Every action we make in developing a skill or an art starts out as a mechanical action.  Bruce Lee once said:

Before I learned martial arts, a punch was just a punch, and a kick was just a kick. When I studied martial arts, a punch was no longer just a punch and a kick was no longer just a kick.  But now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick”.

When we start riding horses we start by learning the mechanics left leg, right rein, etc.  As with the Bruce Lee quote, when we first ride a horse we know nothing, our mind is either filled with the fear, anticipation or excitement of the ride and we have no awareness of what we are doing.  We are probably not in least conscious of where we are holding our hands or legs or positioning our bodies.  There is a cognitive disconnect, we are living and feeling the moment despite our coach’s best efforts.

Then, as we progress and start to understand the mechanics of what we are undertaking we move into a structured stage of development where for anything to work it must follow a logical sequence, a, b, c…   Some riders are happy to dwell there and work on achieving goals of riding perfect circles and collecting ribbons.  There is nothing wrong with that, that’s just where they are most comfortable.  Others move beyond that phase of development to where the mechanical becomes instinctual, as with Bruce Lee, the kick went from being unstructured to being structured and back to the unstructured free flowing.

This final stage, the free-flowing if you will, is the “feel”, as Tom Dorrance said:

first you go with the horse, then the horse goes with you, after that you go together”.

Sometimes you’ll pick up a feel and if you are still in the mechanical stage you will be happy that things worked so smoothly, but if you have moved into the stage of “feel” you probably won’t even notice, you’ll be too busy doing something else.