By now many, if not all, of you will have come across the pessoa training system. Whether it been used by someone you know or a photo/video on Facebook. It has been viewed as the latest ‘fad’ with many people on the fence about whether it really does the horse any good. Although there are now many brands and variations of Pessoa, it was originally invented by the show jumper Nelson Pessoa. He invented it top help the horse build topline and encourage it to find its own balance.
Before we get to the point of if it actually works, I think it is important to point out that a lot of owners are put off using a pessoa as it looks very complicated to put on. I feel this is not helped by needing to measure that both sides are the same length, where as other training aids such as the EquiAmi work on rollers, so no measuring is needed. However, there are loads of videos online demonstrating how to put on the pessoa which make it clear how simple it really is. I personally find it easy to put on, just a bit of a of faff.
When you first start using the pessoa, the bit clips attach to the girth ring as shown below:
With a more experienced horse you can clip the second clips higher up on the roller.
In the past, I had never been one for training aids. I always believed horses should be as natural as possible and should be forced into position by gadgets. However, since starting my degree I have gained a greater knowledge on the importance of the ‘correct way of going’ and how gadgets can benefit the horse in the long run. This is reflected in how I have worked Scottie. I knew he was lacking muscle which affected his way of going and I have used side reins and pessoa to help improve him. I introduced both slowly and had very different results. I found that since Scottie is very on the forehand, side reins did very little to help. If he did happen to lower his head or go round, he was very tense and hollow through the back. Where as in the pessoa I have seen great results. He works relaxed and round, engaging his hind end. Since using the pessoa I have also seen an improvement under saddle. He will happy work long and low in walk and can carry himself in an outline with a very light mouth.
As I previously mentioned, everyone seems to have their own opinion on the pessoa. This could partly be due to the fact that some training aids just don’t work for some horses. Common problems I have heard about are that horses learn to lean on the pessoa, and therefore are unable to carry themselves in the ‘correct’ position. Another is that since the breeching strap is connected to the bit, that the hind end interferes with the mouth. An interesting opinion from one of my lecturers was that he believed the problem with the pessoa is that it is too effective. Meaning that the horse soon learns that it has to work a certain way and that the muscles can become sore if too much work is done too soon.
Other problems seem to relate to the owner not using the pessoa correctly, causing horses to work in false outlines, building incorrect muscle or simply not having any affect. However, I do not feel the benefits and problems of a good training aid can not be judged on those using it incorrectly.
I personally feel that this is a great training aid and has done great things for Scottie. However, it isn’t for everyone. There is a certain amount of work and eye needed to use one and it might not work for all horses. I do think that it is a very good one to try for ex racehorses though. This is because they are likely to have very little topline or hind end muscle and this helps improve both.
The most important thing to remember when using the pessoa is to introduce it slowly. Start it loose to allow the horse to get use to it. Gradually tighten it so that the horse has to work low or round to release the pressure. For the first few sessions I would stay in walk, especially if the horse has very little topline. Keep sessions short and as the horse builds muscle you can increase the time working in the pessoa and shorten the line.
Remember to warm the horse up before asking it to work correctly in the pessoa. I tend to put it on before going to the school, but tying up the bit lines and clipping them to the roller. Once the horse has warmed up, all I have to do is clip to the bit and I’m ready to go.
I give the Pessoa training system 5/5 stars.