Why can’t you feel what your instructor said is going on?
First of all, there’s nothing wrong with you. Half the people (at least) who say they felt whatever their instructor pointed out are lying. They’re afraid to look like an insensitive, unintelligent, incompetent rider. But of course that isn’t the case if you don’t- learning to feel the entire body of a horse moving under you is really something difficult.
There’s a few things I think that affect this ability to feel in major ways.
Firstly, beginning instruction focuses mainly on teaching the rider to control the horse. We learn to pull to steer, kick to go, and become concerned far too soon with directing a moving, breathing, thinking animal we don’t even understand. We’re told to be the leader before we even know how they think, what it feels like to follow their gaits with our seats, and how to understand their needs. Thinking of controlling this soon doesn’t develop our ability to feel.
Secondly, a huge portion of feeling what is currently going on is actually made possible through contrast. If you’re accustomed to a flat moving, imbalanced horse, that feels normal to you. A small change in balance isn’t going to be so obvious. But if you ride a big mover, then a small mover, an uphill horse, a downhill horse, a tight horse, a loose horse, a happy horse, and a miserable horse, suddenly those differences are quite noticeable.
What can you do to feel the little details more easily?
Play around with closing your eyes. If you feel safe, ride with your eyes closed. Obviously do it in an enclosed space, have someone lead your horse, or whatever you need to feel relaxed. You’ll be surprised at what you pick up on when you deprive yourself of your vision. Suddenly the horse moving under you is more dynamic – the footfalls are easily heard, and the way their back moves is easily felt.
Ride different horses if you can! A good seat is adaptable. We get caught up easily in our habits, and riding a variety of horses can help us learn to communicate in the moment instead of making assumptions with our seats.
Take video of yourself riding. Most of us have smart phones. Put your phone on the fence and record your ride. It’s quite eye opening to see the difference between what we think is happening vs what is actually happening. Through seeing this, you can adjust your ability to feel over time. I video myself at least once a week. It isn’t always fun or pleasant, but it’s very helpful. Get a glass of wine handy and watch the video with an open mind.