“An Exercise to Develop Feel”

There’s that word again … “feel.”

It can be so elusive. What does that mean? And most importantly, how can you develop it?

To me “riding with feel” means being so connected to your horse that you can sense how to communicate seamlessly with him moment to moment (like a dance partner leading the dance.)

For example, you show him what to do next with just the right amount of cuing. Or you detect what he is going to do next before he actually does it. You sense his muscles tighten or his body parts barely move before he actually changes direction. Because you sense these subtle shifts, you are right there with just the right amount of seat, feet or leg support to guide him moment to moment.

So how do you acquire this elusive quality of “feel” in an efficient way?

Well nothing replaces hours in the saddle, but there is an exercise you can do to help your quest.

First, riding a horse with “feel” is a “soft” skill.

In any endeavor (not just horses) a “soft” skill means being responsive to a constantly changing situation. What’s going on is never exactly the same … similar to a quarter back making moment to moment decisions play by play.

“Hard” skills, by comparison are the things you do over and over in the same way (for the most part) … like how you position yourself in the saddle, or how you hold the reins.

It’s important to understand that soft skills take longer to develop because it takes multiple exposures to multiple changing scenarios to develop accurate responsiveness.

It’s also important to know that it’s common to get frustrated as you learn soft skills because there’s no short cut to the time and experience necessary to learn them.

However, I do have an exercise for you that I know will help you develop “feel” by helping you become more mindful of your horse’s movements.

Step one is to walk your horse with your chin up, shoulders back and eyes up.

Breathe as you walk.


Now, connect to your core. By this I mean tighten your abs a bit. Push you belly button back and down towards your spine.

Keep walking with great posture, eyes up, an awareness of your core … and breathing. Take your time. Get comfortable, yet alert.

Now, stay in that same posture and core awareness as you connect to your legs. Feel your legs moving with your horse’s ribs and legs. You don’t need to analyze what leg is doing what. Just “feel” the movement.

Keep breathing. Keep you eyes up. Stay soft in your body. Make your elbows heavy. Breathe into any body part that feels tight. Don’t rush. Get loose and stay loose. Be aware. Tune into the movement.

Now, go deeper. Drop your awareness further down and into your horse’s feet. You don’t have to know exactly which foot is where. Just gently take your mind through your core, through your legs, and then through his legs and into his feet.

Stay mentally connected to the rhythm of his feet. As you turn a corner imagine his feet positions. Perhaps in a curve to the left, you notice that his right front foot reaches a bit over the left front foot. Again, there’s no need to be super analytical. Just feel it.

And as you do other things … stopping, backing, trotting, loping … do this same exercise. Connect to his feet. Imagine what they are doing.

If you want to extend a horse’s gait, before you ask your horse with your feet, imagine his feet moving faster. If you want to slow down, imagine his feet slowing down.

Remember, do this exercise slowly at first.

The keys are to keep looking up. Keep breathing, Keep connecting to your core. Then become mindful of his feet.

Enjoy more “feel”.

Print This Post Print This Post    Email This Post Email This Post   


7 Comments on “An Exercise to Develop Feel”

  1. Lura Wight on Wed, 24th May 2017 9:14 am
  2. Exactly what I needed to hear today….just getting to know my new mare and this will help! Thanks Barb!

  3. Eva Barnes on Wed, 24th May 2017 5:57 pm
  4. Beautiful words of wisdom Barb. A great exercise we all can use. Now that Sable is able to be ridden after being so sick last year I look forward to practicing feel. I hope you write about timing in the future. I give you much credit for being able to express effectively what feel is and how to acquire it. Thank you for such a timely article. Love and hugs.

  5. Kimberly Satterthwaite on Thu, 25th May 2017 7:35 am
  6. Thank you! As always: inspirational and doable.

  7. Leah Johnson on Thu, 25th May 2017 9:45 am
  8. Thank you for sharing a practical exercise for “feel”.

  9. Kathy H. on Tue, 30th May 2017 6:15 pm
  10. Barbra, thank you for giving words to this concept. As a rider who started late in life (in my 30’s), I connected with Gentleman Jim, a mischievous dark palomino. Mischievous in that, as a youngster, he might decide to lie down during a class if the mood struck him, to watch closely for his opening for naughty opportunity, decide which intersection to go and crow hop if denied his wishes. However, over the years, I developed an uncanny sense of what he would do before he did it. I owned him for 17 years of his 33-year life. I didn’t know it at the time, but I guess I developed feel with him (or because of him!)

    As with many partnerships, when he left, I’ve never found one like him or that I was so connected with. Now nearly 20 years and two horses later, I’m wondering if those more youthful core muscles and relaxation are a thing of the past. I have a nagging fear of falling that, in the past, I never thought twice about.

  11. Devon Camilleri on Sat, 1st Feb 2020 9:17 pm
  12. I have a young cow horse who is incredibly sensitive (exactly what makes him awesome). I over manage him and we both get frustrated. Feel, trying to quiet myself inside, listen to him………….soft back and shoulders and hands, subtle leg cues. I didn’t know I was yelling until I found him. Trying to whisper.
    I joined your Core Confidence 2020 to help me know him better.

  13. Evertt Williams on Sun, 6th Dec 2020 4:57 am
  14. As a teacher I experimented with mindfulness as a means to reduce stress and anxiety with students. There are several emerging and impactful approaches that center on breathing and core posturing to enhance more mindful learning and living.

    This is an insightful extension of these principles into the equestrian world of “feel” that can not only help us be better riders, but better people.

    Thank you.

Tell me what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!