LEARN TO DRIVE BY FEEL
This could be a topic for another article or even a whole book, but suffice to say, one of the main factors to keep in mind is the to the horse. By I mean being aware of your horse and making him aware of you, through the use of aids at all times. I am not talking about micromanaging every motion of the horse, rather I am suggesting that by keeping the seat independent, moving with the horse, the hands light and rein aids flexible and keeping your calves lightly touching the horse’s side at all times, you can maintain mutual communication with your horse. In doing so you will become aware right away when he is startled by some movement or sound and instinctively reacting with flight. This way you can react more quickly to counter this reaction with a calm firming of the aids for just a moment; in other words, catching the spook before it becomes a run and assuring the horse that you are right there with him, protecting him and that he has nothing to fear.
~ From: Troy Griffith
Although the above quote is about riding, the concept certainly pertains to driving. However, the driver has fewer tools available to establish and maintain this connection and the connection perhaps is even more important and necessary than with riding *because* there is no physical bodily contact with the horse.
Drivers are readily tempted to attach their eyes to the horse in front of them. Why? Besides the fact it the horse is right there to look at, we rely primarily on our visual field for our survival data. Self preservation depends more than anything on the sense of sight. Our brain is wired to use sight as its primary sense.
The problem with this for maintaining the connection with the driving horse is that while we are looking at the horse, the horse is not looking back at us. He's looking the other direction and in fact is usually further limited by blinders on his bridle. There is no effective eye contact.
If one cultivates the skill of driving by feel, however, there is a definite tangible connection in both directions to the horse and from the horse. This connection is primarily made through the rein aid but the whip, the voice and one's body position and control also enter into the communication formula.
This skill is best developed by purposely looking away from the horse and devoting your mental resources to ascertain how it feels. Go so far as to close the eyes. Sounds perilous but, if the environment is controlled, it can be safely done. If anxious about it, take someone along who has their eyes open. As an alternative, simply blur the vision. Try this simple test: drive for 3 minutes without looking at the horse. One will quickly realize how time and resources are spent watching the horse! Set a long term goal of driving an entire dressage test without looking directly at the horse once.
Learn to cultivate the skill of treating the information at the peripheral edges of the visual field as if it were information in the very center. When looking up, ahead and around the corner, one can still see there is a bay horse with his ears up. One can gather useful information about tempo and rhythm through the feel on the vehicle. The bend of the horsecan be determined becasue of the relative position of hands. There is useful information about the degree of self carriage through the feel of the contact. There is ton of information out there to be used that can be gained through developing the sense of how it feels to drive.
In a sense, this information becomes almost more important for the driver because we have no bodily contact with the horse. If we develop our sense of driving feel, we can tell the instant he tenses or shortens a stride or pushes harder with on a hind leg to get out of tempo and rhythm. As my good friend and consummate driving teacher, Robin Groves, once said: " Learn to smell it coming." It can be done but it is an acquired skill that takes a lifetime to hone to perfection.