What is the difference between lightness and softness?
Lightness can be the feeling of weightlessness, quickness to respond, ability to move in a way that requires minimal pressure from the rider.
Softness can be a feeling of ease, relaxation, and fluidity through a horse’s body. It is a feeling of connection and engagement with the task at hand.
Which is your priority?
Lightness does not require softness, and softness might not feel “light” in the way some people expect- the feeling of zero weight can often mean disconnection, evasion, and worry. Sometimes lightness is achieved through teaching escape, and produces a horse that scoots away from the leg, hides behind the bridle, and folds up tension into corners of their body. I often tell students, if you can’t stop what you’re doing with ease and go on a calm straight line, you are in fact wiggling body parts around.
The pursuit of lightness often creates a disconnect in the horses body- a chin that tucks toward the chest without a back that swings. A body that steps away from a leg while the neck over bends. A horse that over responds without connection, and carries a braced poll.
The pursuit of softness engages a horse in a way that asks them to feel good, nose to tail. It asks them to maintain connection from the hind feet to the reins, not to hide away from the reins, but without bearing down on them either. It asks for nothing at the expense of fluidity and relaxation in movement, and it doesn’t seek to imbalance the horse to get a quick handle- but rather to improve upon their nature and to create a true partnership.
Lightness is often a persons pursuit to create a look, shape and a feeling that satisfies a person.
Softness is an internal desire from a person to connect with a horse in the way that best suits the horse.
Photo by Nicole Churilla