Rally Saturday 5th April 2014
Lecture: Riding with Feel
Marj Radford spoke to us about riding with feel and it’s importance in training at this months rally.
Riding with feel is about the riders connection with the horse, knowing what the horse is doing underneath them and when to ask for a movement.
Marj made reference to Zoe Harrison’s book ‘Riding with Feel’ which explains from the moment a foal is born it communications through feel whether it is directly through touch or the body language of its mother.
A horse is most comfortable with a rider that has taken the time to learn and understand this particular method of exchanging information.
She explained riding with feel was like a sixth sense and it comes with experience.
The rider feels information through their entire body and transmits it to the brain, which relays more information back to the horse through the rider’s aids.
Without feel training horse often becomes a battle of wills resulting in an angry rider and a tense, unhappy horse.
There are four requirements that must happen for a rider to develop feel.
1- Regular instruction: Before a rider can begin to know what feel is they must get help from a more experienced source. A coach can put emphasis on describing feel for the rider. Riders can also read about it from an expert in books or magazines. The difficult part is not knowing what to do or how to feel which is why a more experienced rider can help develop correct feel.
2- Commitment to consistent practice: Riders who a dedicated to developing correct feel should strive towards practicing as much as possible. Once you have experienced correct feel in some of your training strive to get that feeling again the next time you ride. Riding with a coach can help, they can explain what they are doing and feeling then you can try for the same feeling. Unfortunately riders will get it wrong many times before getting the taste of correct feel – but as the saying goes practice makes perfect.
3- Willingness to hear and respond to repeated feedback: This is where understanding a horses attitude and ability is important as it will help a rider feel what the horse is telling them or when to ask for a movement. It helps for a rider to understand their aids when learning to listen to feedback, riders feel with their hands, seat, legs and eyes. The hands can feel what the horse might be doing in front of them but can also be the most damaging as the horse mouth is the most sensitive part of its body. Through practice riders can use their seat and legs to ask for correct work and to control the paces. Riders also need to listen to feedback from coaches as often another set of eyes can see something a rider has not picked up on.
4- Intrinsic motivation to strive for more: Most riders are perfectionists, they get a movement established but want to better it in their training. A motivation to improve the horse’s work helps a rider to develop feel because riders practice relentlessly. Riders should have openness of heart and mind to find feel, especially during the first time so they can learn what it feels like and strive for more. Practicing correctly is crucial, sometimes a horses work can get worse before it gets better. Patients, repetition and persistence through uncoordinated movements will help the process of riding with feel become easier each ride.

If a rider can ride with feel they will be able to immediately respond to their horses needs, be able to avoid problems before they occur and be present in the ride without stifling the horse’s ability. Once a rider has gained riding with feel a harmonious bond exists between horse and rider as they are able to work as one.

Training tips:

  • Have an instructor or more experienced rider help you develop feel by telling you what they see from on the ground.

  • Listen to how other riders have developed feel

  • Learn the horses footfalls so you know when to use the aids to ask for certain movements. Using coloured bandages on each leg and having someone tell you when they are moving will help you understand the footfalls through feel

  • Learn to ride the horse into a correct frame or connection through seat and legs

  • Keep an open mind about what the horse is telling you and try to work with the horse

  • Remember a relaxed and happy rider transfers to the horse

Lecture by Marjorie Radford
Notes by Andrea Downey