Searching For Softness

I think of the horse as "searching for softness" rather than "moving from pressure".

I know that pressure is how they operate...with each other, etc. But think about a herd. If a horse heads toward another in the herd, that is applying pressure. And yes, the other horse will move, but isn't it just about always with a toss of the head or swish of the tail? Hang out where they don't know you are there and just watch what the application of pressure brings out in them.

Even us...think about pressure...a deadline at work, someone standing too close behind you in the grocery line. Doesn't it automatically bring about a brace inside us? Even if we don't manifest it physically, its there mentally. Same with our horses, I believe.

Have you ever noticed your horse looking at you so beseechingly..."is that what you wanted, did I do it right?"...Don't you think he was looking for the softness...the comfortable place? They will 'settle' for a release of pressure, but what would make them feel better about us?

Going back to that line in the grocery store...if the person behind us backs off a bit, we feel better. But all irritation or discomfort just melts if the person smiles and says 'oops, I'm sorry', and backs away.

Your body would automatically relax, and 'ooze' into a bit of that space he offered by virtue of his backing away some.

So that situation illustrates how we can be mentally comfortable as well as physically.

Here's an example of how this might come about in riding. Say you are riding a serpentine or around some brush or cones. When asking for a slight change of direction around the object, think about opening the inside leg instead of just applying pressure with the outside leg.

Picture a pour the batter. The batter flows and fills the mold. If your aids...body, legs, etc...are like a mold, the horse will 'flow' into them. Much better than applying a straight board and pushing!!!

Now, with most horses, they are pretty deadened to what we offer at first. So, what can we do with our bodies to make it more clear to them?

Start with your focus and offering the open leg first.

It kinda goes like this:

  1. Focus...eyes
  2. Energy...belly button
  3. The leg is saying 'would you please go this direction?'
    These first 3 are done simultaneously. If there isn't a response to the first 3...
  4. Support...lightly laying the outside leg on him. Often, I will 'flutter' my leg instead of solid pressure. Its more like a contracting of the calf and thigh muscle and a releasing of them. I don't want it to be a pulsing...that is too much like adding pressure and releasing it which would just confuse them.
  5. Reinforcing...trying something else...a noise, the rein, whatever.
If light use of the leg doesn't work, then don't get firmer with the leg...go to something else. otherwise, it is teaching the horse to WAIT for the greater pressure.

As you progress, start refining by looking at HOW you are using ALL of you in offering those first three. When that gets more effective, you won't need 4 or 5.

Let's look a little deeper into the first 3 steps:

1. Focus...the eyes.

Look OUT...not just up. Really have in your mind somewhere to go...not just to the other side of the arena.

2. Energy...belly button

This is the 'bear down' Mary Wanless speaks of, but with the intent of/the concentration being, the belly button to push whatever direction you are wanting him to go.

TIP: a good way to feel the 'bear down', is to growl (grrrrrrrr) or go pssssssst! Where do you feel it? Hopefully down low in your pelvic region.

***Be very aware of this...The idea is still the bear down to get the pushing out. If a person gets careless and just pushes the stomach out, there will be no energy behind it, thus no results.***

3. The request...leg open.

If he isn't recognizing what you are offering, try fluttering that open leg before you go to the outside leg. The fluttering will draw his attention to that side.

If you need to go to #4 with the outside sure you stop fluttering the inside leg. Check your focus and energy, open the inside leg again and THEN add the outside if you aren't getting a response yet.

If you look out, lead with your belly button, let your body energy set the pace and your feet "step" where you want to go, you virtually don't have to leg your horse, because you have offered the horse a softness to search for. It will take practice, of course!

Might help to read and re-read and re-read this and then practice a lot on the ground. See if you can get someone to get down on all fours and you stand straddling them. See if they can feel which direction you are wanting without using pressure.

Beware of discouragement!! You can be doing all of it just right, but if the person or the horse is tuned out or unaware or EXPECTING something else (like pressure!), it will take them a bit to 'hear' what your body is offering.

One final thought...look at the whole rather than the parts when you are riding. Often at first, the parts must be 'studied' to understand them. but then, we will be more effective if we can feel rather than think.

Lots of little things might affect what we are presenting...are we collapsing somewhere? Maybe one horse will respond to the outside seat bone, another horse will respond to the inside seat bone. The key is to be open to what works for that particular horse...not to get caught up in what a book or person says.

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