We are launching a Kickstarter campaign later this week to help us get our book, “The Science of Riding with Feel: Horse Biomechanics and You” published and into your hands. People at our seminars and clinics have asked for a book on horse biomechanics, and Dawn and I have been working hard on one. We have already written more than 60,000 words, but we need YOUR help to complete the project. I will have more information in a few days about how you can support this campaign for as little as $1!
When we think about soft hands, we often think of how our hands influence the horse’s mouth through the reins and bit. Our minds usually go to being soft and not pulling on the reins. But I want you to think about it an additional way.
I want you to check next time you ride and see how your hands feel. Are they gripped around the reins? Are they practically white-knuckled? Are they numb? Are your nails digging into your palms? Are your fingers touching the reins or are they sticking out in mid-air? When you lead your horse, how are your hands then?
A horse feels all of this. If your hands aren’t literally soft, feeling the reins but not gripping them, then your horse will feel the tension. This can result in the horse bracing on the reins. Your horse may even exert counter pressure against the pressure he/she feels from your tight and tense hands.
Whenever you lead a horse or lunge a horse or do in-hand work or ride, remember that you want your hands to be soft. Not limp, mind you. As I often say, you want your hands to be relaxed but strong. Remember that your horse feels everything. If you have tension in your hands, you probably have it elsewhere in your body. You probably also have tension in your mind, your thoughts and your actions. And if you have tension in any of these places, you will have tension in your horse.
With New Years Day having just arrived, many people are making resolutions and plans for 2014. Resolutions and plans such as “I will ride more often this year,” or “ I will be able to do a flying lead change by the end of the year,” abound. Most people are probably experiencing the same emotions they did last year at this time, when they realized that they hadn’t kept their resolutions or reached their goals from the previous year. As we make resolutions and plans anew, we tend to berate ourselves for resolutions we didn’t keep last year, plans unfulfilled. We feel guilt over these situations, but, as we have probably done for more years than we care to remember, we gamely go at it again once January 1 rolls around.
There is another way to look at making resolutions and plans, and it’s something you can use in many facets of your life, including the things you do with horses. It’s what I call “plan lightly.” When we work with our horses, we strive to be as light with them as possible. We have feel of our horse, but we do not yank on the horse or pull or have tight contact. We have just enough feel for communication but not so much that we are tightly grasping our horse in any way.
We may have in our minds that we are going to go and do something specific with our horse today. Perhaps it’s the day we’ve planned that our horse will take that right-lead canter from the walk, with no trot stops in between gaits. If we have been working on that for weeks or months, we may have really built ourselves up to this being the day it happens. But what if it doesn’t? If we build a goal up so that it must happen by or at a certain time, then if it doesn’t, we suffer terribly. We may blame the horse. We may blame ourselves. We may blame both the horse and ourselves. To stop the blame game, which doesn’t help us reach our goal anyway, we need to hold that goal lightly in our minds.
We can hold our resolutions and plans the way we should hold the reins when riding, lightly, with feel. We hold our plan like that, so that we can step towards it but so that we can also move and change as it, or circumstances surrounding it, change. One of the most important things we can keep in mind is that we do not know what the future holds, and while most of us think that whatever we plan is the best possible thing that could happen and in the time frame we want it to, that may not be true. As it is unfolding, you may think that your plan isn’t working, but in the end, the unexpected things that happen may land you at a place even more spectacular than what you had wanted in the first place.
No matter what your plans for 2014 may be – to move, to change careers, to get that flying lead change, to adopt and gentle that wild Mustang you have always dreamed about – hold that plan lightly. If you do so, you will find that when 2015 rolls around, you won’t beat yourself up about not meeting your goal if isn’t exactly how you had planned it. Rather, you will look back and enjoy the time you spent working toward it, perhaps even marveling in how it changed and became more than you could have imagined when you started.