Feel… A hugely important component of successful horsemanship and something that is often considered as a talent that you are either gifted at birth with or your not!
From years spent helping and watching people ride, I do agree that some people seem to have a more natural feel than others, however I have also found that often, riders who seemingly lack natural feel can learn it and develop it with consistent effort and diligence.
So what is feel? My explanation of feel is the ability to know the right time to ask a question of your horse without having to consciously think about it. It is also the skill of reacting correctly, in a timely fashion, to almost all situations without, again, having to think too long or hard about it.
True feel is not a conscious thought, rather a subconscious reaction to the present situation to affect the outcome you want.
However, often the frustration felt while trying to find your ‘feel’, is the very thing that will prevent you from developing your riding skills and mastering your body so you are in tune with your horse and dancing the same dance.
Firstly, before you hop into the saddle, invest some time warming up your body and ensure that you are just as ready to work as your horse is. I think as riders we can definitely improve our own personal performance in the saddle if we invest even a quarter amount of the time and dedication we spend on warming up our horses, warming up our own bodies! Some initial simple stretches & exercises can be a huge game changer when you do then mount up.
When in the saddle, begin by engaging your core and making sure your shoulders, pelvis and legs are aligned as they should be. More times than not, a locked pelvis or hip joint is what works against you developing your natural feel as a rider. Pay attention that your legs are not too far back, leaving you sitting on your crotch and also that you are not squeezing or pinching with your thighs or legs which stops you releasing your knee. Allow your legs to hang, and then look at ‘wrapping’ them around your horse, keeping knee off so your legs does not ‘stick out’.
Relaxation is, as always, of the utmost importance in order for you to be receptive to the horse & his movement. Tension in either you or the horse will stop most of the feel between horse & rider and stop you from absorbing the movement as it happens.
It is also important to remember that your horse must be allowed to move forward and then you, as the rider, should follow your horse and make adjustments based on what you are feeling, when and with which body part. Only when you, the rider, can truly feel the horse underneath you can you then actively begin to make adjustments based on what is happening, or what you desire to happen.
You need to become aware of your horse and be sensitive to their every movement. I suggest taking things back to walk and, with your feet out of your stirrups allowing your legs to drape over your horses sides, begin counting each foot fall in each stride your horse takes. From there, begin to notice which hoof is the 1, which is the 2, the 3 and the 4 of each stride.
Once you can accurately tell which hoof is moving when in the sequence, begin paying attention to your body and how your horses moving is affecting & influencing your movement. If you are in a safe, enclosed space with a horse you trust, you can even close your eyes which helps to block out other distractions and really allow you to feel what is going on underneath you.
So, as your horse is walking, first begin to feel the rhythm of the walk, the 1, 2, 3, 4… Once this is established, begin focusing on which of the beats is your horse’s inside back leg moving forward (before) he puts his hoof on ground. Your left hip (on that same side) will dip down as his leg lifts off the ground to move forward underneath you both. This is because his barrel will swing out to the opposite side to make room for the leg coming under him.
Concentrate and focus on the movement, rhythm and beat. If necessary, have a person on the ground first tell you when this is happening, so you can then notice and remember how your body reacts to this movement. If you are not fortunate enough to have a reliable person on the ground and you are still struggling to feel, it often helps if you place your hands on your upper thighs and feel which thigh goes up and down, when.
Only through correct repetition of this exercise in a calm, relaxed manner will you begin to enhance your powers to feel what is happening and from there, begin to move with your horse as a real team.
This topic is covered on a full week of lessons inside of Daily Strides Premium, where we are focusing on helping you develop this feel. We kick off on Tuesday with some exercises to really focus your mind on what is happening underneath you and how your body is reacting to this. Wednesday is dedicated to figuring out your correct diagonal in the trot, using just feel and on Thursday we focus on striking the correct canter lead, again by feeling when the optimum time to ask is.
If you are interested in finding out more about Daily Strides Premium, have a look HERE >>
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