When I woke up this morning, my thoughts as usual involved horses and jiu-jitsu :-)
I gave a lot of thought to the concept of the mental pressure, or stress, I put on a horse during training. And how horses react to that pressure. The Arab mare we are working with at the moment can't tolerate much pressure at all. Mental pressure that is. I'm not yet talking about physical pressure, though there is a little of that obviously. Say for example, I put my finger on the mare's chest to ask her to back, there is small amount of physical pressure. But there is, at least for a flighty sort of a green horse, much more mental pressure involved.
So the first point that comes out of that is that if my system relies on removing pressure as instant reward for wanted behaviour, I need to remove the mental pressure as well as the physical pressure.
How much mental pressure I apply to a horse is a function of how it perceives me and it's current mental state. One physical step towards a horse can be either no pressure at all (or even an invitation to some!), or it can cause enormous mental pressure if I approach a scared horse. Particularly, where it's retreat is restricted because of a yard fence or a rope I'm holding that's attached to the horse.
To be able to accustom a horse to things, let alone begin to teach it something specific, I cannot avoid exerting pressure. There will be stress.
Stress of course is a word with very negative connotations. But think on it, there is no development in anything without stress. If I don't stress my bicep muscles through exercise, they won't get stronger. If I don't stress my brain trying to learn something, my knowledge will remain static. If an economy isn't stressed, new industrial developments aren't necessary. The same applies to horses. The envelope needs pushing for development to take place. Stress, unless it's unrelenting or way too much, is a good thing.
So now let's translate that to horse training. I see my job as horse trainer (well, educator or teacher is better, but let's use trainer as that's the term everyone uses and knows) as someone who applies pressure in appropriate doses to achieve a learning effect in a horse. I need to know how and when to apply pressure and when to remove it in a timely manner.
Back to the Arab mare...
She is here to learn to be a riding horse and all that goes with that. To that end, we have a limited amount of time at our disposal. This is the real world. Her owner isn't a millionaire who can afford to pay me for years of training and I'd like to get her done before I go old and grey or before she dies of old age. So there are some outside constraints which influence my decision when and where to apply pressure.
I've said in previous posts that it's largely the horse which dictates how long this process takes, and that still holds true. However, it must be within the framework of practicality and do-ability. Simply put, if this mare cannot learn to be a riding horse within a reasonable time frame, neither her owner nor I can afford to continue. That's the cold, hard facts. Reality.