Ride Connected: Why You Need a Mindfulness Practice to Win In the Show Ring
Imagine yourself walking up to the in-gate. You’ve had a good warm up and are feeling confident just as the wind picks up and your horse pricks his ears nervously and starts to dance. You’ve ridden around a course like this a hundred times but now your heart is beating like a drum and you have a bad habit of gripping the reins too tightly when you’re tense. Thoughts are racing through your head. This situation is a perfect example of where the practice of mindfulness can be helpful. “The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness … [it] means being awake… knowing what you are doing” (Kabat-Zinn 1994).
Let’s face it: we all encounter moments of doubt and frustration as riders. Some are momentary blips on the radar and others last for much longer. As good equestrians know, the best way to ride a horse is to not try to control it with fear, force or frustration, but rather to be attentive to the horse’s needs and responsive in the moment. But how are we supposed to attend to our horse’s needs if we are unable to monitor and adjust to our own?
In the opening scenario, cultivating a mindfulness practice would help you notice anxiety, physical tension, or unproductive thoughts, and then adjust to them accordingly. That adjustment may come in the form of a deep breath, or it may come as a decision to make absolutely no change at all and let the sensations pass. Through this, you would not only be able to redirect your attention to the task at hand, but also respond effectively to your horse’s needs for guidance, ultimately improving your performance in the ring.
The problem is that becoming skilled in mindful awareness requires actually practicing mindfulness. If you want to be able to pull it off when you need it most, you’re going to need to have tried it more than a few times beforehand. When we break it down, mindfulness is nothing more than simply paying attention, and paying attention is the key to a good ride. In fact, I think it is why we ride. Being in the moment with our horse allows us to shut out the drone of daily life and focus on the connection we feel with our equine partners.
Being in the moment with our horse allows us to shut out the drone of daily life and focus on the connection we feel with our equine partners.
We already have everything we need to cultivate a mindfulness practice—we practice unintentionally every time we put our foot in the stirrup. The key to success in the moment is to turn the unintentional into intentional, and practice being mindful in small ways all the time.