I love spending time at Red Moon Ranch. The horses, the wind in the trees, the peaceful stillness of the pond, the sweet greetings from the goats… it’s really such a beautiful sanctuary. What makes it an even more special experience is getting to share time with Skip and listen to him share his wisdom.
Skip on Softness
During a recent visit Skip shared with me that he’s been working with many of his clients on the concept of softness.
Here’s what he had to share with me about this work…
“For people to learn to dance with that horse they have to have found that sensitivity inside and become very supple so that they can move with that horse. Then what occurs is that they stay out of that horse’s way to be athletic. When they learn to release from their chest down what happens is like a salsa dance- this part moves a lot [from the hips down] and their shoulders stay still so now they have quiet hands in communicating to the horse.
“There are no immediate pulls or bracing on the horse’s face because they’re out of balance and they’re using the horse’s mouth for balance. Instead, in teaching them to ride in their center their balance point is important. That’s why I start them out riding bareback with their eyes closed so they learn that spot inside that’s where their balance is.
“Some people have developed these habits of always keeping the horse in control, and that means more pressure on the horse’s face and mouth, and the horse will then resent that.
“When a person rides a horse that is not in balance and has rough hands then the horse has a stiff neck and he’s bracing for that pull or bracing for that command. It doesn’t take a horse very long to figure out ‘this is the type of rider I have to deal with.’
“So then you’ll hear people that go ‘this horse doesn’t stop for me this horse doesn’t turn for me.’ In this last exercise what I was showing the client was ‘look I’m not even pulling on the horse’s head I’m just moving my hands in this direction and this horse is reading my body language and moving because he’s free to.’ He’s not bracing against my asking because my asking is very soft.
“If safety is a very important thing for horses then trust is too. They’ve got to trust that you’re going to be soft and sensitive with them and the more that we become soft and sensitive, the more that horse will acquiesce and the more trusting he’s going to become.”
In listening to Skip I reflected that it was interesting that our human nature, whether with horses or in other life circumstances, is to naturally gravitate to that place of hardness.
“Exactly, so let’s say there’s a couple and they’re not getting along. One is going to be braced for that other partner to come home and have a conversation. Then that just comes in to a much more difficult communication because they’re both bracing with their language and protecting.
“There’s no difference, all of these things run together. If I came home to my partner and was very loving and sensitive and they can trust that in me- I don’t care what you’ve been through, I’m going to be here because I love you, I’m going to be here soft and sensitive and ready to work on whatever comes up– then that partner has a greater ability to trust me, that they can say anything or share what’s deep in their heart because they know I’m going to be gentle with them.
“So in teaching a person to ride like this we’re not only teaching them to ride the horse this way we’re teaching them to live life this way.
“If a horse doesn’t listen then we have the ability to up the pressure. If I’m going to jerk this horse or I’m going to command this horse ‘do this’ then what will happen is that horse will always brace himself for that command. If we start at soft and supple, we start at a 1 or a 2, and that horse doesn’t listen then we have to go to a 3 or 4. At some place that horse is going to go ‘okay I don’t like this so I’m going to listen’ and what happens is that if you stay persistent with that line of training that horse will always go softer.
“Let’s say I have a rider that’s not comfortable in their seat, in other words they haven’t developed the ability to move with the horse yet. So right now the horse needs them to shift to the left, to the right, to stay in balance as that horse is becoming athletic and the person’s off balance. The horse can feel that person being off balance and so we really want to slow the horse down till that person can find it and then stay at that pace until they develop their center.
“What I find is I’ll have a person that’s stiff and they’re butting heads with the horse. The horse is saying ‘be softer with me, be gentle with me’ and the person’s just continuing to be stiff. You’ll see that horse’s head rise and rise and rise as it gets more and more frustrated. So if I just have that person take a break and say ‘hey rub that horse’s neck’, that horse puts his head down and it’s like ‘okay, I thought you were really mad at me.’ That horse just goes right to this softness where they can start again, so even if they’re riding off balance and I have them reach out and rub that horse’s neck that horse tries deeper to be less combative.
“It’s just a connection. We only have pressure on and pressure off to talk to that horse so the second that that horse makes a good decision, if we release with our hands if only for that moment, then that horse will become softer. It’s a thank you. It’s a way of giving back and it becomes a much more progressive relationship.”
Living from a place of softness
It’s amazing what can be imparted in a simple chat between friends.
Are there places in your life where you’ve slipped in to a place of hardness and imbalance without realizing it? It happens to all of us.
Horses are the most honest, forgiving and wise guides for touching in to and moving through these imbalances. And, as it turns out, they will reward our ability to become soft with the gift of their own softness in return.
I encourage you to make some time for yourself to come out to the ranch and experience this for yourself. One hundred percent of what we learn during time spent with horses translates to the “real world”. The experience holds meaning for us on so many levels.
Here’s to living from a place of softness and finding balance. We’ll see you at the ranch!