You may have heard me talk about Situational Awareness in clinics or watched my video on it. You’ve likely been told at some point in a riding lesson or clinic, to FOCUS or LOOK UP. Yes, it is important to look where we’re going, but FOCUS is more than that. Lets look at some of the underlying fundamental components.
1. Visualization – See it happen before it happens.
Since what we do on a horse is dynamic – that is – it’s in motion, a good idea is to play a video in your mind of what you are going to do before you do it. This starts with a vision of the actual path you are going to ride. Once you’re riding, keep thinking a few seconds ahead.
Studies have shown that visualization can enhance the performance of competitive athletes. Riding a horse is no different. When you visualize something, your concentration is engaged, your coordination is triggered and fear and anxiety are reduced.
2. Energy – Feel it happen before it happens.
Having an image or ‘video’ in your mind is certainly part of the equation. Now, infuse that image with positive forward energy – not only do you want to visualize what it LOOKS like, you need to FEEL what it’s going to FEEL like when you do it.
We know that when your horse is truly following you, he’ll also follow how you feel about something. Is it scary (are you nervous)? Is it good (are you positive)? Are we moving? (are you exhibiting forward energy)?
Consider for example a transition to a lope on the arena wall. You not only need to visualize the path (circumference of the arena) but the positive forward energy associated with the gait or transition. I’ve asked many students to think about times that they’ve experienced that sort of energy. Some say galloping freely down a trail with a big smile. One said, “Front row at Garth Brooks!”
Now, energize your path with that!
3. Connection – Do it WITH your Horse.
If you’ve watched my video on merging technical and feel, this is part of it. Whatever you’re doing with your horse you’re doing it TOGETHER. You’ll find a connection with your horse when he is following you physically and energetically. The converse is that the horse is simply trained to perform a maneuver on cue regardless of what the rider is doing.
Personally, I like to ride my horse with the feel that my hips are his hips and my shoulders are his shoulders. I also look forward and up off the ground. I find that the combination of those are important components in helping us achieve lateral and longitudinal balance, straightness and elevation…and maintaining a proper riding posture. You’ll find that when you work towards this, the horse begins to emulate you; to become a mirror of you in many ways.
Sometimes it’s easy to get tricked into having a tunnel vision focus. You look at your hands, or the barrel, or the cone. On a trail ride you might look at the EDGE of the bridge or a river. When you do that – and believe me I’m writing from experience! – your horse has no focus to follow. If you want to cross that river, look to the other side (that also keeps you from drifting)! Last week I messed up a flying lead change because my focus went to the barrel that we were using as a turn point. My poor mare had no idea what was going on in that moment. I could only laugh because I knew exactly where I’d screwed up. The next time, however, I kept my vision up and FELT us ENERGETICALLY on the path before we rode it. No problem that time!
When you put these all together the horse will be able to follow you. Horses follow the energetic direction of other horses and the herd. Recently I was working my horse Ditch while riding my mare, Belle. He was at liberty and he was doing a large canter circle around our small canter circle. I’ll get a video of this soon! To achieve this required my focus be on the space around our whole circle – not just directly in front of me – and not just on one horse or the other. You’ll have an idea of what that feels like if you’ve done any liberty work in our clinics – it’s awesome!