“Get out of your head and into your body” is a phrase I often use when teaching adult riders. Most adults spend so much time doing jobs that require brain work that they are stuck there when they are riding. Their focus on thinking gets in the way and they freeze up in the saddle – stiff, tense, trying to make things work. Good riding, just like good ballroom dancing, requires the ability to feel and move with your partner. It is a physical rather than an intellectual ability.
A simple way to get out of the mental and into the physical is to ride with your eyes closed – even for just a few steps. (Note: If you are going to try this, make sure you are in a safe area clear of any obstacles, potential spooky things and that your horse is relaxed.) The first time I ask a rider do this, the result is always the same. When they open their eyes, they give a surprised smile and say “that was amazing”. When the rider’s eyes are closed and I give them instructions, they do exactly what I am saying. When I ask them whether or not their horse is straight or which way the horse is bending or drifting, they always give the correct answer. When their eyes are open and I give them instructions, they want to know what is supposed to happen. They are so busy trying to figure out the “right” answer that they can’t just allow the horse to respond to their cue and feel what is happening.
This fear of making mistakes or “doing it wrong” is another common challenge for many adult riders. Because riding is a journey not a destination, there is no place for perfectionism. Allow yourself to experiment while you are riding. Feel what happens when you notice your horse’s bend, push with the inside leg in time with swing of the barrel and let your outside leg be passive. Feel what happens when exhale deeply and release the tension from your shoulders, and allow your buttocks to soften and melt a little bit more into your saddle. Don’t try to make something happen. Find out what happens and learn from it.
Enjoy the journey.