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The word “softness” in equestrian jargon evokes different ideas for different people. What is it and what does it look like?

Softness creates a feeling of harmony between horse and handler. There seems to be a common goal and an ease about the way in which the partnership interact. Softness seems ethereally invisible, and yet simultaneously completely unmistakable. Likewise, disharmony is abrasive and even offensive to eyes which seek out softness in their daily interactions.

Softness cannot be achieved if the handler or equine are not present in the moment, or if they are experiencing intense conflict. It is important to remember that conflict is a natural occurrence in any relationship. How the conflict is channeled determines the morphology of the relationship. If one thinks of how ions and magnetic charges react to each other, some push, some pull, some charge and some repel explosively. When there is conflict without release, there is friction created, in all sense of the word. Think of a static charge – the longer it is held and the more friction is applied, the bigger the static charge. Once that charge is released, it can cause quite the shock. The same is true for how our inner energy reacts to that of the horse (as well as with other people).

Removing all friction causes no reaction, but it is exactly that – nothing. Softness comes not from the charges and explosions, but rather from finding an ebb and flow of energy and interaction, much like the pull of the moon on the tides, a gentle breeze through glimmering leaves or the flow of life in a quiet brook. The effect is strong enough to cause a reaction, but gentle enough to interact without destroying.

A person who practices softness is quietly confident, aware, empathic and light-hearted. They bring a sense of acceptance and peace to any situation and these are often qualities which horses can gravitate towards. To become genuinely soft is a lifelong journey and it is true that horses who have lost this balance exhibit many of the “problem” behaviours we so often encounter as trainers or horse “listeners”. The key to initiating the journey is to view ourselves and our horses honestly and to step forward boldly into silent contemplation and experiential learning. Who better to guide us than an animal who knows how to live in the present?

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