Updated: Dec 13, 2019
Posted on July 14, 2016 by happyhorsesbitless
This is a word that’s used often in the horse world, soft hands, soft seat, soft horse…. but what is it and how do we get it? To be soft is to not be hard. Soft does not mean wimpy, it means gently and with feeling. When a rider has ‘hard hands’ they are not feeling the horse at all, they yank on the reins suddenly and use large amounts of pressure. When a rider has ‘soft hands’ they are using all the nerve endings in their hands and arms, are in a relaxed and open mind state, begin to apply the aid smoothly and only increase to the point where they feel a response, then back off immediately.
This means a lot to the horse, they start to really listen to the rider because they realise the rider is listening to them. A channel of communication opens up and flows between the two with small messages constantly going backwards and forwards between them. The horse relaxes, knowing their rider won’t do anything sudden and painful and their body begins to unwind, flow and go soft. This is horse riding. This is the difference between riding a horse or a motorbike. If you don’t want two way communication, go for the bike. Horse riding is all about communication between you and your horse in both directions. That is what creates softness.
One of the most crucial components for the rider to attain softness is relaxation. If any part of the body is stiff and holding tension, this will transfer to the way the aids are applied and therefore feel to the horse, and will transfer directly to the horse through the seat. I love just standing with my horse before mounting. In my mind I ask for permission to ride, it is always a blessing when a horse allows us to sit on them and should never be taken for granted. I tune into my breathing while placing a hand on my horses’ forehead and as I do this I breathe with them. This is my little ritual to place me in a relaxed, soft state before mounting.
Once I’m mounted I don’t move for a while, but just sit there and be with the horse. Again this allows for relaxation and softness. If you mount up and move off straight away not only are you encouraging the horse to move while being mounted but you haven’t given your horse or yourself any time to feel each other. You have your own unique energy, and so does your horse. If you sit for a moment and allow your energies to mix then when you ask your horse to move off you may find your horse responding with the smallest of aids, sometimes only a thought or a brief shift in weight.
As you move off allow your seat to flow with the movement of the horses back. This is crucial if your horse is to move forward freely and softly. Nothing makes a horse stiff faster than an immobile seat. Concurrently allow your hands and arms to move with the motion of the horses head. If your horse steps off and your hands remain immobile you’ve immediately put a block on their free movement. The horses head moves in the walk and so too must your hands.
Your job is to relax your entire body and move in synchronicity with the horse. This will relax you and will relax your horse. The horse will then be in a state of mind to listen to any aids you apply, so they can be smaller, and softer, again creating a softer horse, and around the circle it goes. Once you set off on this path it becomes self-feeding and the softness will grow of its own accord.
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
Ph: 0401 249 263
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