This fun, easy ex­er­cise zaps fear, ad­dds fo­cus.

This cre­ative ex­er­cise is easy, fun, and guar­an­teed to get you fo­cused on your rid­ing—in­stead of your nerves.

Horse & Rider - - Contents -

Here’s how this ex­er­cise came to be. An older stu­dent of mine had been bucked off in a lope de­part and was ter­ri­fied of lop­ing. Even the thought of it brought panic at­tacks. She spent her en­tire lessons wor­ry­ing about the mo­ment I might ask her to pick up a lope.

I knew I had to get her mind fo­cused away from her fears, so I started shoot­ing di­rec­tives at her in short in­ter­vals.

“Now trot,” I’d say. Mo­ments later: “Now turn across the arena.” Mo­ments later: “Now stop and back up.” I kept at it un­til I saw a smile that in­di­cated she was hav­ing fun. Even­tu­ally, I slipped in, “Now lope,” but only for a stride or two, then back to a walk.

And she did it with­out even think­ing about the fact that she was lop­ing. Goal achieved!

Why It Works

When you’re ner­vous about some­thing, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to stop think­ing about it. Telling your­self to stop is use­less. It’s like telling your­self not to think about an ele­phant: The only thing you can pic­ture in your mind is huge and gray, with a trunk.

But when you’re ac­tive- ly in­volved in some­thing phys­i­cal that com­mands your at­ten­tion, it’s hard to stay fo­cused on any­thing else. If you’re rid­ing around the arena for long stretches of time do­ing just one thing, your mind can wan­der back to what’s both­er­ing you. But if you have to keep chang­ing what you’re do­ing, you have to stay fo­cused on the cues and move­ments needed to ac­com­plish those changes smoothly.

Since that first scaredto-lope stu­dent, I’ve used the same tech­nique suc­cess­fully on dif­fer­ent rid­ers with var­i­ous is­sues. It never fails to help the stu­dents, plus it helps their horses learn to pay closer at­ten­tion to them, as well. The horse fo­cuses on his rider, and the rider fo­cuses on rid­ing rather than on her nerves.

How, With a Helper

If you take lessons, ask your trainer or in­struc­tor to di­rect this ex­er­cise for you. Ex­plain the con­cept and ask him or her to in­struct that you ex­e­cute a change of gait, ma­neu­ver, or di­rec­tion ev­ery 30 sec­onds or so, for a pe­riod of up to five min­utes at a time. The in­struc­tions can be sim­ple (walk, trot, turn, stop) or mixed with more de­mand­ing move­ments (ex­tended trot, leg-yield, counter-bend, side­pass) as ap­pro­pri­ate for your level of rid­ing.

Then, when both you and your horse are fully fo­cused, your reg­u­lar les­son can re­sume. If you be­come ner­vous or unfo- cused at any other point dur­ing the les­son, re­peat the ex­er­cise.

If you don’t have a trainer, ask a horse-savvy friend to be the “caller” for you. Have your friend bring a horse, and you can take turns call­ing changes for each other.

How, On Your Own

If you ride alone, sim­ply des­ig­nate one or two ob­jects in or around your arena (this post, that tree) as mark­ers, then change what you and your horse are do­ing ev­ery time you pass one of them. This is a lit­tle more de­mand­ing than hav­ing some­one call changes to you, as it means you must keep track of the mark­ers and de­cide what the change is to be. (The good news is you’ll truly have zero men­tal en­ergy left to de­vote to any of your wor­ries.)

You can also use a traf­fic cone or two to des­ig­nate where changes should oc­cur. Just be sure you don’t fall into a re­peat­ing pat­tern, which is less de­mand­ing men­tally. The whole point is to make you think.

Fi­nally, you can use a re­peat­ing in­ter­val timer (such as de­signed for in­ter­val train­ing in work­outs) to sig­nal changes ev­ery 30 sec­onds. Sim­ply set it, clip it to your belt, and off you go.

You’ll be fully fo­cused on rid­ing—and hav­ing a blast—in no time.

This ex­er­cise fo­cuses your at­ten­tion by chang­ing what you’re do­ing each time a helper tells you to, or when you pass a cer­tain marker—in this case, a cone. Here, our young rider passes the cone at a walk.

As he passes the cone a sec­ond time, he cues his horse for a trot. The third time, he turns across the arena. The fourth time, a stop and back. The con­stant chang­ing re­quires the rider to fo­cus on his rid­ing—and not his nerves. As a bonus, this ex­er­cise en­cour­ages the horse to pay close at­ten­tion, too.

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