WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #130
FROM HORSE AND RIDER - SEPTEMBER 2011
THE CONFIDENT RIDER
Look Up to Ride Strong
Keeping your eyes up and looking where you're going is a magic
bullet for confidence.
BY CAROL DAL PORTO, WITH J. FORSBERG MEYER
EDITOR'S NOTE: Starting now and going forward, this page will
feature advice from a range of top instructors in addition to our
regular confidence consultant, Julie Goodnight.
Do you stare at your horse's head and neck as you ride? Many
riders with confidence issues do, and they're often not even
aware of it. I'm going to explain why you should always look
where you're going, instead. I'll also give you an exercise that
will enable you to realize how much you do look down, plus help
you begin building an eyes-up habit.
Down is out.
Looking down negatively affects your balance, position,
effectiveness, and confidence. Your head dips forward, which tips
your balance forward. Your back rounds, your spine stiffens, your
shoulders hunch, your legs grip. Looking down locks you up and
keeps your hips from moving as freely as they must to follow your
With your eyes on your horse's crest or poll, you're riding blind
into each turn, obstacle-or even another horse. That means you're
constantly reacting, rather than planning ahead and communicating
smoothly to your horse with clear, well-thought-out cues.
Perhaps worst of all for a timid rider is the effect looking down
has on your frame of mind. You think staring down at your horse
will somehow help you stay in control, but the opposite is true.
You're simply reinforcing thoughts like, "What's my horse doing
now?" and "What'll he do next?" This keeps you encased in your
own bubble of anxiety. It also tips your horse off to that
concern, because he can feel when you're looking down. That means
you're practically begging him to challenge you in some way.
Up is in control.
With your eyes up, by contrast, it's easier to maintain the
correct, upright posture and a balanced position. Like a good
motorist, you're looking ahead and planning your course, being
proactive rather than reactive. You actually have more control of
your horse this way.
Best of all, you're breaking out of your bubble of anxiety by
moving your attention forward, rather than keeping it riveted on
Carol Dal Porto coaches adult and youth riders and presents
clinics nationwide. The all-around trainer, has also made world
champions in performance events. Home base is Brentwood,
In the arena or on the trail, pick an object (a fence post, a
tree) that's at least several hundred yards in front of you and
fix your eyes on it. Each time you turn, pick a new object in the
distance. As you ride, count to see how long you can go without
looking down. Resist the urge as long as you can, using your
sense of feel and your peripheral vision to keep tabs on what
your horse is doing-instead of glancing down at him.
Practice this exercise as often as you think of it, and see if
you can extend the length of time you can go without looking
down. If you're persistent, you'll eventually make keeping your
eyes up a habit, and you won't have to think about it anymore.
When that happens, you'll be surprised to discover how much more
at ease you feel in the saddle.