I am part of a closed Facebook group made up of friends and local riders. We use the group as a way to organize day rides, camping trips and to keep each other motivated.
One of our motivational tools is to come up with a weekly challenge. This gives us something to focus on during our sessions with our horses so that we are not just randomly plunking around with no plan and no ideas on how to progress.
Several of us come up with the ideas for the challenges, but I have become the secretary for the group and do the weekly write ups to let people know what each week’s goal is. Five members of the group just audited a Buck Brannaman clinic together so that naturally led to one of our upcoming challenges to be on Soft Feel.
This particular topic really got me thinking about what exactly that means. As I rolled it over in my mind for several days after the clinic, thinking about everything I’d ever learned on the topic and reading a few articles to see if there were any new thoughts I’d previously missed, I ended up writing a somewhat lengthy post which will publish on Sunday morning to introduce the group to our new challenge.
Knowing that I have a few equestrian readers, I decided to share my thoughts here on my blog as well. So here are my thoughts on the topic, copied and unedited from my Facebook riding group:
You know what happens when the group of people deciding what these challenges should be, attend a Buck Brannaman clinic?
You guessed it…a challenge about SOFT FEEL!
I’ll apologize now because this is a topic that I felt the need to muse on for a minute. That’s what you all get for making me secretary 😜
If you are not interested in my (very non expert) thoughts, stop reading now. The challenge is above…go have fun…you won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t read any further.
If you are still reading this…Godspeed.
For me the understanding of soft feel is one of the hardest things to wrap my head around in horsemanship. What the heck is it? It seems so important and yet so elusive all at the same time. How do you know if you have it? What if you are not good at “feeling(s)”? How do you define “soft”? Why do we need it anyway? Can’t we just go trail ride?
Google is really not much help on the matter. I’ve seen soft feel defined in many different ways. Some say it is “just vertical flexion on a light contact.” On the opposite end of the spectrum I’ve seen it said that: “Soft Feel is a wordless, intimate and for some a spiritual communication within the partnership between horse and rider. Soft feel is not only sending messages but having the sensitivity and awareness to feel and receive the message the horse sends back.”
That second definition sounds magical! I’ve ordered a Unicorn.
My personal favorite explanation of soft feel is: when you reach for the horse, the horse reaches back. For some reason that “feels” right to me. But I fear that my chosen definition over simplifies the concept. Sometimes I walk out into the pasture with the intent to catch my horse and before I even get to him, I can feel and see him “reaching” back to me. Is that “soft feel” or are there certain components that are missing?
Mark Russell said that “The timing and use of the Release, Relaxation, Preparation and Execution are the basic fundamentals of Soft Feel.”
That, however, still doesn’t really tell you what it is….just what you have to have to get it. Mark also stressed the importance the roles of lightness (the physical response to pressure), softness (the emotional response to pressure) and impulsion all play in soft feel.
So now here I am faced with a week-long challenge to play with something that I still don’t really understand. And boy if you buy into the Buck’s school of thought, you damn well better not do anything without picking up a soft feel first. /SIGH
The first definition I provided was “vertical flexion on a light contact” and I feel pretty sure that is not ALL that soft fee is, but it is interesting to me that this particular definition seems to be the one that is the most understood/used/practiced in the horse world. Probably because it is the easiest to achieve. Although soft feel may not be just about the head/neck I do wonder if that is a piece of it. I read one time (I’m sorry I cannot credit the author b/c I don’t remember who wrote it) that releasing the TMJ joint in a horse is key to unlocking the rest of the spine. So maybe getting that flexion in the poll is what allows the suppleness to come through the rest of the body and down to the feet.
So as I am faced with the week to come and the challenge that has been presented, I think it would be reasonable to play with: mental connection, responsiveness to pressure (lightness), impulsion, flexion at the pole or any part of the body for that matter, contact acceptance, foot/rein connection, relaxation or any mix of all of these, because they are all components of soft feel and in reality I don’t think soft feel is the end game either…it is merely a component of collection.
Or maybe, I’ll just wait for my Unicorn to arrive.
Well if you made it this far, thanks for reading. I’d love to hear all of your thoughts on this. My disclaimer is that this post should be taken as one students journey and musings on this particular topic and I have no real authority or idea on what the heck I am talking about. If a Mark, Richard or Bekah would like to chime in they can speak from a much more knowledgeable place.