Leslie's Latest NEWS

Feel & Release Interview link from WKAC1080 AM / What did Bill Dorrance mean by "feel"?


THANKS to  . . . . 

All About Horses radio host, Jim Swanner of Athens, Alabama.

 When . . . PULL MEANS GO!! Oh, no!

Leslie explained how to find a stop on a horse whothinks that pull means "GO!" using feel and release. She explained that this wonderful think, a stop, a WHOA! can be found between forward and back, and left and right using an approach called feel and release <<CLICK THE LINK to hear the exchange that she and Jim Swanner had about stopping a horse today! 

More details about teaching a horse to stop, through feel, can be found in Chapter 4 of the classic training manual "True Horsemanship Through Feel",  that Leslie co-authored for Bill Dorrance in 1999.

During the last years of his life, Bill asked Leslie to accept his guidance during an apprenticeship that lasted several years while she recorded his knowledge and experiences for posterity. Between 1995 and 1999 they trained horses together, put on demonstrations and held clinics around Monterey County, California.  

"True Horsemanship Through Feel" <<CLICK!

is now out of print, but used copies are still available from Amazon.

For a new signed copy, order online at the link above, or write to Leslie here for details on where to send a check: <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. >

Jim Swanner, a natural horseman and clinician, said he hoped that his listeners would gain a better understanding of the approach called "feel & release" that Bill Dorrance used on his cattle ranch and passed on to Leslie Desmond. Leslie called the experience "life changing" and shared some tips on how to build in that gentle sureness that young horses need to have built into their foundations. She said that time spent learning about the importance of groundwork from Ray Hunt, Buck Brannaman and Tom Dorrance, Bill's younger brother, helped her understand and appreciate the subtleties of feel & release that Bill brought to the horses he showed her how to train during his last years.

"What I appreciated so much about the way Bill handled horses is that there was always a look to them, a confident sense and a sureness they had after he handled them. Most all of them had respect for people's space on the ground and they seemed to understand the connection between accurate hoof placement in a rope and halter, and a self-carriage that left the forehand freed up under saddle. Bill had no need for a dull or heavy horses on his ranch, and the way he did so little to prepare them so well for just about anything was mesmerizing. I was honored to have had an opportunity to talk about the gift of nearly-lost knowledge Bill left for us, and I hope there were at least a few helpful things people can took away from the show this morning."

Thanks for listening….


3rd Year added to Apprenticeship Program 2015-2017


 Applicants please note:   A third year has been added to the program!  This will make it easier for many people to schedule time away and spread the course work, homework and payments out over another 12 months for best results. Courses are two weeks, twice a year.

Each apprentice will register to attend two venues per year.  Selection of the preferred location and two backup choices should be noted in  your application.

Four riders per venue except where noted. Thank you!

Questions? Please contact Laura here: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.





Feb 7 - Feb 22  Horseshoe Ranch / Tarpley, TX

March 14 - March 29   Douglas Ranch / Paicines, CA

April 18 - May 3 Private venue in Colfax, CA

June 6 - June 21 Korumdalen / Rakkestad, NORWAY

July 11 - 25  Kalvfalls Ranch / Österbymo, SWEDEN (arrive and depart on Saturday)

Aug 8 - Aug 23  Woodwind Farm / Hawkestone, Ontario, CANADA

Sept 19 - Oct. 4 Glacier Valley Ranch / Ward, Colorado

Oct 24 - Nov 8 The Seven Springs Ranch / Glide, Oregon

Nov 28 - Dec 13 Tàrrega (Lleida) SPAIN




Feb 6 – 21 Tombstone Monument Ranch / Tombstone, AZ

March 5 - March 20     JC Horseshoe Ranch / Tarpley, TX

April 2 - April 17 Douglas Ranch / Paicines, CA

April 30 - May 15    TBA, GERMANY

June 4 - 19  Korumdalen / Rakkestad, NORWAY

July 9 – 23 Kalvfalls Ranch / Österbymo, SWEDEN (arrive and depart on Saturday)

August 13 – 28 Woodwind Farm / Hawkestone, Ontario, CANADA

September 3 - 18  Glacier Valley Ranch / Ward, Colorado

October 1 - 16  The Seven Springs Ranch / Glide, Oregon

November 5 - 20 Tàrrega (Lleida) SPAIN




Feb 4 -  Feb 19   Tombstone Monument Ranch / Tombstone, AZ

March 4 -  March 19     JC Horseshoe Ranch / Tarpley, TX

April 1 - April 16  Douglas Ranch / Paicines, CA

May 6 - May 21    TBA, GERMANY

June 3 - 18  Korumdalen / Rakkestad, NORWAY

July 8 - July 22   Kalvfalls Ranch / Österbymo, SWEDEN (arrive and depart on Saturday)

Aug 12 - Aug 27   Woodwind Farm / Hawkestone, Ontario, CANADA

Sept 16 - Oct 1  Glacier Valley Ranch / Ward, Colorado

Oct 7 - Oct 22  The Seven Springs Ranch / Glide, Oregon

November 11 - 26  Tàrrega (Lleida) SPAIN

Feel & Release, and its Importance to the Horse and Rider

Thoughts on Feel & Release and its Importance

 to the Horse & Rider


by Leslie Desmond


 Whether you are headed for a jump, riding a dressage test, gathering cattle, helping a child learn how to ride, or closing a gate from the saddle, the horse that understands your intent and feel will be there to do whatever is needed at the right time. 

A horse like this makes the best partner and will work very hard for your mutual benefit. If he is or isn't that partner, it is up to the person to help him become that partner. I love my job helping people to discover what a committed partner their horse can be and how to help him cultivate the inborn ability to be that way.

 As a riding coach and horse trainer, in almost three decades of travel around the world, I have met thousands of people and horses. What I have enjoyed most about this opportunity is the vast and intriguing range of different approaches people use when they are handling and riding horses. Incredibly, most of these approaches actually work! 

Horses have an astounding capacity to adapt well to different training methods, presentations and challenging situations. Effective techniques are too numerous to mention here, but there are countless variations in human presentation that horses can accept.

 While I have had some excellent coaches along the way, my search for new information to help me become a better coach continues. In recent years my focused effort to be a better student of the horses I work with has underscored much needed clarity about exactly what it is that a horse does and does not need from me in a given moment. This connection is more rewarding than I ever imagined it could be. Occasionally I take private lessons from friends who know more than I do about how horses work and what it takes to ride and handle them better than I do now. The other inspirational source of new knowledge comes from my own students directly. Their plateaus, questions, goals, and fears challenge me to re-think my old solutions to common and not-so-common training dilemmas. I’ve discovered that many approaches work, but I am convinced that the techniques that horses understands best are all woven together by a common thread called "feel".

A horse understands many kinds of feel, such as the direct feel of the weather on its body, a hand or brush on its face or shoulder, or the bridle rein against the neck and a leg against the ribs. A horse also understands indirect feel, which includes things like variations of body language, the human voice, and also our emotions like joy, fear, sadness and anxiety, and yes, even our thoughts. Another kind of indirect feel that is of great importance to the horse is his perception of the way shared spaces are used. Examples of this include the pace and sound of a human footfall approaching or going away from him, the speed and feel of our other movements, as well as more subtle things like our core focus, line of sight, posture and the way we use our arms and hands, legs and feet in relation to the horse’s eye, withers, ribs and hips during ground exercises. 

All of these aspects of ourselves that we bring to the horse register  in the horse's mind and can influence his decision about how, where, if and when to move his body. These subtle effects on the horse also apply when the rider is mounted; they combine to become the foundation for solid advancement.

It is important to remember that most refined maneuvers can astonish onlookers into fantasizing about the handler or rider in terms of "horse-whispering" and "magic" but, actually, the horse's physical reactions are rooted in its instinctive ability to read a person's intentions clearly. The horse can read human intent and emotion better and faster than most people can read a line in a newspaper. 

The horse's capacity to optimize this incredibly intuitive aspect of his nature is his instinct for self-preservation.  His instinct for self-preservation is the key to everything that concerns him.  It is the key to understanding his ability to know who is around him, what other creatures may be near -- be it another horse or cow, a person, dog, wolf, or other natural enemy.  Self-preservation is the source of his ability to know what other beings are thinking or wanting him to do, expecting him to do, or fearing that he might or will do.  

I hope that all horse owners and trainers will soon decide to give top consideration to this aspect of the horse's inner makeup in their efforts to communicate with him clearly and fairly. I believe this is something anyone involved with a horse will benefit from learning especially if they also commit to using feel and release.

With feel-and-release-based training techniques and the right blend of philosophy and horse health-and-hoof care my students form very close bonds with their horses.  And, for those who already have established a partnership with their horses, these new connections are strengthened as the "same-old" routines are phased out and new communication skills and adventures are welcomed in.

As stand-alone goals, horse handling techniques mean little to the horse until they are presented in a way that the horse can understand. When you understand how your horse works on the inside and apply this knowledge in an incremental and consistent way, the foundation you set up becomes a reliable partnership.  When this happens, confidence replaces insecurity.  Clarity replaces confusion.

When the basics are a woven into the normal pace and details of its daily life -- not only a part of specific drills or boring routines -- the horse begins to recognize and understand the intent behind the feel coming from the person.  This gives him confidence and from there he is likely to stop questioning the person and to follow the feel of the person's lead and leadership.  

When these basics have become a regular practice, the connection between person and horse becomes stronger.   The resulting partnership is based on trust that extends far in both directions. Ultimately, in its refinement, the mutual trust and reciprocal feel between a horse and a person is part of a maneuver that is born the instant it is shared.

In most cases, it is necessary that the coach understand how to teach and how to apply feel in order for the student's relationship to his or her horse develop at the right pace and in the best way.  The student, meanwhile, must invest whatever time is needed to learn all there is to know about the specific needs of the horse.  This requires limitless patience.  

It is also important to be crystal clear about the importance of making mistakes.  

It is impossible to avoid mistakes. We all make them, so we must accept them.  In order to do this, we must cultivate a calm, non-judgmental attitude toward our mistakes.  It is vital that we begin to view errors as opportunities for growth, for greater closeness, and for an ever stronger bond.  Our calm, even eager, anticipation of the next mistake eases tension, soon transforming both the horse and the person in unexpected ways.  

I know this to be true from my own experience and when this happens, everything about the friendship is refreshed . . .  it becomes deeper and a lot more fun!


Can you help a horse in transition today?

What can someone who loves horses do to help them?

 Ask your local horse rescue center, Humane Society or animal welfare organization if they are accepting volunteers to groom and clean, feed and transport horses, or give supervision and support to prospective owners while they “interview” their new horse. 

If these tasks don’t fit your qualifications, schedule or style, perhaps you can team up with someone to schedule a fundraiser for the organization with Leslie or one of Leslie’s recommended students / associates to benefit the unwanted horses in your area.

As soon as possible, they need to be paired up with appropriate new owners who will give them what they need in order to lead a healthy and happy life!


What can horse trainers and riding instructors do to help? 

Stable owners, trainers, 4-H and Pony Club leaders and riding coaches of all disciplines are encouraged to offer "how-to" instruction and coach volunteers while they get invaluable hands-on experience in horse handling through feel & release. Learning tools to help understand this approach are available through Leslie Desmond's International School of Horsemanship. (Inquire here: <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. >)





 Do you have a special skill and some extra time that you would be willing to share with us to help get horses placed and cared for even better in the interim?

Can you or someone you know who loves horses help local rescue and rehabilitation groups with saddle fit, farrier and barefoot hoofcare skills, equine dental care, advice on nutrition, leather craft, horse care, fence repair, haymaking, general maintenance, hand-walking, grooming, riding or transporting horses?

What about office management skills such as data entry, mailing list management, bulk mailings, graphic design, photography, digital media editing, fund raising, event coordination and marketing?

HORSES AND PONIES, MULES and DONKEYS WITHOUT HOMES NEED HELP in these areas and other ways. Your time, your thoughts, prayers, sweat will ensure a better future for many of them. It is always needed and greatly appreciated! Find out who’s doing what in your community and get involved! A horse lover whose dream finally comes true will never be the same again. . . .  and a happier horse will thank you for it!


Leslie Desmond

International School of Horsemanship, LLC

PO Box 1057

Great Barrington, MA 01230 USA



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Dr. Robert Miller, DVM, praises Desmond's results with horses using Feel & Release

  From horse expert, Dr. Robert Miller, DVM:

"Dear Leslie,

      Your recent clinic overwhelmed me. Your ability to communicate your desires to the horses with no obvious signals, is extraordinary. You were able to get the horse's head to drop, look where you wanted it to, and to obtain movements in various directions in response to the vaguest of stimuli . . . .

      "You are doing a great job.  I call you the ’clinician’s clinician' "  . . . Regards, Bob