Power of the Mind

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Seventeen days until our last ride of the season. 

I’ve heard Fort Valley is a challenge. As all the Old Dominion rides it’s rocky and rough, and mountainous. The variable however is weather. 

The OD in June is going to be hot- only a question of how hot and how humid. Prepare for the worst. 

End of October is likely to be cold- but also we have this Indian Summer thing and we could get a freak heat wave and with the onset of winter wooly coats (happening now) even temperatures in the 60’s could pose heat issues. 

The two elements I’m focusing on during these last days are mental connection and hill climbing. 

I rode late last week on a rainy training ride with Carrington and Susan where we climbed the mountain- a few times. Thanks to Ed for the muddy creek raincoat it was soggy but do-able and we all agreed even riding in a downpour with friends was still better than reading in bed all morning!

Monday I had less than two hours between work obligations so I hit the property in a way that took us up the steepest hills and wound around to add some extra climbing along with energy work. 

Earlier in the season I was less concerned with her ability to climb (since everywhere I go is up the mountain at least somewhat)- what I needed was to see her pick up speed on the flat. 

I spent a fair amount of our training this year looking for valley and ridge rides where I could ask her to move out on the flats and she has picked up speed through that- however now I see her lag on the climbs.

Hills are just a fact. We go and we do them. The mental training is where the fun is. 

After my toss a couple weeks ago I am even more reflective about our relationship and my role in it. I am glad to have a sensitive horse- I can’t say I created that… horses come sensitive by nature.  Somehow I got lucky enough to find a 4-yr old that no human had ruined and then I erred on the side of not kiling off her sensitivity- occasionally possibly to my own peril, but how else does one learn?

I do enjoy riding alone regularly (though as a social person I almost never turn down a ride with friends) and more and more I see how important it is because when alone we are able to sync without other louder energy fields to get in the way.

I made a clear decision to control my thoughts and mental images (this is also more difficult for me when riding with friends) and this ride reflected that in the same way my catastrophic ride reflected the opposite.


Khaleesi came right up to me in the field and things began well. I thought about how my energy worked in every step:

Ever have a horse who dances around when you tack up? 

First thought might be to see if you are the cause of this with your approach… I see a big change in our barn routine just from how I approach tacking up and what my energy does


In a hurry? 

Still, move quickly but calmly, low energy and without agitation. That’s been interesting for me to master: quick without high energy. 

I took a few extra minutes to do some simple groundwork tasks before riding. It takes so little time for the connection it begins before I even get on the horse. I wonder why I don’t do this every ride. 

Maybe I will now. 

I then mentally decided to take the time it takes to get her stand still to mount and wait while I tied up my lead rope. Not terrible- she took one step… I backed her into place and we stood there until she gave to waiting. 

Then the property exit: we are walking right off the property- through the gates on my chosen path with steady walk tempo. My focus completely on the road ahead. Ears forward and we had hardly a question. 

In this case instead of trying to make ‘the birdie’go where I want- I tried never losing the birdie in the first place. For me this is easier than calling it from somewhere else!

On the trail I insisted on a forward walk. I also stayed in tune by using wide spots on the trail to get in tune with her feet and ask for step over moves in time with her walk. 

The birdie has to be present for that kind of work. 

Any choice in the trail where she might have tried to push toward another [shorter] route I focused every amount of my mental imagery to us walking on to where I intended (in this case sending the birdie out there where I wanted to go!). I could feel her ask ever so slightly to go her intended direction but I rarely had to use reins to reinforce this ride (twice she tried me and I had to hold firm with my hands against her turn). 

At one such turn I made her go a few steps farther until she softened and accepted my choice- then turned the preferences [toward home] way that I needed to choose anyway due to time constraints. 

 By the time I had to make the last turn toward the farm where she and Faygo both try to cut the corner and rush [dont miss this turn mom!!] I waited until the last second to make the turn and she didn’t even attempt to make it until I’d looked and changed my ‘mind’ to it. 

I thought ‘trot-trot trot-trot’ and we trotted without any leg pressure probably 90% of the time and my down transitions were always chosen by looking ahead, picking out a tree and changing my mind to ‘walk-2-3-4 walk-2-3-4’ and we walked. 

On the way home I had a feud in my brain as I knew places she would usually pick up a trot or canter and it was difficult for me not to imagine it because it had happened so many times past. 

Every try to not think about something?

I had to replace these memories with a crystal clear strong image of us waking nicely up that incline and though at first I could feel her energy build it dissipated and let go completely as I closed my eyes and let out a long slow breath and saw us  in my mind waking. I felt the feet underneath me in a 1-2-3-4 … my hips and her hips. 

Mental imaging and visualization are so powerful and there are many people in fields from athletics to business and music who have written about it. 

Just over the weekend I performed with my faculty piano trio (I play the violin). We played a lesser known work by Josef Suk and there was a part that I hadn’t been particularly concerned about in advance that during the concert began to fall apart. I know as a performing violinist there is no past.  You go forward and pull it together in less than one note but something happened and fear kicked in. I envisioned missing more future notes…

What if it happens at that hard spot just ahead!!??

Well that mental glitch did cause me trouble until I could pull my mind forward and positive. It was like a plane heading down needing quick action before the crash. 

Hopefully what was a short rough passage to me didn’t ruin anyone’s experience that day – and thankfully my violin has never bucked me off, but it was another lesson in the power of positive and negative imaging. You can bring about your fears when you dwell on them.

I reflected back to that ride I bailed off my horse. I am certain my energy was saying something different than my hands and body. My horse is too sensitive to be ok with that kind of incongruity. It is a confusing lie to her. No wonder she threw a fit. 

What do you mean? Your energy says run … I am excited… and then pull my head back and put on the brakes! I am confused by this… what am I supposed to do here!?

Can you imagine telling a kid ‘of course you can have the cookies‘ then slapping their hand severely when they reach for them?

I think many horses are shut down because humans often aren’t aware of what their energy says to their horses so they have to ride with loud aids… hands and legs… but even tie downs and spurs and painful bits. Not that many of those tools don’t have a place in communication. A big problem is when our insides say one thing and our outsides say another. Horses run away from that confusion if they are able… and if not they shut down. 

It’s not so simple. The more I learn, the more I see how much ‘it depends’ is almost always the right answer to every horse training question however whenever tools and aids are used as a way not to develop better horsemanship in the human is always unfortunate for the horse… and the rider too when you look at the end result- what could have been possible. 

Also I am kind of blown away by how few people actually take a moment to do some groundwork before riding.  Maybe it’s just in my own world that I see the difference and I’m unique… maybe everyone else is just always connected that well to their horses. I see a massive difference when I do or do not now. And it’s not because my horse is unique or untrained. 

I have read of riders who believe the horse should be lunged before every ride- they say it’s helpful to ‘take the edge off- tire them out a little’. I’ve never bought that. If you can wear your horse down enough to make a difference physically in 5 minutes of lunging then your horse is in terrible shape. My guess is if that is working for the rider it’s most likely the lunging reconnects the horse somehow mentally. But I believe there are more effective ways to do that than a lunge line. 

I sense that too often ‘groundwork’ is something riders graduate from in order to ride. Once the riding starts groundwork is at best mediocre leading from pasture to barn for most. Or maybe that’s just how I’ve understood it over years past. Maybe most riders truly go through a series of requests intended to refocus the horse before they mount up. Maybe it’s just me who gets lazy. 

Lazy doesn’t = horeseman. 

Good horsemen are made in the details. That one small angle or movement that turns a vague request into a clear communication. If we expect the horse to change we never achieve greatness… if we try to change we just might… or at least get somewhere better than we are in the process. 

For me one way of looking at it is: 

Something goes wrong. 

Bad horseman blames the horse as (at best) not smart or worse a bad animal intentionally doing something wrong. The horse is punished or expected to change to fill in for the human. 

Good horseman looks first to themselves; believes that horses are a mirror only behaving as a horse can and asks what they did to bring about that behavior. The human looks to see where they can do better to help the horse. 

One thing that has worked out well for me so far is to take any failures or shortcomings in what I’m doing and find out what I can do to improve.

Of course the first step is to accept that I may not know it all and may look like an idiot. And I’m going to be at this journey a long time- I hope always learning. 

As one of my favorite horseman says You have to let go of what you think you know in order to learn what you need to know. (Dee Janelle)


Published by JaimeHope

Violin teacher and endurance rider living in a rural mountain county - one of the least population dense and without a single stoplight.

2 thoughts on “Power of the Mind

  1. Your groundwork perspective is very interesting and I don’t think it is groundwork vs. saddle work as much as, like you said, a way to get the horse to focus on you.

    Some people are very effective at getting this done from the saddle but for others it is easier achieved from the ground.

    My personal groundwork all depends on what the horse needs that day. But I always make sure there is solid communication happening before I get on. That communication may be established during the grooming/tacking process. But on other days it may require lots of movement, transitions, requests and tasks. What I’m looking for is a softness towards and a focus on me, responsiveness to my requests and a willingness to go along with my ideas.

    I have noticed that my groundwork has “graduated” somewhat over the years. No longer requiring time on long lines and “tiring out” and I think this attributes to a couple of factors. I have learned to be clearer with better timing. Able to offer comfort and the right direction to a horse in way that I used to not be able to. I’ve also learned my horses better. Knowing how much is going to be required to get their mind. Do they need a little stronger clearer leadership from the saddle or do they need me to stay safely on the ground.

    Have a great weekend!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good thoughts. I do believe now that there is a connection on the ground that cannot be achieved quite the same in the saddle when it comes to relationship building. It has to do with perspective and communication and the way the horse relates on the ground vs. in the saddle to the human. And the training I’m working on is truly looking at things as much as possible from the horse’s perspective.

      That being said I also agree that once a good foundation is established (depending on the horse) a lot of groundwork isn’t always necessary. And I also don’t think one needs excessive amounts either to make a difference- just a few small things before hopping on even including ‘how’ I mount (asking my horse where to stand and to be still etc) can be included in that.

      You are so right that just being aware of your connection before you begin to ride is the whole point. Awareness is really the key word!

      And as a last clarification- i do not think that trying to tire a horse out on a long line is groundwork at all in my definition of such.

      I love reading about how you connect to your horses – you certainly have a deep understanding of what they need from you!!
      Thanks for the thoughts I love reading comments that help me sort out the most important things!

      Liked by 1 person

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