Daniel Stewart’s Riding Rehearsals

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

BY DANIEL STEWART

While practice may not necessarily always make us perfect – we can probably all agree that it’s definitely worth the effort. The good news is that – in the hectic lives of riders – not all practice needs to be physical. In fact, while nothing can replace hard work and dedication in the arena, research has shown that a little mental rehearsal can have a really positive impact on your physical riding.  

While you probably already visualize your dressage test, stadium, and XC courses prior to riding, there are three other mental-rehearsal techniques that you might want to consider adding to your pre-ride routine. Collectively these techniques are called riding-rehearsals and each one of them is unique because of something called perspective:

Internal Perspective: Visualize yourself as if seeing your ride from your own eyes (i.e. imagine seeing each jump approach)

External Perspective: Visualize yourself as if looking at yourself for above or beside (i.e. like watching yourself on TV or from a drone)

Partner perspective: Visualize your ride as if seeing it out of the eyes of your horse (what must he be thinking when you point him towards a four-foot wooden squirrel!)

While each technique is effective on its own, they’re often best when used together. For example, memorize your jump course by visualizing it from a drone (external); plan your approaches by “seeing” the approach-angle to each fence (internal); and visualize adding an extra half-halt before each fence because your horse might struggle with the footing (partner). When you combine all perspectives in this manner, you create something called mental-rotation. Like watching a movie filmed from several different camera angles, mental-rotation creates a much more vivid and memorable rehearsal of your ride. 

As if this weren’t enough, there’s yet another technique that can make your riding-rehearsals even stronger… and that’s by changing them from mental-imagery into something called motor-imagery. You can do this by simply moving your body in a way that matches what you’re visualizing. For example, while visualizing your dressage test, close your eyes and stand or sit as if actually riding (bouncing slightly as if mimicking the sitting trot, performing an actual halt-and-salut at the imaginary X, and opening your inside shoulder as you track left at C). 

The reason motor-imagery is so highly recommended is because it’s been proven to actually lead to muscle memory… meaning that moving while visualizing your ride can make you a better rider!


Originally posted in Daniel Stewart’s Pressure Proof Academy monthly tips.

Daniel Stewart has been an equestrian for over thirty-five years and has coached riders all over the world for the past twenty-five. Combining his knowledge as an equestrian with a degree in physical education, he created an empowering and inspiring clinic series that helps riders develop equally strong minds and bodies. As the internationally acclaimed author of Pressure Proof Your Riding, Ride Right, and Fit and Focused in 52; he’s widely considered one of the worlds leading experts on equestrian sport psychology, athletics, and performance. He teaches clinics and seminars to thousands of riders each year including an annual summer clinic-tour that includes 50 clinics in more than 30 cities over a span of  60 days. He’s a sough-after keynote speaker, has published countless magazine articles, and is an equestrian sport psychology and rider fitness contributor for many other equestrian associations.