The Release Valve

As a part of my preparation for a lesson on pressure and release for our upcoming HERD Institute module, I typed those words into google to see what came up.  Google gave me three auto choices: pressure and release natural horsemanship, pressure and release model, and pressure cooker.  Each of these choices ended up relating to my train of thought on release and connection.

First, the natural horsemanship approach.  For those familiar with Parelli or Monty Roberts, you have probably heard of the pressure and release game or technique.  It involves working with a horse at liberty (loose with no tack), typically in a round pen.  The human stands in the middle and uses pressure (this can vary in intensity from a look at the hind end to much higher energy activity, rope throwing or waving, and noise making) to get the horse to move. When the horse responds in the desired fashion the pressure is removed (often by turning away or looking away)  eventually, the horse will “join up” with the human and come to the center or follow from a distance.  There are varying followers and naysayers of this type of training.  An interesting study in 2012 mimicked the movements of a human applying and releasing pressure with a remote control car.  The study argues that the car was able to achieve the same result as the human thus denouncing the theory that horses are “joining up” with their human counterparts due to a connection or relationship.  They argue that the horse is, in fact, responding to the expectation that the pressure will re-appear.  Essentially, the horse is responding out  of fear of the pressure or comfort in the safety of the release.  There are alternative schools of training that apply a release method without pressure; however, when watching videos of these training methods, a certain amount of pressure is still applied.  it is a calmer pressure, a pressure of  intent, but pressure non the less.  The topic of pressure came  up in several posts I saw this week, mainly referring to feel and contact with the bit when riding.  pressure is a part of our relationship with our horses.  We can apply pressure intentionally or unintentionally.  We can be aware of the pressure we apply or unaware.  However it is transferred, pressure will become a part of our conversation with our horses.

The second search topic that came up was the Pressure And Release Method (PAR).  Social and environmental scientists use the PAR model to conceptualize social vulnerability of a population to recover from natural disasters.  They measure how likely a community is to be resilient in the face of devastation based on socioeconomic factors, urban/rural living, and geography.  This model focuses on economic resilience and the likelihood that a community can rebuild infrastructure and economy.  The model surmises that communities that have few resources, live in tight quarters and lack public institutions will be less likely to recover than communities experiencing the same disaster with access to resources, education, free enterprise, etc.  Essentially, a community already struggling to survive will be less likely to recover from a disaster.  This model leaves out  the human emotion factor.  It does not take into consideration the connections between neighbors and how a well connected community might be able to decrease their vulnerability by pooling even meager resources more effectively than an unconnected community working alone to overcome the disaster.

Both  of these topics bring up an internal personal process of how we relate to pressure and the release of pressure.  How do we apply pressure in our relationships with others?  what pressures do we put on ourselves?  Do we attempt to control the movements of an other with the pressure we apply?  Do we have the connections and social resources to be resilient in the face of personal crisis?  What happens to all of that pressure?  The last search topic that came up was pressure cooker.  Pressure cookers work off intense heat and steam.  The pressure must be discharged by pushing a release valve.  If you attempt to just take the top off a pressure cooker without releasing the valve it will blow up on you.  What does release look like relative to interpersonal or internal pressure?  is it a full letting go, or a subtle back and forth feel?  how do we practice and achieve release within ourselves and with others?

Our relationship with our horses as well as with each other are based on pressure or release.  I believe these exist on a continuum.  Without some form of pressure there is nothing to release from and with no release, relationships become more and more intense and uncomfortable under relentless pressure.  We can work on being more aware of  the dialectic between pressure and release in our relationships.