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Horse riding is as much a mind game as it is about technique and being physically fit. In fact, you can be as fit as you like, and have the best technique in the world – but if you are not mentally in the right place you won’t be able to perform at your best.
So what exactly is visualization and how can you use it?
Visualization, in the context of horse riding, involves imagining performing an exercise with your horse. If done in a specific way it can positively impact your behaviour. (See below for tips). I use visualization as a key tool to help me prepare for my show jumping competitions.
The night before a show I will, for example, recall my jumping in past shows where I did well. I will remember specific lines that I jumped in detail. I will remember specific jump-offs. I play them though my head like movies. I also access how I felt. Then I imagine how I will jump the next day. I imagine jumping in a rhythm, maintaining impulsion, feeling my horse light in my hands, meeting my jumps spot on, keeping my head up and my shoulders back etc. My visualization almost has a tick, tick, tick in my head for each canter stride to help me keep the rhythm in my head, especially as I go round corners and before and after each fence. I don’t change the beat in my head. I also have a positive feeling with this visualization – everything is smooth, controlled and confident. I also see my horse as happy and relaxed. In fact I feel her happy and relaxed.
When I walk the course at the show the next day I take a lot of time to transpose the visualization onto the course. I don’t just memorize the course – I visualize myself jumping it as I had prepped the night before. I run myself through the course very slowly, visualizing myself jumping it in detail, numerous times. If I don’t do this I can lose the focus that I need in the ring and you can see it in my performance.
Visualizing performance becomes even more important for jump-offs where you have less time to think as you jump. You have to ride the tight turns smoothly – almost instinctively. It helps to run through the course in your brain a few times in slow and deliberate detail. You almost have to take each stride in your mind – think how you will ride it and how you will feel when you ride it. Make it as life like as you can. When you do the course it should be as though you are doing it again and just perfecting it.
Remember that proper visualization takes real concentration, time and hard work. But you will see the results.
Tips for effective visualization
- Imagine you are watching yourself achieving your goal e.g. watch the dressage test
- Imagine what you will be doing in detail e.g. you have a sense of the horse’s hind legs engaging under you as you apply your inside leg
- Imagine how you feel and what you feel e.g. you feel relaxed and focused; you are thinking that you are going to enjoy yourself
- Take time and concentrate
- Repeat the visualization at least 4 – 5 times, more if necessary.