Defining Feel and Learning to Fly

You reach a point in your life, age-wise, that you have a lot to look back on- the same amount to look forward too, and the present seems a weird way-station of a train leaving with a train arriving.

In taking lessons with Molly, I was a looking back to when I taught lessons, thinking hm would I teach it that way? Or that is a good way to get this information across? and then as a student, I was pondering how the information I was getting was working or not – and what my role in the learning process was.

As a member of the Waterhole Rituals Inner Circle training group, it was brought home again how much mistranslation happens. The Internet, phone and video can only tell so much. Yet, even in person we are handicapped by what we understand is our own feel – and how good the instructor can provide similes, imagery, metaphors and allegories so we can go, “oh so that is what you mean!”

Writing articles and worrying over people mis-translating what I am trying to convey in those articles, again had me thinking of what I am writing or saying may not be what you are reading or hearing.

As the mother of a son who is ADHD, with learning disabilities, who homeschooled him two separate years – I intimately know the uniqueness of how each person draws information from their world. For example, for him the drawing of a lawnmower was a motorized swing.

All this information, in the horse world is translated by the magical sense called FEEL. What is it? How can we translate it from instructor to student – from student to instructor? how can I tell you what to feel, and how much gets lost in that translation?

It’s feel that allows the trainer to apply a technique to one horse in the proper amount, while another person may apply too much force, ask too fast, or not recognize why the horse resisted.

Using Centered Riding techniques developed by Sally Swift, is successful for many because it uses imagery to translate the feel. However, I have found students who found these images distracting or hard to comprehend.

Technical riding lessons are fine but the  more advanced a student you become the more feel is refined to the splitting of hairs. It becomes harder for the instructor to give you worthwhile data – and the horse becomes the true teacher for those that will listen.

The ability to feel happens only when we are honest with ourselves. It’s why some of my students did not progress no matter how hard we both tried. Without removing the personal and just receiving the data without emotional attachment you cannot evaluate the feel as accurate.


Because feel is unique to each – it should not have a judgement of right or wrong but rather “this is now – this is happening – now I have changed the feel – now the horse has changed – and I change.”

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5 Responses to Defining Feel and Learning to Fly

  1. The issue of “feel” is interesting. Pirsig wrote about feel with regard to mechanics in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. Some people have that facility to feel, and others strip threads, break parts, and generally mess up their motorycles. But at least machines don’t suffer pain or confusion as a result.

    I wonder how feel relates to the way in which one thinks – seeing pictures or imagining numbers and equations?

    Perhaps you are trying to convert people back from a digital world to the old-fashioned analogue way of things?

    It is a big step towards feeling when one established an empathy with a horse, tries to sense what he is feeling, rather than approaching the situation with the aim of “getting something from the horse”.

    I am thinking about new experimentation. One aspect may, in suitable surroundings, to see how Doru goes without a bit. (Actually I am more concerned about restricting his snatching at vegetation that running off, as generally he is quite placid and sensible.)

    • There’s feelings as in emotions – and then a physical feeling. IM experience with teaching, mostly women, they tend to answer with their emotions when you are asking for a physical sensation.

      Example, do you feel that you are leaning? Answer: I’m not riding so good today. Real Answer: yes, I do feel I’m leaning – I am now sitting taller.

      There is a disconnect with their bodies but also that the body holds and retains emotions so sometimes it is expressed in an emotional way.

      What is common in lessons is instructors yelling things like: “heels down!” “sit taller” blah blah and since that is a feel and the rider is not translating it to a correct position, the correct position is not given and the instructor yells again, “sit taller!”

  2. It is enlightening to understand that concept – that a response may be expressed in a different form to the question. I shall look out for that response in myself and others.

    I know that it is easy to blame an emotion rather than accept responsibility. I’ve been there all too often. The reality of work with horses did rather break that cycle though.

    I remember a teacher years ago telling me that boys, when asked how they were getting on at a task, and they were doing badly, often would respond that “this is a stupid task.”

    • Your post brings to mind my son, age 7, who after being bullied by a teacher for months could no longer do any math and told me only how stupid he was. Luckily for him, I have the right to homeschool in my state and he was removed from the environment.

      You ask the difference between men and women? Or perhaps it is just me… but my children will never be subjected to that under any circumstances and I will take all the power within my means to see that justice is done. That teacher’s contract was not renewed and I believe that our (my husband and I’s) documented proof of her damaging, psychological warfare upon our son was a contributing factor.

  3. It is sad that your son suffered like that. I am glad that you were able to homeschool and to see justice done to a degree. Many parents would not have bothered, or not have understood what was happening.

    There are differences between people, some of which are accounted for by gender. This territory extends beyond right and wrong, a fact misunderstood or ignored by those with narrow vision. Hence the undue value placed upon characteristics that are supposed to be “male”. Yet when I look upon people thought great, how often do loyalty, perseverence, learning, courage and so on crop up? These are a mix of what one might consider to be the best intrinsic characteristics of men and women.

    One nice thing about the barn is that I can talk to the women there about how they and their horses look, and give complements about those things, which would be thought very strange amongst the men at work.

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