By Robert Booth, BHS Stage 5 Accredited Professional Coach

As a coach, I get all types of riders from novice – just out of riding schools and with a new horse or pony – to experienced competitors, and with all of them the hardest thing to teach is ‘feel’.

There is a technical, scientific, athletic and an intuitive side to riding, and it’s the intuitive side we are mostly talking about here – but you need the knowledge of the other bits to make it really work.

‘Feel’ is the most difficult aspect of riding to describe and to teach. Some trainers believe it can’t be taught, and that it’s a natural ability you either have or don’t. Indeed, some riders are naturally better than others, but I believe it can be taught.

I was not from a horsey background – I used to go for my one ride a week at the local riding school as a child.  I got the bug for these wonderful animals, started helping out whenever I could, and continued to study them for the rest of my life. 

‘Feel’ is a sixth sense that can be developed as long as you have an open mind, the will to learn, awareness of your own body language, ability to observe and stay focused and stay sensitive to the horse’s feelings and to try to communicate with the horse. 

The rider has to react with split-second accuracy,  and feel the difference between a good or bad movement or jump. This takes time and dedication to build a relationship with the horse.

As a teacher, my job is to explain to the rider what to look for and how to analyse and react to certain situations until hopefully it becomes instinctive.   I know I’m getting somewhere when I can start using lateral movements on the flat and distances in jumping.

Sometimes when I’m teaching I am constantly on the move, constantly talking, even making funny movements to demonstrate what I’m trying to explain, using expressions such as pushing a trolley uphill or riding a bike through mud, trying to get the rider to get a different picture of what they are trying to achieve, which can be quite physical and exhausting.  

Sometimes I just stand there and watch this lovely picture of horse and rider in perfect harmony, together with the odd click or whoa in the right place and setting up exercises to help progress.

The most satisfying time for me comes when I realize that the horse and rider that are in harmony were the ones I was running around after a while ago.

Robert Booth is an equine trainer for Rodgebrook Horses. Visit their website at www.rodgebrookhorses.co.uk or telephone 01983 521870.