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Miles canter in the ring at Equivents

Visualizing Your Course

The other day I was talking to Lauren of She Moved To Texas about some of my confidence issues as of late. She recommended that I start visualizing Miles and I completing the perfect hunter trip. She said “think about any height, but I bet if you do that right now, your trip has lots of problems with it.” And she was right. While I have a better mental picture of a 2′ or 2’3″ hunter course, at 2’6″, the wheels fall off the wagon, so to speak. To document my progress, I thought I’d share what my mental picture of a 2’6″ hunter trip with Miles looks like to me right now.

Getting ready to go in the ring at Delaware

I imagine a simple hunter course, set in Ring I at the Delaware County Fairgrounds. I start my visualization when I walk in the ring. I pick up my reins, and turn right, along the fence line. After walking a few steps, I pick up a trot. I shorten my reins a little bit, and notice that Miles is a little lethargic. We go halfway around our courtesy circle, when I decide I need to pick up the canter. I think about it, and Miles gets rigid, slows down and pins his ears. So I work on ignoring him and waiting for a slightly better moment to ask. After a few more steps, I do ask and while the transition isn’t picture perfect, we do kick into gear (probably without an actual cow kick, but I can’t promise that.)

Walking into the ring at Equivents

I shorten my reins again, stretching up into my half seat, and really try to use my legs to push Miles forward, since we are loping and I know it’s too slow. I feel like I’m working really hard to get him to go, and I can hear my trainer saying “more” and “keeping working” from the in-gate. I do keep working, but it’s only marginally successful. I look for a distance to the first fence, and I see it about 3-4 strides out, and it’s a little short, but acceptable. Up and over, and I think about stretching up after the fence and creating the canter departure away from the fence. We stay straight (I’m good at that part), and we turn the corner at the top of the ring. I start looking for the diagonal line, and I cut the corner a little bit short, but it’s okay.

Trotting in Equivents rings

We hit the in of the line just fine, and since we’re coming towards home, I don’t have to work quite as hard to get out in the correct number of 6 strides… but I still can’t take my leg off! I get nervous about jumping our first oxer on course, so I stare at the fence a little bit too long, but eventually I remember to look up and focus on the bleachers in the corner. We go out just fine, but I’m a little loose in my lower leg, and I don’t stretch up quite as quick as I’d like. But Miles canters on and we’re already on the correct lead, so I sigh a little bit and try to settle into a rhythm.

Miles canter in the ring at Equivents

Next is the judge’s line, next to the in-gate, so I know I’m going to have to push out of the corner. I do so, but without much success and we chip into the first fence. I should have sat up and legged Miles into the short distance, but instead I kind of dropped him a little bit. But he’s a good boy, so he jumps anyways. At this point I know I’m going to have to really gallop to get out of the line in six strides, so I add leg. A lot of leg. We gallop up, but it’s still going to be a long distance to the oxer. I say go, but probably could have been more confident. Miles jumps a bit bigger, and I am discombobulated on the landing. Miles ducks his head a little bit, pulling me forward. He’s saying “get your shit together, mom!”

Jumping at Equivents

Luckily, I’m able to pull him up and we continue on, but now I don’t have much time to prepare for our final diagonal line. Plus I’m tired, so I cut the corner way too short and meet the first fence of the line oddly. We make it over, and continue on, luckily by this time in the course Miles has some momentum, so I’m not pushing quite as hard to make the numbers (plus we’re headed towards home, which helps). We meet the oxer well, but land needing a lead change. I gallop up into the corner and we get it, which is good!

We finish our courtesy circle, trotting the last quarter and walking out. I let the reins go loose and pat my horse. Because I always thank him for a good ride. Always.

Pat your Pony after every ride


Fly On Over is an equestrian lifestyle blog devoted to connecting horse lovers around the world. By providing equestrians with practical tips and tricks related to horse ownership, discussing training techniques for horse and rider, as well as covering industry news.

18 thoughts to “Visualizing Your Course”

  1. I was told, or read somewhere, I dunno how I got the info, that if you can’t visualize yourself doing whatever you want to do, then there’s no way you’re going to be able to do it. Ever since, whenever I have a show coming up, I sit down and “ride” a clean test every day. Sometimes it’s really hard to visualize everything going well! I should probably be doing this now actually, since whenever I think of my baby horse coming back into work, I imagine him bolting/bucking and me losing confidence again. Hmmmmm.

  2. It was SO interesting to come with you on your visualization of your course! I struggle with visualizing good rounds, too. My imaginary courses (and especially my imaginary XC runs) are filled with ‘bad stuff’! Hopefully we can all get it together and start imagining perfect rounds!

  3. Visualization is super important to me because I simply cannot drill my dressage tests or Fiction will start to anticipate. So, while I run through the moves individually, I have to visualize them all together.

  4. I definitely need to get better at Visualization for my rides! I always do it for XC though, because I am dreading the day I get lost.

    My biggest issue is I think of something going wrong and then have to “rewind” and “fix” the problem. Hoping that this gets better with more practice.

  5. I always visualize my dressage tests, and I actually “ride” them in my living room. But I’m wondering, when you visualize Miles doing a lethargic trot, how come you don’t visualize yourself giving him a good pony club kick?
    Your round starts with the quality and yes ma’am of the walk and trot. I think a better idea would be to visualize a successful round, starting with your expectations right at the beginning. And the ride that you want.
    Best wishes, and I enjoy your blog.

  6. My visualizations start normally, but then suddenly, instead of jumping the jump, we jump out of the ring and take off past all the spectators. Then Berry takes to the sky and we fly up and around. Then a dragon appears and we have to use some evasive maneuvers.

    Basically I get distracted in my own visualizations.

    But I do try it, I think it helps, until I get sidetracked.

  7. When walking XC and stadium I always “ride” each jump as I’m approaching the jump- I try to visualize the perfect stride and perfect feel of the jump, if it feels funky and chippy or long I erase it and rejump it in my mind (not jumping it a 2nd time since that would be a refusal which is why I have to erase the bad jump jump!) If a jump is particularly scary or makes me nervous I tend to walk over it instead of around it so I can insure that I’ll get through the flags (this tends to work better on XC since the jumps are solid hahaha) If at any point I start to visualize my ride going crazy I take a deep. breathe, center myself, and ride the jump, corner, turn, whatever in a calm fashion instead of letting my imagination go crazy and think about all the bad things. As George Morris says “perfect practice makes perfect” so if you ride a perfect course mentally that has to help right?

  8. I do this all the time. I sometimes fall to sleep at night picturing the perfect trip. I agree with Lauren that it’s important. I would also suggest not just picturing it but feeling it. How confident you are walking into the ring knowing you’re going to nail the course, how the power of that forward walk, trot and canter make you feel, how good it feels to hit an acceptable distance and the smile on your face when you do it… feels, especially positive feels are good for confidence.

  9. I run through dressage tests in my head every night while trying to fall asleep. My trainer told me to visualize everything going perfectly and rehearse how I will ride each movement, each turn, each transition. Apparently there is real science behind this, you can form the same neural pathways your brain uses to do an activity just by mentally rehearsing that activity. I see it as teaching my brain/body to ride the perfect test before show nerves and other outside variables come into play.

  10. Visualizing a course is the whole reason jumpers walk their course. It’s much easier to plan and picture your turns and lines when you’ve actually physically seen what they look like with your own eyeballs. I always try to walk my whole track if possible, just to make sure I know what the course will look like once I’m on my course, and then I form a mental picture of how the course is going to ride. It definitely helps to already know what you want it to look like, this way you aren’t flying by the seat of your pants.

  11. Now to use your powers for good! I can’t visualize at a show to save myself–when I get nervous I might as well have a balloon for a head, I draw such a blank. It is also why I have a hard time remembering courses…:)

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