Mind Control

Showing and training has more to do with a rider’s mind, focus and attitude than it does having a thousand tools in your toolbox. The mind is free, malleable and easily accessible, and not one of your other tools will be effective unless you have control of it. That’s not to say that some riders seemingly have no connection with their brain; it’s there, it just hasn’t been engaged and may be a little rusty from lack of use. For a rider, controlling the mind and re-defining its output can breathe life into an otherwise lack lustre performance or ride. Controlling the mind is one of the more difficult tasks that a rider faces. It takes dedication, time and an objective sense of self; no longer accepting the bounty of lies the mind conjures up.

As a trainer, it is not uncommon to explain to a client that they are doing one thing and have them then come back with, ‘I wasn’t doing that… Was I?’ The answer to that question is a resounding ‘Yes!’ The brain lies to the rider, convincing them that they have been doing one thing all along only to find out, or better yet see on video, that they have been doing something entirely different. I don’t know one trainer who wilfully lies to a client about what they are doing in the saddle. We know it’s hard enough to understand and put in practice our words of wisdom without muddying the issue.

A rider can tell their brain to apply a leg, keep a and quiet or stay square in the saddle and they actually believe their mind is intertwined with their body; when in fact the leg didn’t get applied, the hand was as busy as a ‘bobby’ directing traffic and they were moving around in the saddle like a drunken sailor. Thus, begins the lie. Overcoming those libellous fibs takes time and a little lie detecting on the part of the rider. Believe what the trainer is conveying and for the moment focus on the task at hand. Once it becomes second nature; the rider has accomplished a goal. They have successfully redirected their brain, completing the first level of mind control and are now riding ‘towards the light.’

One of the most common mistakes I see in and out of the show pen is someone urging their horse forward into the lead departure with both legs and suddenly the horse takes the wrong lead leaving the rider in dust thinking, ‘What the Hell just happened?’ The rider’s brain just told them a little white lie. The mind tells the rider that they applied the outside leg, but in fact the inside leg was the last one to be engaged. The truth is seen in the result.

Since I mentioned the show pen, let’s go there. How many times have you completed a pattern or left the show pen thinking, ‘God that was awful!’ then, upon seeing the video, it looked much better than your mind told you it was? You believe the lie, just like the time your child told you they didn’t do it. That one brief moment is a good indicator that a little more mind control is called for.

Overcoming those libellous fibs takes time and a little lie detecting on the part of the rider



I was working with a client one day on circling and when she rode through the middle of the pen her horse did an immediate turn into the circle and stopped. Since I know that most riders practice their mistakes, the next time she started through the middle I told her horse, ‘Okie, turn left and stop,’ and he did so, right on cue. We repeated this several times until I was laughing so hard my cheeks hurt, tears were running down my face and I almost pee’d my pants. Every time her horse turned left and stopped, she would ask, ‘Why is he doing that?’ I said, ‘hmm … don’t know.’ Finally, she asked the right question, ‘What am I doing that is causing him to do that?’ I told her she did not ride through the centre, stay engaged with her horse and guide. She swore up and down that was exactly what she was doing. I told her to  humour me and try it again. She was amazed that the problem was instantly fixed.   In her mind she was riding through centre and was engaged with her horse, but Okie and I both knew he was just following her lead. Once I brought it to the surface she took control of her mind and body, and rode perfect circles. Yep, the mind is a wonderful thing.

So, how can a rider effectively control their mind and thus gain better control of their horse? Don’t practice your mistakes! If need be stop, sit, think, analyse and replay the situation in your mind. Visualise what you were doing, trust that your horse is telling you the truth and focus in on what you want to do. Just because you think it, it doesn’t mean that it automatically happens. While some horses may only whisper the truth, others will scream in the rider’s face, ‘Listen up!’ A rider needs to think of their horse as an extension of their trainer.

As with everything controlling the mind is a process that is longer for some and shorter for others.  No it doesn’t take forever, but it feels like it!