When you’re riding do you find that you’re always staring at your horse’s lovely head? While your horse’s head is pretty to look at, keeping your attention focused there actually inhibits your riding ability. You may ask, “How can looking at my horse’s head inhibit my riding ability?” If you think of riding a horse as similar to driving a car, think about what happens if you stare at your dashboard – you can’t see where you’re going and you may crash into something! This is a very powerful thought, so take a moment and really feel what it’s like to drive your car while staring only at your dashboard. Now, relating this to riding, when you are looking down at your horse’s head, your focus is down and your horse will want to stop because your attention/focus is down. Your horse wants to check out what you’re looking at down there as well. If you only look out a few feet you are still limiting yourself in the range you can go with your horse. You want to look out a good 500 yards if you can. Pick an object to focus on and as you get closer or turn directions, pick out another object to focus on and continue this exercise. Pretty soon you’ll realize your horse wants to move out with you and go investigate all these cools things. In Denver, Colorado there are some awesome things to focus on: trees, mountains, old barns, etc.
What else does looking up do for your riding skills? It helps your body stay in proper equitation alignment. It builds your confidence and your horse’s confidence. It allows you to actually see where you’re going so you don’t get run over by other riders. It helps you stay alert and plan ahead to be proactive to miss a hole or negotiate an obstacle with ease. It allows you feel the horse underneath you instead of trying to second guess yourself on what you’re seeing versus feeling. It maintains your proper balance in the saddle so you’re not tipped forward and trying to grip and hold on with your legs to regain your balance.
Here is an exercise Carol Dal Porto, an all around California horse trainer and riding instructor, recommends to help break your habit of looking down. Select an object at least 200 yards in front of you (tree, building, fence post, etc.) to focus on as you ride. Select a new object each time you turn or get close to your original object. Count to yourself to see how long before you look down at your horse’s head. Practice the exercise as much as you can and see if you can increase the length of time before looking down. The more you practice, the better you will become and pretty soon you won’t be even thinking of looking down at all!