What do you do when your ride isn't going as planned? How do you respond when your horse scoots out from under you, spooks at the horse-killing object, or flat out ignores you?
Do you tense into rigidity as panic slides through your body? Do you get mad/get even after regaining balance from the spook? Or maybe you just give up after the hundredth try?
You need to know that horses are virtually mind-readers, likely thanks to the close proximity of the horse/rider combination. Let's face it - the horse can probably feel every fiber of your being while you are on his back. Your tension, fear, or withdrawal comes through loud and clear and transmits messages that you are probably not even aware that you're sending.
What is the real root of the problem?
Listen carefully to your self-talk during these sorts of scenarios. Before you ever go into physical action, your mind is working a mile a minute. When the horse runs off, your mind is screaming for the stop. When he spooks, you are first thinking about the source of the spook, and then you think about all the reasons the horse should not be spooking. For the horse that tunes you out - the thoughts of your frustration come through to the forefront. You react to the horse's actions, and forget all about what you wanted to do in the first place. Without realizing it, you become a reactive rider.
Does any of this sound familiar? Of course, we've all been there.
How to be an "active" rider
It's all about riding with intention.
And intention starts with the mind.
You have to learn to re-program your thoughts during those sticky situations. When the horse scoots forward, think: "Go with the horse, then half-halt, half-halt, half-halt." When the horse spooks, think: "There is nothing out there to hurt you. Just move your inside front leg more to the inside." When the horse does not respond, think: "Take that first step."
Talk to yourself especially through sticky situations.
The power of self-talk: think in words, not sentences.
Break down the thoughts that go through your mind - don't think in long, detailed sentences. Reduce your thoughts to just two or three things you want the horse to do, and stick to those. Be as specific as you can possibly be. Rather than thinking "Slow down! I can't stand it when you run off!", think, "Bend", or "Step to the inside", or "Circle".
Keep it simple and clear. Use positive action statements. Think what TO do rather than what NOT to do. Avoid waiting for the horse to take the lead; instead, be the leader by giving clear, quick instructions.
Then act on your thoughts.
Your horse will be relieved to discover that you can communicate clearly and with purpose.
*Note: There is one more phase to being a truly active rider. Once you have trained your mind to think through the ride moment to moment, you will discover that at some point, you can stop thinking. Your body can continue to "act" on its own without you having to be consciously aware of each movement. When you can let your body "take over" in a productive way, you know you are well on your way to becoming one with the horse!
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