(Part I is here, Part II is here.)
Before the horse can find a soft spot, we have to create it first, and offer it to the horse.
So much of what I had been trained to do with/to horses was about the horse's responsibility. But wait a minute - what about my responsibility? - any relationship has (at least) two parts . . .
Softness isn't just a physical thing - although it's very much that - it's also an attitude, an emotion, a connection - a deep connection. It's a form of communion with the horse - and I use that term deliberately, in the spiritual sense.
We are responsible to lead the way - that's our role as leaders in the human/horse relationship - it isn't about obedience, or that misused term "respect" - how insulting/demeaning to the horse is that? It's about reliability, consistency and providing stability to the relationship with the horse.
Mark Rashid said something pretty profound at one of our recent clinics - you can't make connection, but you can offer it - horses are good at taking up connection if we make it available.
Connection/softness is an attitude, and also a task. You have to check your ego at the door - that is why "lungeing for respect" is so misguided. The task is to be the best rider/communicator that you can. Trust me, this is a huge responsibility - you have to really learn how to ride, how to be responsible for your body position and what you do with your seat, hands, legs, balance and timing - there's nothing remotely mechanical about it and it takes huge discipline and practice - you have to really want it to get it - there are no shortcuts. It requires dedication, and practice - for me on a daily basis - to really do this. And if you're a beginner rider, that doesn't mean you can't get there - in fact if you're a beginner but don't have the baggage of bad training to unlearn, you may get there faster.
To offer softness, you have to be soft yourself - this takes concentration, practice and self-examination. Think of every point at which you contact the horse - your mind, seat, hands, legs and even your soul - as holding the connection with the horse as if it were an egg, or a baby bird - the slightest touch, breath or thought is enough to communicate. We humans tend to be crude, and horses are oh so sensitive and responsive if we just care enough to listen and ask in a way that is not coercive, demanding or degrading.
The objective is to, with your intention and body, consistently and reliably create the soft spot - offer softness - when the horse can always find the release. Developing a soft, following seat, hand and leg being able to consistently maintain your position without bracing is an important part of this - this takes time and miles. When you're learning to do this, the physical motions required may be big, and that's OK, that's how we learn. But as we practice, the physical element become smaller and smaller until it's vanishingly small and the horse can come into the soft spot together with you and the two of you just stay in that spot together, whatever gaits/actions/movements are occurring. And we have to wait sometimes for the horse to find, trust and take up the connection - if we offer softness, in a consistent place, the horse will find it, and the more often we do it, consistently, the quicker the horse will find it, every time. I call it "locking on" - things just click into place and everything gets right.
The goal to stay in the soft spot together with the horse, to have a following feel that flows back and forth between the horse and rider. Allowing horse and/or rider to make mistakes and find the path without being coerced, and while remaining calm and clear on what you want, is part of the equation. Mark has a concept he calls "softening at the point of resistance" - more on that later.
You can't make the horse be soft, but you can create softness in yourself and offer it as a place for your and the horse to be soft together.