Question and Answer

Leslie Desmond Answers a Frequent Question
Story and photos by Leslie Desmond Published in the December 1996 issue of The Trail Less Traveled

How much leg pressure do I need to use to get my horse to disengage his hindquarters vs. move him forward?

It should be the same. To better understand pressure and how it is measured, consider that for both horses and riders what's a lot to some is a little to others. Are you talking about pressure from the heel of your boot, your middle calf, upper calf, your thighs or your seat? In any case, to start you will want to do less with your body than you think will be needed; and be ready to do as much as is necessary but no more.

The value of a discussion about pressure is always limited. Like anything else, experience and experimentation are the best and quickest ways to find (by this I mean feel) the right answer for you and a particular horse. He might not understand your intent from the force you present because force does not fit a horse. Release fits a horse. Consistent and well-timed releases will reassure him about your intent--whether you ask him to move forward or to move his hindquarters away from your leg.

Our understanding of how much pressure is too little, just enough and too much is constantly evolving. Each small success or failure provides an opportunity to improve one's judgment about what will be needed in the future.

It is important to remember that the horse lives in the moment. To a great degree, your safety is determined by the horse's perception of his own well-being when he experiences external force. (Is he offered freedom of choice along with that force?)

With each horse there is a range of firmness that is effective and an appropriate feel that goes along with it. When your thought process takes a back seat to the "feel" that emerges from the center of your being (with a firmness appropriate to the horse and the circumstances in that moment), the horse learns that it is safe, even preferable, to maneuver his body in willing step with your point of view.

When your points of view become synchronized, your ideas--let's cross that deep water, let's walk quietly through the cattle, let's switch that lead, let's stop right now--become the horse's actions. When you ride in a way that is fitting to the horse, he has no need to evade you.

If You Can Answer "Yes" to these Groundwork Questions

  • Will your horse disengage his hindquarters easily on the end of your halter rope when you tip the bridge of his nose in a new direction?
  • Will your horse face up to you when he is loose in a round pen or a stall?
  • Are his responses willing and are they approximately equal on each side?
  • Does he, when tied, readily step sideways with his hind legs when you ask him to move sideways?