I'm not sure I can clearly communicate what I mean, but I thought I'd try. Braces can be many things:
Forcing your heels down
Clenching your hand on a lead rope
Pulling back when riding against a horse that is leaning on your hands with a stiff arm, locked elbow and shoulder
Pulling along a horse that doesn't want to move along on the lead
Pulling back on a horse that's rushing ahead as we lead
Not allowing our back, hips or legs to move with a horse's motion at different gaits under saddle
Standing at the kitchen counter cutting up vegetables with legs stiff and knees locked
Clenching one's jaw in anger or frustration
Carrying tension in one's neck or back due to posture, anxiety or anger
Having a mental brace - not being fully present, not really looking, carrying metal rigidity, or beating oneself up when things don't go right - this is perhaps the hardest type of brace to undo. It can involve not listening to the horse or person we are in dialog with, being impatient, having thoughts rushing around inside our heads that block our ability to truly see and interact, acting out of emotion, etc.
Those are just examples - I could think of many, many more. I believe that when we brace, we block the energy from moving as it should and also eliminate the opportunity to communicate with our bodies effectively, using softness. Braces are also uncomfortable - they lead to muscle pain and joint soreness and stiffness, both for us and for horses. When I manage to undo a brace, however, it does not mean that I stop using my muscles, become limp and floppy or fail to engage with my surroundings or a horse. When a brace is undone, all of a sudden we can use our minds and our bodies more effectively, and if we're riding or leading, there is an opportunity to interact with softness using the most minimal of cues - sometimes thoughts are enough. My goal is to interact with my horses so that our energies blend and we can move together to do whatever it is that we want to do.
Some examples that come to mind, where I try to consciously offer softness instead of bracing:
When I ride, allowing my leg to drape in a relaxed way along the horse's sides, and gently pulling my toes up (instead of pushing my heels down). I carry some muscle tone in my legs - but I try to keep them flexible, alive and aware and not stiff and braced. I try to consciously allow the horse to move by not blocking the motion with my seat, hips, back or legs - this allows me to effectively give the most minimal cues, since the horse and I are no longer "shouting" at each other by bracing - no wonder so many horses are unresponsive to our cues - even strong cues - they really can't hear us over the "shouting" of the brace.When I hold a lead rope, have my hand closed but relaxed, so I can move my hand immediately from or along the rope as needed. I try to feel the horse through the rope as if the rope were a live thing.When I ride, whether I'm riding with contact or on a loose rein, I try to keep my hand (or hands) closed but relaxed, shoulders and elbows relaxed and free to move, and to feel the reins as a living connection between my whole body and the whole horse, with my hands and the horse's mouth (or face if bitless) being points of connection.When riding or leading, figure out ways to undo my brace, and a horse's corresponding brace, by offering an alternative to pull-against-pull. One thing I don't use to undo a brace between my hands and the horse's mouth is a stronger bit. If I feel a horse starting to pull, I try to have a repertoire of movements or actions to employ that can help the horse learn to undo the brace. This whole idea warrants a post (or several posts) of its own for me to try to fully explain what I mean, and what I try to do. The central concept is one of redirecting the energy.When standing or moving, or even sitting or lying down, try to notice any muscular tension or braces, and consciously undo them - this practice has done wonders for my back and neck pain. Try to avoid postures (like my example from the feed room this morning) that result in braces.Try to act and speak with intention, but not with rigidity of thought or emotion. Offering softness, whether to a person or a horse, also involves being fully present - not being distracted by an interior monologue - and learning to listen, without preconceptions or immediate reactions. Undoing these mental braces is hard for me - I do better with horses than people on this one, perhaps because that's where I started learning about these concepts.
Does any of this make any sense? It's hard to articulate, but it's really the center of how I try to interact with my horses. Do I always succeed? No, certainly not, but when I don't, I try to push the reset button, without beating myself up, and start again to do what I know I need to do. For me this is about all of life - not just horses - and I don't think it's possible to separate how we interact with horses from how we interact in our life at large.