By three methods we may learn wisdom:
First, by reflection, which is noblest;
Second, by imitation, which is easiest;
and third by experience, which is the bitterest.
Confucius might well have been writing about "feel" in his quote above. Just replace the word 'wisdom' with 'feel' and you will get a generally good idea of the path.
Born to feel?
Many people say that it is impossible to learn how to 'feel' in riding. They say either you have it, or you don't. They insist that people who can 'feel' are essentially born with it, and others will never find it regardless of their attempts.
But you know this can not possibly be true. You have likely watched as people improved their riding skills over time and witnessed for yourself that (correct) practice DOES make perfect (or at the very least, significant improvement).
Of course, certain requirements have to be in place:
- you need regular instruction.
- you must commit to consistent practice.
- you must be willing to hear and respond to repeated feedback.
- you must have the intrinsic motivation to strive for more at all times.
Most importantly, you need to have the openness of heart and mind to 'find' that feel - especially during the first time, since you will not particularly know what the feel feels like!
How to find 'feel'?
Do like Confucius said!
First, you must start with an idea. Before you will even know what to feel for, you must get some input from a more experienced source. Perhaps you have an instructor that puts emphasis on describing the feel for you. Maybe you can read about the feel from an expertly written book or article.
The difficulty about this stage is that you don't know what you don't know... and to break the cycle, you need to reach out to someone who does know. The road to knowing (or feeling, in this case), is trusting that there is something "out there" that you don't even know exists! Then you need the teaser idea to get you started, to start (figuratively) groping around to find that feel.
Second, watch, learn and do. There is no learning that is more successful than having a chance to watch someone ride, and then trying it yourself. Imitate! Ideally, you would be able to ride in the company of other experienced riders and try to mimic their actions. Even better, ride with your instructor and listen to her as she explains what she is doing, what she is feeling, and what the end result looks like in the horse.
Then it is your turn to try and search for the feeling that will produce the final result. Unfortunately, you will have to get it wrong many times before you get the first taste of correct feel. At long last, after your instructor explained the skills, and then the feel, you might get a brief moment when it all falls together - and you FEEL!
Then, it all falls apart again!
Now you need to develop experience. After you get it that one time, you might not get it again for a while. You have to trouble-shoot - hit and miss - until you find the feel the second time. Each time, it gets easier to repeat, and you can duplicate the feel sooner and more frequently. Sometimes, you will go through a stage where you simply cannot reproduce the feel (and result) without your instructor's steady guidance from the ground. You might be successful for the last twenty minutes of the lesson, but not be able to reproduce the skill on your own.
It WILL get worse before it gets better. As Confucius indicates, learning through experience is "bitterest!"
Be patient. Getting to a point where the feel becomes part of your blueprint takes time and repetition. Persist through the uncoordinated moments, try again, and keep searching for that evasive feel. It really does get easier with time and practice.
If you can ride with feel, you will be able to respond immediately to your horse's needs, be able to avoid problems before they occur, and be present in the ride but out of your horse's way at the same time. And, to top it off, your horse will thank you for it!
How did you, or are you, developing 'feel' in horse riding?
Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!
Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions.
This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.
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Top Nine Ways to Prevent Your Horse From Finding His "Happy Place" in Riding: A (mild) rant about the many reasons why horses might not perform to our expectations.
Too Good To Be True? Finding Your Horse's "Happy Place": A follow-up to the above post, this time focusing on what TO do to improve your horse's performance.