Improve Your Fluidity in the Saddle

Employ these five tips to look and feel like a natural while horseback riding.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

When I watch a beautiful rider on a horse, their hands and seat flow naturally, as if they are one with their mount. Other riders, who don’t appear so rhythmic, analyze every movement. If you’re not sure which kind of rider you are, try this test.

Crumple a piece of paper and set a trash can 15 feet away. Your objective is to toss the paper into the basket using two patterns of thought.

On your first toss, focus on the mechanics of throwing. Analyze how your hand must open to release the paper. Think about the angle of your elbow, the position of your hand and the rotation of your shoulders as you throw. With all these thoughts spinning in your head, make your toss.

Next, throw the paper by simply getting a picture in your mind of what you want to happen. Rehearse the feeling of a perfect toss. Imagine the paper dropping into the center of the basket. Trust your body’s instinct to do the work, as guided by your mind. Now, hold that image and make your toss.

Now that you feel like a natural in the saddle, you’re probably hoping you can show it off in the show pen. AQHA can help! Download the Beginner’s Guide to Showing report to help make your showing debut feel as effortless as your riding now looks.

Try both techniques several times. You should produce more baskets utilizing the guided imagery strategy.

The same is true for any style of riding. The most successful riding is automatic, intuitive and instinctive. During competition (or during any high-pressure situation), instinct is always more effective than conscious deliberate thought.

I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for step-by-step thinking and riding. We learn new riding skills by concentrating on mechanics. Analytical thought processes are critical when you make changes in your riding. You learn new skills by practicing repeatedly.

But there comes a time when you have to leave your new skills to instinct. It’s a kind of letting go - trust yourself to make the right decisions. You use your calves at the right moment, or keep your hands low without thinking about it. As you ride with feel and instinct, your true talent and skill come to life as a rider.

Here are five key ideas for getting that natural feel:

1. Use images to keep your riding automatic.

Getting an image of an effortless jump or a spin is far superior to thinking of the individual parts of those great moves. Images are powerful. They work to your advantage by automatically programming your mind and body for success.

Research has shown that body chemistry changes with the emotion we feel at any given moment. Therefore, the emotions of confidence and assertiveness have a specific physical makeup. It’s important to understand that a powerful mental image calls up the same body chemistry as actually experiencing the emotion. Your body does not know the difference between something vividly imagined and the real thing. That’s one of the reasons visualization works. You can pre-program yourself.

For the best results, imagine your ride at two key times. First, relax at least once a day and imagine your ride with strong, positive emotion. Secondly, mentally review your ride at least once a day just prior to performing.

2. Try counting, repeating a tune or saying a phrase over and over to establish a rhythm with your horse.

All of life exists in waves. Sound waves, brain waves, heart rhythms and cycles of the seasons are examples of wave patterns in nature. Instinctive riding is smooth and non-robotic. If you tend to get out of sync with your horse, the suggestions above could profoundly affect your riding.

You’ve got the horse. You’ve got the look. You’re almost ready to step into the horse-show ring! AQHA’s Beginner’s Guide to Showing can complete your preparedness by providing you with the background info you need for having a successful show career.

3. Steady your breathing. Be conscious of your breathing and simply let the air flow in and out of your abdomen whenever possible. A disciplined breathing pattern will keep you from focusing on mechanics.

4. Use mental cues instead of analysis to remember what you’ve learned. Come up with phrases that trigger the right moves. For example, “smooth hands,” “stay aggressive” and “be cool” are excellent phrases that evoke emotion and instinct, as well as correct mechanics.

5. Set up rituals. Rituals help you stay instinctive and turn away from mistakes.

Relax whenever possible for one or two seconds at strategic points during your ride. Then, remind yourself of your job during the next section of your performance. You’ll focus positively on the next move.

For maximum performance, do your mechanical homework. Then, let go and trust yourself. You’ll soon discover the best by-product of instinctive riding is fun.

AQHA Member Benefit Spotlight

Chances are, you love horses and AQHA. Well, we love our members, too! That’s why we offer our members the opportunity to participate in programs like the Horseback Riding Program. And participating is simple. Just ride your horse, log your hours in the saddle and start earning cool rewards! Enroll in the program today to start making the most of your time in the saddle.