By Hans-Michael Schoebinger
The validity of this statement is demonstrated best by a simple exercise: Standing to the left of the horse, with your left hand on the nose about halfway between where her nostrils and where her eyes are, softly get in touch with the nose, so that your index finger would go on the distant side of the nasal bone and the thumb on your side. Add the middle finger on the distant side for more feel. If you want to, the ring finger will not harm either, as long as you stay soft.
Try to not use the tips of your fingers, as this is prone to the danger of making the horse think you are grabbing her. Which you do. But don’t tell her 🙂 In fact, it should be more of a grabbing without grabbing. The easiest way to get going with this is to avoid using the fingertips and work with the flat of your fingers and the palm of your hand whenever possible, only using the fingers where necessary, and their lower limbs at that.
Then, with minimum pressure gently move her head towards you for an inch and immediately (!) let go of the pressure while maintaining contact.
In doing so, your horse’s head will end up exactly one inch closer to you and she will show no resistance whatsoever. If you maintain soft enough contact, she will also keep her head at the new position with no intent to turn it back into the old.
In essence you are telling the horse “No, I do not want your head there, I want it here, please. Yes, that is it.” Note that you do not even have to move her head slowly, quite to the contrary, you can bridge that inch fairly fast and she won’t mind as long as you stay soft and let go of the pressure immediately.
Now try the same without saying “Yes”, without releasing the pressure that is: Notice, that even the slightest pressure remaining will make your horse resist and have her move the head in the opposite direction, thereby saying “That is no ‘Yes’”.
Next, let go of the pressure but also let go of the contact altogether. Again, you will notice that she returns the head to whence it came, because “Sorry, that is no ‘Yes’, either”.
Finally, experiment with extending the range of motion. Make sure that you two have enough space for the head coming around, though, and step back a bit and to the right. Then try larger movements. You will notice that there is a limit to the “No”, before you must give a “Yes”. In other words, you would normally not be able to go all the way round with her head in one fell swoop, because that would constitute too long a “No” phase. So you would break it up into smaller steps: “No, yes. No, yes. No, yes”, thereby once again saying “No” anytime you like, but immediately following up with a “Yes”.
If you shorten these “No, yes” intervals to split-second duration, their staccato marvelously turns into one smooth movement so that a bystander would not even be able to tell whether you are no-yessing multiple times a second. I have to admit that such blurring the distinct chunks of motion into one continuum has required quite some training on my part. And I am not a master at it, either. Yet again, as mentioned earlier, I am not particularly talented, so you will probably succeed in less time.
No-yessing can be applied in countless other situations. It for instance offers a great way of dragging the horse along without actually dragging her, because she effortlessly moves at will – primarily yours, but she goes along, so in the end it is her free will, too. The mindset of an immediate “Yes” makes a huge difference and proves its special convenience as soon as you e.g. approach a trailer.
It all boils down to achieving the goal in the most harmonious manner, thereby spending the least amount of energy both by you and by your horse. As you can see Jim Masterson is a very practical man. “I’m a lazy person.” he jokingly told me on more than one occasion, “I try to save energy wherever possible”.
To wholeheartedly say “Yes”:
Try out the exercise.
Then continue to practice the technique when leading your horse. Ideally expand your training to experiment with leading different horses as the feel will vary. In doing so you will realize pretty soon that you no longer have to say “No” that often in the first place.
Whatever you do, also in household situations, observe whether you continue applying pressure where there is no longer the need to; how about the steering wheel of your car? This way you will vastly improve the immediacy of your release, making the horse happier and at the same time reducing the number of tries you need to achieve the desired result.