Bill Dorrance, Ray Hunt & Tom Dorrance (from left to right) showing the three stages of the bridle horse. When training in the traditional California vaquero style, the journey is traveled in phases. These phases build a strong relationship of trust between horse and rider. Cooperation rather the use of force characterizes this relationship and each phase contributes to the future.
There is nothing more magnificent than watching the beautiful stride of a horse. The effortless grace that they exhibit without rider is breathtaking. Most of us aspire to attain that same balance and lightness when mounted. Using the principles of true horsemanship through feel will enhance your relationship and naturally improve the performance of your horse.
What is feel? There are two types of feel that a horse understands; indirect feel and direct feel. When horses are running together as a herd, they are experiencing indirect feel. None of them are touching each other, yet they are being directed by a leader and they understand what is expected and move accordingly. They understand the leader's body language and clarity of thought.
You can use indirect feel together with intent while riding by looking in the direction that you want the horse to go and also thinking about that destination in your mind. Its a telepathy of sort and your mind plays an important role in the direction your horse will take. Ever ask a child to do something but not really mean it? We all know what happens, chances are the directions will not be followed. It's the same with horses. We need to have intent and clarity of thought for the horse to understand what we want.
When you are riding your horse and using your reins, you are demonstrating direct feel. You have a physical connection to the horse with your reins and/or some part of your body like your legs. This direct feel is a gentle connection with your horse that is helping him to understand your desire. To develop a light horse and collection while in the saddle, it is imperative to develop the best possible connection with your horse on the ground first. This relationship, built through a solid commitment to groundwork using feel, will make your experience in the saddle very rewarding and nothing short of amazing.