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Riding Through 'Release' in the Context of Jumping

Leslie Desmond Trainers’ Clinic – A Review

October 2007 / Aguanga CA

(Published in Horse Connection Magazine,
December 2007 Issue)

Four Points Ranch in Aguanga, CA (near Temecula), had the pleasure of hosting Leslie Desmond, international horsemanship coach. The eleven participants were trainers that had traveled from as far away as England, Canada, and Hawaii to learn from the expert. This clinic was highly anticipated, as Leslie has bee overseas living and training in Europe for the past several years.

There we were, eleven trainers, from a variety of disciplines: colt starting, therapeutic riding in the mountains, professional barrel racing, western riding, gaited horse training, and my own – jumping and event riding. How did we come together at this crossroads with Leslie in Aguanga? The common thread is our interest in empowering the horse to freely offer his full athletic capacity to perform.

Leslie achieves this by releasing the life in the horse and shaping athletic maneuvers with balance and lightness – on a float (slack in the rein). The key to keeping the horse’s athleticism available is to preserve the natural elevation and lightness in his shoulders. If you are not sure about this, get down on the ground and lean your weight over your arms: now try moving forwards, backwards, left, right or up to jump. Next, rebalance your weight onto your knees, so your arms are supported on your finger tips, and try those maneuvers again.

The horses showed us with great clarity what causes the shoulders to die: a rider’s center of gravity or core energy leaking over the pommel, the rider putting pressure on the mouth or head, or using both legs at the same time. The horse’s head might go up, his back might hollow and his hind legs might trail behind him. His shoulders get stiff, and he feels resistant, becoming less responsive to the reins and leg aids. A horse in this posture is not set up to do anything to his full athletic capacity.

In terms of jumping this manifests itself in a variety of ways: he may stop or run out because he can’t see to judge distance or height, or because he can’t coil his hind quarters under him to push off, or he may jump “flat”, or knock down a pole. Possibly the worst scenario is when the horse silently works around this ungainly posture and heaves his front end up and over, like a deer. This is a horse that is headed for early retirement from joint or back problems.

Classically speaking, in order to jump athletically, the horse needs to be free to raise the root of his neck, extend his neck forwards and down, so he can see to judge distance and height, use his abs to lift his back, coil his hind quarters from the joint that allows him to tilt his pelvis, so he can push off, extending into a natural bascule over the jump. Leslie taught us how to bring up the life in a horse to release this posture back into his way of going, so this athleticism was at our fingertips: light and available. This is the same posture a horse will assume when he sees something that causes him to “get ready” for any maneuver he might need to release himself from danger. He is empowered to offer whatever we ask.

If you have the opportunity to watch Leslie, the horse will show you what this approach feels like to him, as he freely offers everything he has in him with his full attention, focus and heart.

Sincerity, faith, mastery, integrity, endurance, patience and heart are things I found in Leslie's coaching. I did not expect to find this ‘feel’ also living in all of us, around us, through us. The positive intensity of this clinic experience is hard to describe.


By Karen Musson

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