It's really about developing, in addition to physical softness, a quiet mind and internal softness. This of course is a lifelong path of seeking connection with ourselves at a deep level first, so we can offer that connection to the horse. And most importantly, a point Mark has made over and over again - this connection and softness has to be developed in every aspect of our lives, not just when we're with our horses.
I'm certainly not there yet, but it's something to aspire to and work on, and I expect to be working on it for the rest of my life - to me, this is immensely challenging but also heartening. To quote from the book:
To be really good at it, and I mean really good at it, softness must be practiced in all aspects of our life - in everything we do, all the time, without exception.As one of Mark's students says:
In the end, it really isn't about working on the horse. It is about what level we are willing to work on the inside of ourselves, and in turn, offer the horse.* * * *
And a note on cantering. My work with Red and Pie this week has made some things clear to me.
Lesson one: With Red, one reason the bracing issue on walk/trot transitions had been such a persistent issue (in addition to the fact I was counter-bracing against him) was that, every day, I had blown past it and just gone on to do lots of trot work, and even quite a bit of canter work, with Red. His trot is magnificent and his canter is powerful and round - it's just so much fun to ride so that's what I wanted to do. But the brace was still in there at walk/trot, and the more canter work we did without dealing with that, the more the brace showed up. His canter work wasn't soft as it could be because the softness of other things was missing. The foundation wasn't as solid as it needed to be and by skipping over something we needed to deal with, I was baking it in.
Lesson two: With Pie, I was so focussed on him staying in canter to get the breathing issue fixed that I was creating/amplifying the breathing issue by being too insistent with him and much less soft than I need to be - I was forcing the issue rather than staying soft and letting him figure things out. I was in a hurry to get it done, because his canter is improving so rapidly that I can see how nice it's going to become. The fact that he was getting all revved up and losing his softness, even at the trot after cantering, meant that my softness was lacking. I need to offer him softness in canter transitions and during the canter, and deal softly, rather than insistently, with what comes up. We need to take our time and stay soft together.
I've got work to do - on me . . .