To what are you giving your attention when you enter the arena? [video]

Last week I was at the World Cup Qualifier, the Dutch Masters, in the Netherlands to give two clinics.

While I’ve been here, I’ve been really focusing on where the attention of the riders is when they’re bringing their horse to the warmup or when they are entering the main arena to ride their test.

I always ask myself and my students: ‘to what are you giving your attention when you’re entering the arena to ride your test in front of the judge?’

Often the attention is on getting your horse really sharp so you can get the best extended trot or passage. The attention is on making sure your horse responds to your aids in the right way so you can get the highest score.

And I totally understand that, but what is your horse thinking at that moment? What is your horse thinking or what is he feeling when he enters the arena?

The reason I’ve been paying more attention to this, was because of one of the clinics I did with Saphira at the Dutch Masters. Saphira is a really sensitive mare. She came into a really sharp environment with a lot of people, straight from home into a big building, which is of course very unnatural for a horse.

All this time I was thinking about the preparation at home. How is the preparation? Is she prepared? Is she confident to come into this sort of environment? I tried to leave my attention in that space of thinking.

If I focus on that, I know she will stay calm and relaxed. So if she starts to get a little bit uptight, I’m able to make changes in my body and my body language to be able to bring her back into control again. This way of thinking I try to keep all the way into the ring and I tell my riders to do the same.

However, if your attention is 100% on getting the exercises correct and reaching a certain goal, then you’re a long way from where your horse’s attention is on and how they’re feeling about each moment of the process.

The focus is then too much on the performance, showing what the judges want to see and getting the points or the win.

Sometimes it’s worth it to not focus on getting the marks, but to give attention to the mind of your horse and how it’s feeling or thinking at that moment. Maybe it gives you more of the edge by letting go of the technical and thinking more about the emotional state of your horse.

You can watch the clinic with Saphira below:

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