It’s extremely important to stay focused all the time during a training session. No phones, no text messages or other disturbing things when riding, because it really distracts your focus when you think of something else than the horse you are sat on.
I know it can be incredibly difficult to stay focused, and I admit that I sometimes feel that I have to take a call or answer a message, but do I really have to do it? When you train it is mostly under one hour of training, so I guess that whatever it is, it can wait… It needs to!
When I ride a lot of horses in one day, it can be a challenge to stay 100% focused all the way (for 5-6 hours), and I it has been necessary to develop a technique to keep my focus on the current training, and not focus on meetings, interviews, the next horse or whatever. I always clear my thoughts when I tighten the girth before getting on the horse. Then I plan a rather detailed run through for the horse I am about to ride; how much did we ride yesterday, how much training today, which specific exercises do we have to train, what is the main focus and what do we want to achieve today? It is really easy and it only takes a few minutes, but when I ask myself these small “questions”, my focus immediately stays with the horse. If you’re thinking about specific tasks that you need to accomplish, it’s much easier to do it. So, keep on running through today's focus at the beginning of the walk, and you’ll be much more focused and in “the zone” when riding. And whatever you are thinking of, will be so much more natural to actually do.
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Just to set an example, I’ll ask you to stay very, very focused on NOT thinking of an pink elephant. It’s impossible! Therefore think about your training when sitting on the horse, and your focus will (almost) naturally stay with you and the horse.
A training session can be between 15 minutes and up to an hour and maybe even a little longer, and it’s obviously not possible to stay 100% focused during a whole hour. But if you take a few walk-pauses within every 5-10 minutes you can “breathe” for a single round and so can your horse. Then you will be ready to work again for 5-10 minutes with 110% focus. It is much better to train with 110% for 25 minutes, than a hour with 75% focus.
The few walk-pauses should of course not be used to think about homework, the stupid boyfriend or whatever, but keep your mind on the overall training you are about to do. What I mean is, when you’re riding your exercises, you should have a very narrow focus on specific adjustments on that single exercise, but when you take a break you can have a wider focus to relax your mind. It is really important to be able to switch between a narrow focus and then a wide focus super quickly. The reason is that when participating in competitions you have to be 100% focused on the exercise you’re doing right at the very second and then a millisecond later you need be able to have a wide focus (if it’s a horse that gets spooked easily you have to think forward on the next dangerous flower box or whatever could be disturbing to your horse).
When I was younger, I thought this was rather difficult, but with quite a lot of practice with my mental coach, I have really improved and boy, I can feel the difference in the competition arena! When i started training this with my mental coach, he gave me this simple exercise.
This little exercise is by far best if you do it together with several other riders as a little competition, because then you’ll feel the pressure and desire to win!
Print out the box with all the numbers below and set the a stopwatch on timer for between 1 to 2 minutes. When the exercise starts, you have to find as many numbers as possible in the right order (1, 2, 3, 4, 5,….). You can also do it like this (50,49, 48, 47, 46,…). This forces you to zoom your focus in on the single number and then back to the wide focus (the full box of numbers) and then back again to narrow focus when finding the next number in the row. Try it out - it’s not as easy as you would think!
I hope this will help you keep your focus during training. If you have any comments, questions, additions or a great tip to practice your focus, then please comment below!