes even falling over. This can be very dangerous for the horse and the humans around it. I often think that if these horses were to get their head stuck in something like a fence, their reaction would lead to serious injury.

Do you have a horse that doesn’t want to load on the trailer? Helping them understand yielding to pressure and having them step forward when you ask can make it easier and less stressful for them to get on the trailer. 

How to Teach This Exercise:

In this exercise, all you’re going to do is ask your horse to step forward towards you. You’re ideally looking for the horse to respond right away without any brace against the pressure you apply. You’re also looking for them to respond to the lightest pressure possible.

To start, stand in front of your horse and slightly to the side, so you’re not directly in front of them. Next, gently apply pressure to the lead rope asking the horse to step towards you. If the horse throws their head, backs up, or fights you in any way, hold the pressure and gradually increase the pressure.

As soon as the horse takes a step forward, release the pressure. The release of pressure will let them know that they responded correctly. Remember, it’s always important to start asking with the lightest pressure and gradually increase the pressure from there, as this will teach the horse to respond to the lightest pressure possible.

Teaching a Horse to Yield to Pressure: Asking a Horse to Lower Its Head

How This Exercise Will Help:

Teaching a horse to yield to pressure by lowering its head has many of the same benefits as asking a horse to yield to pressure by stepping forward. If your horse is in a situation where they get their head stuck, this training can lead to them staying calm and keeping their head still instead of fighting and risking injury.

Another benefit of this exercise is that it teaches your horse to soften its neck muscles and stretch into the pressure of the lead rope of bit. I use this exercise to start helping my horses understand how to be supple and soft in the bit and how to frame up.

How to Teach This Exercise:

To teach your horse to lower its head, I like to use two methods: applying pressure to the poll (behind the horse’s ears) and applying pressure to the lead rope. Teaching both of these methods will simply desensitize your horse to pressure in more areas and help that have a better grasp on the concept.

To start with, apply a light downward pressure, either by pulling the lead rope down towards the ground or by gently pressing on the horse’s poll. If the horse doesn’t respond or they throw its head up, hold the pressure and gradually increase the pressure you’re using. As soon as the horse dips its nose towards the ground, release the pressure.

When it comes to this exercise, it’s important to be able to notice the slightest give to pressure from your horse. I’ve noticed that with this particular exercise, the horse will respond in the slightest way in the beginning. You will feel your horse give to pressure because there suddenly won’t be any tension in your rope or hand anymore. As soon as you feel that, release and reward.

Teaching a Horse to Yield to Pressure: Asking a Horse to Pick Up Its Feet

How This Exercise Will Help:

Horses can be weird about their feet. Their feet are their number one weapon and tool used to escape predators or scary situations. Because of this, horses may panic if their foot gets caught or they may refuse to let you pick up their feet.

This exercise will teach your horse to pick up its feet and move its feet towards the pressure applied. This will help in the daily task of cleaning and checking your horse’s hooves. It will also help your horse stand still and give its feet to the farrier. Lastly, it will teach your horse to remain calm if they were to ever get their hoof caught in something, like a fence or a wire.

How to Teach This Exercise:

To do this exercise, you will need an extra lead rope. You’re actually going to use this lead rope to pick up your horse’s feet. Be sure to desensitize your horse to the rope around their legs before you apply pressure and get started, as some horses may not be familiar with this.

To start, I would recommend starting with one of the horse’s back legs and having the horse bring its leg up and under itself, as this is the easiest motion. Stand at the horse’s shoulder, facing the hind leg. Put your extra lead rope around the horse’s hind leg and maneuver it so the rope goes around the horse’s pastern. Start asking your horse to lift its hind leg by applying light pressure to the lead rope. If no response, gradually increase pressure. As soon as the horse gives the slightest or even just shuffles their hoof forward, release and reward. 

You can start practicing this with all of the horse’s hooves. One thing to note is in the beginning, don’t try to hold your horse’s hoof up for extended periods of time. This will just lead to your horse fighting the pressure and getting frustrated. As soon as your horse gives to the pressure, reward by letting them put their hoof back down. From there, you can gradually increase the amount of time you hold the hoof up.

Teaching a Horse to Yield to Pressure: Asking a Horse to Flex Its Neck

How This Exercise Will Help:

Asking a horse to flex its neck means getting the horse to move its nose both to the left and the right. This can be a great exercise to help horses understand the concept of steering. It can also help the horse learn to be supple and soft through its neck. I personally use this exercise when it comes to backing up. If the horse understands bending its head to the direction in which pressure is applied, then when pressure is applied for the horse to back up, it should be easier for them to grasp.

How to Teach This Exercise:

To teach this exercise, stand at the horse’s withers. From there, pick up the lead rope in your hand and bring your hand out, as if you’re steering the horse. At this point, all you want is for the horse to tip its nose in the direction your asking. Remember, hold the pressure if the horse fights you by tossing its head or moving its feet. In the beginning, the horse may try to move out of the flex by stepping its hind end away from you. Simply move with the horse, staying at the withers and holding the pressure on the lead rope. As soon as the horse turns its nose in the slightest toward the pressure, then release.

Once you can do this, then you can ask the horse to bring its nose all the way back to its side, or back to you at the withers. simply continue to apply the pressure and hold until the horse flexes all the way through the neck to bring its nose back to its side. Once they do this, release and reward.

 

If you’re more of a visual learner, I made a YouTube video covering all four of these exercises. You can watch here!

 

 

Looking for more groundwork exercises to do with your horse? Check out these articles!

 



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