How to Move Beyond the Pressure Box With Trust Technique Practitioner Julia Carpenter

My wife Julia recently became the first Trust Technique practitioner certified to work with horses on the East Coast. That’s a big deal and I’m so proud of Julia, especially since she’s already such an accomplished horsewoman.

Julia with her Haflinger Pie (L) and rescue Arab-cross Magneto

A Half a Century With Horses

Julia and I grew up with horses, have traveled together with them (like the time we spent a month and a half riding them to Virginia and back) and enjoy hanging with them on our farm in western North Carolina.

We’ve seen lots of trends come and go in the half a century we’ve messed with horses. On balance, I’d say the horse community is changing for the better, with lots of the traditional harsh techniques, like earing a horse down (bending its ear to force it to do something), being replaced by gentler, more science-based methods like the Trust Technique.

Brick. She is one of the two mules I traveled with from North Carolina to Idaho. The other is Cracker (hidden behind Brick in this photo). Here, carrying our gear across a wide open plain outside Pinedale, Wyoming.
Taking a break from riding Brick up our driveway to feed Cracker an ear of corn our friend and neighbor Laura Pearson dropped off. The other mule is Polly, star of the Lost Sea Expedition, the documentary about my wagon voyage from Canada to Mexico (stream on Amazon). If you see Laura, don’t tell her I fed one of her ears of corn to the mules between the front gate and the barn.

The Trust Technique is a system of deepening the bond between animals and those that work with them. The guiding principle is that when humans and animals interact, they share feelings, which makes sense. If a nervous person sits on the back of a relaxed horse, the horse will get nervous, the person will relax or they’ll settle to an energy level somewhere in between.

Working with Julia and the Trust Technique has allowed me to cultivate a level of trust with my mules, especially my mule Brick, that has eluded me after hundreds of days and thousands of miles on the trail.

Enter the Trust Technique

Broadly speaking, the current, mainstream approach of working with horses is a two-step method of pressure and release. Step one: the person working with the horse applies pressure, either with a bit, leg, flag or body language. Step two: the horse yields to the pressure. This worked with Brick – to a point. Trouble is, she was abused long before I bought her and I could only get so far with the traditional pressure and release methods.

What’s so important about the Trust Technique is that it doesn’t rely on the pressure/release cycle to gain a horse’s trust. As part of Julia’s training to become certified in the Trust Technique, she worked with Brick and me to build a trust in a whole new way. Example: when I bought Brick it took two people to bridle her. Over the last few years, I worked on bridling her and she let me bridle her without much fuss. “Let” is the operative word, here. She put up with it. But she never turned her head toward me when I approached her with the bridle and willing took the bit, like it was her idea.

Julia working with Brick and me with the Trust Technique. Here, I’m holding Brick on a loose rope, regarding her. That means I’m loosely watching her to see what catches her eye and what body language she’s exhibiting.
Here, I’m lowering my thinking, and therefore, Brick’s. Notice how calm and relaxed she looks. Julia, too! By lowering Brick’s thinking, she’s much more able to learn new things or unlearn old habits.

Working with Julia and the Trust Technique, has allowed me to reach a new level of understanding with Brick, from bridling her to approaching her in the pasture and turning her loose after riding. Instead of me pushing my agenda, I spend a lot more time tuning into her to get a sense of when she’s ready to make a decision. That doesn’t mean I don’t ride her as much as before. Quite the opposite. I ride her a couple of times every week. I’m just a little more patient and respect her input instead of just barging in with my agenda of how I want things to go.

Brick (R) and a friend of ours joining Julia and Pie on a ride up the mountain behind our cabin last Sunday.

Julia’s Article About the Trust Technique

Julia recently wrote a great article explaining how the Trust Technique is completely different than the current pressure and release methods. The pieces is called Moving Beyond the Pressure Box With the Trust Technique. She posted it on her website but I thought the article was so important that I’m reposting the whole article here on If you’re looking to a build a deeper connection with your horse, mule, donkey, dog, or other mammal, you’ll definitely find Julia’s article interesting.


Moving Beyond the Pressure Box With the Trust Technique (by Julia Carpenter)

Bravo showing his concern of being in his new environment. His new owner Christina is explaining to me how she wishes I could help Bravo and her to make him more comfortable in his new environment.

I recently got a promotional email from Warwick Schiller containing an article about desensitizing horses called “A Polyvagle View of Desensitising”. (Horse Deals magazine / May 2022 / Read here) The article was a great description of the mammalian autonomic nervous system, how it functions, and what happens to it in horses during an evolution of approaches to desensitizing them. The first approach is the old-school way of snubbing them down and sacking them out, which causes them to switch on their sympathetic nervous system response and freeze because they can not flee or fight. This kind of training causes shutdown horses or ones who become problem horses because they can no longer normally regulate their nervous systems.The last example in his article is his most current and refined method, which he sees as noticing the littlest changes in the horse’s expression (eye blinking rate, ear position or head position) as the flag approaches them and then pausing the minimal pressure he has applied with the flag until the horse shows even the tiniest sign of relaxation, he then removes the flag (pressure). While doing this, he holds the horse on a loose lead, allowing it to move if needed. In this case, he feels he keeps a horse well under threshold where they can train their nervous system to be able to regulate the little bit of stress he has created and also stay soft enough in their mind to notice that Warwick is profoundly aware of them and can remove the pressure for them once they have started to relax.

The Pressure Box

Warwick sees this last method not so much as desensitization but rather as the horse building trust and interest in connecting with him. Warwick is aware of the horse’s concern and has helped him to overcome it by noting his concern and then removing the pressure as soon as the horse has relaxed a tiny bit to the presented pressure. He says the whole demonstration is so subtle people think he’s doing nothing but see that the horse is becoming visibly more relaxed. This last method that Warwick describes is the one he has found works best for him. He describes it as being about the connection, not the desensitization, as a connected horse will tune into you when something scares him. Connection is far better than desensitization.However, even with this effective and refined method of “helping” a horse gain trust and confidence, Warwick is still working in the traditional box of pressure and release when interacting with the horse. Warwick has to create a concern for the horse to react to. He applies pressure with the flag, though very minimal, and the horse responds subtly. Warwick notices immediately, stops the pressure, and the horse begins to relax again; Warwick notices right away and removes the flag (pressure).

The Trust Technique: The New No Pressure Box

There is, however, another box, a whole new way in which no pressure has to be applied to the horse to deepen the connection, one in which we can offer the horse a down-regulation (lowering) to its nervous system through a form of mindfulness instead of having to apply pressure to create an up-regulation (raising) to then regain a down-regulation. Through the Trust Technique, we can offer horses a sense of calm and then listen to them to understand and become aware of what is bothering them in the moment, thus being able to help them let go of their concerns and find their peace.For example, with the Trust Technique, instead of having to wave a flag to create a worry that we can then help the horse get over, we can work with the horse to help him feel calm by entering a meditative state and then regarding him as he goes through a process of letting go of his worry. We can just be there to be aware of what is genuinely causing him his unpeace and then we can offer him the space to become peaceful. This method creates a true sense of connection and builds a durable bond of trust between the horse and the human. The Trust Technique looks even more like nothing is being done by the practitioner as it often appears the practitioner is just standing by the horse with a big loop in the lead rope. Still, the results are evident, as seen by watching the horse move into a peaceful state.The Trust Technique is built on two main principles. The first is that people and animals share feelings. Second, all mammals’ perception of things and situations is affected by their thinking levels. Thus, if one is in a panicked state, one can not be open to experience, whereas if one is in a calm state, one can be open, curious and capable of learning new things. Since people and animals share feelings, the state of the human mind is also very important in the partnership with animals. The Trust Technique helps people learn to take responsibility for their relationship with their animal, in this case, their horse, by lowering their thinking levels first. Since these feelings are shared, this, in turn, reduces the horse’s thinking levels as well.The Trust Technique is a very effective method of reducing the thinking levels of both the horse and the human to promote trust and confidence not only for the horse but for the human as well. James French and Shelly Slingo founded it. As I have already described, the Trust Technique does not use pressure. It works by lowering the nervous system. It offers tools for doing this. It presents a way to let the horse know you are aware of him. It is a healing tool that can help a horse or any other mammal let go of their genuine stressors. This way offers true mental and physical help for the horse as it meets him where he is and helps him to become peaceful. To learn more about the Trust Technique, here is a link to The Trust Technique website:

More Links and Article About the Trust Technique

The Trust Technique

More about Julia’s work with the Trust Technique

The original post Moving Beyond the Pressure Box With the Trust Technique

Here, using the Trust Technique, I am mindfully regarding Bravo and listening to his concern of all the new stimulus in his life.

Later in the same Trust Technique session, Christina has helped Bravo to relax down. If she does this every day for a while Bravo will learn not only that he can feel relaxed in his new environment but also that Christina has helped him to do so, which will strengthen their bond.

Both my horses and I benefit from the Trust Technique.


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