Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Riding the Feel

Laura asked an interesting question a while ago:

I have a two-part question for you: (maybe you have tried to explain this already and I just don't remember) could you describe what you think of when you say "you ask the horse to do what you feel"? And when you are thinking about "the feel", are you giving leg/seat/hand aids and cues?

I'll try to answer - I'm sure I've made attempts before, but it's a hard concept to communicate in words - it's really not a "words" thing . . .

Start with yourself - just yourself - no horse. Now just walk, and feel what it means to walk - where are you looking, how are your feet moving forward and back, what does this all feel like . . .

Now break into a jog - just yourself, no horse - it just happens naturally, doesn't it?  You don't think "trot", no one gives you leg or seat aids, the energy just comes up and with your thought - maybe hardly any thought at all - you're jogging.  And now come back to a walk - again there are no aids, or even really thought - you're just walking.

That's how it can be for you and your horse, and that's what riding the feel is about.

When I ask the horse to do something, I think/feel in my body how what I want would feel, and offer that feel to the horse - this is a mental thing, there are no aids involved.  I feel my own body move into the corners, and step longer or shorter, bringing the energy up or down, or change the rhythm from walk to trot to canter, or move laterally.  I offer the connection and the horse joins into that and we do things together.

Aids - leg, hand, seat - are just boundaries and come into play only if the horse needs assistance understanding what I want - more and more these aren't really necessary.

The trick, I guess, is to feel yourself doing it and have the horse take up that feel and do it as well.  With practice, it can become a pretty seamless connection . . . pure magic, but really not - just ordinary, like moving yourself from a walk to a jog.


  1. Good explanation of a difficult to explain subject. I also think consistency in offering our feel to horse is important. I believe horses need to learn to read our feel and the more consistent we are the better and quicker they learn. Like people, some horses are quicker learners than others.


    1. Dan - a very good point - consistency - and continuity of offering the feel are very important. I've learned that when someone says that their horse is easily distracted, the issue is usually not with the horse . . .

  2. Difficult concept to tell. But that was good, know what you mean, sometimes it happens, most times not.

  3. Good explanation for a beginner like me!

  4. I like that explanation too, makes it real simple to understand. I found it hard to do until you ride for a long time and then one day i just realized I never had to really ask my horse anything she just did it, was kinda cool now I am trying to get there with all my other horses. I found it easier to start when following cows, if they walk we walk if the trot we trot and after a while we just did it no cues needed.

  5. Well expressed. It also points out how important it is to think as you ride. You need to know what you are going to do so your body can do it and communicate that to the horse. It's one of the reasons I always felt it was essential I memorize my dressage tests and not rely on a reader. That way, I was always planning ahead and telling my horse what we were going to do with my body fully prepared to do it.

    Maybe that's confusing, but it's how I ride.

  6. Well said. That may be why we were all such good riders when we were young and didn't know anything--we had so much energy, confidence and purpose--it may have trumped experience. When we concentrate on where we're going our body is sending all kinds of cues our horse picks up on.

    Hope Pie gets better.


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