dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, May 1, 2023

Feelin' It

 Another post that proves I can overthink. 

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the concept of 'feel'. As horse people we all know and use this term. I'm starting to think that it's like many of those horse terms- like half-halt. 

According to the dictionary 'Feel' is defined as: "Feel means to be aware of a physical or emotional sensation. Feel is most often used as a verb, meaning to physically touch or grope something or to be conscious of something emotionally." 

When it comes to riding and horses there are many ways people define 'feel (random google results)': 

Feel' is the term used to describe the mysterious ability a good rider has when communicating with their horse. A rider with good feel knows exactly where their horse is at every moment. They sense their horse's balance, thoroughness, connection, and the acceptance of their leg, seat, and rein aids. (How To Dressage)

Feel is a commonly used term in the horse world. The idea of feeling for the subtleties in the horse's responses to our aids, along with skilled timing, is something that I believe differentiates between average riders and great horsemen. (Reimagine Horsemanship)

feel as an awareness of your horse and of yourself. It is making observations and reading the horse, but at a glance. Going further than reading the horse, feel is awareness of emotion, of tension, pressure, movement and what might be coming next.

from my Sunday lesson- trying to feel straightness

When we experience true feel, it’s not a cognitive process, it is a sense, a knowing. Feel is the unconscious mind at work, using prior learning to process information and make assumptions quickly. (Horse Class)

Honestly, it all sounds like magic. What has struck me about the idea of feel is that it evolves. I can remember lots of examples of a coach asking if I could feel something while riding (where my hip was, how my seat bones move).  I would definitely feel something but not always sure if that was the right thing. Later I would have an 'aha' moment when I realised that this was it. 

The is a definite physical component but also an emotional one. I have definitely tuned into Carmen's emotions but I tend to baby her too much. In my Sunday lesson Jane had us warm up with work, rather than baby her along. I was sure she would escalate with that but she didn't. Instead she started to relax into the work. 

feeling the outside rein for SI but not feeling that I'm 
too much on the inside rein. 

In terms of the physical aspect of feel we can tell a lot of things. But also need to recognise that our bodies lie to us all the time. 

More recently I have been working on keep my seat soft and relaxed in the saddle. I know that when I do I can keep her with me. But my default, when she tenses, is to tense as well which pops me out of the saddle. I don't think I really noticed it last year. Well I did, but not like now. My feel for that now is much better. I can actually feel my seat bones move separately. Next year it will probably be different. 

I also feel that I'm allowing her to stretch in her neck but when I watch the video I see that I am not giving her enough rein. Sigh.  

Half-pass, it felt good though

When I have my lessons, I have started asking Jane if I had something right or better. I do it so I can improve my feel but also so that when I look at the video again I can see it. while I believe that there are people with a natural feel, I also believe that it can only improve if we are consciously aware of what is happening. 

In terms of our canter work I am still working on keeping my seat soft in the saddle. As soon as I tighten I begin to bounce. So that's easy to feel. Not always easy to fix. But it's coming. One thing I struggle to feel is that my leg tends to go back. It's probably all linked to my tension. 

Proving that I'm not just cherry picking:
so much tension and my leg creeping back

better here (if you don't look at my creeping leg)

Jane is very good at finding words to help me improve my riding and my feel. Carmen is very good at letting me know when I get it wrong. 

It would be easy to think of 'feel' as a myth.  

Like the half-halt (ha! just kidding. I think).

I don't think that's it. We all have those moments in riding when things just click and it's magical. It's what gets me back in the saddle. I love that feeling. 

In other news someone else is also feeling really good. 

Seeing him carrying on like a young horse, building muscle and shine makes me feel so happy. 


  1. Very interesting post. My trainer always says that people who say that feel can't be taught are just being lazy. So she takes great care to describe with words that make sense so that the mysterious "feel" can be developed.

  2. I like that asking if things are right or better. I agree that feel is such an elusive concept. Yoga and Feldenkrais have helped me a lot with this though. Also comparing what I thought was going on with what actually showed up on video from my Pivo.

    1. Yoga is very helpful for me. I also love using my Pivo.

  3. You did a good job defining it. I know several trainers who have great feel, and they’re all very different, and their horsemanship styles are completely different. Even with good feel, there are probably a lot of moments where the best horse people still get surprised or stumped. Horses are always throwing curveballs, kind of like humans. I’m happy to have a feel with my own little herd. It’s easier from the ground than in saddle. I’m finding that out all over again.

    1. It is definitely easier from the ground. You can see the whole body.

  4. Feel definitely evolves. When we are ready to evolve. It is kind of like a foreign language. You learn it in layers. The more practice and use, the better understanding and fluent one becomes. Easier for some and difficult for others. Mostly because of endless variables. Feeling at any level is a beautiful thing!

    You & Carmen look wonderful together :)


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