Sunday, November 8, 2015

Taking Charge of Your Focus While Riding

While teaching a first level dressage student the other day I found myself frustrated by her repeated fixation on the horse's head and neck. I'm sure anyone who has taught, or even ridden, classical dressage knows the feeling...

You're supposed to ride the energy from hind end of the horse, and you know it and you think you're doing it and suddenly you realize you're staring at the horse's head and neck and fiddling with the reins again - for no good reason, at that!

After my student began fiddling with the reins again, a phrase popped into my head so loudly that I found myself yelling it across the sandy arena.


It was the perfect phrase to summarize all of those twitchy little half-thoughts floating in my head as I tried to help my student get past her fixation on the front of the horse. As a rider, she was struggling to keep her focus in the correct spot. The horse's slight resistance in her jaw had caught the rider's attention and she had shifted her focus from correct back-to-front riding to the horse's head and neck - a mistake fatal to self-carriage.

I often see riders on the cusp of balance and harmony. The horse is just a breath away from greatness and the rider panics and loses control; the rider momentarily fixates on the appearance of the horse, all self discipline flies out the window and a yank or a tug happens here or there. The horse responds, reasonably, with tension. The moment is lost.

As equestrians, we have to have intense self-discipline, both physically and mentally. It's very easy to pop into our physical selves and use muscle memory to ride our horses round-and-round the arena, but it's the riders who are also able to stay mentally focused not only on the goal, but also on the source of the goal, that find true harmony with their horses. We also must remember that the goal is almost never a change in the horse's appearance; the goal is a physical response that causes a change in the horse's appearance (ie. the goal isn't to tug the horse's head and neck into a frame, it is to properly encourage self-carriage and the horse's head and neck will fall into place as a consequence.)

When you can regularly take charge of your own focus, and drive those tricky thoughts of cutting corners out of your head, it becomes as natural as muscle memory and just as easy to replicate.


Do you have moments where your focus seems to flit away from you without your control? What helps you to stay focused on correct riding? 

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