Although we’ve covered the natural aids and talked about how they influence your horse, many trainers and psychology experts believe there’s an even better way to influence your horse and boost your riding skills – using the power of your mind. Riding, they say, is 50% physical and 50% mental, so this means your mind is the most powerful aid you have.
Horses will naturally follow someone in whom they trust and respect – whether human or equine – and riders with a positive outlook and natural confidence get better results than those with a negative attitude – even if they are technically better riders.
Developing the power of thought doesn’t need a horse, it’s something you can do alone at home, or with the help of books or a teacher. Give one of these methods a try over the next 30 days and enjoy the difference it makes to your riding.
Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP)
NLP was developed in the 19705 as a way of looking at how communication works. It is the study of how mind and body function together to form the human learning process. NLP looks at how people make sense of their experiences and the way this sets a pattern for all our future learning experiences. NLP works so well when applied to equestrianism because. just like riding, it recognises that mind and body are not separate, but closely inter-linked and one can’t function without the other.
Riders who have used NLP successfully claim they’ve changed ingrained physical habits, adopted a better riding position and a new-found confidence about riding.
Cybernetics is the method by which machines and robots seek to accomplish their tasks, and the psycho was added when an American doctor applied this behaviour to humans. He believes that every person has an in-built mechanism that strives to make real the images in our imagination.
All we have to do is make sure the images are good ones (it will also strive to make negative images come true), then tap into the mechanism and make the most of it! Relaxation and breathing techniques are used to encourage positive mental imagery to help you jump that impossible 3′ fence or win the next Olympic Games the limits, it seems, are left up to your imagination.
When inhaled, an aroma goes directly to the brain and affects the central nervous system. Different oils have different effects many have calming qualities and can help lower blood pressure and relax the mind. Others help boost confidence. One of the best methods of application is massage, but you can use oils in your bath, body lotion, burner or on a handkerchief that you keep in your pocket and sniff when the going gets tough! Try lavender to help keep you calm, or bergamot for confidence.
Reflexology Reflexology is based on the belief that there are points on your feet which relate to areas and functions of your body. Therapists massage your feet, working on specific points to help with problems. Reflexology helps you relax and relieves stress, and reflexologists say that people who feel at one with their body are more likely to keep stress under control a useful tool when in the saddle.
Hypnotherapy accesses the subconscious mind and allows you to reprogramme your brain to act differently in the future, thus helping with specific problems like loss of confidence following a bad experience or overcoming nerves in general.
The science of flower remedies is not clear, but many people swear by them. The remedies can be sipped in a glass of water or dropped directly onto the tongue.
Try larch to boost your confidence or gentian to help overcome disappointment and regain the belief that you will succeed.
Healing is officially recognised by the NHS as a therapy. It re-energises and relaxes the patient, helping them deal with problems such as stress, tension and fatigue -all of which can lead to lack of confidence.
A healer tunes in to the patient’s body and channels energy to correct any imbalances.
Steps to success
Avoid negative thoughts – they will come true
If you’re convinced that horses always refuse fences when you ride them or that you always fall off when you canter, the chances are that you will. Once you’ve said that a certain thing will happen, your subconscious will try to make sure it does.
Use positive language
It makes sense that, if your bad thoughts come true, so should your good ones – so have more of them. Without being reckless, tell yourself that the things which worry you are possible. Tell yourself that you are an enlightened rider, your horse would do anything for you, good transitions are easy and any pace faster than trot is nothing to be afraid of.
Enjoy each success – no matter how small
Be pleased with every small achievement and recognise it as progress. Riding is rarely about taking massive leaps forward. Progress is usually made in small steps, so enjoy your successes.
Get into good habits
Taking as many riding lessons with a good instructor as you can afford. The more you do something, the quicker it becoems second nature (think back to learning to drive), so it makes sense that if you practice good riding skills, you’ll eventually become a natural.
It’s important to make sure you’re practising the right things as bad habits are just as easily ingrained in our minds as good ones – that’s why you need an instructor you trust, admire and respect.
Don’t get hung up about your mistakes
Learn from your mistakes and move on. Don’t beat up yourself (or your horse) when it goes badly and don’t re-run the situation over and over again in your mind.
Get rid of so-called friends who put you down or aren’t supportive. People who constantly give negative feedback are bad for your health – and that includes your instructor.
Think about every aid before you ask it. For example, if you’re meandering along in walk on a hack, and decide to trot, instead of shocking your horse into action with a sharp dig in the ribs, take a couple of strides to think first. Prepare for the transition in your mind. Try saying to yourself: “I’m taking an even, soft contact, my posture is good and he’s listening to me”. See if this reduces the need for a strong aid and work on sending him messages using your mind until your leg aid becomes almost non-existent.
Build up gradually
Be realistic and don’t shatter your confidence by taking on too much too soon. If your dream is to complete a 3′ show jumping course, start small with cross-poles, grids and combinations. Gradually increase the number and height of fences as your confidence grows. This way you’ll reduce the chances of a major crises of confidence.
Make your goals realistic
Only bite off what you can chew. If you have 30 minutes to ride before you have to rush off elsewhere, now is not the time to teach you and your horse a new dressage movement or introduce him to his first cross-country fence.
You won’t ever progress as a rider if you’re always blaming your horse for mistakes or limitations. It’s unfair, for example, to blame him for not jumping high enough if the problem is your confidence.
Your horse will respond to the messages you send – if you’re negative, he will be too.
Become your horse
When you’re riding, especially schooling, try to imagine what it would be like to be your horse. What signals is he receiving from you and would you understand them?
It looks good, exercises facial muscles and makes you feel much better.