Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

The beauty about horse riding is that feel can become more important than technique. The opportunity is there.

But before we can go on autopilot, we do have some homework to do. The rider with correct muscle memory is the one who can slowly let the body take over, and allow the mind to take a step back. The micro-movements of the rider's muscles have to be so automatic that there is no thinking involved. Simple as that.

It might not be so simple while you are in the learning stages. You have to think to use your inside leg at the same moment as the inside rein. You have to think that the horse needs impulsion - now! You have to think about the fact that you have to center your seat in the saddle rather than tilt through the turn. 

And thinking takes time. In fact, it almost takes too much time because by the time you've thought, then you've done -- the horse is already long gone into the next movement and you have to play catch up. But there really is no other way at first. 

How can a rider go from technique-based riding to feel-based riding? Here are 6 steps.

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At first, technique reigns supreme. You really do have to put in the repetition and time, in order to be able to develop the muscle memory in the first place. 

If you've already developed muscle memory, but it's hindering the horse... then you have to not only learn better muscle memory, but undo the old ones in the process. This takes even more time than learning things correctly in the first place. But many of us find ourselves in this group and really, there's nothing to do but get on with the correct practice.

Make The Mistakes

Invariably, we have to make mistakes. And each time we ride a new horse, we will learn new things and make new mistakes because of the opportunities that horse brings. But there is no getting away from mistakes, and instead of thinking of them as mistakes, think of them as learning stages. Because it's as important to know what NOT to do as it is to know what to do.

Correct The Mistakes

Then there's the whole learning what TO do after making the mistakes! The good thing about this stage is that as you learn, you'll begin to discover "good" feels! You might feel what a nice trot really feels like when the horse is finally ready for sitting trot. Or you might have that first "aha!" moment when you realize that you can open your seat into the direction of the turn - and the horse turns so easily!

These will fuel your motivation and keep you trying even harder because then you'll know that you're on the right track. Your horse will be happier with you (and happier with being ridden in general), and the movement will feel out of this world, especially at the beginning!

Get Faster

Over time, your body will develop quicker responses and it won't take as much effort on your part to direct and then stay with the horse. What used to seem almost impossible now becomes the norm and you will start to set your sights on new and even more complicated figures or movements. 

Think Less

You'll know you've "arrived" when you realize that you're not having to think your body parts into motion anymore. They just do what they need to do on their own, and you can let your mind just be. You'll have an easier time thinking ahead to the next movement, planning what's coming up, and you'll start to be able to look around and enjoy the atmosphere even while you and your horse are dancing along.

Let the Body Take Over

And then one day, you'll be able to feel the whole thing at once. Let's say you want to get a bend. You won't have to think about the inside rein, outside leg, etc. You'll just feel that bend into place. Then you'll feel the change of bend to the new bend.

What once was pieces is now a whole movement. Your movement is fluid, easy, and in time with the horse. And this is when people talk about being "at one" with your horse.

This is when riding becomes art. It's when feel becomes more important than technique.

I'm not sure if you can create "art" out of every ride. But I think you can approach art often, once you've found it.

And one more thing: I don't think you have to ride at the top levels to ride with feel.

In fact, I know I've seen many beautiful, artistic rides with horses and riders at even the most basic levels. It's just that they were so well prepared at that level, that they were working in the "feel" phase of their movements, and not in just the "technique" phase. Perhaps they were still working hard on acquiring good technique at higher levels. But they were able to ride in that "feel" zone at the level they'd already mastered.

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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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