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Old 03-27-2013, 07:45 AM   #1
rocinante
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Default Softness in the Feet, Softness in the Bridle

I know that an entire conversation could be devoted to whether softness starts in the bridle or the feet, but that's not that quite what I'm thinking about today. I'm thinking more specifically about what to do when a horse seems "stuck" in the bridle, especially during lateral flexion at the halt and moving the hips over. And by stuck, I mean when the horse seems to be resisting your request for a soft feel.

I dinked around with the following ideas last night on my ride and got some pretty neat results. I have been dealing with this problem for a little while. Here are my thoughts (abridged) from my journal:

"I want to get her softer. She is soft, but my challenge is that too often I go too quickly to the rein to back up my request, and I can’t do that. I’m not communicating with the mouth - I’m communicating to the feet. Pulling a rein is not going to help unstick the feet; pulling on the mouth breeds resistance.

Today I want to focus on just three very basic exercises to work on this concept. To get a softer response, you need to release for the thought ALWAYS after you’ve asked with as little pressure as necessary FIRST. You can ALWAYS release earlier. You can ALWAYS ask with less. But if you don’t get a response within a reasonable amount of time, you must bring up the energy, and this is where I get unsure. Pulling, popping, or jerking the rein does NOT work. So, where does that extra energy have to come from and how do you create it where the reins are concerned/ What piece am I missing? At what point do you bring up the energy enough to get a response, and then release?"


So I started thinking about this more, and here are my conclusions. I'd really love to see the opinions of others on this subject.

"It seems to me that softness when connecting the rein to the hind feet to move the hind quarters over or to ask for lateral flexion at a halt must be increased not by a firmer aid with the rein (such as popping the rein to get the horse’s attention) but by creating greater energy within the rider’s body, from the body’s core, to influence the horse. Achieving a response is getting the horse to sync to your rhythm and energy, whether you’re asking for a bigger walk or a soft feel. It’s not in the reins. So, let’s take a basic exercise: getting the hind end to step under the body (I hate calling it “disengaging the hindquarters”). As you feel for the inside hind begin to reach forward, your seat inside seat bone, inside leg, and inside rein together influences the horse - not one at time, or in "parts." Your seat and leg signal first, the rein still with slack, remaining as support, or a back up. If he starts to brace on your hand, take a little more slack out while “fluffing” the rein (putting life in it without bumping the mouth) and then using more seat and leg. This makes it difficult for the horse to not be soft and move the hind leg WITHOUT pulling on him.

Releasing as soon as you feel that leg about to move over while the horse is not resisting your hand.

Same thing with lateral flexion at a halt. You are at a halt, but you are still connecting the mind, jaw, and poll to the feet. So, again, pulling or increasing the rein pressure is not the answer. this builds resistance. Even if your horse KNOWS how to do this, it’s good to break this down slowly (as with other exercises) and go back to rewarding the slightest try. Then build or rebuild on this. If the horse does not respond and understands the exercise, experiment with your own intent and focus - wiggle your big toe, move your foot, with the slack out move your rein up and down. But don’t pull, don’t tug. Release when an ear flicks if that is what’s needed to build or refine softness. Go back to expecting more later, but this foundation is so important. Tugging would cause the horse to distrust the bit, which we just don’t want. This all starts in our bodies and goes down to their feet, because we are really riding their feet, and not their heads."


Sorry for the book! I know most of you know everything (and much more than I do!) about what I just wrote, but this is the way I can kind of work stuff out in my own head. Hopefully this topic provokes some good discussion.

Last edited by rocinante; 03-27-2013 at 07:58 AM.
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Old 03-27-2013, 08:02 AM   #2
DocsMinnieElixer
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Thank you for sharing. I have been struggling with a mare that seems to lack energy and drive, and especially in the back up and spin I have a hard time getting enough energy out of her to have good cadence and momentum without her falling flat or having to use more leg (which doesn't seem to help much anyway). She will do all the maneuves I ask her, but she wants to do everything at a snails pace so getting energy out of her is a challenge. I need to remind myself to reward more and resort to leg or rein less.
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Old 03-27-2013, 07:30 PM   #3
Jimmy
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The terms softness, and riding the feet, among other things, can be miss-leading. I would take the concept of the feet one step further. You don't really control the feet, the horse controls his own feet. Too much emphasis on controlling each individual foot placement can bog a horse down. When they are shut down, you need to go somewhere, anywhere. Starting out focusing on controlling the feet too much on a young horse is what may have taken the forward out of them in the first place. Second problem is that the horse may see no reason or purpose to it anyway. Also, to Rocinante, you may not be needing to move the hindquarters at all. Get your horse IN GEAR, not out of it.
The other misnomer is the soft feel. If you are trying to work from signals, the action of the bit should activate the horse. We don't really feel their feet in the mouth in this way. We activate the reins and feel action. Through repetition,(but not too much repetition), we direct where and how the action goes, and maybe you are keeping track of where he is putting his feet. But you need action first. So the feel is not really soft, it is ALIVE. You have to move with it, and not try to get so precise at first.
That being said, as far as what you are dealing with, sometimes(sometimes) a dressage type whipin your hands can liven things up. Your horse is used to being dead to your legs spurs, or your reins, but the whip may be new, and enable you to start with something new. Just an idea to try for getting the life up. But get it up, and go somewhere with it!
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Old 03-27-2013, 09:22 PM   #4
Quirky
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Default Softness in the feet, softness in the bridle

Hi, I agree with the last post. It's really difficult to get a soft feel and an 'alive' response when introducing the concept particularly when the horse is not a 'forward' moving horse. I've been struggling with this also and so I thought about the ground work that we begin with and the comments: ask him with a gentle feel, offer him the good deal and if nothing happens then follow through.

Essentially give them the choice/chance/opportunity/aid to flow through softly and be prepared to back it up when they dont respond/dont choose/do nothing/ignore you etc (all actions of a horse that is not 'with you', they haven't 'reached for you', they are not 'between your legs or hands')

So I'm thinking it has to be the same under the saddle - they still need to be listening to you, and 'working with you' to explore what the options? are that you are presenting them with. A try/a reaction or even an over-reaction is a response, you can build on that! You can't build on it when their feet/mind are stuck....
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Old 03-27-2013, 10:30 PM   #5
rocinante
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I understand what Jimmy and Quirky are saying. But I also think I wasn't describing what I thought I was describing. LOL

My horse isn't sluggish or behind the leg. Quite the opposite. She's actually really sensitive to the leg. We have lots of forward energy and I don't spend much time moving her hips over. If anything, I just sort of "drift" them when she gets too excited. With a young horse, I definitely do focus on FORWARD. I know that without forward, you have nothing.

I was focusing on the exercises as "studies" in how to perfect feel and the timing of the release.

She's also quite soft and I don't pull, although sometimes if she does get a little stuck with the rein, that's where I sometimes am not sure what to do. In the past I have resorted to using more rein, pulling the slack out, etc., but I try really hard to always just have my hands support my legs, and only use more rein if necessary. I am just brainstorming ideas to get her more soft.

I hope I better clarified what I meant. I work this stuff out in my head through writing so I certainly am not always precise, and usually don't know what the heck I'm talking about.

I guess what I am getting at is, what does that "follow through" look like, if, for example, you are asking for lateral flexion at a halt? I have been taught in the past to set it up like you say, asking, giving them a chance, and then following through, by "popping" the rein, or tugging, but this seems to create dullness where it maybe wasn't before. I hope I am making sense.

Last edited by rocinante; 03-27-2013 at 10:33 PM.
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Old 03-27-2013, 11:06 PM   #6
Jimmy
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Could you describe what you mean by lateral flexion at a halt? I can't picture what you are asking your horse to do.
To me, the easiest and most natural rein affect there is, is for the horse to move his body to the left, for instance, when you activate the right rein, or tip his nose right. If you consistently combine this with dropping your leg back, you can begin to get a turn on the forehand. You don't really even have to push your heel or calf into him, you just bend your knee and move your entire leg back. I get this working for me on both sides, until I can more or less change directions by swinging the body over. Right rein will move hip left, and so on. He will step up under himself as he does this, with an inside hind leg, in front and across the outside hind. You are sort of swinging him left, to turn right. A young horse can understand this pretty quickly. It is similar to changing sides on the ground, or changing eyes.
But I don't know what lateral flexion you are trying to get from a halt. So I don't know if this helps, or even makes sense to you. But this is how I begin. I keep my hands centered, as much as I can, and I don't plow rein.
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Old 03-27-2013, 11:19 PM   #7
rocinante
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I do that with her to, like a turn on the forehand. I know what you're saying. Most of the time I try to just my seat bone and correspond it to the hand. I try to parallel the use of my hand with my leg, or seat bone. If she leans on the rein, which she has done before, I just use more leg.

When I say lateral flexion, I mean you are sitting on your horse and the horse is standing still. You pick up one rein, while keeping the slack in it, and take your hand slightly to the side. The horse follows the feel of your rein, and tips his nose in that direction.
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Old 03-28-2013, 08:21 AM   #8
Jan
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If you want her to nose/head to the left, wiggle your left foot or slightly tighten your left calf to bring her attention to the left. Also, if you want her tipped to the left, have you arranged your body (slightly weight your right seatbone etc) so you are looking and slightly "arced" in the same direction? Use more body and less rein.
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Old 03-28-2013, 02:35 PM   #9
DocsMinnieElixer
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I have found that when doing lateral flexion a pull in the instance my horse doesn't follow my signla, doesn't make much headway and they seem to just brace against it or you feel a lot of resistance. I find if I just keep that rein vibrating are wiggling up and down in my hand they want to try a little harder to get away from that annoying sensation. They seem to think it through a little better, and then while I ride and can just pick up little slack or get a little movement in my rein and they know a change or request of some sort is coming. The lazier mare of the two will only give so much off my leg before she gets dull. If I start using too much leg she will ignore it. I have found that I need to give her a lot more time to think things through before she decides it's her idea to oblige my request, whereas my other mare is very light off of my seat and leg and I have to be really careful as to pay attention to what my legs are doing at all times or she might jump right out from under me. She's got a bit more try in her and I don't find myself having to convince her as much that what I'm asking her is in her best interest. I am finding though that riding one is helping me sort through issues with the other. i have one that is a bit dull, bossy, and lazy, and the ultra-sensitive slightly more insecure. I am finding either way I need to be patient and more clear in my request, and let the horse do more thinking than I am.
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Old 10-20-2013, 08:35 PM   #10
Mares Tales
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Hi, I hope I am not being rude for just jumping in. I am the new kid here.

By the time you have to think about what foot is about to move and if the horse is responding, it is too late. I have spoken to a very well respected horseperson that worked with Tom Dorrance and they explained it like this:

People who have lost a limb still feel the signal and need to operate that limb, it is now called a "phantom limb". When Ray said "My horse`s feet are my feet" he meant that he could feel the horses limbs just like a person could feel their own limbs but now there were four underneath him instead of two, just as if they were phantom limbs.

I used to get stuck on what foot was where (and I think that a person needs to do this to get a minds eye picture and feeling for those four limbs that are now yours to operate) but, a person needs to start feeling the "whole" horse to really understand that those four feet are now theirs. If you think about it this way, you get a better feeling for how the balance shifts according to what feet are coming off the ground. To start with, unless the horse is turning in the middle, there is always a pivot end. FEEL for that pivot end and go from there. You will feel the horse rock back or forward in anticipation of moving. Remember Ray`s and Tom`s words of "riding the whole horse" and "feeling for the horse so the horse could feel back to you". Knowing this feeling for balance and the phantom limb idea will also help you understand "the life in the body" and how to inspire the horse by using your life energy, they are all the same thing.

I have found that when I can get with my horse, the horses really do want to get with me and follow my energy; you become a helpmate instead of a hindrance and the horses really like that and start following your feel. I think this one talent is the basic of great horsemen.

I watched Joe Wolter ride many horses over two days not too long ago and he certainly has this ability. Wow, it was the closest to what I imagined how Tom rode. (And I have seen most of them ride that worked with Tom, Bill and Ray, including Ray) He was so quiet and so in balance with the horses movement......you just didn`t see anything; the mark of a good horseman.
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