BY IZZY FEINSTEIN
Soft Feel and Light Hands takes a closer look at Australian Steve Halfpenny’s natural horsemanship skills and “Light Hands Equitation” training method. Based out of Silversand Horsemanship Centre in Blanchetown, Australia, the documentary follows Halfpenny and his international team of instructors and students on his eleven-month tour throughout Australia, New Zealand, and Europe as they teach clinics and tackle obstacles while starting and re-training troubled, young horses.
Halfpenny’s “Light Hands Equitation” training method has reached thousands of equestrians from a vast range of disciplines through his clinics, international instructors, and online programs. Although they practice different disciplines, these riders all have on thing in common; each wants to build a better relationship with their horse using patience, understanding, lightness, and softness. Steve Halfpenny believes that today’s equestrians have lost their way. They’ve become consumed with training aids such as draw reins, side reins, and tight nosebands instead of taking a sensitive, thoughtful approach to horsemanship.
Thus, Steve typically begins his clinics with groundwork and in-hand work, often including desensitization work with props such as ropes and trampolines, to build a trust between horse and rider before beginning to work with the pair under saddle. Steve encourages his students to remain emotionally neutral and to allow the horse to “work through their own problems and figure it out for themselves.” Halfpenny teaches that staying non-reactive in a situation where a horse acts out can prevent further stress on the horse, will help the horse relax, and will further help the horse learn to trust humans. This can be seen through video footage of Halfpenny working with problematic Waler Coronation, as well as multiple other uneasy horses.
When Steve teaches his “Light Hand Equitation,” he believes in introducing the most important cornerstones of horsemanship- soft feel, timing, balance, and doing less- right from the first day. This method works especially well when dealing with young and troubled horses. The film mainly focuses on the concept of “soft feel,” which Halfpenny defines as flexion at the poll and curving of the neck from the horse’s withers to the poll. In order to achieve this flexion, the horse must be moving forward and their whole body must be soft. Halfpenny uses circles and inside bends to encourage the horse to pick himself up and raise his wither to use himself behind, causing for true collection of the horse. In order to achieve a true “soft feel,” the horse’s mind, balance, and body must be completely engaged. This approach varies from aids traditionally used to get horses “on the bit,” such as draw reins and rough hands, as Halfpenny’s method uses softness and sensitivity. Halfpenny’s demonstration on his horse, Gandalf, while describing “soft feel” allows viewers to see the success of his program for themselves.
Soft Feel and Light Hands is an informational documentary for equestrians of any discipline who are interested in learning more about natural horsemanship. The film is a must-see, with video footage of Steve and his team practicing natural horsemanship methods that are unlike anything else. Soft Feel and Light Hands can now be streamed online and on DVD.