To succeed in riding your focus needs to be as strong as your leg and seat. Luckily your brain works in a unique way called selective attention that allows you to focus on the many important aspects of the ride. From balancing your corners to seeing your distances and remembering your course; your brain knows what’s important and directs your attention towards them. . . That is until your brain gets distracted by things like fears, failures, and freaking out, in which case it directs your attention to them instead! In the end, it’s up to you to select what you’re going to pay attention to. . . The good or the bad, the past or the future, the mistake or the lesson it just taught you. The good or the evil!
So why is it that we so often make the wrong choice and select to pay attention to the negative when we know positive makes so much more sense? Well, believe it or not, the answer lies in human evolution. You see, back in early human development (think cavemen and women) our focus needed to stay on the bad stuff. . . The tigers who were trying to eat us, and the enemies who were trying to kill us. When we focused on the bad, we stayed safe. Enter the survival instinct!
So, while it made good sense to focus on bad things back then, our lives are much safer now (very few tigers and enemies at the barn) yet our survival instinct is still so strong that we often find ourselves selecting to pay attention to bad things, even during good rides.
The good news is that there’s something that can help stop this mental hijack. . . and it's your brain’s inability to focus on more than one thing at a time (you have to select what you’re going to pay attention to because you can only pay attention to one thing at a time). Remember that time when you thought you could focus on driving while also focusing on texting, and then ran over that shopping cart!? Your brain was trying to tell you to put the phone down because it knows you can only focus on one thing at a time (my favorite definition of multitasking is "messing up several things at once")!
With this in mind, one of the most empowering and simple tools you can use to regain control of your focus is something called masking: you select two or three "mental tasks" (“masks" for short) to focus on (remember, when you focus on the constructive you’re incapable of focusing on the destructive)! This is called attention-blindness because when you pay attention to something good, you become blind to the bad! In a way, mental masks protect you just like a real mask. . . They filter out the bad and let in only the good.
So what masks will you use the next time you ride? My masks are (1) balancing my corners, (2) establishing quality canter, and (3) recalling the notes I took during my course walk (sloppy footing, sit-up!). My challenge to you is to find two or three masks of your own (or use mine if you’d like). Write them down, memorize them, share them with your trainer, and then remind yourself to pay close attention to them while riding, so your brain becomes so full of good stuff that it’s incapable of focusing on the bad!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s Pressure Proof Tip! If you’d like more empowering tips like these you can order an autographed copy of my new equestrian sport psychology book Bolder Braver Brighter. It’s being released in two weeks and is chock-full of helpful mental coaching tips, tricks, and techniques. I think you’ll love it!
You can order your autographed copy here.
Chris Talley came into the Dutta Corp USEA YEH East Coast 5-year-old Championships knowing that the Corwin Sport Horse LLC’s owned 5-year-old Hanoverian mare Gina (Gentleman x Ballerina) possessed a lot of quality, but to emerge victorious out of the 42 horse field was an absolute treat for the pair.
No one could catch Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class in the dressage arena today despite the remaining 23 pairs' best effort. Angela Hislop’s 16-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Ramiro B x The Swallow) will stand at the top of the leaderboard on a 21.1 heading into the Maryland 5 Star cross-country – the day which is on everyone’s mind.
Yesterday half of the CCI5*-L and CCI3*-L pairs had their turn in front of the judges at the 2021 Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill, and today the remaining groups will canter down centerline in the main arena. The Dutta Corp. USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) East Coast Championships also kicked off yesterday with the 4-year-old champion being crowned and the 5-year-olds doing their dressage and conformation phases.
The first day of competition in the 2021 Dutta Corp. USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) East Coast Championships concluded with the crowning of the champion in the 4-year-old division. After contesting the dressage and conformation phases, Caroline Martin’s Irish Sport Horse gelding HSH Best Kept Secret (Adieu Z x Ringwood Sunny Clover) rocketed to the top of the 32 horse field following the jumping and galloping phases to earn the division champion title with a cumulative score of 90.20. It was a repeat affair for Martin, who won both the 4- and 5-year-old YEH East Coast Championships in 2020.