Introducing a Soft Feel Workshop w/Berin MacFarlane 09/11/10
Started the workshop off by saddling up our horses then out to the playground to warm up a bit, move them around a bit, then a few minutes of quiet time practicing having horses stay out behind us, staying put and not creeping up on us while Berin covered the concepts of the workshop with us. Then Berin asked us to observe a moment of silence for the victims of 9/11.
Berin had us play a bit more online, then had us mount up and FTR (in both directions) at a walk until our horses were relaxed and acting like partners, maintaining gait and direction on a loose rein. Once that was going well, we moved into trotting FTR until horses were following the pattern. Once FTR at trot was going smoothly and horses could maintain gait, direction, and impulsion Berin had us begin introducing a “soft feel” on the reins.
To introduce the soft feel we had to move our arms in an exaggerated way, like when swimming: arm up and over at the shoulder then down in an overhand motion to the reins close to the mane then combing the reins in an upward motion with a bit of “drag” on the reins. We repeated this pattern, alternating arms/hands until we felt our horses give a little bit. Once our horse gave a bit, then we were to let loose of them (stop combing the reins) and just follow the rail for a while – give them a release!! The longer it took for them to give…the longer the release, then start again. If your horse wants to come off the rail, make sure you’re not causing it (sitting crookedly, putting more drag on one rein than the other, etc.). If you need to put them back on the rail, just increase the drag on that rein for a bit…do it sooner rather than later…when you first feel them start to drift off the rail!!
Berin said quality was not important right now, that all we were looking for was the slightest try. He said some horses might go behind the vertical and others might root their noses out a bit but that was o.k. for now as long as we were getting a bit of a downward give. He also said we might feel our horses raise their back a little as they stretch down and into the bit and that’s what we want…it’s a GOOD thing!! The other thing Berin said was o.k. is if we felt our horse pull on the reins a bit, not a jerk the reins out of our hands pull, but a pull as in them taking up contact with the bit, it will be more gentle…NOT a jerk!!
When you start combing, make it fluid and alternate arms in one continuous fluid movement. When you are almost done combing with one arm/hand, make sure you are ready with your other arm/hand to take up the combing so it’s continuous and not jerky or so that you are not giving a release with each change of hands. Make sure you put enough “drag” on the reins when combing, especially in the beginning until the horse gets the idea. We are exaggerating to teach at this point, refining it comes later.
Berin recommended doing this exercise in the confidence snaffle. He said it’s possible to teach it in the cradle but it makes it more difficult and takes longer, the snaffle is easier and they get the idea quicker. He also said this exercise is better done at the trot…your horse must have good impulsion before beginning to teach this, if not, they will keep stopping with the pressure. Also…the trot is good for us because we have time to think about what we are doing and we should all be pretty good at FTR at trot by now!!
Terri added.... I remember.....More drag when the horse is having difficulty and less or very light drag when he is getting the idea but you just want them to maintain it a little longer.
Also we have to sightly lift out of the saddle and round our backs and shoulders the way we want them to stretch as we are combing the reins in the freestyle swim motion. Soreness might set in the next day for both us and the horse as we are all learning to use our bodies differently.