Feel is a commonly used term in the horse world. The idea of feeling for the subtleties in the horse's responses to our aids, along with skilled timing, is something that I believe differentiates between average riders and great horsemen. But how do we find it, and what are we are we actually feeling for?
Relax your forearm against a surface and point your palm towards the sky. Now touch your thumb to the tip of your index finger as lightly as possible. Pay close attention to the sensations generated by your sense of touch even before you make physical contact. This heightened sense of awareness is feel. This is a commonly used induction, or mudra, in meditation practices. The act of preserving feel for our horses can keep us in an active mindfulness state during our sessions because in order to maintain it, we must give our full awareness to our current somatic sensations. In this way, feel can take us out of our heads and put us into our bodies which is known to be a highly effective way of managing our own physical and mental health and wellness.
When you feel your way through something you are practicing mindfulness. Feel is a major focus of our work in relationship-based horsemanship because it brings us the presence we need to provide the horses with what they need to stay calm, connected, and focused. This is why I also often refer to our work as mindful horsemanship. Feel is how we are doing what we are doing with our horses.
Feel is a state of awareness that enables us to perceive all of our senses with more potency. It's the balance point between there and not there that requires an expansion of our perception. It's our ability to perceive and respond to the subtle sensations that allow us to connect deeply with our horses. Because of the reflective tendencies of horses, we should expect that their feel for us can only be as sensitive as our feel for them.
Feel is not just established through physical contact. This is important because so much of what we do with our horses is through energetic feel. If you haven't done much ground work with horses, this may sound a little foreign to you. Horses are naturally very aware of energy and space. The best way I can explain energetic feel, is that it's the sensation of where the horse begins to feel for you. So as I approach the vicinity of a horse I would pay close attention to where my presence would start to affect him, then I would try to preserve my awareness of that threshold and maintain the balance point that holds his focus on me without stressing him to the point that he moves out of energetic range. This teaches him to handle a little bit of pressure in a way that tends to trigger his curiosity. It also develops his attention span, resistance free. We refine this connection over time and can use it for some pretty profound ways of communicating with the horses. This is why I find liberty work so fascinating and absorbing.
Anytime we apply apply our aids or cues, anytime we interact with our horses at all, we can work mindfully by focusing on our feel for what we are doing. This allows our horses the opportunity to remain connected with us because they will tend to follow our feel. If our movements and application of aids are rigid and sharp with no rhythm, this will cause the horse to be the same way. We cannot expect our horses to be responsive to us if we are not responsive to them. We can't expect them to maintain balance with us if we are not maintaining balance with them. The world just doesn't work that way. We have to be receptive to connection if we want to achieve it.