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.
The 18th annual Jersey Fresh International (JFI) gets underway this afternoon at the Horse Park of New Jersey in Allentown, N.J. The CCI4*-L is the final selection trial for the Olympic Games in Tokyo later this summer so all eyes will be on the stacked field.
This year’s Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event CCI5*-L was on April 21-25 and was the first five-star event to take place in the U.S. since 2019. The entry list had the best riders in the world, previous Kentucky champions, Olympic hopefuls, and horses who have been eventing in the U.S. since they were 4 years old.
US Equestrian is seeking applications of employment for their Director of Eventing Sport Management & Administration position.
Please join the Equine High Performance Sports Group for their new Sport Horse Series. Interact with human athlete trainers, champions in equestrian sport, and their coaches, veterinarians, farriers, and grooms to translate and apply their knowledge in training, treatment, preventative medicine, services, etc. of equine athletes under your care.