What do you mean when you say, let the horse meet his own pressure? Why is that important? How do I make sure that when my horse gives (softens, carries himself), that I am releasing pressure at the right time?
Our horses are learning through pressure and release. How and when we soften the pressure explains to the horse what exactly we mean with our aids. That release feels good to the horse and the rider; we want both to ride for the release.
There are really two ways that your horse can meet pressure: through the rein, and through the riders body. First, lets address meeting bit pressure through the rein. When a horse gives, it means he has found a release from rein pressure by shifting his balance through his whole body all the way to his feet. It will feel to your hands that he weighs nothing! There is a very fine line between the horses own pressure and the riders, but the horse very definitely perceives the difference. When riding, we want to set up a situation where the horse meets his own pressure… such as gathering the reins in such a way that they are a part of the horses neck; when he pulls or leans on that contact, he is pulling against his own neck, body and hindquarters. From the horses point of view, this feels very different from pulling on the riders hands, or the rider pulling on the horses mouth.
When he yields in this dynamic, he releases to his own pressure and, as a consequence, the timing is always perfect. When the horse must rely on the rider to give at the right time, the timing is very seldom correct. Tom Dorrance used to say to me, timing is simple: it is either too late, too early or right on. For many years, the only way I could be right on with my timing was to make my hand/arm and rein part of the horse. As the horse would meet that pressure and release to that he would develop an understanding that yielding to that pressure causes instant release at the perfect time.
As I became a more accomplished rider with a more correct solid position, I could set myself up as an intermediary between the bit (halter, etc) and his hindquarters. I could maintain my position, and in doing so, become part of the horse’s hindquarters. In this way, I could sit quietly and allow the horse to meet his own pressure through me. Essentially, making his own corrections and finding the release to himself through the rider. This is the end goal; the balance and suppleness feel like a wonderful dance.
It is important to me that the horse understands this yielding to pressure in such a way that he arranges his balance by rounding his topline and lowering his croup so that he can move without pressure, almost as within a bubble….comfortably carry himself and take me with him in an effortlessly. This idea of the horse yielding to his own pressure starts at the most foundational level and can and should be carried right through to the most advanced levels of the horses particular discipline.
In conclusion, when the horses pressure is his own, and he releases to it…his understanding of what we as riders want becomes so much more clear and lasting.