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.
US Equestrian is pleased to announce the dates and location for the 2022 USEF Young Rider Eventing Championship. This championship will take place at the Tryon International Three-Day Event November 10-13 in Mill Spring, N.C.
Sidnee Milner and My Valentine did not become partners out of sheer coincidence. The pony and rider combination that took home the 2021 SmartPak USEA Pony of the Year award were a product of the thoughtfulness and generosity of family friend and trainer Tawn Edwards. Milner was, at the time, a young and inexperienced child rider looking for a partner to teach her the ropes of eventing; My Valentine was a well-seasoned eventing pony who knew the job of advancing young riders well and was looking for her next partner. Over their three-year relationship, the duo have accumulated various ribbons and accolades together with 2021 being the most impressive of their seasons thus far.
Updated January 18, 2022: The 2023 Eventing Calendar webinar, originally scheduled to be held on Wednesday, January 19, 2022 at 4:00 p.m. EST, has been postponed and will be rescheduled with an additional commmunication in the coming weeks.