Q: How much feel is OK to use on a horse? Sometimes I think what I’m doing isn’t enough, but I’m afraid of being too forceful.
Bill: I can tell if he’s feeling of me by seeing what he’s presenting me with. If he’s a horse that doesn’t want to stand and needs to go someplace and pushes into me, then he’s not feeling of me and I change the way I’m presenting my feel [Pp. 318-322] to him. I’d firm up on him some, with whatever I needed to be effective to get a change [Pg. 305] to come through. And of course that could take all my strength, or just a tiny amount that I could hardly measure. I can do just a little bit there to meet up with him when he pushes into me. And the timing [Pg. 361] is real important for this. He doesn’t enjoy that firmness [Pg. 322] and this gives him an opportunity to feel of me and make an adjustment [Pg. 297]. He has that choice. And I’d ease right off [Pg. 316] the second when he started to pay attention to my feel again and get with me.
Now, there’s also a spot in there on some horses where your better judgment [Pg. 331] will tell you not to firm up, not by any means, because in some cases you just go with a horse like that. You blend in [Pg. 301] with him until he can pick up your feel and you go together from there. The judgment on that decision takes in quite a lot. I’ve always said that the more firmness you use, the more experience you ought to have so you’d understand what to do when that horse responds to what you did, which could be most anything. It just depends on the horse and the situation.
But let’s say he’s really wanting to move and go someplace and you firm up on him. He doesn’t enjoy going into that firmness. That’s bothering to him. I never want to upset a horse, but sometimes the understanding of how much firmness to present isn’t obvious to me until I see a change. The horse, he’ll sort out and try, and then when there’s a sign that he’s found something better, he’ll see I’m not using any more firmness than I have to. I’m watching close for any change that will tell me, through feel, that he’s beginning to understand. There’s so many little things that you do with feel, and with adjusting your feel to get that horse to learn to stay with your feel.
There’s something I want to repeat now. The appropriate feel can be anything from the whisper of a touch to doubling [Pg. 311] a horse with all the strength you have. It just all depends on the situation. There’s going to be some times when the feel that’s needed might require firmness, but there’s no place for being rough when it comes to handling a horse. None at all.
There was a horse that went to laying down a lot and I know a fella who would pick up his tail and kick him under there, just real hard. Well, that horse, I’d say he got the message straight away. Some fellas do it a little different than I do. Some people can’t seem to help but being rough, or don’t really care to be any different than they are, and maybe this just fits the person because they never thought about being another way. And then there’s other people who want to get that rough part of themselves completely out of the picture. And it’s good that some people do, because when a person is that rough way, it’s difficult for the horse to understand. A horse will try to avoid a person who’s mad or upset, regardless if there’s understanding that goes along with it or not. If you’re getting your feel applied properly, then you don’t have to be rough on the horse. You shouldn’t want to be anyway.
I know of a stallion that had been bred a little bit before he’d been taught manners of any kind. There was no respect [Pp. 348-349] there. He’d rear and paw when you went to lead him out of the corral. You had to be sure you were out of the way or he’d bump right into you. It got so that when a person would ride up to the corral, the horse would make a connection with the person that wasn’t too good. If he could, that horse would bite you hard. This fella had a rope there and used quite a bit of firmness to get the horse to respect him. He’d go in there and work him afoot until the horse respected him, until he could feel of that person indirectly, [Pg. 319] and eventually he led the horse out of the corral with a float [Pg. 423] in the line. This happened because feel was applied in a way that made sense to the horse. That horse was a lot happier after that.
You shouldn’t try to force a change like this because you can’t get the desired results, and still fit [Pp. 322-323] the horse. Force just doesn’t fit a horse. Some people know this. They’d work with a horse like this one until they could understand him inside and out. That’s what this fella did. One day he started pulling that horse’s tail and led him out the gate backwards, just that way. The horse didn’t take off when he got out the gate because that feel was built in there and he was real content just to stay with that man. And he didn’t figure on biting after that. This is an example of how to get feel built in, and it’s the actual facts [Pg. 297] of what took place.
From: "True Horsemanship Through Feel” By Bill Dorrance and Leslie Desmond
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