How much does the mind have to do with becoming a good rider? What is the connection between what we think and what we do? Is it possible to change our mental programming, allowing us to enhance our awareness, learn new skills, become confident riders, all without leaving the comforts of home?
When you are hungry driving home from work, you begin to imagine what you might have for dinner. As you review the menu in your mind, your mouth begins to water. Perhaps you visualized the ingredients you would need for your meal. You picture going through the motions of slicing the fruit, grating the cheese, opening the can or even pulling up to the drive thru. Chances are the more you thought about it, the more hungry you became.
In contrast, imagining the sights and sounds of a tension-packed meeting may make your head pound and your blood pressure rise. You may wake up from a night mare in a sweat or screaming, frightened and disoriented. You have to calm down and remind yourself that it was only a bad dream. These are just a few examples of the powerful effect that mental images can have on the body.
The mind cannot differentiate between reality and what is imagined. When you visualize something, your body responds as if you were actually doing it. Visualization is the ability to create mental images that simulate experience. The mind doesn't care whether or not something is imagined or something we actually do. Our muscles can actually learn new skills and refine the mind-body connection through visualization. Obviously you can't increase muscle tone daydreaming in your bedroom, you can however, use the power of imagination as an aid to create what you want to accomplish in your riding.
One researcher became fascinated with sports psychology after working with the NASA program, watching the astronauts rehearse everything on earth, again and again in a simulated environment before they went to space. He then decided to study the characteristics of peak performers. One of the main things his research showed was that almost all of the world-class athletes and other peak performers are visualizers. They see it; they feel it; they experience it before they actually do it. They begin with the end in mind.
That sounds great, think positive, imagine the perfect
ride... blah blah blah... but how can I put it into use in a practical
way. Can I imagine my self riding the
perfect dressage test, do an I dream of Jeanie folded arm wink and ride in to
reality? No, not exactly, at least not that
simply or that quickly. Successful visualization
and mental practice still takes practice. Start a little smaller. Let's say
a 20 meter circle.
The night before, or morning of your next ride give this a try...
1.Clear your mind - I usually do this in bed, when its quiet and there are no distractions. Use whatever works for you to clear the clutter. Some people like to mentally rehearse after relaxing exercise - yoga, tai chi, or even just stretching. Its not important how you relax, but relaxation and ability to focus are absolutely essential.
2. Bring forward what you want to Learn - Overcome - Prepare for. Employ all your senses. Visualize every detail. The clothes you’re wearing, your tack, the weather outside, the footing in the arena. Imagine your state of mind (positive and relaxed). Imagine your body being free from tension, whatever vices or tension completely vanished.
3. Now begin to imagine your ride. Sally Swift the author of Centered
Riding, refers to this as playing your inner video tape. Recall how
your horse feels, this rhythm and cadence. Each step around the arena.
Picture yourself in perfect posture, executing each maneuver correctly.
If you are envisioning a circle, ride through the entire circle in your
mind. Repeat it as though you were actually doing it. No detail is too
small. Visualize the end of your perfect ride in just as much detail
including putting the horse away
Remember to imagine every movement in a positive way. This requires practice for many of us, as we all employ a lot of negative self talk when we ride. “This horse never listens to my leg”, “My transitions are never right” “I always mess this up”
open mind and the ability to eliminate negative thoughts about your ride are the keys
to successful mental rehearsal. Whether your practicing for a competition,
practicing when your unable to ride, or working on resolving fear issues
visualizing yourself and your horse performing these movements in your mind you
will improve your physical performance.
So the next time you hit a brick wall, don't ride an endless circle. Take a little time to gain control of your mind as well as your body. Contrary to accepted belief the conscious mind does not ultimately determine our actions. Will power and determination can help you reach goals for the short term, but it is the subconscious mind that creates the permanent change in behavior you need to ride like a natural.