Softness is on my mind a lot recently. I question if I could write a few sentences or a few books and sufficiently describe what I am talking about in a way that someone else would get it through the words, versus if we were in the same room or the same barn and we could play around with it. I acknowledge Kathleen Lindley's influence via her book, In the Company of Horses: A Year on the Road with Horseman Mark Rashid,
But a few words I'll try anyway, and maybe it will encourage others to think about this important topic.
First of all, I need to be the one OFFERING softness before I even think about looking for it, asking for it, recognizing it! in the horse. That means I'm on constant self monitoring to be the most soft I can be right now, and then again right now, and then again, right now. On into infinity.
Secondly -- and this is not a sequential 'secondly' though it could be -- I consider softness a thing of the mind. Yes, we look to FEEL softness through our senses, but it starts long before our bodies do anything.
Sometimes it's easiest for me to think of softness as the quality of responsiveness between me and another being. So if I'm intent on discerning if my horse is soft right now, I would be attending to his response to my request. When my request is met by his response (not his reaction), we are soft together. It's not really experienced as me and him, it's experienced as us with perhaps me the leader (like a dance partner is a leader, NOT like a dictator is a leader or a boss is a leader). Softness is a readiness to be together with oneself and with another at the same time. A readiness AND the being together, either one and both aspects.
The concept of 'picking up a soft feel' in my mind is a way to invite a horse to be thinking about being soft with us. That might be the preparation for softness between us. But when the softness is present, there is no need to pick up a soft feel, because the softness is there when I use my mind and/or my body to convey a request to my attentive and responsive horse.
I am trying out these words today. I recently spent a weekend with two of my horses under the tutelage of Joe Wolter. Softness -- although he doesn't use that term regularly -- was exactly what we were wanting -- or having -- depending on any horse and rider combo.