Friday, November 28, 2008

Horse Handling and Riding Through Feel

Horse Handling and Riding Through Feel

This is the first of fourteen articles by Leslie Desmond for EQUESTMAGAZINE.

We admire the horse for his power and grace, for his beauty, strength and mystical qualities. It seems that nearly all who are involved with the horse are drawn in by these noble and magnificent attributes. Through the ages, people have wanted to merge with the horse and merge with the horse they have . . . in work and war, in literature, in sport and in art.

During the evolution of post –war “modern horsemanship” people developed an impressive range of seemingly opposite notions about the term “horsemanship” and the best use of horses for entertainment, sport and recreation. Confusion between the human and equine species nowadays is well established and, when one considers the diverse range of expectations that horses have about their handlers, owners and trainers because of the inconsistent things they all do to him and with him, it is little wonder that people look for help in all directions. For a couple of decades I did, too.

Because the hope for a quick fix leads to the search for one, this quickly spreading phenomenon often leads to a new equipment choice which, in some cases, actually works. Rarely, however, does the new bit, draw rein, martingale, whip, noseband or headstall configuration produce a lasting solution to the problems that new horse owners encounter. In this business everyone should expect to negotiate with the road as its bumps and turns are revealed .

To preserve the spirit and the grace of his natural movement when you get around the horse, or touch him, you must first learn to feel of the horse. If we are good students, then the horse is apt to help us develop better feel when we ride him by responding to our slightest effort to “read” him correctly, and to “feel” or sense his responses accurately.

For this reason, I have two goals for myself when schooling young horses.

1.) Establish a relationship with the horse’s mind.

2.) Gain control over the root of the neck, both laterally (left and right) and longitudinally (up and down).

This is my second main goal because it directly affects the maneuverability of the poll, neck, withers and shoulders, ribs and hips. Control over the root or base of the neck has an immediate, decisive effect on the flexation / relaxation of the jaws. In turn, this determines the capacity of the diaphragm to expand and contract. This important because access to the jaw and diaphragm affects the oxygen content in the horse’s blood and brain; and, it also influences the horse’s ability to use the hindquarters and it components -- the lumbar, sacrum and hip regions -- efficiently.

Taken together, these pieces are essential to build into a foundation if the handler-rider wants to experience control of the whole horse without a struggle. An observant handler or trainer working through feel will, ultimately, eliminate the need for force, fear and coercion to achieve compliance with his/her requests. A person can quickly learn to appreciate and emulate the way horses use feel among themselves. A particularly observant person may infuse the time they spend around horses with a new meaning learned from hours spent watching them interact. Some people become exceptionally good at this.

Why is this so important? Because, if the bottom half of you is going to set atop the upper half of the horse, it better be all right with that horse. A horse can put most riders on the ground in the blink of an eye if he wants you there.

After a few years working alongside Bill Dorrance during the creation of our book, True Horsemanship Through Feel, I was at last able to take a small portion of knowledge about “feel” on board in my horse training career. To my surprise, I discovered that this fantastic way to relate to horses added an entirely new meaning and depth to many of my connections with people. As a result, I now enjoy an even greater interest in the journey.

In the December issue I will expand on this month’s training tip about the importance of establishing freedom in the neck and shoulders of the horse. Whether you keep a horse for a pet and trail rides, or train and compete professionally, a free head, neck, withers and shoulders are essential parts of a safe, comfortable ride that feels natural!

6 Easy Steps to Freeing the Shoulders on Your Saddle Horse
By Leslie Desmond

Training Tip 1 of 14 for November 2008


1. Getting control of the neck, withers and shoulders.

In the attempt to control the position of the head, remember that the head is connected to the neck and shoulders! Practice lowering the base of the neck for bridling, grooming, leading and backing.

2. Free up the Poll, Right and Left

After the neck can be raised and lowered with the offer of a slack line toward the horse’s head, take the poll left and right toward each shoulder -- just as if he were going to nip at a fly in the cinch / girth area. I stand with my hip at the cinch area, just behind the elbow.

3. Observe and reward all tries with space and release.

I like to see a horse without concerns or confusion. I prefer that he wait patiently for me, so I move slowly and plan things out before I act. When he moves about and nudges me out of the way, he is not ready for new information. I avoid the mouth and nose, and pass his head in a way that doesn’t disturb him.

4. Take up all the feet, one at a time.

The shoulders and hips should not weigh anything, but swing freely when the hoof is offered. Patient and clear presentations leads to patient and clear horses.

5. BACKING Straight:

Lift up the horse’s neck from the halter knot or a spot directly under the bottom jaw behind the lower lip and chin. This frees up (elevates) the withers and shoulders before he steps back. Follow the feet back as they lift off the ground in diagonal pairs -- do not keep them stuck down by pushing him back.

6. BACKING in an Arc:

When you have a straight, slow and accurate backup, begin to arc. Step the forehand away from you, as the reaching foreleg comes off the ground. A few steps in each direction will do it at the beginning.

In the December online issue if EquestMagazine, this process will be explained more fully.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Action of the Curb Bit

There are many bits for horses; this video will show, in general, the action of the curb bit. No animals were hurt during the filming of this video, neither was the sofa cushion, the book, nor the vacuum hoses.

And, hey, I could be wrong! :-)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Two Socks, Mustang

An article about Laurie and Two Socks is here:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Haflingers as Therapy Horses

Haflinger Horses being used as therapy horses at Pretty Pony Pastures.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Craig Johnson Bridleless Riding

The horse can be stopped without pulling on his mouth.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Parelli Patterns 2

Here's a couple of good videos where you are able to follow the progress of horse and owner in the Parelli Patterns exercise, Figure 8.

Parelli Patterns

The new Parelli Patterns material is now available.

Pat Parelli's Blueprint for Developing Horses Naturally. The Parelli Patterns cover Four Levels of learning in the Parelli "Four Savvys" of natural horsemanship: Playing on the ground "On Line" and at "Liberty"; as well as riding "Freestyle" (without contact) and with "Finesse" (contact and precision). Learn more at

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bridleless Horse Riding France

Intense concentration by a horse, ridden bridleless.