What Is Feel?



~~ 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 movement such that you can keep a consistent "connection" with a little slack in the lead.~~

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, step 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 just "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 intuitiveness 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" that 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 others ways. I think too that you have to truly "like" your partner in order for the 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 horse.




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 horse 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 question my sanity?




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 non-habitually.

What do you think? Anybody have any adjustments or corollaries to make to this theory?




~~ 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 while reading?"

Isn't he describing "feel"? The awareness that is a necessary precursor to meaningful choices?

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 and energy.~~

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.




~~Feel 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 this list.~~

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 sure!).

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 this situation.

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!)

To contact us, please go to the Contact Page.
If you have any pictures to share of your horses,
or just questions, in general, please feel free to email us.

Home