This article was written by Lesley Stevenson and originally posted in Lesley's Corner on My Virtual Eventing Coach. To read more by Lesley and other professionals, purchase a membership to My Virtual Eventing Coach here.
Do you find that you have SO many different things that you need to work on and improve upon in your riding, that it is hard to keep track of them all?? You correct one issue, and move on to the next, only to find that you have now lost the progress that you made on the first one??
Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. It is quite common for riders to have many or even all of these bad habits when riding on the flat - looking down, rounded shoulders, slumped posture, an incorrect pelvis position, an incorrect hand position, tense arms/shoulders, and hands that acts in a backward manner.
Since the human brain can only think about one distinct thought at a time, the way riders usually address these issues is to make one correction at a time. First they remind themselves to look up. Then to square and relax the shoulders. Next they think about their overall posture and alignment. And finally, the focus moves to their hands... They make whatever specific correction is necessary to put their hands in the right position, and then make an attempt to make those hands "forward thinking."
The problem is that by this point in their checklist, all of the earlier corrections may have already unraveled. Here is a trick that will help with this!
What you will do is group all of these corrections together, and give this fix both a name and a picture. For the example above, your word might be "elegant" or "poise", or even the name of a rider that you know and admire, who sits beautifully on a horse.
If you use the name of a rider that you admire as your word, then a mental picture of that rider at their best would be your picture. When you are on your horse, and want to make all of the corrections on your list, say your rider's name, put a picture in your head of them riding in a beautiful position, and let yourself mentally become that rider for that moment.
If you have used a word like "elegant" for the name of your group of corrections, then just picture a rider with perfectly poised and elegant posture, who maintains that elegance no matter what their horse is doing underneath them. Here is one for you to use, if you would like:
This will work best if you start at the halt with your trainer or a good ground person present. Have them help you to ensure that you have truly covered every position correction on your list. And once all corrections have been made, have your ground helper be quiet (unless you start to lose one of your position corrections), so you can focus on how it feels to be in this position. Say your word and put your picture clear in your mind while you are feeling this new position.
The next step in this process is to train your subconscious to make all of these corrections when you say your word and think of your perfect picture. So relax all those corrections, and sit like a sack of potatoes for a minute. Then say your word and see how quickly you can find your good position again. Have your helper remind you of any flaws that you may have missed. Repeat this process until you can make all of the necessary changes fairly quickly.
Once you get to this point at the halt, feel free to try this at other gaits. It would be a good idea to devote a few minutes of this exercise at the beginning of every ride. This way you can continue to solidify this whole group of corrections, so that you don't find yourself falling back into your bad habits!
If you have a different list of riding faults that you struggle with, mention them in the comments below, and I will help you to group them together!
Lesley Stevenson offers expert coaching and guidance for you and your horse! With more than 35 years of experience of riding through the top levels of both Eventing and Dressage, and almost 30 years of teaching and coaching riders at all levels, our Resident Expert at My Virtual Eventing Coach, Lesley Stevenson, is here to help YOU with your riding, no matter where you live in the world!