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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lesson Objectives

Do you have "feel"? I don't. I have to work at it very very hard. Consistently and deliberately picking up a certain diagonal or lead is a challenge. Here's how it currently works at a trot. If I immediately pick up the diagonal that feels right, that is the right diagonal (as judged by looking at the front legs - so it's the correct diagonal when travelling to the left). If I wait and pick up the diagonal that feels "wrong" that's the left.....Could I sit the trot and tell you what foot is going up and then translate that to being able to pick a certain diagonal? Probably not. If I really concentrated and I was bareback there's a chance. At the canter she's so disorganized and rough I have to actually look down at her shoulders to make sure the lead is correct. Even then it's not cut and dry - I have to think about which diagonal is landing, then the hind, then the front to determine which lead I'm on.

Why do I bring this up? I was running this morning and was contemplating my lesson last night. My trainer has complemented me several times on my riding, my ability to be coached, and the ability of my horse to receive direction and then try her best to accommodate my instructions. My progress between last week and this week was superb....This makes me nervous. I have a history of starting hobbies and receiving this exact praise. In fact I can close my eyes and be back in fencing, hearing the same praise from my fencing coach. But here's the deal - after the initial learning curve, I lose it. I get horribly stuck and it doesn't seem to matter what I do, how much I practice, how motivated I am, or what people tell me - I don't improve. In fencing the problem boiled down to 2 things - the lack of coordination, and the lack of "feel". I could have worked through the coordination issue with time (and in fact, fencing is so quick I think most people continually improve in this area has they continue in the sport), however the lack of feel was a deal-breaker. Logically I knew what needed to be done, I could do the moves, I had the right tools and equipment, BUT I couldn't see the holes and didn't have that "feel" or instinctive "something" needed to succeed. I didn't quit per say, but gradually stopped going to practice my second season and then graduated, mostly leaving it behind.

Music is the same way. I can play the music, I can play it fast, I even flatter myself that on the technical side I'm a fairly good player. You know what I lack? Feel. There's something missing and while it's apparent in the songs I have learned and memorized, it's even more apparent - glaringly obvious - during jam sessions when I'm forced to improv. My songs are pretty to listen to and in the short term I can wow and impress with speed and technicalities, but there's nothing substantial backing up my music. I've played music for 15 years, so I'm not sure even more hours practicing is going to fix this. I do make a substantial effort to keep playing because I think it balances my life and it's important.

Back to the horse-related stuff. I'm hoping that this time around, by working with a training one-on-one on a weekly basis, I can push myself to the level where even if feel is not innate, I can LEARN it. I hope that this time around, I don't reach a plateau in my horsemanship where, due to my lack of feel, it frustrates me to the point I let this slip away. I think my natural inclination is to switch focus when I reach those first tough learning plateau's.

So that's my first objective for lessons - develop "feel" and keep going even when the going gets tough.

My second objective is to help me and my horse go down the trail. I have "exhibit A" below as an example....

This picture is from this year's Tevis. Granted we are trotting down hill. My leg isn't usually THAT far forward and her head isn't usually THAT far in the air and she usually steps through her hind better. BUT, the hill has magnified everything that is wrong with the "picture" of Farley's and my riding.

Already, in just 2 weeks, there is a huge difference in how she travels. My leg stays back better and she has dropped her head and is stepping through at the trot. I can't feel it, but the trainer says that during the second lesson (yesterday) she's already travelling more uphill than in the first lesson a week ago.

Want to know the amazing thing? Because of the holiday weekend I was only able to work Farley for 3 short sessions practicing our "homework". 1 hour and 20 minutes total. It's amazing what a difference even a small amount of correct work will do. I have put many many many hours on Farley both in the arena and on the trail during the last 2 years and there's been no improvement in gaits or carriage. I highly recommend you treat yourself with lessons if you find yourself in a "funk".

Below - Farley at our lesson last night. The trainer requested that I braid the mane so she could see Farley's neck so I tried my hand at a french braid.

Objective 3: to have fun and let the lessons carry through periods of time where I'm not motivated to ride or do anything. So far so good. I can't keep a smile off my face when I'm done with my lesson, Farley's eye stays soft throughout the lesson, and I can't wait to get on my horse every day.


  1. Great post. Try having someone you trust lunge you and Farley on a lead line. That is a good way to work on "feel". You can close your eyes and really concentrate of the motion of the horse and the gait.

  2. Feel is deffinatlly an intersting thing when riding. When I first started taking lessons (ten years ago) I had no feel and never understood what my instructer really ment when she was asking if I "felt" something. But then as the years went by I had a couple of "thats it" moments, and I finally understood. It didn't happen all the time, but every once in a while it did, and then it was great!
    On Lucy I have a huge amount of feel with her, we are very in tune with each other, as long as I remember to look for that feel. It doesn't come with work. I used to drop my reins, close my eyes and put my arms out to the sides while trotting Lucy on the trail. What a great way to feel with your body rather then your eyes!
    I have also found that you need to shut your mind down to all the chatter in order to really feel. When I am working Lucy in the arena and I keep trying to get her to bend or whatever in just the right way, I find my whole concertraion is on doing just that, but if I stop trying so hard, put us in the right position then let just do it, letting my body naturally do what is needed, everything works out better.

    Gee hearing you talk about working with a trainer makes me want to work in an arena again! Maybe I should do that this Sunday.

    Have fun with your lessons! Dressage is my next favorite thing to do on the back of a horse!


  3. This was a very interesting and thought provoking post. I know what you mean with fencing...that was one of my problems as well, though I probably--no, scratch that, I DIDN'T-- do as well in the other categories as you.

    Are there any of your hobbies or activities you think you DO have "feel" in?

  4. Hi Mel- You right, feel is very important. It's one of those things in horsemanship that alot of people talk about but most people struggle with, so don't feel bad or get discouraged.Be patient with yourself. It will come. I have had structured and, what I would consider, very good riding instruction most of my life but I realized in my twenties, that I was just a passenger on my horse. I wanted more. Now, with many hours of good dressage instruction later, I can honestly say that when I ride JB, we can have a conversation instead of just going around aimlessly. We aren't perfect and still have a long ways to go but sometimes, we get in sync enough that if I think about doing a half pass, he's already responding to the changes in my seat.It's the coolest feeling ever and that is what keeps me motivated, simple glimmers of that feeling is enough! If I might make a suggestion, find out if your instructor or someone else you know, has a schoolmaster. If she/he does, find a way to get a lesson on a schoolmaster.. It will help you find the 'feel" so then when you ride your horse, you know what your looking for. I promise it will make a huge difference for you and you will be even more addicted!

  5. Thanks for all the encouragement everyone.

    redgirl - I've been thinking aobut your question and the only thing I can come up with is I have a lot of feel on the ground with horses. I just "know" where to put my body, how to express myself in body language, and how to react to the horses body language. i think this is why I love ground work so much. Of all the other hobbies I do, I can't think of anything I'm particularly good at (because of feel). Maybe juggling? Because of an inordinate amount of practice?

  6. Great self-examination.
    I don't want to agree with you on the music, but I have to. Your techical expertise is top rate, but the "feel" is what has always made it difficult for you to play with others in a non-rigid style. (Rigid being the symphonic band and the Fort Point band)

    this makes me want to think about the things I do, and try to do and decide whether they feel "natural" to me.

  7. Mom - If nothing else, I'm pretty good at being honest with myself. When I post these kind of posts, I'm not looking for a "no really-you are really great" responses. Hopefully through recognizing stuff like this, I can accept it (and you know how I hate not being the best at or at least very good at something) and still enjoy doing the activity for other reasons.

    Because I have very little feel in music, that's why I'm so self-depreciating when someone compliments me on it - I'm very much aware of what I'm lacking and I can't believe that other people don't see it.


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