Riding by Feel

Feel is a concept, which is your responsibility as a rider to learn and develop. You need to learn to distinguish when your horse has responded and how to reward this. What feel means is the ability to tell when a change has happened with the horse; adjust and correct/reward the horse. Feel is more difficult for you to recognize than the horse!

I struggle to teach FEEL. Truthfully, I struggle to develop the level of feel and timing I need to get the most from my horses! About the time I figure it out myself, a new horse, a new goal, a new obstacle arises that makes me doubt that I know. However, what I do know is teaching a repeatable foundation and sequence of cues to the horse will eventually allow the human to develop the proper feel, if they are observant. I try to assist horsemen in applying appropriate cues (the tool box of knowledge); knowing when the horse is responding; and how to reward that response. (1)Ask, (2) Suggest and if needed, (3) Demand the horse to try and then, (4) Release the pressure as soon as the horse responds positively. This may happen in Step 1, 2, or 3- but we must immediately release when the desired response is achieved. Also, we must always go through this sequence to get softness, responsiveness, and learning. Immediate response results when we anticipate a positive response, instead hoping for it.

Exercises to improve a student’s ability to feel the movements and responses of the horse have been developed. They include the typical exercises for developing balance and independence of the hands and legs; feeling the horse’s foot falls and weight shifts; feeling the horse’s rhythm; and learning to respond to the minute responses of the horse. Developing balance and independent hands and legs is the most important to me.

The objective of riding by feel is to be able to influence the horse. This can be done by simply establishing rhythm with the horse and then slightly changing the rhythm. As the horse becomes more receptive to your feel and rhythm, he will alter his rhythm to conform to yours. You can influence how long a horse’s leg is on the ground by simply putting more weight on that leg as it strikes the ground. By weighting a leg, the student can influence the horse’s speed, leads and responsiveness. By using your hands on the reins in rhythm with the horse, you can change the rhythm of the horse by simply slowing the rhythm of your hands. The same thing can be accomplished by slowing your weight shifts to influence the horse and his balance.

Riding by feel is a difficult, challenging task. As horsemen develop their timing and rhythm, they will become better riders. As they improve their ability to feel and respond to the horse, the horse will improve.  

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