Mind Over Matter

Use the power of your thoughts to improve your riding.

From America's Horse

Ever felt calm and collected before you went in the arena but lost all your mental prep when you walked through the gate? Someone told you, "Don't be stiff" before the class, but now you feel the tension building in your shoulders, wrists and back. Rather than feeling rag-doll relaxed, you're tin-man tense and fall back into the same bad habits that keep you from winning.

Obviously you can't ask everyone to take five while you go out, re-psyche and come back in. However, you can train yourself to use mental images to trigger your body to respond in a certain way. For the mental triggers to work, you have to practice them before you get to the competition.

Positive Power

Drop the words "don't" and "won't" from your vocabulary. Your brain doesn't have a mental representation of those words. So when you say, "I won't look down during my pattern," all your mind hears is "Look down during my pattern. For example, what image flashes in your mind when you read "Don't visualize a pink elephant?" You can't visualize "don't."

A calm mind isn't the only factor keeping you and your horse at the top of your game. The tack you choose plays a role, too. Check out AQHA's "Tack Talk" DVD to gain information about topics like picking correct tack and the proper use of the equipment you've got.

Instead, use positive instruction. Rather than "Don't look down," think "Look up." Tell your body exactly what to do, rather than what not to do. Define what you want, not what you don't want. Ask your coaches to use positive phrases, too. Ask them to turn "Don't break at your wrists" into "Keep a straight line from your elbow to your hands."

Whether it's confidence, softness or focus, deciding what you want allows you to pick the perfect triggers.

Right-brain Images

Mind-body response training forces you to leave logic at the gate and use the right side of your brain, which is the less analytical portion. Select images to use in conjunction with your positive phrases. Images are less consciously engineered when they originate in the right side of the brain, so they come to mind easier than images you analyze and choose rationally. Triggers are especially helpful to horsemen because you can recall the image and react in the middle of your ride without losing focus on the competition.

Again, decide what you want to change and turn it into a positive statement. Choose an image or symbol to represent the statement. For instance, to stay loose, picture a rag doll. Think of the doll, then consciously soften your shoulders and neck.

If you've ever experienced dismay at finding your bridle leather dry and cracked, or made the discovery that your saddle fenders aren't so supple anymore, you need AQHA's "Tack Talk" DVD. In the DVD an expert tack maker guides you through many aspects of tack maintenance -- so you can avoid dry-leather dismay in the future.

It Won't Happen Overnight

Don't expect your body to fully respond on the first try. Consciously think of the trigger and perform the response. Then repeat, repeat, repeat until it becomes second nature. To start with, you can exaggerate -- you won't lose all muscle control and fall off your horse. Practicing develops a connection between your left brain's commands and the images from your right brain.

Actively associate your response and trigger often because if you don't use it, you'll lose it. It's also important to practice exercises that challenge both you and your horse physically. AQHA's "Fundamentals of Horsemanship" can teach you exercises that are good for both the mind and body.