We expect our horses to be our friends and companions and also demand that they behave perfectly and expect their extreme focus during flatwork and jumping. While we demand their utmost focus and discipline, it’s only fair that our horse has the right to get our 100% dedication and focus as well. We only spend an hour or two a day riding, so it’s important to put everything aside so we can actually feel and ‘hear’ our horse’s needs.
The first question every rider must ask before getting on a horse is whether or not he or she is really ready to ride. What I mean by this is: are you in the right frame of mind to dedicate all your thoughts, emotions and actions to the act of riding?
Have you ever had a bad day and find yourself sitting on your horse unable to get him to cooperate with you? Our horses have a unique ability to reflect our emotions and feelings. Sometimes we face our limits and come to a point where we get emotional or intense simply by sitting on a horse. Most of the time these strained emotions do not originate from the horse’s performance, but likely from a meeting that took place at the office three hours ago where a co-worker let us down or a friend betrayed us.
Anyone who has ridden for a time knows that if you can find a way to be ‘in the moment’ while you’re riding, you’re going to experience better results than if you’re riding distracted. The first step towards creating this singular focus is to check in with yourself to address your emotions of the day. We have stresses that we deal with daily, whether from work, school, home, family, friends, etc. Sometimes letting go of these issues for a short period of time and allowing ourselves to ‘be in the moment’ while with our horse will provide greater perspective later for that situation that was creating a distraction in the first place.
I am a very emotional person and I think I can say I tend to think about all possible things when sitting on a horse. My mental coach, not being a rider, once shared with me an interesting insight. She said, ‘you expect your horse to be 100% focused and not get distracted by any noise or other horses, and you think it’s ok to be thinking about your exams while you are riding?!’ She was right and I think we can conclude that we can only expect our horse’s concentration if we are ready to commit ourselves only to the act of riding.
Here’s an exercise that has been helpful for me when I’ve been having a hard time detaching from outside stresses:
-Either sit down or stand in a quiet place – your parked car, the tack room or restroom are good places to do this
-Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths
-Next, imagine the sky with many clouds going by
-Now, with every bad thought that comes into you mind, put each of those negative thoughts into each of the clouds that are passing
-Imaging these bad thoughts passing by and disappearing just like the clouds are passing by
-If the same thought comes up, just put it into a cloud again
-Remember to exhale every time a bad thought comes and do this over and over again until the bad thoughts are gone
-To finish, exhale one time slowly and put your hands to the floor, as low as you can
-Pull yourself up and inhale pulling your hands up over head and then down to your sides
-Next, think about a wonderful moment with your horse
-Keep this positive energy with you and have fun riding!
And don’t forget why you’re doing this in the first place. You’re riding because it’s fun, challenging and you’re passionate about the sport! Creating positive energy around the stable – both with your horse and barn mates will go a long way towards creating success and fulfillment.