I had a very rewarding teaching experience this week, and I wanted to share it. I have a student who recently started leasing a new horse. At the start of our lesson this week, she expressed some frustration that things only seemed to be working with the horse in one direction.
When they tracked to the right around the arena, the horse stayed on the rail for her, and she was able to ride deeply into her corners. She could walk, trot, canter, and steer easily. When they turned around and tracked to the left, however, the horse constantly tried to veer in off of the rail. She couldn't get anywhere near her corners, let alone ride deeply into them. Even on the straight long sides of the arena, the horse drifted in off the wall. The cutting in towards the middle of the arena was so drastic that she had a hard time going straight long enough to even achieve or to maintain the trot.
I watched her ride around both directions, trying to analyze what might be going on. The thing that jumped out to me the most was that the rider sat TOTALLY differently each direction. Tracking to the right, she sat very well-balanced in the middle of the horse. (This was the direction that things worked). Tracking to the left, she sat significantly off to the right. (This was the direction that things didn't work at all). It seemed likely that her asymmetrical balance when tracking to the left was contributing to the horse's steering difficulties.
I expressed to her what I was seeing and told her to shift her weight to the left. She leaned her upper body left but had a hard time adjusting successfully in her seat/hips. I took some videos of her from behind to show her what I meant. She could see exactly what was happening, but even after watching the videos, she had a hard time making the adjustment. And the horse was still constantly veering for the center of the arena and blatantly refusing to stay anywhere near the rail.
Suddenly, I had an idea. I remembered a clinic we had had recently with Jessica Wisdom, where she told a different student of mine to "imagine that you're tracking to the left" while she was going to the right. That exercise helped the other student to ride her horse straighter. I wondered if the same could work for this rider's position, since she naturally sat so perfectly centered and balanced when tracking to the right.
I told my student to imagine that she was tracking to the right as she went up the long side of the arena. "Really picture it. Imagine that there's a wall on your left where there's actually arena. Imagine that there's an arena on your right, where there's actually a wall. REALLY imagine it. Really picture it. Look at that arena off to your right. You can make it look like anything you want it to. It can look like our arena. It can look like the arena from the last barn we rode at. It can be gray sand, it can be bright white sand. It can look like anything you want it to... Just really picture it. See the sand off to your right. The rail is on your left and when you get to the end of this long side, you're going to turn to the right into that arena that you're seeing in your mind."
Boom. Perfection. Instantly all of her problems were fixed. She sat in the middle of the horse. The horse stayed perfectly on the wall. When they got to the end of the wall, of course they had to turn left, since there was a wall on her right in the real world, but they made it ALL the way into the corner, and the turn worked fine because the rider was balanced. The short side went fine, and then when they hit the next wall we started the visualization game again. "REALLY imagine that arena on your right. Really see it. You're tracking to the right. Really believe it." And she did. And it worked. We had spent a good half hour of the lesson attempting (and failing miserably) to stay on the wall tracking left, and then instantly it was all fixed and she went two or three consecutive laps, no problem at all... Not even a thought of falling in off of the wall. Deep corners, no fight at all.
It was so cool to watch such a drastic transformation. It really shows the power of visualization. Even while tracking on a straight line, when things should theoretically all feel the same, this rider's body reacted completely differently when her mind thought she was tracking right versus when she thought she was tracking left. When she actively visualized that she was going right instead of left, her body made adjustments that she wasn't even aware of and sat completely differently. These are the kind of superpowers that we can tap into when we utilize visualization.