What does a ‘soft’ horse mean to you?

Dries 421

Dries 421, Grette’s sire (photo courtesy of embriosem.co.za)

Today I continued my work with Grette, a beautiful, curious and friendly two-year-old Friesian (with a very famous sire – Dries 421, pronounced the best Friesian Breeding Stallion in the world! ).

The importance of connection

At The Whole Horse, what we prioritize in our training is mental connection so we will look at that first. To me this is the very first place you should start with any horse – the most vital component and this should be established immediately. Once we have it, the rest follows pretty easily most of the time.

Getting a connection between you and the horse is about first building the relationship and earning the trust and once you’ve done that, get down to perfecting your training and technique. My advice would be not to even bother trying to ever get your horse to do anything physically unless you have her mentally first – that would be putting the cart before the horse or so to speak! 😛

Mental focus is like physical exercise

Building focus mentally is very like building a skill physically – it takes work and practice.

For example: Today I made a simple request of Grette – I asked her to go around me in a circle, the important task being for her to complete the whole circle with her focus on me, and secondly for her not to stop walking until she had completed the circle or when I asked her to. The challenge? All her friends were hanging out in the corner of the arena. Being young and easily distracted, she wanted to look at her friends and would try and stop at times. I gently encouraged her to stick with me (keep her attention and concentration on me and not them) for longer and longer periods and through the ‘challenging friend corner’ which drew her focus.


Grette with her mom, Liza

Practice makes perfect

She’s a quick learner and after a couple of rounds she realized what I wanted and got the hang of it – I trained her ‘mental muscle’ to ‘stick with me’. As long as I don’t break the trust, she will have no reason to not give me that focus and attention. If I’m in keeping her trust, giving her attention to me will be a positive experience.

The ‘soft’ horse

Now that I have her trust and attention, we will build on this exercise with more complex work, always ensuring her focus is there every step of the way.

This is what it means to me to have a ‘soft’ horse, a teachable horse: her mind and her feet are in harmony and working together with me as her trainer. Trust has been established, she will focus when I ask her to and moving on to more complex things will now be easier with this solid foundation established. A ‘soft’ horse mentality is unmistakable, it’s beautiful and it’s what we aspire to in training with every action we ask the horse to perform.


Trafalgar Square Books and Videos

let’s take a look at the physical side softness :

A soft mouth comes from a soft body which comes from a soft mind. Horses are not born with hard mouths, BUT they may have hard, stiff bodies and minds causing it. If your horse is pulling on the reins, it’s a good sign that you don’t have his five body parts (head and neck, poll, shoulders, ribcage and hindquarters) soft and supple. You want to isolate each of these areas and work on getting them all soft and supple independently before getting them to work smoothly together. Once your horse is soft mentally and you can get your horse’s five body parts loosened up and suppled, you’ll find that his mouth will be velvet soft. If you don’t have a good connection and good communication with your horse you will have no TRULY soft body or mind.


Lateral flexion is a great exercise to teach softness and lightness in horses ( this exercise focuses on the head and neck) Watch how Warwick Schiller achieves this  


The video below shows the process of building connection with a horse who has learned to ” tune humans out”. Ross Jacobs has an extensive knowledge of how the the mental side of the horse operates, and how to develop connection and open a conversation with them



Remember: if you want your horse’s mind and body to be soft, your mind and body has to be “soft” too!


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