~~ An interesting discussion might be to ask what *is* feel? Can feel be
broken down into "chunks" that can be worked on separately? If so, what
would that look like? How might one provide a student with learning
experiences that will someday add up to "feel?"~~
Good questions Sharon. Do you have any answers?
~~ before he can feel of you. IOW we need to be able to follow him smoothly
before we can expect him to follow us. Build your awareness of his
such that you can keep a consistent "connection" with a little slack in
This I have done LOTS of practice on, but not with slack in the lead. I do
it mainly at a walk. When a horse walks his head naturally bobs. The idea
is to maintain a consistent pressure on the reins while your horse is
walking. If the pressure is too much the walk will be stilted and the head
will bob very little. If you have too little pressure the rein will go
slack then tight again unnessarily "bumping" the horse in the mouth with the
bit. At the trot the horse holds his head fairly still. When you are good
at the walk then you can try this exercise at the canter when the horse will
bob his head again. At the gallop the horses head bobs laterally, by which
I mean out and back rather then up and down.(I would suggest praticing at
this gait only for very advanced riders.)
~~ Anyway, developing one's sense of what is about to happen is, I think,
one of developing feel.~~
Being able to anticipate the next move is more a matter of watching the
horses muscular system IMO. The horse will tighten a muscle just as it is
beginning to use that muscle. There are also muscles that tighten just
before an event, such as the neck stiffening before the back stiffens, which
leads to a rear, buck, or spook. You don't have to be able to see the
muscles to know what they are doing. Through practice you can feel the
various muscles with your own body. For example; being able to tell which
leg the horse is moving with your eyes shut while mounted. Then developing
that ability so you can tell how far the leg moved. This allows the rider
to determine if the horse is "going short" on a particular side or leg.
This is not a vague concept. There are definite muscle group movements
which you can pinpoint and develop the ability to be aware of.
One of my riding instructors taught me a bit about rhythms and following
motion. It was interesting especially since once you can follow the horses
motion then you can change it. At a trot if you post in exact time with the
horses leg movement and do so for a short distance then you can extend or
shorten the trot by changing how fast you post. The horse will want to
reestablish the synchrony that was there before and will adjust his gait to
match your posting. If your timing is all over the place you cannot do
this. I taught my previous horse to do an extended trot this way. The
amount of power she could put into a trot was amazing. Riding her at the
extended trot was like riding a frieght train. She really began to enjoy
doing it and would easily go into it anytime for long periods of time.
(sorry for the digression, pleasant memories for me:-))
~~ the horse to do. Hard to be super specific!!~~
From what I have read so far it is difficult for me to understand what
"riding with feel" is. The concepts written about seem so vague as to be
almost like ESP. Supposedly you just know when your horse is about to do
something. I can't read minds (though I would like to LOL) but I can watch
my horse to see his habits, I can make myself aware of what muscle groups go
with what movements. For me this is specific and something anyone can do.
Thanks for writing about your experiences. I always learn from your
posts (sometimes about what I can't define). I am glad we are having
this discussion. I look forward to your reply.
Feel: making a 'connection' with another beings
energy/emotions/psyche, something thats absolutely
necessary when you really want to meet, interact
and emphatize with a living being.
In my opinion 'feel' is something that often
appears without really knowing that it's there,
one just handle's by 'feel' !! see there is the
word. There are many people who not even think
about the concept 'feel', but are by nature
connected with this 'feel' ( yes, like the mother
and her child). And there are lots of people who
can't make that connection with their own 'feel',
they just live around with their family or/and
animals, they are not able to make that feeling
connection (or even worrying about it) BUT thats
not necassarily wrong, it's their state of mind.
And I can truly say that everybody on this list,
working this way with their animals, doesn't have
to worry about not having the 'feel', it's
absolutely there, sometimes 'feel' hides itself
behind a closed door in people, but everybody has
the key within, and is able to unlock that door.
C/T can really act like that key, using C/T makes
you LOOK at your horse, and there can only be
progress if you are able to make the
connection/link, and thats when you are in 'feel'.
The development of mental and physical harmony and "oneness" with your
horse would be my definition of "feel". I also have good "feel" with horses
that I've just met too, but of course it's not as deep or fluid as with a
horse that I've spent alot of time with. My mind, body and reflexes are
"tuned in" to horses after spending so many years interacting with them that
upon meeting a horse I already begin developing a sense of what they're
about. I do believe too that some people have a good amount of
and naturalness (is that a word? well it is now! lol) with horses without
having to put forth effort; it's just there. Just as with any "partner"
you spend alot of time with, be it human or animal, the "feel", bond,
"oneness" or whatever you want to call it becomes more and more harmonious,
fluid and natural with association, time and just plain learning each
ways. I think too that you have to truly "like" your partner in order for
relationship to develop to a higher plain where both individuals have "feel"
for one another.
Some of the horses I work with I have "feel" with...some I don't. I divide
"feel" into two categories...one physical and one mental. The physical is
that feeling you get when you can feel your horse very subtly getting ready
to do something different... he shifts his weight and you know he's going to
try and turn, stop, go...whatever. I feel this under saddle, with the halter
and lead, and while driving. I can't feel it obviuosly if I'm not touching
The other "feel" I feel (wow I'm saying this word a lot!) is that mental
connection... very hard to define...but this one you can feel if you are
touching the horse or not. It doesn't happen all the time, but suddenly you
realize you are on the same page as the horse. You understand what the horse
is going to do next, if and why he is confused, and how to comfort him. He's
telling you...I'm not sure how, and I'm not claiming to be psychic ...it
just sort of suddenly jumps out at you. I wish it could happen all the time.
Since I have been using clicker, the mental feel I just described has
happened much more frequently...we get in synch to the point to where if
someone interupts me I don't even turn around until I'm finished with the
thought, training, work...whatever you want to call it.... with my horse.
Everything just sort of fades into the background while we are connecting
like this. I've noticed that when we are in this "mental feel" even the
doesn't react to outside stuff...s/he is so focused on what we are doing.
Also, the time goes by real fast.
So...is that what you are talking about? Or have I just made you all
I'm glad Marie asked for concrete thoughts on what feel is. I've enjoyed
the responses and it's given me some new thoughts on the matter. As a
result, I have developed a Current Working Theory of what "feel" is. Feel
is our ability to respond non-habitually, with body, mind and emotions, to
the world around us.
Here's an experiment. Take something you do with your horse that doesn't
rely completely on your eyes. It could be the head lowering exercises or
riding a circle or whatever. Do the movement a few times as usual. Now do
it again with the eyes floating up. Don't change the head, just let the eyes
drift up. Do it a few more times with the eyes down. Now go back to the
usual position. Did your perceptivity, your "feel" change?
It reminds me of a post Jodi wrote about a disastrous jumping lesson she
was having. It wasn't going at all well, they just seemed out of sync. She
tried again and again with no results. The instructor suggested she change
something. Change what! she thought exasperated. But finally she mastered
herself enough to make some change. She couldn't even say what the change
was afterwards. But suddenly they broke free. The concept of simply
changing the pattern came alive for her.
I think when we respond habitually, we have damped our ability to perceive
and respond. Through the work we are doing, we are training our ability to
respond non-habitually to the world (including ourselves) with our
physical, conceptual and emotional senses. We are also training our horses
to have "feel", to increase their ability to respond to the world
What do you think? Anybody have any adjustments or corollaries to make to
~~ I went to the website and read. I have read all the posts about what
feel is to various people. I can honestly say I don't believe I have it.~~
Bill Dorrance wrote:
"Regardless of what we're doing with our horses, we're working with
feel, and that's true in just about any part of what you're doing with an
animal. Whether it's a good feel or a bed feel that's presented to a
horse-that feel is what causes him to do what he does because he learns
through feel.. This is an actual fact and no matter where you start,
learning this little particle is real important.
If people have the desire to learn this and have alot of time to
practice, there isn't any question that they'll get a better feel sorted out
and get it to work for them.
I want to remind people that feel is all a horse has to go on in
anything he does."
Bill writes more on this subject if anyone is interested, I'll include
it in another post-let me know.
What I would say to you is, IMO you've already got it. It's
there. Don't overanalyze. Your animals demonstrate your feel in all that
you have taught them and the content manner in which they do things with
you. I've also seen your joy and pleasure as you work with your animals in
your video-that's a part of feel too.
Feel seems sort of illusive, but it's really not. It's observation and
timing, which we all continue to develop. Feel isn't concrete in a sense
that you can't put exacting words to it (I think that is where your
difficulty lies). Feel is not magic. It's more of an ongoing experience of
life. So Marie, when you say that you just don't have feel-sell it to
somebody else, 'cause I ain't buyin'! : ) I say that with affection!
I'm really enjoying reading everyone's posts on this topic. It's so much
fun to see people feeling for words and the picture getting clearer or
changing focus. Since it is on my mind, events during the day and things I
read seem to apply to the question, the story of what "feel" is.
I read this the other day and thought I would add it to the conversation.
This is from a book called Awareness Through Movement by Moshe
Feldenkrais. He has just finished leading an awareness movement exercise.
At the end he concludes:
"Observing the self is better than mechanical repetition.
"Study the importance of this conclusion. You worked for a full hour on
one side, and spent only a few minutes on the second -- and that only in
the imagination -- but nevertheless the improvement on the second side was
greater. Yet all methods of gymnastics are based on the repetition of
action. And not only gymnastics -- everything we learn is based largely on
the principle of repetition and committing to memory. This may make it
easier to understand why one man may practice a musical instrument and
fail to make any progress, while another shows daily improvement. Perhaps
the nature of the talent that is the accepted explanation for this
divergence of achievement derives from the fact that the second student
observes what he is doing while he plays, while the first one only repeats
and memorizes and relies on the assumption that sufficient repetition of a
bad performance will somehow bring about musical perfection.
"We have earlier referred to the concept of internal and external contact,
which includes the transfer of conscious observation from the sensation
inside the body to its changes in space outside it. Consider what a
painter does when he studies a landscape and tries to draw it on his
canvas. Can he do it without paying attention to the feeling in his hand
as it directs the paintbrush? Can he do it without an awareness of what
his eyes are seeing?
"We have all experienced an occasion while reading when we had to go back
and reread a passage because we read it the first time without paying
attention. Although we probably read every word the first time, and even
formed the words voicelessly, we did not understand or retain anything.
What are we actually noticing during the second reading? Does it really
make that much difference that we should observe the workings of our mind
Isn't he describing "feel"? The awareness that is a necessary precursor to
Jackie pointed out that I was only focusing on the awareness side of the
question and that knowing how to respond appropriately and accurately to
what the awareness reveals was an important component of feel. But it's
hard for me to imagine that someone with "feel" wouldn't work their way to
appropriate and accurate responses. Someone just starting violin may not
be very good at it, but if they've got feel (and the time), they will do a
fair job of learning the appropriate and accurate end of it. But without
the awareness, it's just luck!
This also made me think of Sharon's post where she said her workouts with
Tulsa have changed so much lately and that she hardly ever repeats and
repeats the way she used to.
Alexandra wrote a great post a while ago talking about the awareness she
adds to the hundreds of repetitions she does as recommended by people like
John Lyons and Marie Gulliford. The little things she sees and responds to
each time mean that they aren't repeating exactly, mindlessly. They're
feeling their way, observing what they are doing internally and externally.
~~ He demonstrated that he wanted his horse to cue off
his energy level and respond with direction changes
as well as speed levels by "the feel" of his body position
Now there's a tidbit I've been looking for and I think a lightbulb just
went on (give me a click someone).
I've always been a little impatient that my horses can't seem to
respond adequately to my cues the first time I give them, and I get
tired of having to always wake them up before I can get a good response
(one consistent with the level to which they're trained), but this
explains it. I need to create the energy levels in myself, and bring
the horse "up" with me, before I can expect them to respond with energy.
I knew it had something to do with timing but I was thinking in terms
of my cue being somehow inadequate or confusing. Now I'm seeing that
it's more likely that I've giving the cue before the horse is at a high
enough energy level to respond well.
is something you are born with that can be honed by experience, but
not learned. Either you have it, or you don't.~~
I think that if a person has the time, the patience and desire that
they can learn about and develop a good feel. It's in every person's
potential. It comes alot quicker for someone, as you said, who is born with
it, but it is certainly not out of reach for anybody in my book.
~~And Nancy, I'm
not offended, though I am sure I have offended a lot of people on
Oh good, I'm glad you weren't offended! I woke up last night wondering
about that! We only have each others words to work with here, and your
previous post had given me some visions of some pretty wild rides!
You mentioned that you've been injured by horses and yes, I guess that
it can be part of the game, but a part that I'd rather avoid (you too I'm
I learned alot from a friend of mine in Oregon, who spent a good deal
of time traveling around with Tom Dorrance. They'd drive around the
countryside together and stop at various barns and people would, of course,
want Tom to help them with their horses-so Tom would direct and my friend
would ride. My friend said,
"Before Tom I was doing things that were getting me hurt alot. It was
because of the WAY I was doing them. Tom and Ray (Hunt) showed me a better
road. I'd probably be dead now if not for them."
He goes on to say, "What we CAN DO is educate our horses to control
their emotions without destroying their spirits. If the way that we train
them comes from our hearts, from who we truly are as good human beings, then
it will show through in our horses."
I can say that my Oregon friend probably wouldn't be bothered by a
horse that jumps or rears either-but frankly, it would never get that far
with him. He takes care of it before it happens. He's told me that he thinks
that these things aren't what a horse wants to do, but does because of the
situations we put them in.
You can sure harness that energy and get it to work for you and not
against you-which I believe is your point. Is that correct? I think that
that is probably what you try to do, am I right?
Back to that "feel" thing real quick-I would like to encourage people
to strive for it. It CAN be learned if you want to learn it and we add to
our knowlege pool everyday when he handle or observe horses. If being born
with it was what qualified me to work with horses, then I'd be hanging up my
lead rope right now. I've had some good teachers, which has been my luck.
I'll always be learning though, which is another good piece of luck!
A break from the clicker--this could start some interesting discussions!
All of the posts I've read in reply to the original question
have had some valuable stuff in them!
What the clicker has done for me is help me develop better feel for
my horse and with my horse, that I can remove the clicker from and still
have. I know how and why he does alot of things, I understand his make-up
and attitude pretty well, how his body moves and processes thoughts (all
of which I continue to learn more about, since I am by no means THERE!).
I would guess, too, that just about everyone is having this
happening with their horses. Some people are just born with a pretty good
feel. I'm not one of those! So the clicker helped my learning process in
a way that helped my horse learn too-and tolerate my numerous mistakes.
I always read my Bill Dorrance book before I hit the sack and last
night I was wondering, well what's his definition of "feel"?
Bill says that there is direct and indirect feel (Sharon, you can
probably make some good comments on this if you would!) Direct is how you
touch a horse to ask him to maneuver directly-either directly with your
hands or through a rope or reins, etc.
There's following a feel-which to me directs the horse into the
direction you would like him to go.
There's how you feel about your horse-developing the right feelings
and attitude through time, patience and understanding.
Indirect feel is influencing the horse without touching him. It is
probably, Bill says, the thing that the horse knows best because that is
what horses do to communicate with each other-from what's inside of them.
To communicate this way, he says, it comes down to timing (which may be
the key to eliminating that mugging behavior) and good observation.
Bill mentions presenting things to the horse as clearly as
possible-this includes feel. Letting the horse know as clearly as
possible what is expected then timing the release (or click) to let him
know that, yes, that was exactly right. Setting things up to succeed.
I don't know if this helps anybody, but it does make me think about
how I present things and what I click for and when!
I would also say, if things seem to be spinning off into a direction
which you don't want make a change and if you need to eliminate the
clicker for a bit to regroup, then do it. All those "feels" mentioned
above should still be there because you've already developed them with
the clicker. I think that it's for us to discover how to bring them out
when the clicker can't be there.
My clicker is my tool in teaching-but what I teach gets a good
foundation, so eventually, when the clicker is removed from the scene,
the behavior doesn't crumble because the feel was built right along side
of it. In fact the clicker helped me develop feel in the first place! If the
clicker is gone though, the feel can still remain.
~~ Bill says that there is direct and indirect feel. Direct is how you
touch a horse to ask him to maneuver directly-either directly with your
hands or through a rope or reins, etc.
There's following a feel-which to me directs the horse into the
direction you would like him to go.~~
One more thing that Bill said and Leslie repeated numerous times through the
clinic was "You must feel of the horse before he can feel of you." There
were many situations where this came up. It is part observation, like
seeing when the horse needed to leave and helping him go was just as
important as seeing him want to come in and allowing him to do so. Part of
it is timing of his movements too. The ability to *go with* the horse prior
to trying to influence him through feel. For example, you could hand graze
your horse and follow him whereever he went. Head up, head down, keep a
slack in the rope as he moves. You need to pay attention to what he's doing
to keep from pulling at the wrong moment. The idea is to become very much
in tune with feel and timing of the horse's movements. Eventually you will
want the horse to follow you too but you'll set it up that when you ask you
are in time with what he's already doing so there is never a moment of drag
which would cause confusion. Plus, as Leslie told me you want the horse to
do the work. If you are off with the timing you end up doing more of it.
The most signficant discovery I made is how much all the "rules" of clicker
training that we have learned apply. Even to the point that the horse needs
to view the release like we want them to view the click. IOW they "get" the
Training Game such that they search for it. Only instead of searching for
the click they search for the release. You teach this same as you teach the
clicker game. For example, remember when you first introduced the clicker
and you clicked for just about anything the horse did? The idea was to get
the horse thinking that his behavior controlled the click. Same exact idea
here. Initially you will release for ANY try even if it is the wrong
answer. See pages 147-148 of Bill's book where he talks about this. I also
asked Leslie if I understood this correctly--that release means "yes that's
it" and she said I was correct.
So your point about being able to keep the important learning even without
the clicker is a good one. Just because you are working without a click
does NOT mean that you put aside the clicker training concepts, you just
transfer the ideas to a different reinforcer. Turns out NH and clicker
training are more alike than I'd ever realized before.
Boy, I can relate to what you said that sometimes the "feel" changes
and we don't necessarily like it. I've had this happen with Dan. It used
to sort of have this pattern of showing up every couple of months. It
used to really bother me because I thought that we were doing SO WELL.
Why had HE changed?!
What I've noticed though, through our years together, is that the
more consistent I get, the more consistent Dan gets. Now I can see that it
wasn't Dan that had changed before, but me.
No matter what, a horse needs a good leader. It makes them feel so
secure, so willing. Things that are unclear can be really troublesome for
a horse. They can react in some interesting ways-I think that maybe you
experienced one and I think that it was probably wise that you got off in
But you know, you're alright-you're getting it, kid! You've started!
Now, do you have some ideas how to proceed? What do you think? Where
will you begin to make a change for you and your horse?
Remember, it's a journey! You could never make as many mistakes as I
have-I could give anyone a good run for their money! Some days, man-o-man,
the feeling was not good but I think that this is part of learning.
Begin to think in terms of presenting things in a way that the horse can
BEST understand what you want AND ensure your success by never asking for
something he is not prepared to do. (Yeeeeeeees, Mother!)
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