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10Sep 14

A little feel can grow into more

Over the years I have watched endless amount of riders, some as being their teacher, others as an admirer. It is a wonderful thing to watch a good rider with a lot of feel being in synch with his or her horse.

Also those riders were once beginners. And this is something we should never forget. It takes an enormous amount of practice to develop feel. Only a few riders are talented enough to immediately have lots of it. Most of us start with a little and as long as we allow ourselves to feel, rather than overwhelm our horse with too many unnecessary aids, we can make it grow.

Here is an example: you are in India visiting a market and you stop at a silk stand. The salesman lets you feel three types of silk; a very fine one, a medium one and  a slightly rougher one. However, you can not really feel any difference. If you had the chance to go back every day for a month, I can assure you that you would feel a difference by the end of that month. This is exactly the same as developing the feel to ride well. A gradual process.

There are ways which will stop you from developing feel.The worst scenario is an assertive rider who is talented and strong enough to have impact, but with an unrecognized bad habit. For example, a crookedness somewhere in the body, flat hands, or plain and simply a temper (the last type should never be allowed to have a horse, of course). A crooked rider can make a horse unbalanced to the point that it turns naughty. It certainly becomes impossible to develop the correct feel. I strongly recommend the book `Centered riding' by Sally Swift. It is a bible for advice on correct balance and much more.

Flat hands can only pull, not feel. It is generally underestimated. Hands are a point of connection from the mouth of the horse through the reins, through our arms and finally through our back to our seat bones. When the hands are flat the `telephone cable' is broken and can not transfer information properly.

When, many years ago, I was on a customer's horse in a group lesson with Mrs. Molly Sivewright (founder of Talland), she told me to `turn my hands until I could see my finger nails'. It changed my riding dramatically for the better. You should try it.  

No feel can not turn into feel. However, there are very few riders with no feel. A little feel can grow into more feel. Until the feel is of such that you are so very much in synch with your horse that you occasionally reach that moment when you forget who is who and you and your horse are one united body. I can tell you: It is addictive!   



Dressage Training

Dressage training needs variety, including pole work

Dressage Training

Dressage training needs variety, including pole work

About Liz Barclay

Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.


My book 'THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...' with the subtitle 'A Personal Impression of the Development of the Gelderland Horse World' has been received with more enthusiasm than I possibly could have hoped for. Click here to contact me and I will send you a copy. £7.50 + postage, or click here to order from Amazon.