Feel as a rider is something that we all aspire to have, we talk about it often, we here it mentioned in lessons and when the more 'advanced riders' speak, it's this magical star dust that's sprinkled over a rider when they have earned their stripes, or maybe like walking through the wardrobe of Narnia into the world that is 'proper riding'.
The search for feel can become addictive, but also soul destroying, it can cause people to feel like they are not worthy enough, not good enough, not trying hard enough. When we look at the elite, they seem to just have it, the ability to feel when the horse is right, to make adjustments at the most perfect time, to sit so beautifully without effort....it seems to come 'naturally'.
And then we here the interviews with Charlotte "it was all him, I just sat there and steered" and again we are partly in awe and partly demoralised, it feels so far away and yet so close. What is the magical feel.
This causes a huge gap between those who are seen as "talented riders" and the rest of us, and this gap can be even greater when you have one of these "talented" riders as your coach. The problem becomes a problem when the coach is so talented in what they do, or has done it for so long, that they don't really know what they do any more, they become the Charlottes "just sitting there and steering". But I can promise you, no one "just sits" there, they may no longer be consciously aware of how much they are doing, but they are doing something, infact their doing a lot.
The first thing we have to remember is that we are all different, and in this, it starts from birth, people are born with different levels of muscle tone in their bodies, men for example are born with up to 35% more muscle tone than women, men also seem to hold their muscle tone for longer without having to 'work' at it, this means that if you are a woman who has very little muscle tone you are already working 35% less than a man that feels like he's doing nothing. Your relaxed posture and riding is very different to the man who is relaxed.
But there's more, we also have very different upbringings and lives, some of our childhoods are incredibly active, mine for example was spent at the stables, lifting, shovelling, leading, sweeping, and generally moving from a very young age. My tone was built before I can remember consciously having to 'work' at it, and then it stayed as my life continued to be very active. But others child hoods are less active, their adult hoods are also far more sedentary, their jobs require their brains not their brawn and so their muscle tone isn't constantly being developed or kept, it's something that needs to be worked at, consciously honed and toned.
And the thing with the advanced riders? They tend to also lead very active lives, and tend to have followed the type of life I had as a child, active and muscle building, not consciously but just as part of a daily routine that was normal. This immediately places a difference between people, this means someone else's just sitting there is very very different to another's just sitting there.
The second thing is, feel is something to be felt! Sounds obvious, but sometimes it's easily missed and people turn it into a quest to think their way to feel.
This is also where people are different, in how they feel their bodies, how they are able to be aware of their bodies. Some people are very aware of their bodies, they are what we would call the more embodied person, they love to move their bodies and they notice the slightest change within their bodies. Some people aren't aware of their bodies at all, they live their life in their mind and don't really use their body other than a means to move them from A-B. Their bodies have to go really wrong for them to be aware of them, and so to 'feel' something is an alien process, and to be able to be aware of what is happening in their bodies as well as the horse is a challenge to say the least.
Riding is not only a sport but and art, it requires both the mind and our body to be used and connected to. And because how we communicate with our horses is through body language and body movement, riding, you could probably argue requires you to be more "in" your body than in your mind.
But there is hope for those of you that are searching for the magical feel.
Firstly we have to get honest with ourselves, as we ride what are we actually focussing on? Do we spend most of our time thinking about the horses head, our hands, in our brain. Or, do we focus on our seat, out legs, the horses back, the horses legs? If you could put that into a percentage, what percentage would it look like?
80% Hands & Head / 20% Legs & Seat
Be honest with yourself as this is your starting point.
The key to feel is to be much more aware of your body, your seat, your legs, your belly, your horses back, their legs than to be worrying about their head and your hands.
The more you can take your focus downwards the more feel you'll start to uncover, it's like the diaphragm is the wardrobe and once you get below it you are in the magic of Narnia, or at least the magic of awareness and feel.
And for the elite riders, this awareness of their body is so deeply ingrained in them, this isn't even a register of what they do, their awareness of their whole body is expansive and so those tiny adjustments, the quick corrections are easy as they can feel so much more of what their body and their horses body is doing.
But don't despair, we can all feel more, become more embodied, become more aware. And over the next few blogs and on my IG account I will be sharing how.