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4. Adjusting to Calle and the reciprocal feel of release

Leslie was working with Bill Dorrance on his ranch when she purchased Calle as a four-month-old foal. She told us that it had been her aim to raise and train her in accordance with the philosophy and training methods she was learning from Bill at that time (1998).

One of the most compelling aspects of riding Calle had been to discover within minutes and with crystal clarity how innocuous seeming things such as a nudge of a rider’s heel or picking up pressure on a rein really feel to a horse. My lower leg applying pressure to her rib-cage got in the way of her hind leg reaching forward and pressure on a rein restricted her neck and blocked her shoulder.

Calle’s responses were all feel-based and offered back to me with great care and attention. This included, for example, thoughtfully jumping her hips up in the air in response to a nudge from both my heels! It was not unseating, Calle was not resistant, tight or resentful. The feel of a nudge from my heels on both sides, with the associated slight shift in my center of gravity, caused her to dump her weight forward, and left her with a confining feel on each side of her rib-cage –  effectively blocking the path forward for both hind feet as I asked her to liven up! When you think about it, her response was perfect – in terms of feel. It was a lapse on my part – that old muscle memory… My own horse had alerted me to the actual feel in this rider presentation, by simply ‘stalling out’ on the forehand. “Why do you ask him to stop?”  Leslie had asked. After applying real thought to what I was doing, his response made perfect sense. It was a good day actually – I understood that what I had been interpreting as ‘stalling out’ was in fact my horse following my feel!

As I felt Calle’s hips up there in the air, at the exact moment I was aware of my muscle memory ‘foul’, it made me smile quite a bit – she could not have offered an ounce more clarity about this, nor with such sincerity! Calle was quite effective at re-setting that wiring in me for good, right there: not unlike touching an electric fence - some fast conditioning not to repeat!

It is astonishing that the feel in such common-place presentations to the horse, is often really quite contrary to what we actually mean the horse to do! No wonder surprising things happen sometimes when the true feel in a presentation actually gets down to the feet. Many horses will fill in for us, right until they can’t – due to our impact on their balance and freedom of movement. What adaptable creatures they are.

Calle guided my rapid adjustments to riding through ‘feel and release’ at this first trainers’ clinic with Leslie. The changes felt good. “Ride like you need to leave room for a credit card between you and your saddle” Leslie had said. When I put a little more lightness in my core, as I released my lower legs a little, Calle offered a smooth transition forwards with her shoulders free and hips engaged. It made so much sense – this presentation made it easy for her to elevate her wither and shoulders (as I did mine) and lift her back, while ‘opening the door’ for her hind-quarters to reach forwards freely.

Her many such lessons seem to be appreciated by the other horses I encounter too – each horse I’ve ridden since has preferred what Calle wired into me that day. She was (and has continued to be) an outstanding coach, and we quickly found our way to a connection that felt good.

Mark Rashid

RashidBookCover

"I see an 'opening' as anything that allows us to help guide, however briefly, an individual in the direction we ultimately would like to go. An 'opening' can be, and often is, a very subtle form of communication between horse and rider that can easily slip past us if we're not paying attention. 'Openings' can and do work both ways. [...] It amazes me just how small an 'opening' can actually be, whether working with horses or with people, and how easy it can be to create an 'opening' when one is needed."

Mark Rashid

"I truly believe developing the ability to see and use 'openings' effectively is only one piece of what one might refer to as the 'harmony in horsemanship' puzzle. When this idea of understanding 'openings' is brought together with the understanding of two other simlar ideas - making a connection with another indvidual, and the role distance plays in overall communication - I believe it is then that harmony in horsemanship becomes a much less daunting concept for us."

Mark Rashid

Leslie Desmond

LDaudiobook

"Bill knew about a place I did not know existed, or could exist, between a horse and a human being [...] Bill included each one of my horses in that information exchange. Over the course of many months,... he took each one by its lead rope and, later, by the bridle reins. Using what he called his 'better feel', Bill showed me and each of them exactly what he meant by what he did [...] It was not long after I made the switch from force when needed (often) to always customizing the feel I offered to a horse, that two tough horses I had misunderstood for years developed into my most reliable mounts."

Leslie Desmond

The lightest hands carry intent that is recognized instantly by the horse, as seen in the maneuvers he chooses to make with his feet. Whether that horse is ridden or handled, the lightest hands can purposefully influence the speed, direction and sequence of each foot with accuracy, in a manner that is reflected in the horse's body and on his face.

Leslie Desmond

Bill Dorrance

bilsbook

"The Real Masters Understood Feel [...] For example, De Kerbrech, (French officer in the cavalry of Napoleon III) really understood horses. He had it fixed up so the horse could succeed. [...] The first time I read Beudant's book was in the 1950s. The way he explained things, there was no doubt in my mind about what a person needed to do to get these little things working for them and their horse."

Bill Dorrance

“Feel, timing and balance: sometimes it’s best to talk about feel, timing and balance separately, and to learn how to apply each thing separately on the start. But when you apply these three things a little later in your training, then you see that each one of these things supports the other. They are interconnected and all three are real important. You really can’t get along without all three.”

Bill Dorrance

Faverot de Kerbrech

FaverotBookCover

“...plus le deplacement du poids est facile dans tous les sens, plus l'equilibre est parfait. En vertue de ce principe, on dit que le cheval est 'en equilibre' quand de simples indications suffisent au cavalier pour modifier a son gre la disposition du poids sur ses colonnes de soutien”

Faverot de Kerbrech

[Translation: ...the easier it is to shift the weight in any direction, the more perfect the balance. By virtue of this principle, the horse is 'in balance' when a simple indication from the rider is sufficient to modify the distribution of weight across the columns of support (four quarters) accordingly]

Duke of Newcastle

CavendishBookCover

"You must in all Airs follow the strength, spirit, and disposition of the horse, and do nothing against nature; for art is but to set nature in order, and nothing else."

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle

"A confrontational approach ‘Astonishes the Weak Horse […] makes a Furious horse Madd; makes a Resty Horse more Resty […] and Displeases all sorts of Horses’. The alternative however is not ‘to Sit Weak […] but to Sit Easie’, in the understanding that ‘The Horse must know you are his Master’"

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle