Visualization and Mental Rehearsal

May 23, 2012

No matter how naturally talented you are, if you cannot keep your mind focused in the right way, at the right time, your performance will eventually suffer. Visualization is one way to train your mind to remain focused and full of intention.

Visualization has been studied by Sport Psychologists for many years. In study after study the results have shown that athletes who combine their physical training with visualization training outperform athletes do physical training alone. Time spent visualizing may be almost as beneficial as time spent in the saddle. Part of this effect may be because when we visualize we are always practicing correctly. This can be a powerful tool to change old negative patterns, and reshape them into new positive ones.

When the mind is in its’ least energetic state, it will randomly flit around from one thought to the next, or perhaps obsess on one or two thoughts. Or the mind may stay very focused if there is an external source that is interesting enough. Look at how much money Hollywood spends on trying to hold on to our attention for ninety minutes or so. This kind of passive mind cannot sustain a top equestrian performance. The performer’s mind requires much more effort, energy and discipline.

Focus is the ability to stay completely involved in your performance, and remain free of external distractions. If focus is a laser beam, then intention is the direction of the laser beam. A clearly focused mind is a good thing, but it is not so good if your focus is negative! A highly focused NEGATIVE mind can be even more destructive than a distracted mind. What you think is often what you create. In most great performances the mind is intently focused on the magic it is trying to create with the horse. Intention is a key word here. Each moment of your ride should be full of a clear intention, a clear idea of what you are trying to feel with your horse.

The first step in visualizing is to sit down, close your eyes, and imagine riding through your test from start to finish. Notice how hard it is (for most people) to keep your mind focused from start to finish. Now imagine your test again, and this time picture each movement having the finest quality you can imagine. Now you have both focus and a positive intention with your focus.

When you visualize you can mentally ride through your test imagining it exactly as you hope it will occur. You can also visualize potential problems, and the most productive way that you can respond. My FEI horse is always spooky at “C”. I visualize feeling his tension and imagine responding with a deep seat and strong quiet legs. It is good to imagine how you will recover from possible mistakes. From picking up the wrong canter lead, to a rough landing off a fence, imagine how you would like to correct the balance and recover from your mistakes as quickly as possible.

Visualization can be helpful anywhere, anytime. Even if you have just a moment while waiting in line you can imagine a part of your test, or imagine practicing a new skill that you are working on. Visualization in “fast forward” can be a good memorization tool. Visualization in slow motion can be helpful for problematic areas. Mostly your visualization should be in “real time”. If your test takes five minutes to ride then try to visualize your test in about five minutes. If there is a part of your test that you cannot visualize then talk to your instructor. This may be an area where you need help with your riding.

It takes training to keep the mind focused in a positive way. Visualization can be a powerful tool to train your brain. My new book, “Memorize That Dressage Test”, has more information on visualization. In addition I do custom visualizations through my email consulting service. You can send me your test, and I will help you form a test riding strategy, as well as a visualization for that test. For more information see my web site,

If you have questions or comments you can contact me here. I enjoy hearing from you!