Dorrance was a master horseman, rancher and rawhide braider who lived in Salinas. He believed the way to open up a new relationship with a horse is by paying attention to the little things. He passed away in 1999 at the age of 93.
Desmond was inspired by the man. She worked for four years at his side, as apprentice, co-author, photographer and publisher, to produce the book that has changed the way horse owners handle their animals.
I attended a clinic taught by Desmond this past summer at the Blue Spur Ranch in Mariposa, owned by Jim and Tjode Favier. It was on a sunny Saturday morning when Desmond stood beside the corral and spoke.
"To get the most out of this clinic, watch, and watch carefully," she said.
Desmond is petite and self-assured. She was dressed in jeans, and a corduroy western shirt, with boots, hat, leather belt and silver-turquoise bracelets.
She continued. "The horse basically wants to get along with you. To bring out the best in a horse, it does not need your worry. That's an extra weight."
In America's early days, Native Americans rode bareback to hunt buffalo. Without the use of ropes or saddles, it required an uncommon skill to go after stampeding buffalo and bring home meat.
Today, after learning Dorrance's techniques, horse owners trim feet and put saddles on in pasture without ropes. And they ride bareback.
Desmond applies her mentor's approach with horses in clinics she teaches around the world.
"Don't set the horse up to fail by focusing on the thing you don't want him to do. Direct him to what you do want him to do," she said. "Set him up to succeed."
Her lessons include horse anatomy. "His eyes are where our ears are. If you're standing right in front of his head, you're in his blind spot."
How a horse balances himself and how the rider should balance her body to keep herself in alignment are important factors.
"Horses do pay attention, but we confuse the message (by shaking a rope in his face or not using the bridle correctly)," she continued.
At her Web site, www.lesliedesmond.com, it reads: "Leslie Desmond and the team at Diamond Lu Productions are committed to passing on an understanding of the horse's language through 'feel' to all those interested in caring for, handling and riding horses."
Her book with Dorrance has been reprinted numerous times and is in its second edition. She is working on two new books, "The Feel of A Horse" and "Riding With Bill."
During the weekend of Nov. 10-11, Desmond will teach a clinic in Atwater called "Discover Your Horse's Natural Lightness Using Feel and Release." The clinic will be held at Krogh Ranch, 7615 Highway 140 in Atwater. Gates open at 8 a.m.
Desmond coaches riders of all disciplines and trains horses of all breeds.
Horse owners and trainers who have reached a plateau in their work with a particular horse will appreciate Desmond's expert guidance. Riders wanting to work on their foundation and those seeking to learn advanced maneuvers will also benefit.
To audit the clinic, the cost is $35 per day or $65 for the weekend, with pre-paid registration. At the gate, the cost is $45 per day and $80 for the weekend. For those ages 18-21, there is a discount, and kids under 18 may attend for free.
Space for demo horses is limited. To reserve a stall, contact Lisa Krogh at (209) 357-8866 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To register, contact event coordinator Shawna Dahl at (209) 377-8202 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Dahl breeds foundation quarter horses and operates a riding club at her ranch in Mariposa. She has learned much from Desmond and is excited about watching her again. "This is an opportunity you don't want to miss," Dahl said.
Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.