Learning to Maintain Focus
Q: I have 2 riders that have trouble with the last jump of a course. How can I help them keep their concentration throughout the course?
Dr. Carrie Wicks: Encourage your riders to begin their mental focus for their lesson or round when they are getting ready to get on, rather than just before entering the ring. Rider’s can appoint a particular action, like putting on their helmet or boots with beginning to increase focus and attention. Suggest that they purposely connect with the horse as they ride to the ring, blocking out other stimulus including chatting with friends. Be careful not to make small talk with your riders as you are getting the lesson or warm up going. Instead, ask them about the quality of their focus, attention span, and connection with the horse. As you warm up, periodically return to the rider’s focus and attention so that the jumps themselves are merely part of the whole, rather than the sole purpose. Ask your riders to try to sustain their focused attention until they get off the horse. Emphasizing prolonged concentration throughout the ride will de-emphasize the individual jumps, allowing them to come up in a fluid and natural way.
When reviewing the lesson or round with your riders, center the critique on the qualities of their focus and connection to the horse as well as the elements of the course. This slight shift will reinforce increased and prolonged attention, which will produce the desired results in the long run. Since learning is processed consciously as well as subconsciously, tell your riders what you desire from them and what went right since their subconscious only retains the actions you are describing.
Example: “You gave up in the corner and your horse had no pace
going to the next jump” can be replaced with “If you stay focused on the rhythm and pace in the corner the distance will come.”
Illuminate that which you want to teach, not that which you do not desire.
[Originally Published in Horse & Style Magazine Issue 8 December/January 2012-13]