In order to develop softness, we have to understand the Zone of Comfort. The Zone of Comfort is an imaginary line around where you'd like your horse to be. This Zone can change shape and size depending on what you're asking. The most important thing to remember is that when your horse is inside the Zone of Comfort, all pressure should be off. You should give him the full reward that he's entitled to. When you are ready to ask something different, your horse will be touching the edge of your imaginary line. This will be communicated through your horse through the pressure of a rein, leg, etc. Plan on maintaining this pressure until he finds the center of the Zone of Comfort once again. It's not the pressure that teaches, it is the release of pressure! It takes comfort for pressure to be effective, and it takes pressure for comfort to be effective. Imagining a Zone of Comfort can help us find the balance between pressure and release, without pain or fear!
It is most important to recognize the manner in which you apply pressure. You don't want your horse to abruptly run into the edge of your Zone. Instead, you should introduce the edge of the Zone as softly as possible. Remember that a horse can feel a fly land on their back! Can you touch your horse with the same lightness as a fly? The softer we are when we begin shifting the Zone of Comfort, the softer our horses can become. This is where we develop a soft feel.
Maintaining softness is about learning to give more than we take. We should learn to say "yes" instead of "no". The only reason to put pressure on is to take it away when the horse finds the right answer. Instead of getting frustrated when our horses don't respond the way we'd like, we should get excited when they do! Giving them release is our way of saying "thank you" to our horses who are making substantial efforts to please us. If we can master the art of giving comfort and saying "thank you" to every tiny effort, our horses will maintain a soft feel.