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A Foundation for Lightness

Our work with the colts continued with building in what each horse needed to be able to lead up freely at a trot, on a float (meaning, with slack in the rope). The truth a horse reveals from his foundation on the ground will predict how he rides. If a horse moves out freely on a lead-rope, he is apt to travel freely under saddle.

We work with the float in our lead-rope to develop the foundation for a horse’s clear understanding about moving out, flowing into left and right turns, traveling straight, stopping and backing up (for more, see “Building a New Foundation: Accessing the Feet”). With this foundation in place, we can then access these maneuvers under saddle, with float in the reins. The float is a fundamental factor in a foundation for lightness because it accommodates freedom of movement in the head, neck and shoulders.

The feel in the float is connected to his feet via his mind, instinct and natural athletic capacity. Understanding the refinement in this has re-defined the way I handle horses and ride. It has led me to discover a lightness in the resulting ride that the horse simply cannot offer if the freedom of movement in his head, neck and shoulders is held, blocked or compressed in some way with reins, or the forward flow of movement from his hips and pelvis is hampered by leg pressure on the rib cage.

The experience one has with a genuinely light horse is not the same experience one has with a horse trained to cooperate or perform with energetic obedience. At first, there is tightness inherent in obedience because it is achieved through pressure, or the promise of pressure. If there is pressure in a request, there is tightness, even if only silently, in the horse’s mind. Obedience is not offered freely, but offered in order to avoid the consequence of an escalation of pressure in the aids. As time goes on, the horse gains experience through repetition within the parameters of successful learned responses. His energizing concern about pressure fades into a dullness that evolves from habitual behavior, not unlike the change in awareness we experience from the daily commute to work. But along the way, the horse’s genuine lightness, which is inextricably linked to heightened awareness, is lost.

For the horse-lovers who find themselves feeling a sense of resistance to that last paragraph, I empathize: I invested much honest effort in these pressure-release methods because it was the best I had to offer the horse. However I offer you this challenge. Pick up any horse magazine and compare the look of the horse at freedom and the best pictures you can find of a horse under saddle: look at the expression in the horse’s eye. It is rare to find the ridden kind with the joyful look of free movement he has when turned loose. Why is it so rare? I’m not sure it matters why… Rare means it IS possible, so what are we waiting for!

chasejumpfullsize

At home, Chase surprised and delighted me with the lightness he offered in this request to take me up the
bank (I did not expect him t jump!), reflecting his free mind.

True horsemanship is reflected in the horse who offers what is asked with lightness. Lightness comes from a free mind and careful but unrestricted movement: lightness cannot be pressured into a horse, it has to be left in there and released. Lightness is the source of the horse’s natural athletic capacity, a beautiful ride and long-term soundness.

“Feel and release” (see " Feel and Release… What Does That Mean?") – to feel of a horse’s natural lightness, shape it and release him to a maneuver – is the philosophy of “True Horsemanship Through Feel” by Bill Dorrance and Leslie Desmond.
 

This article reports clinic experiences only and is not intended
for instructional purposes.

Colt Starting Through Feel, by Karen Musson, 03/20/2009 V2.1
© 2009 All rights reserved

 

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

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"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

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"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