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Young and Troubled Horse Handling

Seven trainers from Colorado, Ohio, Tennessee, Italy, Sweden and the UK, all mentored by Leslie, came together for six days to start colts under Leslie’s guidance at Flying D Ranch in Bozeman, Montana. This clinic in 2008 was a defining one for me, shaped by a superb, though troubled, two-year-old, sorrel filly named Spring.

Spring was apt to launch unexpectedly, teeth bared at anyone who came within a few feet of her body. It did not take much. She also struck and kicked with lightning speed, on a hair trigger.

Spring was assigned to me for six days, during which she connected me to a more instinctive sense of feel - forever. There was no room for doubt, second-guessing, or 'getting in your head'. I will remember her always for helping me extend and weave together the "threads of feel" and launch a canvas for the next evolution in my horsemanship and understanding of what Bill meant by "Feel, Timing and Balance."

I include here a collection of articles, unedited from that time, to share as best I know how, the immense richness of that week, both in terms of how she "raised the bar" and how we worked things out, but also for the rare opportunities that arose to see Leslie's masterful use of creativity within principle.

These articles include philosophy, principle and many illustrated examples of how to build a feel and release foundation.

Accessing the Feet - Part 2

The two pairs of photographs that follow illustrate working with a float and using ‘feel and release’ to ask Spring to turn left or right, on the ground.

“Pressure is what we’re trying to get away from, so we might not mention it” Bill Dorrance

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Accessing the Feet - Part 3

These important characteristics directly relate to quality and accuracy in right and left turns, backing and stopping on the float. The result is a foundation for a ride in which the horse has freedom of movement, lightness and correctness in the basic maneuvers.

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Feel, Timing and Balance & Restoring Natural Movement

If you have trouble picking up a right lead at the canter, notice the details about the way your horse uses his left diagonal in his groundwork at a walk.

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Understanding Confinement

We teach him how to think his way out of confinement or to make himself comfortable within confinement, through his own micro actions, and find inner stillness as a result; we teach him he can be sure that we will help him when he needs us, and how to draw on our help.

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Feel and Release in the Round Pen

Leslie was never in the center except to pass through on occasion, and there was no pressure directed towards any of the three very different colts at any time. 

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Bridling Through Feel

These horses are not just accepting the bridle, they are coming up with the decision to pick it up. There it is again: “feel and release” them to what you want. This may not sound that significant but it is quite clear that the horses know about the difference.

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Saddling Through Feel

Leslie didn’t teach her to saddle, she taught her to unsaddle, and taught her to park right by her on the fence for mounting in the process.

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What About Those Feet ?

My response to reaction to kick towards my head and swing her bared teeth at my back, was to stand bolt upright, but with an instinctive knowing that I had to be still for her right then, to avoid sending her over the cliff edge. I had then paused, breathed, unweighted my foot on her side and thanked her for not connecting that strike. It could have been over, right there, had it not been for the kindness she offered in her decision to miss, this time. 

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Ready for the First Ride

Spring had demonstrated in this short sweet introduction to a rider, a beautiful foundation for lightness and a start on shaping herself for all these maneuvers through meaningful, reciprocal feel.

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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

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"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