You are here: Home Blog The Horse's "Inner Work" (Confirmed!)

The Horse's "Inner Work" (Confirmed!)


Quick back story first. At the Festival of The Horse and Drum last weekend I had the opportunity to meet peer presenter, "booth buddy", and fine equine chiropractor Charles Weiss. We discussed a number of topics that really helped confirm some things I've "known" for some time are happening in what I do (but since I am not a formally trained body-worker, I was so grateful to explore this with a seriously pro pro - Charles is the real deal as anyone who knows him will tell you). This led to Charles kindly volunteering what proved to be a rather mind-blowing, impromptu tutorial with Ginger's horse "Casey" who was with us at the show.

One of several "quick" tips he offered was an alternative to "belly lifts" (Linda Tellington-Jones style) when seeking to raise/release the back. I was asking him about Sofie (right), a Lipizzan mare I'm working with who does not respond to these: her back has fallen away a bit for unknown reason - teeth done, feet reviewed, body checked by appropriate pros etc - so we were concerned that there might be something lurking somewhere we were missing (she does not appear to have a sore back).

I saw Sofie yesterday. I tried the technique Charles taught me, presented from her tail forwards. Her back visibly lifted about an inch or on both sides, one more than the other depending on which way her neck was off center, and through into the scapula.

But it's what happened next I could hardly believe I was seeing...

I had stepped away as we watched her, commenting on how this was so much more effective for her than a belly lift.

And as we watched... she quietly and Most Deliberately arc-ed her head past the point of shoulder to the left, while she brought her tail almost to where it "pointed" at her left stifle, stayed there for a few seconds. Then slowly moved her head and tail around to the right in exactly the same way. Then repeated this one more time to the left and to the right. Then she proceeded to "hang" her hip on the right, the whole "quarter", not just resting a foot, for a few minutes. Then slowly shifted to do the same with the left hip. Then put her nose in her salt bucket but it turned out it was her version of a safe place to go into an "integrating" trance of sorts - with tiny activations occurring across her body.

I reported this back to Charles, who simply said "Yes! Just never know what may be the key to 'unlocking' them!"

[Sounding familiar... anyone?]

As many of you have seen and/or experienced, this parallels one aspect of my work precisely and we do see some fairly unusual things occur. Sometimes planned (hoped for at least) and some triggered unexpectedly as a result of some small change in presentation of a request through release. This usually feels connected to a sudden inner shift the horse experiences when he was expecting a presentation of pressure that was not there. He finds his body following the release (feel of release only, no preceding pressure) in an "auto-response" through feel, as he produces the same move or maneuver without the more conscious "decision" to deliver the response that goes with a "cue". 

I observed a while back, with my good friend and client Beth's "Taco", almost the identical "routine" in Sofie's response to her back release. After a little creative work showing Taco how to arc on a circle without leaning to the inside or on the inside rein (he couldn't... it wasn't there :) ) he stood quietly, on his own in the middle of the arena, very deliberately going through the same sequence as Sofie, with one difference in his version: he seemed to be working down each vertebra in his neck in a careful progression.

(Um, So what Karen...?)

We see variations of this "self body-work" or "unwinding" all the time and the key aspect I find an ongoing fascination is the added interest (and marked benefit) that it is most often releasing long term brace (physical and/or mental and/or emotional) IN CONNECTION WITH and AS A RESULT OF a new presentation using the EQUIPMENT (halter/rope, bridle, saddle etc) that played a part in creating the "stuck" issue in the first place...

This is mighty significant because if your horse holds a residual brace to one degree or another connected with the equipment you use - whether inadvertently introduced ourselves or by a previous training or other experience, such as pulling back while tied etc - it can continue to "lurk" in your ride, despite your best efforts. This type of brace is so wide-spread it is "normal" and tends to remain largely unnoticed as a result. It can however be the very layer that needs to be "unwound" for true connection in the partnership to occur and/or brace to stop recurring in the layers "on top". Afterall, our tack is in essence the "interface" between us and our horse, through which or with which communication occurs - and generally speaking, this is true even when it is not there, because the imprint of its meaning for the horse is "in" him.

Charles Weiss said "I like to work as much as possible from the inside out. It has more value if they do the work themselves, from the inside"

Hear, hear!

I wonder what changes I will see in Sofie next week.

Pretty Cool Stuff.

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