THE ELUSIVE ‘FEEL'
Horse and Rider|Spring 2021
It takes a great horseman to develop and understand feel. However, finding feel doesn’t come easy. Al Dunning breaks down the things you need to know, both in and out of the saddle, to develop feel with your horse, and how it’ll help you better connect with him.
AL DUNNING
Everyone wants to have that special connection with their horse, but many riders struggle with the concept of feel or how to develop it in their riding. How to develop feel is a question I’m commonly asked when I work with students, but the truth is, there’s no shortcut to finding it. It requires you to spend hours in the saddle improving your skill set as a rider and spending more time with your horse on the ground so you can better understand his personality.

Here I’m going to talk about a few things you need to develop feel with your horse. The first involves improving the ability to physically feel what your horse is doing through your seat, hands, and body, while the second part involves thinking about your horse and thinking like your horse to better understand his mindset and what he’s experiencing.

Find Feel With Your Seat

Being able to feel what your horse is doing through your seat takes hours of practice and will be a difficult thing to master when you’re first starting out. But the more hours you put in, the more confident you’ll become with your seat while riding and the better connection you’ll have with your horse.

BALANCE. Having balance is a key part of finding feel. A good rider always sits in the middle of the saddle. However, there are several parts to this. First, your saddle needs to be in the middle of your horse’s back. Pay close attention to where it sits when you first mount your horse, as it’s common for it to get pulled to the left when you’re getting on. An easy way to see if your saddle is straight is seeing that it aligns with your horse’s mane and withers.

ATHLETIC RIDING POSITION. An athletic riding position helps you stay centered in the saddle with your legs underneath you. You know you’re balanced in the saddle when you can stand straight up in your stirrups without needing the assistance of your horn. (Having a saddle that’s the correct size for you will make it easier to accomplish this position.) When you settle back into your seat after standing up, you’ll bend your knees and sit in the center of the saddle with 60% of your weight in the seat with the other 40% in your feet.

You should be looking forward, with your ears aligned with your shoulders, your shoulders over your hips, and your hips over your heels. Your legs should be between the front and back cinch in order to have the proper connection with your horse. Your heels should be lower than your toes with your weight on the balls of your feet. You should be able to remain in this straight but relaxed alignment at all gaits.

If you look like you're sitting on the couch, you’re going to be too far back in your saddle, and your knees and legs are going to be too far forward. This position, which is all too common, doesn’t allow you to ride directly over the motion and makes it impossible to use your legs efficiently to connect with your horse’s rhythm.

Before you even get on your horse, start by standing on the ground, and having an open stance, like you would if you were on your horse. You’ll then bend your knees, with your toes slightly out, your back lightly flexed, with your chin level and eyes forward. Keep your elbows softly by your side and your arms in a 90-degree angle forward.

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