When it comes to getting results in horse training it’s not just about a rider’s commitment to practice, repeated delivery of aids, or the consistency of schooling exercises. While these details have their place in the education of horse and rider, both feel and timing are crucial to achieving the greatest achievement in equestrian sport – harmony.
The most beautiful picture of a horse and rider is when they appear to be moving together effortlessly, as one entity with expression yet no tension apparent. The rider who can display this harmonious relationship with their mount most certainly has great feel and timing.
Feel encompasses not only the riders sense and coordination of their own body, but awareness and consideration of how the horse underneath them is feeling. Perfect timing is not possible without this consciousness.
If you have ever found yourself working repeatedly through an exercise wondering why you’re not quite accomplishing what you had hoped, it’s very possible you’re focusing on the wrong thing. We have all done it, we’ve all forgotten to give ourselves permission to take a few moments to reassess the situation before increasing volume or intensity with our aids. Consider what you want your horse to do, then consider what skills you have that you can use to encourage the desired response from the horse. Often it is the timing with which the aid is applied that can make the most significant difference. Asking a moment too early or too late and the horse will be unable to perform to your utmost expectation, though they will offer you something. Consider this something as a positive try, since the horse can only do as well as the rider has asked. This is where feel comes into play. Correct timing requires sensitivity from the rider to recognize (feel) the precise moment when the horse is in the ideal phase of movement to understand and respond to a cue. Is the horse feeling resistant or nervous? Likely not the right time to ask and expect a relaxed balanced result from your horse. Have you, the rider, lost your centre of balance, or maybe held your breath? Not the right time to ask and expect a clear and expressive response.
Horses by nature are highly sensitive beings, and require only consistency and fairness to learn effectively. So before increasing pressure with an aid, or adding additional aids, try to focus more intently on the timing with which the aid can be applied. For example, ensure that before you cue your horse you are in a state of relaxed balance, and have done your best to allow the horse to find this same state. This will promote the utmost response in the horse while using the least amount of force.
It can be as positive or negative a cycle as the rider most consistently performs. Improved sensitivity for the horses state of being and timing of the aids will encourage willing responsiveness in the horse, and will in turn further heighten the riders ability feel. Repeated or increasing pressure of aids and lack of thought as to when an aid is best given will cause a marked decrease in suppleness, ease of motion and overall harmony.
Not sure if your getting it just right? Remember the horse is our most honest critic and best teacher; trust your feel, even when you’re not positive you have “it”. Take the time for your senses and intuition to really listen to and feel your horse. How his body feels in balance left and right, how his back feels, how rigid or supple the muscles feel in motion underneath you, how his breathing is rhythmical and relaxed or inconsistent and strained.
“A good rider can hear his horse speak to him.
A great rider can hear his horse whisper”