Relaxation - and much more!
Losgelassenheit is the step most likely to be displaced when translated to English. This is certainly because there is no suitable translation for it. In fact some book originally written in German don’t bother to translate it at all, simply leaving it as is, for the reader to decipher, as in this excellent book. The most common translation is relaxation. However, as was noted on the previous page, Takt, relaxation is a prerequisite for takt (rhythm). If you were to do a quick survey of publications of the training tree or training scale, you would find about as many place relaxation before rhythm, such as here, as place it after. You would also find many in which the two steps are lumped together, “Rhythm and Relaxation,” as if they are one, such as here. So how is it that the Germans placed it second? The answer is that losgelassenheit means much more than relaxation.
When many of us think of relaxation, we think of lying on the beach, or by the pool, or on the sofa, with not a care in the world. If you were riding a horse in a similar state, he wouldn’t be of much use. When a horse is losgelassen, he is working but without tension, active without tightness, enthusiastic without evasiveness; he allows his energy to be shaped by his rider without offering resistance. He is lively, yet submissive. Losgelassenheit is the state a marathoner (26k) might be in when running a 5k or 10k – no problem! The muscles are activated, but the work is manageable; there is no holding back, there is no fear.
In order for a horse to reach this state, he must have a rider (or handler, for groundwork) who is very observant, and very experienced. The horse must have absolute trust in his handler in order to let go of all tension, for in this submissive state he is vulnerable. The person must be trustworthy in the eyes of the horse, fair, consistent, and never push the horse beyond his capabilities. The horse must be pushed to near the limit of his capabilities, for that is how progress is made. Treading that fine line is the job of the professional trainer. Read more about submission here.
The trainer's goal is to develop the horse gymnastically so that it can be just as beautiful, as energetic and relaxed (as losgelassen), with a rider as it can be without a rider.