I can feel happy when I eat my ice cream, I feel sad when the ice cream is gone. I feel tired after spending the entire weekend at a horse show. My bed feels really good when I collapse in it at the end of the day. Feelings are everywhere. You can’t escape them even when you are riding. Your trainer and clinicians talk a lot about feeling certain things when you are riding your horse. “Did you feel that push your horse just gave you?” “Did you feel how connected you were on that lengthening?” “Could you feel your horse tense up right before he spooked at the vulture?” All very valid questions. But truth be told, I’m still not good with my “horse feelings.”
Like in the above photo, I’m obviously not sitting on my butt because I’m leaning too far forward. I can see that in the photo. But if you ask me about it when I’m riding, I will tell you that it feels like I’m sitting perfectly tall and upright. When I’m told “sit on your butt,” I immediately think, I am! I know I’m not sitting on my head. What else would I be sitting on while on a horse?! When I lean back until told I’m in the correct position, it feels like I’m about to tip over backwards. Ugh, this feeling stuff is hard.
Trainers also talk about feeling the horse in your hands. Is there too much weight in your hands? Is your horse leaning on you wanting you to carry his big head? Do you feel nothing because your threw away your contact? It is a hard thing to teach and even harder to understand when it is right. Your trainer can’t be on your horse with you to feel what you are feeling. They can only talk you through the sequence of aids until they see that your horse is moving correctly from behind and coming up and out of their withers. They then say, “do you feel that? That is correct.” You then must process what things feel like and then try to reproduce it at a later date and time. Sure, no problem you think. Ha! I usually have the epic fail when I think I’ve reproduced the “feeling.” I’m told my horse is too flat and I’ve left his hind end trailing. Sigh. Again, this feeling stuff is harder then I imagined.
The feeling stuff just never ends while on your horse. You need to feel when your horse needs a half halt to maintain your rhythm/tempo/balance. Then once you realize that you need that half halt, you need to determine how much of a half halt to give. If you do too much, you will have “lost that loving feeling” and ruined your connection. If you do too little, nothing will have been accomplished. You also need to make your aids subtle so that it looks like you are doing nothing. [Look up Charlotte and Valegro on YouTube and watch any of their rides – they are the epitome of finding the right feeling on your horse.] I am the poster child of what not to do.
The worst feeling is when your instructor asks, “Which of those (transitions/lengthenings/leg yields) felt the best?” Oh no, you are now in the hot seat. Which one is the right one?!! Eeek! Was it the first one? The last one? Think woman, think! You finally blurt out an answer only to hear the following, “Why do you think that one was best?” Crap! Put on the spot again! I still don’t know if I’m right about the first question. I finally mutter something about my alignment and my connection and pray that I’ve muddled through that portion of the oral exam. I’d say that I get it right about 60% of the time. If I could just make it to 70%, I’d feel a bit better.
I equate learning my “horse feelings” with learning my “baker feelings.” What are baker feelings you ask? It is the feeling of the bread dough in your hands when the consistency is correct. My mother has tried for years to teach me to feel the dough to no avail. She has the magic touch. Her pie crust and apple crumb topping are divine. I have tried to replicate that crust and those crumbs. Fail! My crumbs melt into a single blob in the oven; my mother’s are delicious individual balls of heaven. She tells me what is in them, but when I ask how much of each ingredient I need, the answer is, ” enough of each so it feels right between your fingers.” Thanks Mom, that is helpful…not.
Twenty-five years later, I’m still trying to learn my baker feelings. I can only hope that my learning curve for my horse feelings is faster.