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Three Steps to Developing Focus

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Developing Focus: We can ride with focus or we can ride while being distracted. The difference will be enormous. The distractions can come from your mind as well as from your environment. Here’s a three-step mindset strategy to help you developing focus.

First step:

The first step in improving your focus while riding is to become aware of the distracting thoughts. I am talking about all your,

  • what ifs
  • should dos
  • have to dos

These need to stay at the gate.

The biggest distractions generally originate inside our own head. The memories of what has happened in the past and the worries of what might happen in the future.

Often, these thoughts are not a reflection of today’s reality but purely serve the purpose of holding us back.
These memories are often related to past horses and past accidents, problems that are already resolved, and the worries are often not real but only exist in our mind.

How to start:

Start by monitoring your thoughts and filter them instead of letting them take over your mind. Focus begins with awareness.

Second step:

The other distractions are the thoughts wasted on all the things you need to do and remember when you have finished your ride.
Riding is about ‘being in the moment’ and learning to focus on the here and now. Our horses can help us do that and the way we learn to be more ‘in the moment’ is by practicing our breathing.

Breathing helps to steady the mind and to become more centred and horses become more calm and relaxed as well.

Writing lists can solve the problem too. If there are things you need to remember to do write them down.

Third step:

The third distraction is the environment. For a lot of riders it is very distracting to ride with other riders like in a competition warm up arena, a busy clinic environment or Pony Club. The distraction often comes from other horses being around and the unpredictability this brings with it.

We can prepare for this by exposing our horse and ourselves to these environments. Often if riders prefer peace and quiet they will avoid the busy arenas and only go there when absolutely necessary. This is a problem because in that case we will never get used to it and it will be a constant battle for the horse and for the rider.

With external distractions it is important that riders keep looking ahead and staying inside their ‘bubble’ rather then letting their eyes get drawn to the distraction, which will make the distraction even bigger.

Our eyes will often loose focus by following other horses or focusing on distractions like:

  • umbrellas next to the arena
  • kids playing
  • cars approaching
  • dogs running around
  • other horses in the arena

The more we move our eyes to the distraction the more we loose focus on the actual riding.

Developing your peripheral vision can be very useful in this situation. Our peripheral vision is developed by focusing the eyes on a specific spot – a target that doesn’t move. It might be the horse’s ear, the horizon, the railing on the arena…

To give your eyes a spot to focus on will make it easier to stop them from looking around. By keeping the eyes on one spot, the rider can gradually notice that the visual area opens up and even though the eyes are still focused on one spot the rider can see far beyond that spot.

This is what we call peripheral vision, the ability to see much more without moving the eyes.

Make it a priority to develop and improve your focus and you will find it will help your riding a lot. Awareness is the key.

Happy riding everyone!

It Takes Two To Tango  We recommend: It Takes Two to Tango: Discover How to Unlock Your Horse’S Potential by Tanja Mitton.

Tanja’s article about developing focus was published in Horses and People Magazine September 2018 print issue magazine.


Tanja Mitton

Tanja Mitton is a riding coach and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) master coach with over 25 years of coaching and competition experience. She has been working with the Australian high performance squad as a mindset coach and, in 2012, was invited to the Australian Institute of Sport to present a workshop on how to improve the Mindset of Australian Coaches. Author of the book ‘Seven Steps to the Mindset of an Equestrian Champion’, Tanja conducts clinics all around Australia and her seminars have been approved by Equestrian Australia for NCAS coach accreditation points.

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