Using Legs to Soften by Monty Bruce
We all know that a performance horse performs to the best of their talent if they are soft to our hands. Their body softens, they can collect better, feet will move much more freely, stop harder and have a prettier, more balanced look. For years, I have taught (and been taught), “soften the face and the body will soften”…that’s true; but there are always those horses that really do not like to be pulled on. They are very talented but just will not tolerate very much pressure in their mouth.
I have had a few of these. No matter how light you are with them, you can’t take a hold of them enough to direct their feet and get them really broke and trained. We call them “bad minded” and give up on them. Maybe we need to change our approach. On some of these horses I have been experimenting with some amazing results on some of them that I could not previously get.
In doing this, I have made a shift in my training philosophy; “soften the body (rib cage) and the face will soften easily and automatically.”
As humans we tend to do every thing with our hands so we are way to quick to pull on their mouths and generally pull to strongly demanding that they give their face and head, instead of asking for it, causing the horse to get defensive and brace.
I am finding, the more I get to my feet and spur, the softer and less defensive my horses are. I don’t mean kicking them for softening, I mean squeezing. I will lift my rein lightly and squeeze softly with my legs until I feel them soften in the face, then release my legs immediately. I will not pull on the rein. Hold steady with my hands then start squeezing with my legs until I get the slightest “give” of their face and build on that. You really have to concentrate with your legs because timing is the key. Focus on the release of that pressure the instant your horse softens.
The change I have seen in all of my horses has been amazing since I have backed way off of my hands and have been riding with my legs. We still have to get them where we can pull on them and guide them, but my focus is not to soften the face to get their body anymore. It is to soften the body and get the face, using my feet and legs. My horses are all getting quieter, lower headed, and less resistant than they have ever been. I’ve gone back and are “getting” some of the horses that I had given up on before. Which is very exciting! I have said it many times, we have to be a student of the horse. If we listen to them, they can teach us much. This is really changing my program. Thank God for horses, even the tough ones! If we let them, they can help us learn.
Monty Bruce is a multi-time Reined Cow Horse and Reining Futurity and Derby champion. Monty, his assistants, and students have won numerous World and Reserve championships and are continuing to succeed in the show pen.
The Monty Bruce Training Center is a full-service equine facility that specializes in Reined Cow Horse, Reining, and the Performance Horse. The Center strives to provide superior care and training for all equine needs. Visit MontyBruce.com for more info.
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