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Mental Training for the Rider

Posted by Tami on January 19, 2010 at 7:05 PM

by Charles Wilhelm

www.charleswilhelm.com

Posted: Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The first thing when talking about mental training for the rider is that I believe we all need to understand we must be very positive thinking in our abilities. We must believe absolutely in what we are able to do. And that means recognizing what are abilities actually are no matter the level. At the same time, we have to bring into account negativity. Why negativity? Because while we want to be extremely positive about our own abilities, we also have to be realistic about where the horse is in its own training. Once we are truly aware of both the positives and the negatives in our relationship, we then also need to not become overly attached to those ideas and allow them to interfere with our intentions, meaning the exercises we have planned.

Intent and Focus

Clear intentions in training are vital. We need to identify what we intend our goals to be. And that includes where to start, how to get there, and where to end. We absolutely have to prepare our mental state to stay focused on these goals rather than to react to the environment around us. You may be working with your horse and have another horse get totally out of control, or hear another rider shouting at someone but you have to stay utterly focused on the horse you are working with. Find your center and stay on track with your own work. Don't allow yourself to get distracted and you will find your horse is much less likely to get distracted as well. If you are focused, your horse will be focused it really is that straightforward.

Many people don't recognize what intentions really mean in terms of horsemanship and yet that really is the magic in training. The dictionary definition of the word intention is: "A course of action that one intends to follow. An aim that guides action; an objective." So when we are clear in our minds as to what our intentions are, our goals about how to achieve those intentions become clear as well. The mental process actually provides physical form. And as the horse reads body language the positioning of your body makes the magical communication happen with the horse. For example, when out trail riding, if your intention is to turn right and go through a gate, you need to already see yourself doing it in your mind's eye before you begin actually doing it. The process may have some difficulty in the horse not understanding or getting confused, but if you stay focused on going through the gate as you imagine it, it greatly helps the horse as they need purpose. One of the things that we have talked about before, is that with any exercise we do, we have to be able to picture our doing it every step. So imagine riding up to the gate, step, pivot, go through the gate, step, pivot to close the gate, move out away from the gate. If we cannot picture it, we will not be successful. If you can only see yourself going through the gate, then that's all you should do. Only do what you can actually perceive. Adjust your goals to meet your own ability to imagine.

Focus on Good Behavior

Another important aspect of your own mental training is not to get involved in the negative behavior of the horse. For example, if I have a rude, belligerent horse I do not get caught up in his negative behavior. I remain focused on the goals of the training only. If we are working in the round pen and he is bolting or charging, I am focused only on getting the response I want, which is for the horse to be relaxed, to have rhythm, balance, cadence, and that he wants to be with me. I am not worrying about the other behaviors just focused on what I need to do to achieve my goals. And frankly, that's often just a question of time, which is irrelevant to a horse. They operate on their own time. But again the mental image is key. You have to imagine the behavior and response you intend to get from the horse. It's the same with real estate. You can go out and look at a house as it is, or see it as it's meant to be. Do you get caught up on a brown lawn and peeling paint, or can you imagine the house after you have worked on it and see how it could look/should look? It's vital to learn to use our imagination to succeed and that's available to everyone we just don't seem to use it often with our horses.

Take the Chance, Accept the Risk

One of the reasons probably is that we get so fixated on fear and intimidation. But the reality is, those are very normal feelings when being around horses! But as a professional or even just a serious horse-lover, you have to be willing to take that extra step, whether it's to go into a show arena or out on the trail. You have to simply get on the horse one day, and to allow the practice of handling horses to take on its own life. But at some point, you have to be willing to take that chance, to accept the risk. And to do that - you have to be able to imagine yourself doing it with crystal clarity.

This is an especially common problem with many of the riders who return to horses as adults. They often feel like they want to give up, or get overwhelmed quickly. And that's no surprise. It seemed so easy to ride when we were young, and falling off was never a big deal. Now that we are older and don't bounce so good there is even more danger in handling and riding horses. So when you have those times of feeling overwhelmed or giving up, all it really means is that you need to back up in your relationship with the horse, and return to the basics until you are more comfortable. Can that mean you may be doing just groundwork for six months? Maybe. So what? I have a client who was extremely fearful. She returned to riding in her late 40's and got hurt trail riding shortly afterwards. But rather than giving up, she spent a year working her horse from the ground, and then finally riding in the round pen, then the arena, and then at about the end of that year, went back out on the trail. She has been she riding everywhere on the trail ever since! She did not give up. She instead reset her goals to be in line with what she could imagine herself doing. And slowly as her confidence built, she was able to imagine herself being more and more ambitious in her goals. Finally she broke through the fear barrier altogether and is now living her dream with her horse.

Your Mental State

It's easy to lose confidence when we push ourselves beyond what we can imagine ourselves doing. So have confidence in what your abilities truly are, define your intentions based on those abilities, imagine yourself accomplishing your intentions, and then stay completely focused on working with those goals every time you are with your horse.

Your mental state and preparation for your horse's training really is the most important thing that will determine your success, or failures. What you can imagine yourself doing, you can achieve! So don't be afraid to dream big when it comes to your relationship with your horse. Believe in yourself, be patient, persistent and those dreams will come true.

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About Charles Wilhelm

Known as the creator of Ultimate Foundation Training, Charles combines the best of traditional, classical and natural horsemanship into a methodology that is applicable to any riding discipline. His extensive background includes: Dressage, Working Cow Horse, Reining, Western Pleasure and Trail. He is known for communicating and motivating people as well as his astounding natural abilities with a horse. He believes "It's Never, Ever the Horse's Fault" and his training methods reflect that belief. Charles specializes in re-schooling horses with often-severe issues.

Charles has a weekly television show, writes monthly columns, has two books and numerous training DVDs. He performs clinics and demonstrations at venues throughout the country. He offers extensive hands-on learning programs for every level of horsemanship that reflect his motto "Success Through Knowledge".

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