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March Training Tip - Be as soft as possible, but as firm as necessary

horse training tips Mar 12, 2024

Monthly Training Tip - Be as soft as possible, but as firm as necessary.

Any time you are with your horse, whether on the ground or in the saddle, you are responsible for his behavior.  The more you understand how to be your horse’s leader, the more he will trust you under any circumstance.  Leadership for your horse entails being empathetic to his feelings while at the same time addressing behavior that’s unwanted and unsafe for you or him.  That entails being a good horseman or horsewoman.    

Good horsemanship is only possible with good feel and timing.  Good feel and timing comes from knowledge and experience.  So, be patient.  Keep working at it.  If you do, you will begin to unlock the secrets of horsemanship that the greats like Tom and Bill Dorrance, Ray Hunt, and Buck Brannaman had, or have, that make them legends.  

To take a horse that is frightened and reactive, or dull and lazy, and to help him learn to be comfortable with the human and to not do things that would endanger himself or the human, is no small feat.  But, it is possible to understand your horse and to become the leader he needs.  

One concept to help you in your journey of horsemanship is Be As Soft as Possible, But as Firm as Necessary.  What does this mean, really?  It means that when you ask your horse to do something, you should ask softly, or lightly first.  Remember that a horse is so sensitive that he can feel a mosquito land on his butt in the middle of a windstorm.  If your horse doesn’t respond to your soft cue, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel it.  It means it doesn’t mean anything to him.  

For example, if I want my horse to move his hindquarters to the left when I’m in the saddle, what I would call a hindquarter yield to the left, I would move my right leg back to position 3 and press very lightly with my upper calf.  If I get no response, it’s because he doesn’t understand what that means, or he’s ignoring me if he does understand.  That first cue is my light, or soft, cue.  It’s offering him the “good deal”.  

If I don’t get a response, I will add pressure.  How quickly I build my pressure will depend on my horse’s education up to this point, and his temperament.  A very reactive and sensitive horse may need very little extra pressure.  In other words, the “firm as necessary” doesn’t have to be that much.  However, a horse that is very dull and lazy may require much higher pressure to get the job done. I may have to press hard with my boot, bump, kick, or even use another aid such as a spur to position 3, or a dressage whip, my hand, etc. on his right hip to incentivize his feet to move.  

Whatever the pressure necessary to get movement, make sure to release it when you do get movement.  Always start with your soft cue.  Eventually, your horse will understand what that soft cue means, and will move accordingly when you lightly apply it.  He will move off that light cue because it means something to him.  It means that if he doesn’t move, a firmer cue is coming.  More pressure is coming. 

You can apply this concept to everything you ask your horse to do regarding movement.  If you need him to move, whether it’s forwards, backwards, left, or right, begin with your “as soft as possible” and add pressure to “as firm as necessary” to get the job done.  

Want a horse that is super light and responsive to what you ask?  Tired of begging and exhausting yourself when asking him to do something?  Get really good as being as soft as possible, but as firm as necessary, and your horse will miraculously become a responsive, trusting, and willing partner!

Want to see how I help my horses become willing and safe partners on the ground and in the saddle?  Want your horse to be safe and willing with you in all environments?  

Whether you are on the trail, in the arena, in the show ring, moving cattle on a ranch, or anything else you do with your horse, you can have a safe and fun-filled relationship with him!  

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