“When in doubt, go forward” was a phrase my hunter/jumper coach often used when we were schooling over fences. If we didn’t see a distance, then riding forward to the jump was a better option than hesitating and holding back. We were taught to ‘ride forward and ride the rhythm’ rather than focusing on seeing the perfect taking spot.
That meant that we didn’t hesitate or get stuck. By riding positively forward, we helped our horse maintain the impulsion needed to get over the jump – even if the take off spot wasn’t ideal. Holding back or hesitating because we weren’t sure meant our horse would either chip in (resulting in a bad take off), stop before the jump or run out at the jump. Our hesitation got in the way.
Hesitation is what happens when riders over think a situation or process. I often see this when I’m coaching – particularly in adult riders. They get physically and mentally ‘stuck’ (and so do their horses). They have stopped moving forward because they are over thinking. As these riders get frustrated with their lack of progress, they develop more self doubt and less confidence.
Over thinking causes gridlock in your brain. This busy-ness in your brain prevents you from making decisions as you get stuck in circling thoughts.
Over thinking takes you out of the present moment and out of the physical connection with your horse. Your focus is on the problem or the potential problem and keeps your thinking in the past or on the future. This doesn’t work well when working with horses where – because horses live in the present moment – the situation changes moment to moment. You need to be able to focus on solutions, but over thinking prevents that.
There is a cure for over thinking. Get out of your head and into your body. Feel what’s happening in your body and in your horse’s body. Be aware of what’s happening in the environment around you. This is what your horse is doing.
I can hear you saying ‘easier said than done’.
Here are seven suggestions of ways to help you stop over thinking, be in the moment and have more physical awareness and connection:
- Focus on your horse’s rhythm and maintaining it.
- Play background music and match your horse’s rhthym to the music.
- Count your horse’s steps – identify which foot is stepping when.
- Notice the movement of your seat – do you feel your hips drop and then swing forward (left and then right, left and then right)?
- Notice where your horse has put his focus. Is it on you or something else? If it’s somewhere else, bring it back to you by keeping him busy with transitions or changes of direction.
- Make up patterns to ride in the arena. Don’t ride around and around the outside. Be like a figure skater or ballroom dancer – cover the centre of the arena with changes of direction. If there are objects (i.e. dressage letters, pylons, poles, jumps, barrels, etc.) in the arena, make patterns going to, around and between them. Keep changing the pattern.
- Wiggle your toes in your boots. Wiggle your fingers without moving your reins. Roll your shoulders without moving your hands.
As you let go of the over thinking, you will become more aware of the subtle changes happening in the moment:
- in your body (I’ve lost my contact. I need to release the tension in my shoulders, again),
- in your horse’s body (His head just came up. What did he notice? Now I’d better help him come back into a calmer frame), and
- in the environment around you (the wind’s picking up, I’d better watch for blowing leaves that might unsettle my horse).
When you quiet your mind, you will decrease your stress and tension, become more connected with your horse, and even enjoy your rides more. You might just notice that you’re moving forward.
Are you struggling with over thinking? Are you a reformed over thinker? Share your experiences with over thinking by posting a comment below.My book is now available! “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”. Click here to order.
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You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).
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Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship