It doesn’t matter what area of horsemanship you work within the idea of feel is discussed regularly. In dressage we might feel for the inside hind stepping under, the shoulder blocking. In agility we might ask through a feel in the rope and listen through our feel for a response. In behavioural terms we might be feeling the moment to reward or the moment a horse resists. In general terms we are always trying to feel what it might be like for our horse so that we might develop a better relationship.
Feel- from the Cambridge dictionary is a natural understanding or ability, especially in a subject or activity.
I rarely cross reference horsemanship terms with the regular dictionary but I think in the case of feel it is quite acceptable as a starting point- if we re-write feel as being a natural understanding or ability within horsemanship it makes sense. However it also falls short of the mark as it is not just a general ability but a quite specific sense that is in part innate.
Is feel a totally innate aptitude? Can we learn feel? If we can learn feel how and where can we learn it?
Is it perhaps like dressage where some horses are more prepared for this by their genes- they have a cadenced trot, an air of elegant self-carriage- before the training even begins? If so, then just as every horse can learn dressage then every horseperson can learn feel.
There is a risk today of feel being over-shadowed by charisma; many of us find ourselves absorbed by charming trainers. Feel is something you can develop with your horse; not just through a glossy training programme. Gaining feel is hard work, it hurts as you ride the rollercoaster of self-belief and doubt. Even those blessed with natural, innate feel have to work at it.
If your feel abandons you then take a step (or a hundred) back until you can find the place you lost it. We all have it but we can all lose it. If you can’t feel a hindleg in ridden work then there is no point in going forwards, take a step back and identify the things you can feel- progress will be much quicker if you get the first feel right.
Feel is personal- we can never perfectly cross-reference feel. Develop your feel but also the confidence to know and love your own feel!