"Following a Feel"
Those words had no value to me in my initial years of riding (groundwork was nonexistent.) I interacted with the horse offering unintentional, continuous tension- on the lead rope, on the rein, in my leg, etc. There was never a pause, time for mental processing, recognizing separating directing the thought from movement, adaptability in my aids or any conscious release of pressure towards the horse (other than during a jump.)
Nowadays, one of the most intriguing and difficult concepts to teach students and horses is how to "follow a feel."
The human tends to start off balance, lacking self-awareness of their heavy, unclear aids. They often have been taught to drive or "send" the horse to physically move, but rarely do they consider or understand how to first direct the horse's thought, then ask for movement. Nor have they considered the importance of establishing the ability to do directly corresponds with their safety.
Horses (often in anticipation of what they've unintentionally been taught through mindless, gray area, chaotic, repetitive communication) physically compensate by "locking up," or carrying a brace, when they are mentally unclear, insecure, or defensive.
If you combine tight, heavy, critical, dragging human communication (ex. think of the mind-numbing circles so many are chasing, driving their horses around,) with a defensive, physically locked up animal, there may be tolerance and compliance, but the equine will not be balanced, willing, or adaptable.
Learning to prioritize refining the skills and timing of offering segmented, specific communication with varied energy, creates an opening for Quality equine Conversations.
Without humans imposing chaos, they offer a safe learning space that contributes to creating a mentally available horse. The horse's physical movements reflect his mental and emotional state. The more mentally engaged and less defensive, the softer and more adaptable the movement becomes.
In these picture taken at a Full Immersion Horsemanship Clinic, I demonstrated with a Morgan mare (whose pattern is to habitually lock up her body,) helping her learn to follow a feel and separate left, straight, and right, to help change her habitual pattern of drifting movement with no thought while carrying anticipation.
It is crucial to separate directing the horse's thought via energy used down the lead rope, and then to ask for movement. The usage of the leadrope, and its meaning to the horse, directly translates to the effectiveness of the rein aid when in the saddle.
If the horse's mind isn't available to search for what is being asked, it becomes a "hopeful" experience with the human reacting after the horse moves. This can lead to criticism and creating concern in the horse.
PC Jen Landis