Are you using visualisation? If not, why not?

Posted on July 11, 2024 by Categories: Uncategorized
Eye - visualisation technique

Visualisation is receiving more and more attention and with good reason. I’m looking at why it’s important, what it does for us, how to do it, and giving tips for those who can’t visualise and what they need to do instead.

To start, I want you to think of a word that’s important for you. A reminder word. It could be something like focus, relax, rhythm, or perhaps you’ve got one of your own. And I want you to think about that word and if you can, I want you to think about a time when you felt that way, i.e., when you felt focused or relaxed or in a rhythm.

  • Go back to that time in your mind. 
  • As you experience that again, say your key-word over and over. 
  • We’re going to use that word and image or impression again in a few moments time. 

Now, don’t worry at this point, if, when you imagine that time in the past when you felt like your keyword that you didn’t experience pictures, that’s absolutely fine.

Moving on – as an equestrian, you want to spend the smallest amount of effort for the largest degree of change, the best enhancement of what you’re doing, and visualisation is one way to do that. 

Very often in visualising something, you start to be able to do it in real life much, much more easily. It’s also great when you can’t ride, so for whatever reason that you can’t ride, you can still be working on your riding, which just seems incredible to me. You are not wasting any time. You can still become a better rider without riding.

You can use visualisation to change how you think about a certain ride or a part of the ride. You can use it to reduce anxiety, you can increase your confidence and you can go through whichever parts of the ride you don’t feel comfortable about. Using visualisation, you can experience it in a safe way and you can iron out those stickier parts.

Visualisation is making little movies in your mind. Very often people think about doing it just before a competition or just before they go on a hack, and they do it once or twice, maybe a total of about 10, 15 minutes, and they don’t see the greatest difference and they wonder why visualisation doesn’t work well. Visualisation needs repetition to work and then it works very effectively

The surprising aspect of visualisation is that our deeper, unconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between imagination and real life. If you imagine doing a particular ride, your unconscious mind thinks you’ve already done it. This begins a new habit.

Visualisation is incredibly powerful and many people think about it as a purely confidence-enhancing technique, but it can also be used for physical challenges as well. If you know, for instance, that you throw away your outside rein, you can correct that in a visualisation too.

Horse's eye

5 Ways to maximise your results

  1. Play the visualisation in normal time. Lots of people do it on slow-mo. Some people do it where they fast-forward through bits and pieces. Other people press pause and you can do all those things when the visualisation is embedded and is second nature. 
  2. You are looking through your own eyes, so to speak, which means you’re not watching yourself. Some people will say, that they find it easier if they watch themselves. To increase the intensity of the experience, be inside the picture. This improves your connection to your emotions and the sensations of feeling the horse beneath you.
  3. Have a plan of the ride before you close your eyes. This is your ideal ride, feel confident and doubt-free. Begin in your warm-up and add the five or 10 minutes after the ride when you feel elated, as you’re communicating to your mind that’s what you want.
  4. You want to think about sight and sounds to begin with. Think about how you adjust your television with the remote control. Think about how you adjust the colour, the brightness, the contrast. How focused would you like it to be? Where are you focusing? Then to the sounds now the sounds. These can be the natural sounds that you would hear. It can also be your internal chatter. So your self-talk, what are you saying to yourself?

And that’s why I was thinking about that word at the start. That focus, relax, rhythm, that keyword, because this is where you could add that sound in. You could start saying it to yourself and recalling how relaxed and focused and in rhythm you were when you were in the past version of you thinking about that time so it can recall the feelings.

5. Then we want the feelings. Now, these are external feelings (sensations) and internal feelings (emotions). So how, how does the saddle feel against your leg? How do the reins feel in your hand? How, if you think about where your shoulders are, how straight is your spine, how open are your hips? Thinking about the pressure that you need to apply for each aid.

What’s your rein contact like? There’s an incredible amount of information that has to do with the feel when we are riding. How does the horse feel underneath you? How responsive is your horse? All of those things can go into your little video. 

And that’s the way to do it for you as well. Imagine, you know, you can do a body scan, so where is your head? Where are your eyes? Are you looking down? Are you looking up? Are you looking around? Where’s the weight in your head? Where’s, where are your shoulders? Um, where is your waist? Is your waist picked up?

How straight is your spine? The opening of your hips? Um, where are your thighs? Where are your calves? Where are your feet? Where are the stirrups on your feet?

Check that your emotions are balanced and you ride calmly and confidently too! 

Troubleshooting and people who can’t visualise

A – This first category includes me, which is people who aren’t very visual. Initially, my pictures were grey and blurry and only an impression. 

Go with the pictures that you have and layer on as many sights, sounds and feelings as you can. By working on it, you will achieve more visual detail.

B – The second group is those who worry that they’re visualising wrongly. They may not feel that it’s real or that they can only visualise watching themselves. I’d say, aim to make it real by adding in the movement of your body and aim to start seeing your horse’s neck and feel the saddle beneath you. 

C– The third group of people are the people who have something called aphantasia, and these people simply do not visualise. This is a very tiny proportion of the population. However, you can use a different style of mental imagery: you talk your way through it. 

Give yourself a running commentary. You might not be able to see which marker you are passing in the school, but you can feel it. You can feel the striding, you can give the aids and you can talk to yourself and you can say, I’m now coming up to the letter A I need to do a 20-metre circle.

Although you are not seeing it, you are speaking it, and the physicality is the same. 

Let me know how it goes!

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