Some have it, some don't. Some can see it, some can't. Here's the great news, MOST people can learn it. Timing is everything when it comes to horses whether it's a release of pressure or a change in leads. Getting a feel for it, takes time, concentration, understanding and knowing what you're looking for.
I encourage many people who are interested in horses to take riding lessons with a good trainer on different horses before they ever consider buying a horse. Why? First, is making sure that buying a horse really is what they want to do. After all, getting a horse of your own is a huge commitment of at least 30 years, barring nothing goes wrong in the meantime. A second reason is so they can begin to get that 'feel' of what the movement is and what it looks like.
When you're riding and I tell you to look at which shoulder is leading first and think about how that feels, that is the beginning of a memory. After a while, I'll ask you what foot is down without looking. Could you tell me? Maybe. Many times people are not conscious of which foot is down. They're happily riding along, having a grand time, and just thinking of whatever comes to mind. To be a better rider, you have to know where your horse's feet are and what that feels like.
Practice that for a while, a long while. Look to see which foot is down, which is up and not just the fronts. Take a glance at where the hind feet are too. When walking you'll find a cadence and once you get good at knowing which foot is where without looking you can begin to see how it relates to your movement with the horse.
When training a horse from the ground, you can see where the entire body is. The difference is that you're not going to 'feel' it. This is where timing comes in. Horses learn from a release of pressure and you have to learn how much and when to let up. If you have no rhythm, it's harder to learn the feel because feel is timing.
You're working your horse at the lunge. Did you know you can make it a bit easier for him to grasp your cues simply by starting out on the correct foot? Lunge to the left at the walk. When you ask for a trot, which hoof is up and which is down? If you ask for a trot when the left hoof is up, it's going to take another revolution before he trots. Why? Because it's a bit awkward to take off on the outside shoulder when turning to the inside of a circle and if you pick up the correct foot to begin with, asking for a canter just became a whole lot easier.
Maybe you want to reverse directions. What foot is down? If you're going to the left, the left foot should be down when asking for the change. Why? Because that's his 'plant' foot and it's easier for him to swing the hindquarters around when the right foot is up to cross over the front of the left. Planted is simply used here as the foot that is on the ground.
If you're new to this, I suggest working at the walk in order to learn this feel and timing. At first, it will take a great deal of practice, concentration and paying attention to where your horses feet are to make the transitions smoothly. In order to get good at feel, you have to physically and mentally put in the effort.
Now if you're a person who has no rhythm, this will be one of those things that takes more time for you to learn and if I'm being honest, some just never do. It's like having two left feet at the dance. You can still learn it, just realize you're going to have to work harder to get it. However, if you persevere and don't get discouraged you might just become a better rider than those who get it right away. By the time you learn the feel, you'll have built up a ton of patience and that is something those who get it must also learn.
The great thing about learning feel is you can do it whenever. You don't always have to be on or around horses to learn timing. Go for a walk and pay attention to your cadence and your breathing. You can practice your timing by seeing where your feet are, what foot needs to be down when you turn the corner and you can even see which foot you start to take off with. We have a strong side and a weak side, just like horses do. Which foot do you lead off with? Try to be conscious and start taking off with the other foot first and see how you do. When you do get to a turn, you can begin visualizing which foot needs to be where in order to make that turn smoothly.
Feel is timing and timing is feel. Keep practicing and eventually you'll be able to feel where your horses feet are without having to look down to see which shoulder is leading.
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