“You should get True Horsemanship Through Feel,” Larry Fleming told me at the end of one particularly frustrating afternoon when I just didn’t seem to be “clicking” with my mare. And since it was the only horse book he had ever recommended to me (still is, actually) I promptly went to HorseBooksEtc. and bought it. True Horsemanship Through Feel is by Bill Dorrance, one of the legendary Dorrance brothers, along with Leslie Desmond. It’s $32.95, and has 384 pages.
And I saved writing about this book until right before Road to the Horse, the colt-starting competition in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where this year six clinicians will showcase their natural horsemanship skills as they see who can progress an untouched colt the furthest within three days, because it’s the same philosophy.
True Horsemanship Through Feel is all about working with a horse, about helping the horse understand what you’re asking, in the most gentle of ways that is also the most natural to the horse.
I love this book so much that I refuse to loan it out, and I give books away all the time. I can pick it up, open it to a random page and be immediately engrossed in the thorough lesson that’s offered there. This book is written exactly like I imagine Bill Dorrance talked–he died in 1999-which is a warm, folksy and authentic way. Here’s an example:
“When a person ignores the little things the horse does to try and let them know how objectionable their feel is–well, that’s going to get him going on some habits like head slinging or rearing. And it’s even worse than that in some cases. When it gets like this, a person can think things about that horse that they shouldn’t…A fella just has to try to eliminate his dependence on any habits he has that don’t fit a horse.”
Bill patiently explains to us how to develop a feel, and how to work with it, and how to make changes in yourself so that you can be a better horseman. He covers everything in this book-from problems with leading a balky or pushy horse to helping your horse learn to take the right lead to improving your balance in the saddle.
Along the way, he answers questions that are common among horse people, such as, “How can I break my colt to tie?” (answer: “You teach those colts to lead”) and “What about a horse that won’t be caught?” (answer: “When it gets so you can send him away and he isn’t afraid of you, that’s got quite a little meaning to the horse.” (of course, there’s a much longer explanation than that).
I think one of the reasons I enjoy this book so much is because I know it was written by a man who is one of the founding fathers of natural horsemanship. Bill and Tom Dorrance’s contributions to the horse world are priceless, for they blazed a trail of a kinder, gentler way of working with horses by using body language that the horse could understand. No force was needed.
Those are the same methods that were practiced by Ray Hunt and that are taught today by horse trainers like Buck Brannaman, Bryan Neubert, Joe Wolter, Martin Black, Stacy Westfall and Julie Goodnight, to name a few.
Larry Fleming learned those methods by going to clinics offered by Buck Brannaman, Bryan Neubert and Joe Wolter. And to watch Larry work with a horse is like watching a beautiful ballet. It makes you want to be able to dance like that with your horse.
And that’s not easy to learn how to do. Bill Dorrance acknowledges that, and he reassures you that yes, you’re going to make mistakes, and that yes, it can take quite a while before you get the hang of it–but that it’s so worth it.
As Bill says, “If they want to learn this, and get along better with their horse, they will.”
Reading True Horsemanship Through Feel is a start in that direction.