Friday, October 25, 2013

What is "feel?" If you have to ask...?

I've often heard people comment that a rider "has a nice feel."  While I get the general gist, I have to admit I don't know what this means, exactly. I assume it means they have a good instinct and perception for what makes a horse balanced and comfortable, and a natural inclination to move their aids in a way to bring out the best movement in the horse.

Someone needs to write the book Rider Feel for Dummies. What do natural riders do, and how do they know to do it? What are the rest of us missing?

To give an example:  I know that sometimes I think I'm turning a nice corner and my trainer will tell me Ri is falling out on the circle. I can feel falling in, but not falling out -- at least not as well. When my trainer helps me correct the problem and get him to stand up in the shoulder, I can feel the difference. But starting from scratch, without that direct comparison, I'm a little lost.

Ditto with the comment that a horse is stiff on the rein going left. I usually know something is wrong but I can't always say what. I try a few exercises, like spiraling in, and I can feel improvement, but I can't always say how it has improved.

Let you think I'm a complete dolt, there are things I have a good feel for -- hind end engagement, lifting through the shoulder, for example. I guess is lateral feel I'm lacking...

What about you guys?


  1. I just read Mary Wanless' book Riding in your minds Eye and it was an eye opener! I unfortunately have that elusive 'feel' and it makes teaching tough, so I soaked up that book and lo and behold both my teenage students improved immediately. One said it was like getting a whole new language that her horse already knew. It is worth your time to read this book!

  2. I read RWYM years ago -- I think i was not ready for it, b/c for years I thought that forcing forward was the answer. I totally get what she wants to tell us now, but back then i think it just increased the amount of tension in my riding. Obviously this is not what she intended.

  3. "Feel" is something learned and instinctive at the same time. What you need is a good trainer who can see when things are really right, who then insists that you "feel it" not just do it. (I keep hearing Lockie Richards voice in my head, "Feel it? Feel it?" and he'd never be satisfied until he was sure I did "feel it.") You can ride by rote or you can ride by feel. "Feel" means that you know when the horse is correct and you have a whole "bag of tricks " to get the horse there.

    I'm sure you instinctively feel many things already when you ride. You can feel when the horse is not forward. You can feel when he doesn't turn when you want him to. You can feel when he's tense. You do not consciously go through a list of things to do to correct any of these, but you just react accordingly and fix it. The more experiences you have when you ride, the more you develop the "feel" for certain things.

    I am sure good upper level riders feel tons more than I do. They "feel" when the horse starts to stiffen even a little and then, from years of training, make the right correction to fix it before it gets bad. They feel the right moment to ask for a depart without consciously thinking of which leg is hitting the ground at the time. I know that riding the tempis is more a "feel" for me than a conscious--"OK, now that leg is ready to go, so I'll give the cue for the change."

    Next time you ride, think of all the things you just do automatically and why you do them. I suspect you will realize that much of the riding you do already is based on "feel."

  4. That Jean person is a treasure!

  5. Anon, I second that emotion -- and she's better in person!


Hi Guys, Your comments are valued and appreciated -- until recently I never rejected a post. Please note that I reserve the right to reject an anonymous post.