What Are His Legs Doing? Discover How to “FEEL”

Who remembers “Chase Me Charlie” the cross between a jumping class and a gymkana game? Two uprights, one pole, and maybe if you were lucky a ground pole.

Aim pony at obstacle.

Gallop at it like a nutter.

Hope like hell pony does not stop.

If your pony clears the jump you are through to the next round where the jump gets put up a notch or two.

Last one left standing, wins.

I used to love this game as a kid. We all rode crazy ponies that we could barely control. As we were “lining-up” for our turn there would be Welsh Mountain ponies bouncing, spinning, rearing, jogging on the spot, or all of the above as we eagerly awaited our turn to jump over a jump our ponies could probably run underneath. A normal day in a field in Wales circa late 60s early 70s.

We didn’t know where their legs were so we could correctly judge a canter command. We just slacked off the reins a bit when pointing in the direction of the jump and the pony did the rest.

I think I was in my 30s before I was told about the complexities of the canter command. And in my early 50s before I started to use it. And then only because I was gifted a posh Belgian Warmblood who had been taught his “buttons” and probably would not have understood that me thinking canter and sitting a smidgen taller meant transition up.

I WAS taught about correct diagonals and leads but NOT taught how to feel them. We were told to look.

As a result, I am hindleg blind. I am not sure who coined this term but it is an accurate description of my ability to feel if my horse’s legs are back, front, up, down, or even there at all. I may as well be riding an ostrich.

It was totally by accident I decided to learn the sorcery behind the legs behind my backside. It has been so hot here in France lately that the ground has baked into a most unforgiving surface not at all conducive to jumping. Therefore, I have for the most part been doing everything in the walk with just a bit of trotting thrown in so I can say I have done transitions.

Sitting at the laptop with the fan on full to stop flies from landing, vomiting, and eating me and avoiding the oven that is outside I noticed that lots of the better-known online coaches are now discussing if feel can be taught. This struck me as a most interesting subject. Quickly followed by me wondering if it could be learned and more specifically learned by me. And if it can, do I need to do a course in magic first?

I have always enjoyed the sensation of riding and as a person I have always been aware of my body. Maybe too aware sometimes. I can feel my digestive system and can tell you 20 minutes beforehand that a fart is going to happen. I just never knew you were supposed to be able to feel where your horse’s legs were. I still don’t understand why I was never told. I have taken riding lessons in 4 different countries and ridden up to Amateur 2 level. I am perfectly capable of riding a 1m20 course of jumps and can ask my horse to change legs in the air using my weight.

Is “ask” the right word? I look with all the eyes on my body in such a way that I am probably just unbalancing the poor sod in mid-air so he has no option but to land in the direction I am looking.

Yet, I discovered that I struggle most impressively when trying to figure out which leg was where and doing what while simply walking or even just standing under an oak tree.

I started paying more attention to what was going on in both our bodies as we went for hacks. In the walk, there is a side-to-side and a back-n-forth motion as if your legs have been replaced by the front legs of your horse. Kind of like you are now morphing into a Centaur.

And now I need to Google female Centaur…

… Centaurides or Centauresses. Thank you, Google.

In theory, when your left seatbone drops that is when your horse’s left hind leg is coming forward/coming off the ground. When your left seat bone lifts that is when your horse’s left hind leg is being put down. I think I have that the right way around. I am sitting on my swivel-stool emulating horse leg movements with my arms while my hips represent … um … my hips. So your seatbone drops as the horse’s leg comes up and your seatbone lifts as the horse’s leg returns to the ground.

Hold that thought and watch this video. I must warn you this is not an example of how to do it. It is an example of how I went about it. And I apologise in advance for swearing. But those hornets were really close…

Now I want you to sit down and imagine you are pedalling a pushbike … backward. What does it feel like? And can you guess what gait it might resemble? I am not going to tell you but if you think you know please write it in the comments section below. Surprise, surprise, I got it wrong.

So can coaches teach “feel”?

Well, I suppose that depends on the coach.

I followed the advice of several of them and two came out far better than everyone else. It was by combining the descriptors of both these coaches that allowed that elusive penny to drop in my brain and trigger the lightbulb above my head.

Classical Jumping’s Merindah Thomson (with the client who cycles backward) and Amelia Newcomb gave by far the best advice on how to go about learning to feel what is going on underneath you.

Now then, I have a funny feeling that where the legs are is not the whole picture and that I need to put both said picture and my horse into a frame. But that is a topic for another article and I have to go and figure out how to do that before writing about it.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my riding journey and don’t forget to comment on which gait you think feels like backward cycling. Or backward pedalling. Cycle forward but pedal backward. I advise starting on the top of a big hill or getting a strong friend to hold the back wheel off the ground. I tried suspending the bike from a beam in the barn with a lunging rope but that just got silly.

Video pending.

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