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What developing Feel and Release has done for us

[RIP Tycoon. Sadly this amazing little yet Big brown horse passed unexpectedly in February 2016. Tycoon remains in the hearts of many a stellar example of what can be, even when the going gets rough - Karen]

The Little Big Brown Horse and The Golden King

By Kate Sandel

Photos courtesy of Kate Sandel

I came across some videos of Karen and Leslie Desmond at a point in my horsemanship where I had reached a dead end. I had my dream horse, a  4 year old, just backed PRE (Spanish) stallion.  But I couldn’t ride him. Or lead him. Or lunge him. And I was teaching other people horsemanship and  about training horses in-hand and under saddle, so it wasn’t good on many fronts.

Today that horse, Tycoon, and I went out in the Devon drizzle  wandering around the lanes, relaxed, content and un-afraid and that is more than I ever thought was going to be possible. I am hugely grateful, and  I know the thanks have to go to Karen; and she’s never even met us in person! tycoonridden

On the day Tycoon arrived with me he panicked about something when being led in, hit the end of the lead rope and took off.  He is a very powerful horse and I didn’t have a hope in hell of stopping him. He did that on and off most days for about 6 months. I spent many an evening trudging around darkened fields while he tore about with a lead rope trailing behind him. On the lunge if he got scared he ran off dragging me with him, and under saddle more of the same.  In the end, two years into our time together, despite huge amounts of progress on the ‘training ‘ front (we could now do all lateral work in walk and trot, walk to canter transitions, jump etc.) I decided to stop riding him as he was too dangerous. He was fine when he was fine, but when something worried him he was out of there at high speed. No amount of pressure could hold him. No amount of ‘familiarisation’ exercises really got to the heart of it. I couldn’t keep him on the aids when he was really worried, which made me realise my aids were meaningless really. They just lay on the surface of this horse, but when he wanted to leave that was it...

I turned him away and got on with my other horses,  knowing I was missing something important. Then one wet day I sat and watched all of Karen’s videos, and watched them again and again.  And I went  out,  put a  halter on Tycoon and in a very rudimentary fashion had a go at offering a release when he went to panic about something (pretty much most man-made objects in unfamiliar places/funny noises/traffic/rocks etc.) . And something significant happened in that he stopped trying to run. He was still worried, but something about the feeling of release enabled him to stay.  I was surprised to say the least...

Ever since then I have been having virtual lessons with Karen and the changes in that particular horse, and my horsemanship, have been immense. If I was rich enough I would fly to the states once a month to hassle her for more of this stuff!


desriddenSince then, my other horse and I have been accepted on the instructor programme with French Classical Master Philippe Karl.  I am certain that some of the reason we were chosen was because of the work I have done with Karen. He is a great horse, but inclined to be very sharp and somewhat tense – he can be obedient, but not soft.

Some of the ‘small things’ that Karen has had me explore with him have started to trickle their way into his way of being and have significantly changed how he feels about humans.  

It is an ongoing job and in some ways trickier than Tycoon (who was so desperate for something different he just jumped in with all four hooves!) but I am confident that with Karen’s virtual help we will chip our way back to the inside of this glorious horse.

When Philippe said about our ridden work,  ‘If your horse trusts your hands as much as this you can do anything’, I was pretty sure that I needed to send my thanks again to my mentor in the states – this feeling of release has helped us under saddle as much as on the ground.  

My only task now is to get her over to the UK! 



[ update -- heading to North Bovey in Devon! -- Karen]


Clinic Report -- Minnesota

The Truth in a Horse:
True Horsemanship Through Feel

by Hannah Rivard
June 2010

It is not often that you come across a type of horsemanship that changes everything. A horsemanship that alters not only the techniques you use and the intent you have, but transforms your entire philosophy of training and utterly redefines your relationship with your horse. However, I have been blessed to have come across that horsemanship. It is called True Horsemanship Through Feel (THTF).


General Feedback from Students

[Posted with kind permission of authors]

Hi Karen,

We had a quiet, uneventful trip home, which is always good.

I can't begin to tell you how much we enjoyed the clinic. And I say "we" because I know Cisco did too. Your calm and thoughtful manner was very conducive to learning and the whole atmosphere was relaxing and comfortable and allowed me (and Cisco) to be completely at ease. I am really pleased with Cisco's responses this weekend and I think we are on a good path. Yesterday, he moved off on my first attempt to release his shoulder! I could hardly believe it. I'm looking forward to playing with feel and release with my other horses too. And I'm anxious to re-read True Horsemanship Through Feel; I'm sure I will have a better understanding of it now.

I will certainly keep in touch and hope that this weekend was just the beginning...

Thank you so much for a wonderful clinic.

Ellen Butler and Cisco


Apprentice Experience with Karen

  By Kristen Hassen-Auerbach
(posted with kind permission of author)

I met Karen a year ago when I had the opportunity to see her work with a horse that I knew very well. The horse, normally anxiety-ridden, tense, and ill-mannered, was, when handled by Karen, engaged, quiet, and confident. As I watched her work with him, I was completely confounded I had no idea how she achieved these results with this particular horse. She was not using any pressure, wasn¹t driving him, backing him, or using any methods to train him that I was familiar with. I knew then that I needed to learn more.


Mark Rashid


"I see an 'opening' as anything that allows us to help guide, however briefly, an individual in the direction we ultimately would like to go. An 'opening' can be, and often is, a very subtle form of communication between horse and rider that can easily slip past us if we're not paying attention. 'Openings' can and do work both ways. [...] It amazes me just how small an 'opening' can actually be, whether working with horses or with people, and how easy it can be to create an 'opening' when one is needed."

Mark Rashid

"I truly believe developing the ability to see and use 'openings' effectively is only one piece of what one might refer to as the 'harmony in horsemanship' puzzle. When this idea of understanding 'openings' is brought together with the understanding of two other simlar ideas - making a connection with another indvidual, and the role distance plays in overall communication - I believe it is then that harmony in horsemanship becomes a much less daunting concept for us."

Mark Rashid

Leslie Desmond


"Bill knew about a place I did not know existed, or could exist, between a horse and a human being [...] Bill included each one of my horses in that information exchange. Over the course of many months,... he took each one by its lead rope and, later, by the bridle reins. Using what he called his 'better feel', Bill showed me and each of them exactly what he meant by what he did [...] It was not long after I made the switch from force when needed (often) to always customizing the feel I offered to a horse, that two tough horses I had misunderstood for years developed into my most reliable mounts."

Leslie Desmond

The lightest hands carry intent that is recognized instantly by the horse, as seen in the maneuvers he chooses to make with his feet. Whether that horse is ridden or handled, the lightest hands can purposefully influence the speed, direction and sequence of each foot with accuracy, in a manner that is reflected in the horse's body and on his face.

Leslie Desmond

Bill Dorrance


"The Real Masters Understood Feel [...] For example, De Kerbrech, (French officer in the cavalry of Napoleon III) really understood horses. He had it fixed up so the horse could succeed. [...] The first time I read Beudant's book was in the 1950s. The way he explained things, there was no doubt in my mind about what a person needed to do to get these little things working for them and their horse."

Bill Dorrance

“Feel, timing and balance: sometimes it’s best to talk about feel, timing and balance separately, and to learn how to apply each thing separately on the start. But when you apply these three things a little later in your training, then you see that each one of these things supports the other. They are interconnected and all three are real important. You really can’t get along without all three.”

Bill Dorrance

Faverot de Kerbrech


“ le deplacement du poids est facile dans tous les sens, plus l'equilibre est parfait. En vertue de ce principe, on dit que le cheval est 'en equilibre' quand de simples indications suffisent au cavalier pour modifier a son gre la disposition du poids sur ses colonnes de soutien”

Faverot de Kerbrech

[Translation: ...the easier it is to shift the weight in any direction, the more perfect the balance. By virtue of this principle, the horse is 'in balance' when a simple indication from the rider is sufficient to modify the distribution of weight across the columns of support (four quarters) accordingly]

Duke of Newcastle


"You must in all Airs follow the strength, spirit, and disposition of the horse, and do nothing against nature; for art is but to set nature in order, and nothing else."

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle

"A confrontational approach ‘Astonishes the Weak Horse […] makes a Furious horse Madd; makes a Resty Horse more Resty […] and Displeases all sorts of Horses’. The alternative however is not ‘to Sit Weak […] but to Sit Easie’, in the understanding that ‘The Horse must know you are his Master’"

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle