We strive for our horses to follow a feel and to react on the smallest cues. We go for lightness. I try to be as soft as possible with my hands. Sometimes, though, I found that a firmer grasp is the better choice: I actually got so light with my fingertips that my horse felt tickled. He flinched and treated my fingers as he would a fly. That told me that my touch was too light, too subtle. I think it is a challenge to deliver a clear feel in a soft touch without getting too firm or to feeble.
Buck Brannaman wants his students to know where their horses' feet are - always. As a good rider we ought to control the horse's feet. We need to know where the horse is about to place them in order to give our aids at the right time. 
Our cue needs to come in at the moment the horse lifts his foot. If the foot is already on the way to the ground, if it touches the ground or even carries the weight of the horse, we have missed the crucial moment. We ask our horse to set his foot at a time when he is not able to. We will confuse and frustrate him. But once we get in time with their feet, our horses will respond much easier and lighter, because we ask for something they have no trouble giving to us.
Pat Parelli calls it the friendly game, others speak of desensitization. Whatever you call it, the importance of it stays the same: Our horses need to learn how to deal with a whip. They need to know when it means "you better move" and when it means "stay cool and relax". The key here is our body language. The whip is supposed to be just an extension of our body, should amplify the energy we carry in our body. Unfortunately it happens that our body says one thing and the whip another. So it is vital to get our bodies in tune with the whip (or better vice versa) in order for our horse to be able to read us correctly. Once you got that your horse will feel secure around you as you are predictable. And you will be able to switch quickly from relaxation to moving the horse. 
At the beginning your horse might have trouble. Today, I worked with a gelding and I dialed him up quite a bite as he was not too responsive. Afterwards he would not turn his eyes away from me, all attentive, but he lost some of is confidence. So I took the whip and started to swing it rhythmically over his back and neck, to run it over is body. I continued until he could relax (which happened quite soon). Then I asked him to move again. Then I got back to friendly. He lost is caution and became confident again. So make sure that your horse tolerates the whip on his legs, his body - also when he is moving. He shall respect it, but he shall not fear it. Work on getting body and whip in sync, show him that he can relax even when the whip is moving.  
Image this situation: You lead your horse to the pasture and on the way you have to pass some hay bales wrapped in a tarp. Your horse stares at the tarp and spooks from time to time, especially when it's windy and the tarp is moving. You have walked your horse up there for weeks and he still is upset about these hay bales. The reason might be: You two are just surviving the situation but you are not progressing. Each time you pass, your horse goes "oh not, not that scary thing again" and each time you go "hopefully he will be fine this time." The key here is preparation. Get your horse used to plastic bags around his feet and his body when standing still and when moving. And than work with your horse around these hay bales, don't just lead him by. Get him used to it and allow him to retreat (and reapproach) if he gets in too much trouble. Warwick Schiller did an interesting video on this topic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgHZwZOhRcQ 
Just a short one on this topic I've been coming across quite often lately: Give the horse time to think and  to digest something. I often find humans to want to go on quickly after achieving a good response by their horse. Don't. Wait until your horse tells you that he has got it: He will yawn, lower his head, chew, lick his lips or loosen up. Also, it can help to not practice a task all over again, day after day. Give your horse a break of a few days and then try again. The progress you can achieve by just giving him some time can be astonishing. I've had horses that were really troubled when we tried a new maneuver. After one week of doing nothing related they were did it almost perfectly. 
Often, when we work our horses from the ground we exaggerate our body language, straighten up or move our arms more than we'd have to. In the beginning this is important as it helps our horses to read us - they know body language for sure, but they often don't know that we actually use it to communicate with them, as they often have to face contradictory signals on our part and have learned to ignore it. 
Once you have that understanding of the horse it is important to stop exaggerating. If we don't we keep on screaming at the horse with our bodies. That's far from the subtle communication we are seeking. Your raised arm will turn into a raised finger, just breathing in will tell the horse that you are up to something and he'd better listen. Horses are way more sensitive than we think they are. 
I've recently watched a dvd by Buck Brannaman who works his horses on a light lead rope. He does not close his hands around it, the rope just sits in his open palm, and his horses willingly follow this light feel. He wants the tiniest clue to mean something to the horse. It opened my eyes to what subtle communication ground work can lead. There is always a way to get better even if we think that we are already quite skilled. The quest will pay off - for us and for our horses.
It's been said so often, it's almost become a platitude: your horse is your mirror. A closer look reveals interesting details here too: Your horse will not be able to respond lightly if you don't ask lightly. I see this pushing and shoving all the time in the barn when you want your horse to yield to let someone pass, and instead of giving the horse pushes into the pressure. We often start with very much pressure when we ask a horse to do something. The problem: If we are rude, the horse will answer appropriately. It's our responsability to become soft and subtle in order for the horse to become the same. This does apply to groundwork and riding. So if you wonder why your horse is dull - have a look at your behavior and your attitude.  
We often tend to generalize: My horse is lazy. My horse is confident. And while being ridden the lazy horse hardly trots, but on the pasture he loves to chase his buddies around. And while on the pasture the confident horse is relaxed, but under saddle he spooks in every corner of the arena. 
Confidence is similar to fear: In order to understand it, we need to analyze it. When exactly is our horse confident? It took me years to understand that the gelding I work with - labeled lazy and gentle - is absolutely unconfident when learning new things. You assume that as he is always able to cope, because he does not overreact in terms of running off or bucking and because he seems so relaxed around everything. Well, his fear is not easy to detect. He gets tense, and hectic and he tries his heart out for you - so you better not pressure him. 
So next time when you meet your horse try to think in confidence as categories - horse and human, horse and other horses, horse and the arena, horse on the trail, horse when learning a.s.o. Figure out where he is easily able to cope and where he looses his confidence. As soon as you know, you can help him. 
I used to feel bad when upping my phases to be effective with a horse. But if the horse is confident and ready to discuss you have to get your point across. You can tell by his reactions where he's at. I was backing a confident, strong gelding lately and he said "actually I won't back up". He tried to crowd me, he would throw his head, tilt his head, lean on the backend but he would not move. He was trying to figure out how to deal and how to get rid of the pressure. No reason to get angry. I got a little bit firmer and there he went. 
We need to find that place where we are effective. Afterwards I sent him on a circle and he lowered his head and was a sweet, obedient horse. To me it felt like he was saying "ok, I got it. You're the boss, I can relax." This reaction showed me that I had been right with the strategy of increasing the pressure. If he had been a scared horse I would have blown him up treating him that harshly. We need to know where our horse is at and adapt our behavior accordingly.
I met people who are very careful when handling their horses. They do not walk closely behind them, they do not walk or move quickly, they don't even speak up when around the horse - because he might spook. The problem here is: prevention does not help your horse to become braver and it does not help him to deal with situations that might scare him. The more we avoid to expose the horse to stimuli the more he is likely to get scared. Therefore we better prepare the horse that out there will be things that scare him - and support him so he can handle it.
I participated in a clinic with Dave Ellis years ago and he was saddling a green horse. He did not sneak the saddle on his back, he did not prevent the stirrups from touching his flanks. He did not slow down his movements. He was exposing the horse, and yes the colt was scared. "Someone lied to that horse", he said - the horse had been made believe that a saddle would not move, had no stirrups that would touch his flanks. But through the exposure he learned to cope. We need to allow, sometimes even cause fear in our horses for them to learn how to deal with it.

Our horses are usually happy without us humans. They live on a pasture (well, at least they should) with their herd buddies, have plenty of food and water and can move around freely. The herd and the alpha horse keep them safe. The horse has got all he needs.
Well, and then the human appears. Catches the horse, drags him from the herd and from safety, exposes him to stressfull situations and stimuli he might not understand. Mounts him and holds on to his back like a predator. Punishes the horse if he does not or cannot obey. And you really wonder why your horse runs away as soon as he sees you approaching the gate with a halter? 
I know I am painting a really black picture here and I exaggerate. But my point is: We need to know the needs of the horse. And we must put their needs first before we can achieve our goals. It's our job to adapt to them - not the other way round. We need to give first before we can take. 
Spending time with our horses with no task in mind can sometimes be very beneficial. I was riding yesterday - well, actually I was sitting on my horse while he was walking along - but couldn't muster the energy to ask him for a pattern or some maneuvers. I decided to just listen and feel how his movements would affect my seat, the position of my legs and the rotation of my pelvis. I tried to feel which foot was in the air, which was touching the ground and how the weight shifted in his body. Hanna Engström, knight of the Academic Art of Riding, teaches these sessions in her clinics. We often are so busy training our horses and trying to achieve some fancy movements that we forget to listen and observe what is actually going on in their and in our bodies. I think it is interesting and important to from time to time be quiet and let the horse's body talk instead.

If your horse gets scared, you have the chance to get to know him better. It's no secret that horses react differently when afraid, some freak out and run, others flinch, freeze and stare. You will know if your horse is likely to overreact facing a stimulus or if he will take it more calmly. Still, there is more to discover: Relate the source of the fear and the position of the horse. Is he afraid of looking at something, is he afraid of something touching his withers, his back, his feet or is he afraid when something occurs behind his tail? 
The gelding I take care of for example freezes when something scary is in front of him and he won't move. As soon as he learns that he won't die, he relaxes and moves on unconcerned. The Friesian I work with will pass the scary object when asked but explodes as soon as it is behind him and you thought you were safe. 
Get to know where (body parts and his personal space) your horse is sensitive to stimuli and where he is more relaxed. Once you know that, you can prepare him better for dangerous objects and situations he might have to face. 
I was working with a rather stubborn pony today (I know this is a human quality and the horse isn't actually stubborn but just has not learned the appropriate behavior). I wanted him to yield his forequarter and move out on a circle. He did not want that. He threw his head, turned his head to avoid looking at me, crowded me or just ignored the increasing pressure. Not long ago this would have frustrated me. But I came across two important concepts that did have a huge impact on my capability to not get frustrated, mad or scared.

1. I recently watched a trailerloading session with Linda Parelli. It took her close to 3 (!) hours to get the horse in. There were moments when I became frustrated just by watching thinking "come on, just make him go in." Asked afterwards how she managed to be so patient she became very emotional and answered something like "Because I love the horse". That blew my mind. Do not get me wrong here. We probably all love horses. But what she ment was that she always put his needs first. If he didn't load, well, maybe he would the next day. Her focus was not on getting him in to show the crowd watching what a great horse trainer she was. Her focus was on having him so confident that he could do what was asked of him. She protected his dignity.  
2. Ray Hunt once said that when we want our horse to do something and the horse thinks about that differently that we humans become victims of our pride and tend to turn it into a competition. And that the horse might easily win that fight. 

Applied to my pony session: I was not personally offended when the pony refused to move. I knew he was trying to figure out what he was supposed to do as he licked and chewed a lot. It was just hard for him so I broke it down to little steps - turning the head in the right direction, shifting his weight, a little movement of his foot in the right direction. Sure I had to correct him a lot. But he needed guidance and I offered it to him. I didn't turn in into a competition and I refused to be pressured by the clock. And constantly through the process, and that's the most important thing, I told him (actually I spoke in words) that he was a good horse. I did not want to reward him by speaking but it prevented me from thinking "come on you stupid tank, move your feet". These thoughts and words kept my attitude friendly and my heart open. For me this is the key to avoid aggression in the horse. He feels that it is no fight you seek but communication. 

Sometimes it takes a while until we become aware of just how boring we are for our horses. My revealing moment came when I decided that I wanted to mount from the right instead of from the left. I stepped on the chair and asked my horse to come closer and along so I could get on. He immediately turned and offered his left side though I was asking for the right one. It took him several minutes to figure out what I wanted. His confusion was not due to my aids - they were pretty clear - but due to his assumptions. Well, I could interpret his behavior like: he wasn‘t listening. But he was. He was just not expecting me to ask for something different than normal, he actually could not believe that I wanted him to turn the other way to get on. If he has so much trouble with me spicing up the routine, what does this tell me about my normal ways? He‘s like a fortune teller who knows exactly what I will be doing. How boring is that? And interestingly enough: When I got on I sat on a completely different horse. He was all attention, all obedience and all thrilled. I could almost steer him by my thoughts. 

My conclusions: 1. spice your routines up to not bore your horse to death and to merit (!!) his attention 2. A tiny change in my behavior can have a huge impact on my horse‘s behavior. 
If you have found this site and are wondering what the hell is going on here: I am just starting out and working on it regularly. Just drop by again and you will find that information and site are growing. Thank you for your interest anyway! 
I guess everyone working with horses has encountered the situation that you are trying to teach your horse something and it just doesn't work. The horse doesn't get it, your timing is bad, your body is in the way - there are so many reasons why a new task seems impossible to achieve. I found that sometimes all it takes is to leave it at that place and let some time pass.

I've been working on my horse starting to canter with me shifting my weight to his outside hind end (opposed to classic German dressage where you put the weight on the inside front leg - exactly the leg that you want to lift, so why put weight on it?). I also want him to circle in a trot following the feel and turn of my body, not the reins. We had some fuss and tail swishing in the past about the canter and some drifting off the circle that I always had to correct with the reins. After ten days off with me in Rome he was almost perfect on both tasks. He started cantering smoothly and almost immediately and stayed tuned on the circle way better than before. Sometimes an idea just needs to sink in, than the horse gets it and will act accordingly.

I am Nadja. And right here I am going to write about horses. I've been involved with them for almost 20 years now - first riding dressage but abandoning it because I was getting nowhere. For me horsemanship became the key to understand and to teach horses. I've been traveling down that road ever since and I have not regretted it. I want to share my experiences with you and am looking forward to your opinion.