“What can I do when I'm not riding, to prepare for my next session?" It's a good question!
Humans are incredible multi-taskers and you can use those every day, in-between moments to make incremental improvements! Whether driving to work, standing in line, or sitting at a computer - there is time in your day for activities that will help you in the tack.
Do you ever find yourself thinking about a recent session with your horse, maybe when
you are commuting? Or on hold? Of course you do! And that’s great. Studies have shown that visualizations actually use the same neural pathways that we cultivate when practicing in-person with our horse. Go ahead and relive that awesome breakthrough, remind yourself what it felt like. Really take the time to experience it moment by moment.1
If you really want to get more from your last session, write it down in a journal. The act of putting pen to paper, solidifies the lesson in your mind. Writing helps you process what you learn and maintain that lesson in the future.2 Carry your journal with you and if you are motivated to remember what you learned, you'll squeeze in a moment to capture that knowledge.
1. Visualize Your Successes
2. Write Your Thoughts Down
You find yourself in a challenging situation, maybe a long line or a difficult task, and you want to react, but is there a better way? When this happens in the saddle, be it a scary corner or a square halt, your coach helps you through the challenge. They may gently guide you to take the next step, encourage you to trust yourself and your horse, breathe, connect, and flow! Sounds sooo easy, but it isn’t always! Well, guess what?! There is a shortcut and the hint was in your trainer’s suggestions the whole time: Breathe.
Breath-work is a tool we can use to increase focus and relaxation. It makes sense really - when you are stressed you take shallow breaths, and you ignite the fight or flight mode of your sympathetic nervous system. With long, deep, relaxing breaths - you stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system. Your mind perceives that you are not experiencing a threat - your heart rate will drop, your blood pressure will stabilize, cortisol levels will decrease, and your immune system will stand down. In riding, breath-work becomes a critical component of any successful ride by developing our awareness and control.3
3. Notice your breath.
4. Tame reactive tendencies.
When we correct to our posture in everyday experiences, we are reinforcing proper alignment in the saddle. The opposite occurs when we move through our day unconsciously. The way you prop your elbow and lean while driving, your neck craned forward while texting, your legs crossed the same way every time - it all adds up to chronic misalignment that your horse feels!
I always recommend practicing the posture you strive to carry in the saddle. Equitation creates a powerful stance and that’s why we adhere to classical principles - it positions us to be prepared for anything!
Feet apart, knees bent, tailbone tucked, belly button in and up, head and neck aligned with spine, shoulder blades flat and down, arms positioned but at ease.
If you hold this stance for very long, you may first notice your thighs fatiguing. Often the issues we experience in the saddle are related to quad/ hamstring/ hip flexor fatigue, but manifest as lower legs sliding, hands pulling, or upper body tipping. If you designate your tooth brushing time for squats - that’s at least twice a day when you can give your legs some well-deserved attention.
5. Take Alignment Breaks
6. Practice Squats
As passionate equestrians, we tend to be highly motivated, but sometimes that can slide into negativity, expectations, and dangerous comparisons. I’ve heard riders say things like: “I’m not smart enough, I’m not talented, I’ll never get better.” I’d like to share this advice: if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, then don’t say it to yourself.
If you feel overwhelmed or stuck, that is ok. This is part of learning to create a feeling of flow in your life. Push to your limit, step back and care for yourself, and then dig right back in to conquering the challenges before you!
7. Be a Friend to Yourself
8. Practice Self Care
Have you found a tactic that helps you be a better rider? We'd love to hear from you! Feel free to comment or leave questions for Equestrian Power to address in future articles.