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You are here: Home Resources to Explore Articles: Applying Feel The Feel of Release: Riding CALLE 10. The “Softness Onion” – an ongoing discovery of the horse

10. The “Softness Onion” – an ongoing discovery of the horse

In my experience, there are many levels of feel from a horse to which the term “softness” is applied. To use the onion analogy, sometimes it can really go little more than skin deep, in the case where the horse appears compliant with a way of carrying himself desired by the rider. The truth is, in my earlier days of event-riding, when we both “went through the motions” for our dressage test in order to get to the cross-country and jumping… I had little more than that in the dressage phase. We just held it together, rather literally, for the few minutes it took to ride for the judge.

When I later developed a genuine interest in classical dressage, I applied the term to a way of going in which “softness” came through the muscles, with some suspension (lift) in the stride and a swinging motion through my horse’s back and hind-quarters. There was a strong focus on muscle groups, with keen observation of their correct development for a “soft” outline, and appropriate fitness to support work in the frame (carriage) sought in the horse.

When I dedicated some years to the study of natural horsemanship, I applied the term to a particular “softness” in the look I saw in my horse’s expression, when he was respectful and attentive. I blended in judicious use of food-incentives for a while too, to build desire and a playful, positive feel. I sought a lighter connection with my horse's mind.

For me, the inspiration in this feel-based approach has been the discovery that “softness” can also have a depth to it that goes through skin, muscles and mind, right to the heart and every living cell. And the beauty of it is that getting it relies on only one “tool” – You, the wholly present, conscious, sentient You.

There is a saying that you have to see something to believe it. In this case, that held true: my training and horsemanship path has always focused on the horse and developing those good, soft qualities. Yet, it turned out that I had not imagined the true potential softness accessible in the horse – the horse within the horse – that Leslie brings out for all to see.

In Leslie’s approach, the partnership offered from the horse is rooted directly in the feel between you, in the connection itself. The reward is You, rather than a mutually understood release of pressure from you or incentive awarded from your hand to indicate the desired response. It has an altogether different feel that is released from within both of you – core to core, direct.

The feel in this is compelling and a wonderful way to experience the true nature of the horse and what he genuinely has to offer - whatever it is we happen to be doing together at a given moment.

 

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