Tom Dorrance was the man credited with first talking about feel, timing, and balance being the three key elements in horsemanship. He passed it on to Ray Hunt who took it to the world with his demonstrations and clinics. In some of Tom’s writings he talked about wishing he could cut the top off of his students’ heads and pour in what he felt. Feel was the thing that he wanted people to have but, couldn’t teach.
In preparation for this latest Spring storm we had moved a group of younger mares into a pasture with more shelter than their home pasture. This new pasture is closer to the house so we could catch glimpses of the horses from the kitchen windows. The storm didn’t materialize on the timeline that was predicted and the mares had grown restless searching the shortgrass pasture for little nibbles of green poking-up along the fence lines after they had consumed the hay we fed. Four or five of the mares had drifted to the northwest corner of the pasture. As if on cue, their heads came up, tails flagged, and the whole group raced toward shelter bucking and kicking-up their heels the whole way. There was no visible sign of rain or snow and we didn’t see or feel the wind increase. The horses felt and reacted to something that we didn’t; probably a pressure change.
Amy’s Dad used to use the horses as a barometer. They could predict the Chugwater, WY weather better than any man-made instrument he had. His horses’ knowledge of their environment and their sensitivity to changes in that environment were valuable to him. He could tell by their behavior when the storm was likely to arrive and just how bad it might be. The horses could feel the changes long before we did.
We used to have to check cattle along the creek during the summer months. The bugs were terrible. Mosquitos and Deer Flies were prolific. When the wind was blowing, we couldn’t feel those little devils land on us until they were taking a bite but, our horses could. Their hair and hide were sensitive enough to feel those bugs land. Tails would swish them away or heads would swing around and chase them off before they could bite.
Even the horse that has learned to become dull to the human is sensitive. Some are more sensitive than others but, our experience has been that all of them are more sensitive than we are. They are more in tune to their environment and read body language better than any human I’ve been around. They feel us much better than we feel them. We tend to do too much. Our brains must tell us that we need to dominate and control the horse. We do need control but, we can gain that control better by working with the horse and its sensitivity rather than by attempting to desensitize it.
We are constantly working on ourselves to improve our awareness of the horses’ sensitivity. When we feel of our horse and work with his abilities, our movements flow better. His legs become our legs, his feet our feet. As we become more aware of our horses sensitivities, we can allow our horse to teach us better feel. As our feel improves our timing gets better. As our timing gets better our horse becomes more responsive and refined. I think that’s something we could all strive to feel!