Is this really the right question to begin with?
When people ask me this question, I ask them another question instead:
“Do you really know what a soft or a light horse feels like”?
Now this question really gets people thinking!!
You see in order to understand the answer to this important question you must first know, that you know, what a soft, light horse feels like 🙂
Otherwise you will think you have a soft, light horse but the reality may be quite different. To illustrate this point with my students I have them do something on the ground with their horse that they think will feel soft and light i.e. back up, laterally flex etc, and then I give them my horse to do the same exercise with.
The student is genuinely surprised at the difference in the horses. Students describe my horse as ‘light as air, with no weight in the rope’. Often times they go on to add, ” I didn’t know a horse could feel like that!”.
Feeling a soft, light horse is feeling no resistance, it is like feeling the wind blow in your hair.
Your hair simply allows the wind to lift and move your hair effortlessly in the wind direction and with the same amount of energy in which the wind blows. This is the feeling we are aiming for with horses.
So how do we get this happening with horses?
The first thing to accomplish is SOFTNESS with yourself and your horse.
Softness is a physical expression of an internal state – calm, yielding, relaxed, open minded, trusting, balanced, confident, respectful.
Refer to the 5 pillars of Connection blog post for a more detailed understanding of the ‘state of being’ necessary to help you create softness.
When you have developed these mental and emotional attributes in YOU, then and only then will this translate into the right feel you send to your horse that will encourage your horse to mentally and emotionally respond to your feel with softness. (This is a whole in depth subject I love teaching horse riders!)
Lightness is a physical expression of softness. I believe you cannot have one without the other.
A horse cannot be light into your hand or leg, if you and your horse are not soft. Which means that you must embodying all those attributes listed above, firstly in yourself, and then develop them in your horse to successfully achieve lightness.
Unfortunately only one of those attributes has to be a bit off in you for things to fall apart with your horse!
For example: Your horse stiffens slightly to your request, which affects his balance and in turn makes it impossible to move with lightness. After experiencing this, you can then reflect whether you were a bit off somewhere in your mind or body which caused the result, or maybe it was your timing…
So the other VITAL thing that must be incorporated is the TIMING of your request in order to maintain lightness and softness.
Using the previous example: You are asking your horse to transition from walk to trot, your horse stiffens slightly to your request, and moves into the trot on the forehand, leaning on the reins in an unbalanced fashion.
From this response we can understand that our timing and or our feel was incorrect. In order for the transition to have been soft and light, the horse would have required us to feel the right moment to ask for trot, where we were in the right balanced position in the saddle, our body quietly relaxed but controlled, where the horse felt exactly balanced on all 4 feet and mentally and emotionally ready to respond, the transition would have been effortlessly fluid and balanced with just the right amount of energy. This is what I call the sweet spot.
Yes, it is a never ending quest to create that sweet spot, where horse and rider meet as one!
For me, this is where most of the delight and never ending adventure in training a horse comes from…
…The journey to hold the sweet spot of softness and lightness together.