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Train your body, ride better, and unleash your potential!
Judging by the title you might guess that this article will cover steps to overcoming bad habits – quite the contrary!
This article WILL cover a step by step process that will allow you to embrace new habits in your riding; habits that will better serve you in an actual run.
There’s quite a difference between the two (overcoming bad vs. embracing new), but more on that later…
When it comes to the mental game, there is plenty of talk about the importance if quieting the mind. It IS ideal for us to hand the reins over to our subconscious and let go of “thinking” our way through a run.
To do this, however, we must rely on our bodies to operate in a way that allows our horse to perform to their fullest potential.
But what if our body doesn’t hold up its end of the deal?
Over time we find ourselves riding in a way that may have worked for us as a kid or may have worked for a horse we had in the past. When it’s time for a change – feelings of frustration are common.
Because barrel racing is a high speed event, there is only time to react, making it very difficult (if not impossible) to think about changes we must make in our riding during a run.
As barrel racers, we can be hard on ourselves when our riding doesn’t measure up to the way we want to ride in a run, and how we know our horses must be ridden to perform at their peak.
Studies show that it takes 21 days to create a new habit. Sounds simple enough. That is, until you apply it to barrel racing!
The reality is that most of us don’t have a string of finished horses to make several runs on every day for 21 days straight. And we wouldn’t want to jeopardize our horse’s physical and mental health to better ourselves. But if something doesn’t change, the wheels continue to spin.
The good news is that you don’t have to keep banging your head against the trailer! IF you are determined to accomplish your goals, it IS possible to create new habits, and do so without sacrificing your horse (or your sanity).
#1 – Change How You Speak/Change How You Think
As I mentioned previously, this article is about embracing new, positive habits (not changing bad ones).
When discussing our riding with others (or ourselves) we must re-program our minds to think/speak about what we want, not what we don’t want. Try not to make mention of how you “always look at the barrel” or “lean too much coming into a turn.” For example, when verbalizing thoughts, turn words around to say “I need to look up where I want to go,” and “I should keep my body more centered and balanced.”
Changing the way you communicate about your habits changes the way you think. Ultimately the goal is for your body to make all the right moves without thinking.
The subconscious mind cannot decipher words like “don’t” and “always,” it more easily picks up on words that trigger images. So if you say or think “don’t look at the barrel,” you’re likely to continue doing just that!
#2 – Visualize
We’ve all been exposed to instruction telling us of the importance of visualizing the perfect run in our minds before competing.
In order to perform our best, however, during that time preceding a competitive run, it can be more beneficial to completely quiet the mind. Visualization definitely has it’s place, but consider making it your homework to be done before the barrel race.
Maybe you’ve experimented with visualization in the past and were disappointed with the results. However, studies show that the mind doesn’t know the difference between a real experience and one that is vividly imagined. There are a few keys to utilizing this technique properly in order to experience real benefits.
One is that the visualization must be vivid. Don’t just see yourself making a run, FEEL every part of your run down to the smallest detail, utilizing ALL your senses.
Another key to benefiting from visualization is to practice it every day. If it takes 21 days to create a new habit why not make it 30 for good measure?
At this point you might still be a little skeptical, but there is one more integral part to this process…
#3 – Wax On/Wax Off
In the movie Karate Kid, Daniel made slow movements over and over which simulated and improved his karate moves.
Although he didn’t realize it at the time, Daniel was essentially practicing a form of Tai Chi. Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that features slow, rhythmic movements, deep breathing, and concentration to condition the body and clarify the mind.
Our muscles have “memory,” and it takes time to work through physical motions before muscles become accustomed to the movements. Daniel could not see the value in waxing so many cars until he was put in a situation requiring him to block punches – which he was then able to do with ease and a lot of speed! (Don’t worry – this step doesn’t require waxing anything!)
To instill new positive habits it’s time to combine our visualization with slow but realistic movements simulating how we want to ride in a competitive run.
You’ll need to employ the help of your four legged partner for this one, so saddle up! You won’t need any barrels or an arena, just your horse (preferably outfitted in the saddle and reins you compete in) and 15 uninterrupted minutes per day for 30 days.
Mount up, check your watch and ask your horse to walk briskly forward while you start visualizing that perfect run, positioning your body as you would for the first barrel (no actual barrels required). Your horse might be a little confused at first but it’s best if your horse also responds to your cues going slow as he would in a run by shortening his stride slightly and turning in response to your body language, all while maintaining a walk.
If your horse is especially sensitive, and assumes you ARE going to make a run, lower your energy so as not to confuse him (some horses may need to be taught how to better respond to our energy and avoid assumption-making).
Go through the motions with your body exactly as you would like them to be in a run. At first you might keep your eyes open as you get a feel for the exercise. As long as you’re in a safe area (and on a safe, connected horse) feel free to close your eyes if that makes visualizing easier. There’s no reason to worry about walking a certain size pattern or where your imaginary barrels are, your run must only be realistic in your mind.
Be absolutely aware of the motions your body goes through as your horse walks through each imaginary run. Be warned for example, that if you don’t put two hands back on the reins after leaving a barrel during visualization, then you will find yourself staying at the horn all the way between barrels in your actual runs (trust me on this)!
The more aware you are of your position, the more you’ll get out of the process. You might find as you make changes to your riding, that down the road you want to change other things about your riding that you weren’t previously aware of.
No problem, just start over for another 30 days!
In conclusion, remember that embracing new habits in your riding requires that you:
– Are determined to improve and open to change
– Change the way you speak/think
– Have awareness of your current habits and what you want to create instead
– Vividly visualize
– Commit 15 minutes per day for 30 days to “moving sensualization”
Remember as with anything, that half-hearted effort will result in half-hearted results.
Committing 15 minutes per day for 30 days this spring could make a world of difference in the level of success and satisfaction you receive from barrel racing in the long run.
When our bodies are properly trained, we can trust the subconscious to take over and let our body do everything it’s capable of. Through this process you’ll create new muscle memory and new neural pathways in the brain, which will allow you to ride like you need to achieve new heights in your barrel racing!
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll especially appreciate Exercise 11 – Walk to Win in The Next 50 Barrel Racing Exercises for Precision on the Pattern.
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