5 Ways to Develop Your Feel and Timing with Dana Hokana
By Dana Hokana
What is feel and timing? Feel and timing go hand in hand. Feel is knowing when to have contact with your horse, how much or how hard of contact to have, and when to release contact. Feel is knowing with your hands, and body, what is going on with your horse, and what they are doing underneath you. Also, feel tells you if they gave or softened to your pick up, and tells you if your horse is drifting or leaning.
1. Raise Your Level of Awareness
The first and most important principal to remember is to “pay attention”. Pay attention to what your horse is doing underneath you. Learn to read your horse, to diagnose what he’s doing and what you are doing while you are riding him. Shane Dowdy once told me that too many people ride “mindlessly”, that is, they don’t pay attention to their hands or their bumping, or what their horse is even doing underneath them. I’ve told my amateur and youth riders for years that the best riders don’t ride along bumping their horse’s face and talking to their friends unless they can talk and really pay attention to their hands and horse. The best riders are so in tune with their horses that they know what their horse is doing at all times and if while they are talking they need to pick up or correct their horse they do it “mindfully” not “mindlessly”. They focus and get the job done and it shows through their results. So start improving your feel and timing by paying attention while riding. You can only fix something if you become aware that there is a problem, so raise your level of awareness and develop better feel and timing.
2. Follow Through
The next important principal is to “follow through”. To follow through means to stay in or bump with your hands or legs until you get the desired response which is a “yes” to your cue! So pay attention because your horse learns by the release. If you bump or take hold of your horse and he pulls down or away from you and you release at the wrong time you just taught him something, maybe the wrong thing, with your release. If you are careful to release each time after you get your desired response he will become lighter and lighter to your cue. So don’t release until you feel him get light and soft in your hands and feel a definite “yes”. You can teach him to accept and even like his training if you are reasonable and consistent. Be aware that you may have taught him to be dull or resistant by dropping him at the wrong time.
3. Push Through Resistance
When you raise your level of awareness and demand the desired response you may encounter resistance. I encourage you to stay with it until you get your desired response. If he becomes extremely resistant or dangerous stop, what you are doing and seek the help of a professional. Sometimes a horse argues with me right before a big break through. Once I feel him give, I drop right away to teach him that was what I wanted. Remember a horse learns by the reward. Make him want and look for that reward by being clear and consistent. One tip to remember is if you are having trouble getting your horse to give in the face is to try driving him forward more with your legs until he gives. Often forward motion helps him to bridle and give by encouraging him to collect and engage his hindquarters and round up his back making collection physically easier for him.
Be sure to check out Steps 1 & 2 on Monday & Tuesday’s posts and check in tomorrow for Step 4!
4. Use a Fair Approach with Your Hands and Legs
The next principal is to pick up fairly. To pick up fairly means do not snatch your horse out of mid-air. If you need to bump or correct your horse sharply you can do so but first approach your horse fairly. That means draw up on the slack in your horse’s reins slowly until you feel his mouth and he knows you are there, and then you can bump or correct or lightly jerk. A horse can take correction if it is given to him fairly with a warning that you are there at the end of the bridle reins. It is unfair to hit the bridle reins with no warning. He needs to feel you coming and good feel means your approach is slow. I tell my riders to simply draw up on the reins until they feel the horse’s mouth. Horses can learn to brace or block your pick up and even set their jaw against you if they have been grabbed out of mid-air. Teach your horse to trust your hands and take your correction. He will get softer and lighter than ever in your hands. The same principal applies to your approach with your legs or your spur. If you just booted or kicked him with no warning you might frighten him or anger him. If instead you closed your leg slowly against him and then gave your cue he will be more likely to willingly respond. I like to teach my riders to put their leg against their horse’s side and then mash or push with their legs. This is good communication on your end. Then evaluate his response and see if it is willing and if he says “yes” to you. If you learn to ask or speak softly through your hands and legs you will develop a willing partner. Of course there are times you need to get tough to get your point across but make that the exception not the rule.
Be sure to check out Steps 1, 2 & 3 on Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday’s posts and check in tomorrow for the final Step, Step 5!
Leave your questions and comments below! Hope this helps
5. Learn to tell the difference between a refusal and an “I don’t understand”
Be open to the fact that you are not giving a clear cue or that he just doesn’t get it. Make your cues extremely clear and easy to understand.
Now, once you’ve pushed to this new level and you know what it feels like, don’t settle for less than that, refine your feel in your hands and legs and rise up to a new standard. I hope these pointers will help you to improve your performance and your relationship with your horse. Become a team- you and your horse. It is truly awesome when your feel becomes so good that you can feel your horse trying under you and you and your horse become a team!