Yes—You Can De­velop Feel

These ex­er­cises will help you de­velop that near-mag­i­cal abil­ity known as feel.

Horse & Rider - - Practice Pen - By Lau­rel Walker, With J. Fors­berg Meyer

Have you ever run down to a slid­ing stop and pulled at the wrong time, catch­ing your horse off stride and get­ting popped out of the sad­dle? Or been rid­ing down the trail, missed your horse’s sig­nals about the up­com­ing booger, and landed be­tween his ears as he whirled to flee?

What I’m talk­ing about here is a lack of feel. Feel is the near-mag­i­cal abil­ity that all great rid­ers pos­sess—the ca­pac­ity to feel what’s hap­pen­ing un­der­neath them. When you have it, you know where your horse’s feet and his mind are at any given mo­ment.

De­vel­op­ing feel re­quires time—lots of it—in the sad­dle. You can speed the process, how­ever, with the ex­er­cises I’ll give you here. With a helper, you’ll be­gin to de­velop a feel for where your horse’s feet are as he moves. Then you’ll ap­ply this learn­ing to ride your horse so that he takes the first step over a pole with the leg you in­tend.

Good feel is the key for so much you do with your horse. In ad­di­tion to know­ing when to give a cue and how to read your horse’s mind, feel en­ables you to put your horse’s body in the cor­rect po­si­tion so he can do his job more eas­ily. Plus it en­ables you to know im­me­di­ately—with­out look­ing—when your horse has picked up the wrong lead. And so much more! It’s truly the holy grail of rid­ing.

With your trainer or a friend watch­ing, sit deep in the sad­dle with your weight in your heels. Look straight ahead as you ride for­ward at a walk, and try to “feel” your horse’s front legs. Say “right” each time the right leg ad­vances, let­ting your helper cor­rect you as need be un­til you can re­li­ably feel the right leg com­ing for­ward. Al­low pe­ri­odic chat breaks, where you stop notic­ing your horse’s move­ment, then see if you can—with­out look­ing, of course—again feel when the right leg ad­vances. Then do the same with the left leg, go­ing back and forth as you work on feel­ing the dif­fer­ence.

As you get bet­ter at it, put your feel to the test. Lay a sin­gle pole on the ground, then ride to­ward it with the goal of get­ting your horse to step over with a cer­tain foot first. If you’re rid­ing in a slight arc to the left, as in the photo, try to get your horse to step over the pole first with his left leg. It takes feel and a lot of prac­tice, but once you start to get it, you’ll know you’re on the right track.

When you’ve mas­tered these ex­er­cises, try them at the trot. As an al­ter­na­tive, sit your horse at a halt and try to in­flu­ence which leg he steps off with into a walk. Then try iden­ti­fy­ing, by feel, all four of your horse’s legs at a walk, one at a time. At the lope, prac­tice feel­ing which lead your horse is on be­fore glanc­ing down to check. The more you work on all these “tests,” the faster you’ll fine-tune your feel.

Why this mat­ters. Learn to feel. Ap­ply that feel. Keep go­ing.

Have some­one check as you try to tell, us­ing only feel, when each

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